Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas has repeatedly threatened, imprisoned and even murdered his critics, to deafening international silence.
By Lauren Marcus, World Israel News
The world is aghast at the slaying of veteran Al Jazeera journalist Shireen Abu Akleh, who was killed during a firefight between terror groups and Israeli security forces in Jenin.
The death of a journalist in the field represents a dangerous violation of the highly touted Western value of freedom of the press, and Western powers have responded accordingly.
European Union and American officials stated that Abu Akleh’s death is particularly heinous, reiterating the importance of protecting journalists and allowing them to do their jobs without fear of persecution.
Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas has promised to bring the pereptrators of her shooting to justice, pushing the narrative that she was shot because she was a “truth-teller.”
But Abbas’ pledge to take Israel to the International Criminal Court over the death of Abu Akleh — presumably as a demonstration of his commitment to ensuring freedom of the press — raised eyebrows among many observers.
The reason? Abbas has systematically threatened, imprisoned, and even murdered Palestinian journalists, activists, and critics of his regime.
When free speech doesn’t matter
Abbas’ persecution policies targeting Palestinians — ranging from everyday people who post on Facebook about his party’s rampant corruption to his well-heeled political rivals — have been documented by trailblazing Arab-Israeli journalist Khaled Abu Toameh, among others.
In a February 2022 piece for the Gatestone Institute, Abu Toameh noted that Palestinian security services regularly arrest and imprison Palestinians, who often go months without legal representation, criminal charges or a trial.
Well-supported reports from local human rights organizations “show that the Palestinian dictatorship entity…exists and is actively arresting, torturing, and killing its critics,” he wrote.
Nizar Banat, a political challenger and prominent anti-corruption campaigner, was targeted by Abbas’ administration in June 2021.
In an early morning raid of his home, Palestinian security forces “viciously beat” Banat in front of his family for at least eight minutes before dragging his unconscious body to a police vehicle.
Banat died hours later, sparking widespread riots throughout PA-controlled cities that were quashed by police beatings and mass arrests.
No one was held responsible or charged for Banat’s killing.
“The Biden administration does not seem to be concerned with such violations, including the massive crackdown on Palestinian journalists and human rights activists,” Abu Toameh noted.
“Unless the wrongdoing can be pinned on Israel, this administration clearly could not care less.”
The American connection
A major factor as to why Abu Akleh’s killing has attracted international attention, and a special focus from the U.S., is the fact that she held American citizenship.
This is not the first time the Biden administration has raised concerns about alleged Israeli wrongdoing towards Palestinian-Americans. Last year, the U.S. condemned the house demolition of a terrorist who carried out a deadly shooting attack because the perpetrator was an American citizen.
But when another American citizen was threatened with murder for criticizing Abbas last year, the U.S. response was notably understated.
In March 2021, the al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigade, a terrorist group associated with Abbas’ Fatah party, issued a statement threatening to assassinate PA government critic Fadi Elsalameen. Elsalameen, who has more than a million followers on social media platforms, had posted about PA corruption and pushed for reforms and greater government transparency.
The terror group threatened to murder Elsalameen, an American citizen based in Washington, D.C., while he was visiting his family home in a small village outside of Hebron.
Elsalameen appealed to the U.S. government for help, tweeting, “President Abbas’s Al-Aqsa brigades issued today an explicit death threat against me for visiting my home town of as-Samu in the Hebron Hills. I have no security and this threat from president Abbas and his security forces cannot be left unanswered.”
The tweet, directed at President Joe Biden, Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Deputy Assistant Secretary for Israeli and Palestinian Affairs Hady Amr, failed to generate a response from any of the officials.
“My life is in danger and the Palestinian Authority’s refusal to condemn a death threat against a U.S. citizen is a green light to use violence against me,” Elsalameen told Axios.
Eventually, the U.S. issued a laconic statement assuring that the safety of American citizens abroad is important to the Biden administration and saying it was “aware” of Elsalemeen’s concerns.
The moral depravity of low expectations
So what’s the reason that the West comes down so hard on Israel for allegedly shooting a journalist while looking the other way regarding the PA’s rampant and flagrant violations?
The answer is simple: low expectations. Europe and the U.S. expect Israel to adhere to an entirely different standard of behavior and governance than they expect from the Palestinians.
This is partially Israel’s fault — throughout the Jewish state’s history, Israel has repeatedly branded itself as “the only democracy in the Middle East” and insisted that it be compared to the U.S. and Europe.
But the uncomfortable truth is that the selective outrage around Abu Akleh’s death stems from the possibility of Israeli wrongdoing rather than actual concern for freedom of the press.
The stories of Nizar Banat and Fadi Elsalameen are just drops in the bucket, as there are thousands more Palestinian critics of Abbas who have been imprisoned, tortured and killed. We will never know their names.
If the liberal value of freedom of the press is so sacred, it must be applied consistently and upheld by human rights defenders across the globe, without being weakened by claims of cultural relativity.
People outraged over Shireen Abu Akleh’s tragic slaying say that she was silenced for telling the truth. We still don’t know who fired the fatal shot, and the question of responsibility will likely linger for years as the Palestinians refuse to cooperate with an independent or Israeli investigation of her killing.
But what we know for certain is that Abbas has a long history of using brutal violence against those calling out his corruption and mismanagement. Anyone sickened by Abu Akleh’s killing needs to realize that intentional targeting of truth-tellers happens every day in Palestinian Authority-controlled areas — and the forces coming after those truth-tellers aren’t Israeli.