The Candy Bar that Blew Barghouti's Cover
Palestinian Incitement against the Media
The Palestinian Journalists Syndicate (PJS), a body dominated by loyalists to Palestinian Authority (PA) President Mahmoud Abbas, has resumed its incitement against Israeli media outlets and journalists.
On May 7, Israeli authorities released a video showing imprisoned Fatah leader Marwan Barghouti, who is leading a "hunger strike" of more than 1,000 inmates held in Israeli prisons, secretly eating a candy bar in the bathroom of his prison cell. Israeli media outlets and journalists, like many of their Western colleagues, reported on the video, which has seriously embarrassed Barghouti and many other Palestinians.
The prisoners' "hunger strike" is not about torture or denial of medical treatment. The prisoners seek expanded visitation rights, better access to public phones and more access to higher education.
But Barghouti, who began leading the "hunger strike" on April 17, has more on his mind than incarceration privileges.
The "hunger strike" is actually a strike against Mahmoud Abbas, who Barghouti believes has marginalized him, denying him an official senior position in Fatah.
It is worth noting that no one in the Israeli media was involved in the secret filming of Barghouti. Nor did any Israeli journalist know in advance about the authorities' decision to film Barghouti. All the Israeli media did was report on the release of the scandalous video, together with analysis about the implications of the video on the Palestinian prisoners' "hunger strike."
Yet the moment the video appeared in the Israeli media, Palestinian Authority officials and several Palestinian institutions and groups rushed to make serious and unfounded charges against the Israeli media for reporting on the video.
The charges, needless to say, are so grave that they endanger the lives of Israeli journalists covering Palestinian affairs.
Strikingly, the worst threats against Israeli media came from none other than the body representing hundreds of Palestinian journalists -- the Palestinian Journalists Syndicate. Equally disturbing, the PJS is headed by Nasser Abu Bakr, a highly partisan political activist -- and veteran journalist with the French news agency Agence France-Presse (AFP).
A statement issued by Abu Bakr's PJS, shortly after the Barghouti video was broadcast on Israeli television and radio stations, accused Israeli journalists of "collusion with the Israeli occupation authorities."
The statement warned Palestinian, Arab and Western media outlets against dealing with Israeli journalists, whom it accused of "broadcasting poison" by exposing that Barghouti was eating while claiming to be on hunger strike.
The PJS falsely accused Israeli media outlets of committing a "crime by seeking to break the will of the hunger-striking prisoners by publishing false claims" about Barghouti's eating.
The PJS said that its chairman, AFP's Abu Bakr, has filed a complaint with the International Federation of Journalists against Israeli reporters. According to Abu Bakr, the Israeli media is "involved in the crime of starving and terrorizing our prisoners and are major accomplices of the actions of the occupation."
This is far from the first time that Abu Bakr, who, unethically for AFP, holds a senior job with the international news agency, has been involved in incitement against Israeli journalists and media outlets. Moreover, in addition to his job as chairman of the PJS and reporter with AFP, Abu Bakr recently ran in internal elections for Mahmoud Abbas's Fatah faction. Tellingly, although Nasser Abu Bakr's conflict of interest has been reported several times, his spectacular breach of journalistic ethics does not seem to bother his employers at Agence France-Presse. Worse, it calls AFP's professional ethics into serious question.
Would AFP ever hire a journalist to report about the French presidential elections while this journalist was running in the election or holding a senior job with the French government?
Since his appointment as PJS chairman, Abu Bakr has spearheaded a campaign to boycott Israeli journalists and media organizations. He has repeatedly accused Israeli journalists of serving as an "arm" of the Israeli military authorities and government. Ironically, it is Abu Bakr and his PJS who serve as part of the Palestinian Authority leadership establishment and do not conceal their role as official organs.
Instead of reporting objectively about the controversy surrounding Barghouti's "hunger strike" and the fact that the jailed Fatah leader was caught cheating, Abu Bakr and his PJS chose to wage a vicious campaign of incitement against Israeli media organizations and journalists for simply reporting the truth.
One can understand why Abu Bakr is so furious about the scandal surrounding Barghouti's "hunger strike": he belongs to the same Fatah faction whose members are purportedly fasting in Israeli prisons.
This conflict of interest explains why the PJS and the PA leadership have instructed Palestinian journalists and media organizations to refrain from reporting about the video showing Barghouti enjoying a snack in his prison cell.
Threats against Israeli journalists are intended to deter them from reporting about any topic that could shed a negative light on the Palestinians.
This is, in fact, the preferred method of intimidation among Palestinians. It was first used against Palestinian and Western journalists who dared to criticize Palestinian leaders or report about corruption and terror-advocacy by Palestinian officials. In recent years, the campaign of intimidation has expanded to include Israeli journalists covering Palestinian affairs.
No wonder, then, that many Israeli journalists have stopped reporting about anything that could anger PA officials in Ramallah. These Israeli journalists claim that they deliberately avoid any criticism of the PA because they do not want to "lose access to sources" among the Palestinians.
This campaign against Israeli journalists is far from an isolated move. It ought to be seen in the context of the overall Palestinian incitement against Israel.
While Abbas is busy lying to Trump and the rest of the Western world that his society is raising Palestinian youth on a "culture of peace," the latest threats against Israeli journalists prove once again the depth of his deception.
These threats should be taken seriously for two reasons: they pose a direct threat to the safety of Israeli reporters working in PA-controlled territories and, second, they constitute a flagrant assault on freedom of expression and the media.
Let us be clear on this: Abu Bakr and his PA friends are demanding that the Israeli and international media refrain from reporting anything offensive about the Palestinians. That is censorship -- not to mention shock-troop thuggery.
Will international human rights groups and the International Federation of Journalists call out the Palestinians for inciting against Israeli journalists and demanding censorship of unpleasant facts? Or will they take their habitual tack, holding off on their denunciations until they have something negative to say about Israel?
Western journalists would do well to hold the Palestinians accountable for these threats. If they choose not to, their next visit to Ramallah will involve significant appeasement of demanding PA personnel.
Bassam Tawil is a scholar based in the Middle East.