The PA cracks down on dissent

September 21, 2017

Instead of challenging a colonial occupation, the Palestinian Authority targets those who criticize its complicity with Israeli apartheid.

PALESTINIAN Authority (PA) police arrested Issa Amro, a longtime human rights defender and the leader of the group Youth Against Settlements, in the West Bank city of Hebron on September 4.

Amro has always advocated nonviolent resistance and civil disobedience in the face of Israeli apartheid and occupation, but the PA's Preventive Security Force arrested Amro on charges of incitement after he posted a criticism on Facebook of the PA's arbitrary arrest of Ayman al-Qawasmi, who runs the Minbar al-Hurriya radio station in Hebron.

Two days later, four U.S. lawmakers wrote to PA President Mahmoud Abbas urging that he release Amro, and criticized the PA's repression and crackdown on freedom of speech.

But this repression is not new. Amro's comes on the heels of the PA's Electronic Crime Bill, which became law in July and establishes that any comments on social media that threaten "social harmony" or "national unity" are punishable by three to 15 years of prison or hard labor.

Reports from MADA, a Palestinian syndicate of journalists, say that 29 websites critical of the PA have already been shut down. A report by the Committee to Support Palestinian Journalists documented 84 attacks on Palestinian journalists in the month of August. Israel carried out 40 of these attacks, while various wings of the PA conducted 44.

PA President Mahmoud Abbas
PA President Mahmoud Abbas (Benedikt von Loebell)

Israel's repression of pro-Palestine voices is frequent and widely condemned. In June, for example, Israel barred Alissa Wise, a U.S. rabbi who has visited Israel nine times in her life, from boarding a flight to Ben Gurion International Airport because of her support for the boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) movement.

But the crackdown on freedom of expression by PA President Mahmoud Abbas mimics repression carried out by the Israeli state. There have been 56 Palestinian journalists arrested or summoned to Israeli courts, and there have been 78 cases of Israeli troops shooting Palestinian journalists, sometimes with live ammunition. There have also been journalists assaulted while in Israeli prisons.

SINCE ITS creation in the mid-1990s, the PA has staked its credibility on negotiations to create a viable Palestinian state alongside Israel--even as Israel continues to expand its illegal settlements through annexation of West Bank land and to frustrate progress at the negotiating table.

More than two decades since the Oslo Accords supposedly established a practical plan to carry out the "two-state solution," one of key roles for the PA seems to be providing the international community with the peace of mind that a two-state solution may yet be realized.

But another key role is to serve as Israel's praetorian guard, securing the colonial overlord in face of potential resistance. Within months of its creation, the PA had a police force that dwarfed others in the region. The most glaring reason to condemn the PA is its complete passivity in the face of Israel's ongoing annexation of what little land is left to Palestinians in the West Bank.

Israel's continued colonization--and the milquetoast response from the U.S. and Europe--has not only challenged the legitimacy of the PA. Inadvertently, Israel's continuing confiscation of Palestine has also created space on the U.S. left to explicitly label and openly challenge Zionism as a colonial project.

Zionism's aim to colonize all of historic Palestine cannot be reformed away, and that is why the call for a single state in Palestine with democratic rights for all is at the forefront of the movement for justice in Palestine.

Israel most recently is attempting to deny tax exemptions to Israelis who donate to Amnesty International's anti-settlement campaign. Israeli banks are also contributing to settlement building--and claiming that they must do this by law.

As long as Israeli capital is concentrated in illegal settlement building, there will be continued colonization and annexation of Palestinian land.

Israeli politicians have also doubled down on their support of settlements. In a recent statement, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said he had no interest in discontinuing settlement building in return for peace, a move welcomed by the White House.

Donald Trump's embrace of the far right in the U.S. mirrors his attitude towards the far right in Israel, which is urging settlement building and annexation. The PA is facing a crisis of legitimacy insofar as it hasn't been able to stop Israel from seizing Palestinian land, nor been able to ensure equal rights to Palestinians.

WITH THE legitimacy of the two-state solution challenged by a growing BDS movement worldwide, the PA's raison d'être is under mounting pressure--which in turn raises the question of Palestinian popular resistance, and whether and how it will manifest itself in response to the failures of the two-state solution.

More and more voices on the U.S. left are condemning U.S. complicity in Israeli apartheid. Many have gone beyond understanding the conflict as a clash between two equal sides and now see it for what it is: a racist colonial state forcibly annexing land stolen from an indigenous population.

Going forward, it will be crucial to reconnect Palestinian demands for a one-state solution and democratic rights with other movements in the Middle East.

Support for BDS is growing in the U.S. In August, the Democratic Socialists of America endorsed the call for BDS just as Congress is ratcheting up the attacks on BDS.

Jewish Voice For Peace is one of the fastest-growing Jewish organizations in the United States, with many young Jews challenging the status quo. In the Middle East, the Tunisian General Labour Union issued a statement of solidarity with Palestinian hunger strikers this summer. And this coincides with growing unrest in North Africa, especially in Morocco.

The growth in Palestine solidarity has increased at the same time that repression in the West Bank and in the U.S. is intensifying. It is our responsibility as socialists to confront this repression and advance the cause of Palestinian liberation so that genuine internationalism can be at the forefront of our politics. The legitimacy of the PA needs to be challenged because its complicity with Israel's colonial project is essential to upholding the status quo.

As these movements grow, we also need to link ourselves with them and to make sure that we foreground the goal of a Palestine free from Zionism and imperialism.

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