A Picture Is Worth A Thousand Words
Jubilant Palestinians dancing and chanting in the streets... Palestinian Authority policemen firing their assault rifles in the air... Children being tossed candy in a gala celebration. These are the brazen images the American people saw on their screens as they sat stunned in the aftermath of the barbaric attacks on the United States on September 11. But this footage of Palestinian Arabs reveling in the massacre of thousands of Americans and the destruction of the World Trade Center and the Pentagon was only briefly aired. The many anti-American rallies held in Ramallah, Jericho, Gaza, and other places in the territories were not broadcast. Not newsworthy? The Palestinian Authority decided it wouldn't be the best public-relations move and suppressed further coverage. Palestinian Authority Tactics
In the West Bank city of Nablus, armed Palestinian security services rounded up foreign journalists, detaining them in a hotel so that they could not report on and photograph a celebratory rally. A freelance cameraman with Associated Press Television News, who managed to film the ghoulish Palestinian reaction to the carnage, was threatened by Yasser Arafat's Tanzim, the military arm of his Fatah group. Encouraging the Associated Press in Jerusalem not to air the footage, Ahmed Abdel Rahman, Arafat's cabinet secretary, said that the Palestinian Authority "cannot guarantee the life" of the cameraman if his film was broadcast. Associated Press Bureau Chief Dan Perry, protesting to the PA on Wednesday, September 12, about the treatment of the cameraman, said, "I ask the assurances of the Palestinian Authority that you will protect our journalists from threats and attempts at intimidation and that no harm would come to our freelance cameraman from distribution of the film." Taking the death threat seriously, the cameraman asked that his footage not be aired, a plea acceded to by the Associated Press Television News.
In another incident, foreign journalists covering a pro-terrorist anti-U.S. demonstration in the Gaza Strip on Friday, September 14, were questioned and arrested by Palestinian plainclothes policemen. The PA officials confiscated equipment and film footage, and warned photographers not to publish pictures of demonstrators carrying posters of terrorist Osama bin Laden. About 1,500 Palestinians participated in the rally which was led by supporters of Hamas, the Islamic terrorist group that specializes in suicide bombings of Israelis.
Palestinian Authority officials admit to suppressing film footage and photos. PA Information Minister Yasser Abed Rabbo said, "These measures were not against the freedom of the press but in order to ensure our national security and our national interest." But censorship is highly consistent with the regime of the PA, a terrorist dictatorship that executes terrorist attacks against Israel, incites hatred and violence, and praises terrorist murderers of Americans. It controls all media, newspapers, television, radio, which are conduits for government propaganda. Arafat's official newspaper Al-Hayat Al-Jadidah serves as the voice of the Islamic terrorist groups Fatah, Hamas, and Islamic Jihad.Yasser Arafat and the PR War
Palestinian demonstrations that have broken out since September 11 have been photo-ops for Western journalists and videographers but a public-relations nightmare for Yasser Arafat. Why not televise these joyful events? No great mystery here. He fears that the United States and other Western nations will associate him with international terrorism, leading to a loss of support for his Palestinian cause in the PR war. The linking of Hamas and Osama bin Laden, prime suspect in the attacks on the United States, and the appearance that Arafat endorses the latter's handiwork, could cost him dearly. Arafat seems to have learned his lesson from the Persian Gulf War, in which he aligned himself with Saddam Hussein, an association that made him a pariah. Resuscitated by the Oslo Accords, he might not be so lucky this time.
To counter what is apodictically an attack on freedom of the press, Arafat has tried to distract journalists with photo-ops that show Palestinian support for the U.S. victims of terrorism: Arafat donating blood, Palestinian children expressing solidarity, candlelight vigils. Can journalists really be fooled by these Kodak moments? It's difficult to imagine. And yet, Arafat's condolences to the American people were broadcast far and wide, with no mention that on that same day the Palestinian Authority's newspaper praised suicide bombers as "the noble successors of their noble predecessors... the Lebanese suicide bombers who taught the US Marines a tough lesson in Lebanon... the salt of the earth, the engines of history... the most honorable people among us."So What's the Press to Do?
Western journalists who write from Israel ply their trade in a free society with democratic institutions, including a free press that guarantees the unfettered flow of information, and therefore run no professional or personal risks. On the other hand, reporting from Yasser Arafat's Palestinian Authority-controlled territories can be dangerous business, as some journalists have found out. Intimidation and death threats work. Journalists and news agencies capitulate out of fear of losing access to sources of information, being detained or arrested, harmed or killed. The Associated Press, Jerusalem Post, and Agence France Press published reports on the latest intimidation tactics used by the Palestinian Authority. This is to their credit. But why have they not been joined by throngs of journalists in covering this big story, arguably the biggest story for the fourth estate?
The World Press Freedom Committee
has been doing battle to make news media free of government interference around the globe. Two of the principles of its Charter for a Free Press include: "Censorship, direct or indirect, is unacceptable" and "Journalists, like all citizens, must be secure in their persons and be given full protection of law." (For those interested, WPFC information is available in several languages, including Arabic.)
Journalists who may soon find themselves on nasty Middle Eastern frontlines would do well to remember that appeasement is never a good policy.