"Palestinian Authority, Silencing Dissent" is a recent report authored by the human rights watchdog, Amnesty International. In the document, the organization accuses the PA of adopting an "established pattern" of unjustifiable arrests and human rights abuses.
In its report, issued September 5th, Amnesty charged, "In the six years since its establishment, the Palestinian Authority (PA) has detained dozens of human rights defenders, journalists, religious figures, writers, government officials, trade unionists and academics solely for exercising their legitimate rights to freedom of expression." Most were held outside any legal framework, often incommunicado, and released without charge after a few days or weeks, and, in some cases, months".
Amnesty's comprehensive report is the newest addition to other local and international voices, demanding that the PA honor its commitment to democracy and upholds the principals of human rights.
The Israeli government must certainly be enjoying the PA's disregard for human rights, as it only helps to serve it's own purposes. Israel insists that the Palestinians are not competent to govern themselves and the Israeli media use these human rights reports as proof. Ironically, much of what the PA carries out is intended to appease Israeli authorities, anyway.
Israel's shrewdness has presented a peril to Palestinian intellectuals within Palestine as well as abroad, who have feared that by speaking out against the PA's practices, they indirectly feed into the frequently repeated statement, suggesting that Israel is "the only real democracy in the Middle East."
A difficult choice had to be made however, for the scale of corruption and the routine mistreatment of Palestinian activists and outspoken individuals has reached an unbearable level. "Call of the Homeland", issued last year by twenty mostly well-known and respected figures, was the boldest confrontation between opposition figures and the PA hierarchy. In their petition, local leaders openly held PA President Yasser Arafat solely responsible for the degradation and "lawlessness" besieging Palestinian society.
The PA's reaction to the call for change was swift, harsh, yet greatly expected, as many of those prominent signatories found themselves in PA jails or under house arrest. The signatories were defamed, and forced apologies were quickly printed in major newspapers.
Since then, many other encounters have contributed to the belief that no signs of change are underway. Palestinian LAW Society's reports, as well as reports issued by other human rights groups inside and outside Palestine are dominated by news of the PA's illegal arrests and phony trials. Cases of beatings and verbal threats are as always, abundant.
The recent trial of Hamas fighter Mahmoud Abu Hannoud, whose battle with Israeli forces in Assira Ash Shamaliah in recent weeks is turning to be another victory legend among many Palestinians and an example of the legal system's shortcomings. Abu Hannoud was sentenced to 12 years in prison for training and supplying individuals with weapons to carry out military operations against Israel. The unannounced trial, held at midnight lasted only 5 minutes, leaving no time for the dozens of defense lawyers (volunteering from several countries) to present their case.
The PA's conduct has been very costly. If the Palestinian people lose faith in their leadership as a trustworthy representative, every political step taken by the PA will be engulfed in doubt and suspicion.
Is the PA becoming just another Israeli appointed iron fist aimed at silencing those who dare to confront the deficiencies of the Oslo accord?
As the Palestinian people are swamped with many challenges in their fight for territorial freedom and true sovereignty, the PA is failing to play the role of the trustworthy leader throughout some of the region's' most consequential courses.
The superficial changes in the PA's institutional facade are no longer satisfactory, since they are meant for mere publicity and to redeem the PA's damaged image before donor countries. The real reason for change must be first and last for the Palestinian people, who continue to suffer under Israel's domination.
The PA must revamp its current structure by allowing freedom of expression and by respecting human rights, if it is sincerely seeking true legitimacy as a political body. It is crucial that PA President Yasser Arafat ratify a 1996 law that was passed by the Palestinian Legislative Council to guarantee freedom of speech.
Ignoring the grievances of the Palestinian people is a deadly tactic that will eventually backfire. The price then would be greater than an obscure Amnesty report or a signed leaflet, but the fate of the PA itself. To escape such uncertainty, the PA ought to pay less attention to Israeli security needs, and pay more attention to the dignity of the Palestinian people as the sole reason of its existence.
Ramzy Baroud is a freelance journalist living in Seattle, Washington.