Another journalist beaten in Ramallah

Does this man, who was accosted on a sunny Saturday afternoon in a nearly-empty street in central Ramallah — near his office — look armed and dangerous?

No?  Then why was he stopped by plainclothes men in broad daylight in downtown Ramallah on the fringes of a protest on Saturday, beaten, and arrested by uniformed police — then beaten again while in custody?

He was covering the demonstration and, yes, he probably was somehow involved in preparations for a protest on Saturday, held nearby, against the policies of the Palestinian leadership — yes, the same Palestinian leadership which has said that peaceful protests are allowed under the Palestinian Authority [PA].

He is also a known and recognized journalist, familiar to those in downtown Ramallah, including the Palestinian security forces.

This compilation of photos, which was posted on Twitter yesterday [Sunday] by Maath Musleh [@MaathMusleh] here. The Tweet said: PHOTO: from yesterday’s [Saturday 30 June] beating and arrest of Journalist Mohammed Jaradat #Ramallah

Compilation of photos of beating of Palestinian journalist Mohamed Jaradat on Saturday 30 June 2012

These photos were taken on Saturday.

“Youth” protests in Ramallah continued a second night, on Sunday night, with more beatings and injuries and arrests. The privately-owned Bethlehem-based Ma’an News Agency reported here that “Journalists were also attacked for the second day in a row, the correspondent reported … Reuters photographer Saed al-Hawari was attacked and photographer Ahmad Musleh was arrested. A camera belonging to journalist Ahmad Ouda was confiscated”.

There is an account by Electronic Intifada blogger Jalal Abukhater — who says he was “forced to delete photos he took of Palestinian Authority (PA) police violently attacking a protestor in Ramallah on Sunday” — posted here:

    Abukhater [a 17-year-old student who just graduated from high school and a Jerusalem resident, whose father is a Palestinian journalist working with an international media organization] recounts on Electronic Intifada that: “After the police started pushing and beating protestors with sticks and batons, I managed to slip behind their line to be met with another line of police only a few meters behind. There, I was alone with my camera, I saw a guy lying on the ground being beaten by the police behind their line, I tried to take a picture but my camera was then confiscated. I was forced to delete all the pictures on my camera by the police, then my camera’s SD card was destroyed to pieces. The guy who was being beaten by the police managed to stand up – he was visibly bleeding – he was then slapped and dragged to the nearby police vehicle”.

The Electonic Intifada article also provides a link to other photos of Saturday’s protest on the Facebook page, showing the action and the results, including some impressive welts and other injuries here.

UPDATE: The Palestinian Center for Development and Media Freedoms, MADA, said the assault on reporter Mohamed Jaradat “who was simply doing his job is an abuse of human rights and is a serious backward step in freedom of opinion and expression”, according to a report published by Ma’an News Agency, published here today. MADA reported: “After visiting Jaradat in a Ramallah hospital, where he is still receiving treatment, MADA said the reporter noted that he was beaten at the demonstration within sight of police, by four people in civilian clothing who belong to a police unit. Jaradat said he was then taken to a police station after his camera was confiscated, where one of his attackers said: “‘He is a journalist. Take care of him'”. ‘After that they brutally attacked me, despite me showing my press identification. They took me to the upper floor and continued to beat me with a stick, causing bleeding in my nose’, Jaradat told MADA. ‘Then they arrested me, with six other people. While they beat me, I asked to see the Director of Police who is a relative of mine and he came after an hour of detention and beatings. He apologized to me and I was released’.”

Whereas a year ago these “Youth” protesters were calling to an end to the division between Fateh and Hamas [including an end to media incitement and a complete release of Palestinian political prisoners being held by each side], as well as worldwide elections to a new PLO Palestine National Council, they are now demanding an end to the Palestinian Authority and the departure of Mahmoud Abbas. One Tweet on Saturday noted that Mahmoud Abbas said he would resign the moment there were two protesters in the street against him. [Mahmoud Abbas had a track record of resigning when the going got tough, particularly under the rule of the late Yasser Arafat, see our post on the upper left hand side of the page. More recently, as he has consolidated his hold on all the reins of Palestinian power, Mahmoud Abbas has much less frequently threatened to resign — but he has, once or twice, still done so, whenever donors were not coming up with the money needed to maintain the fragile ecosystem of “rule” symbolized by PA Ministries in Ramallah + security forces now permitted to operate in major West Bank cities].

Nearly a full day after the violence shown in the photo collage above, PLO Executive Committee member Hanan Ashrawi said that the Palestinian Authority police had violated instructions not to interfere with the Saturday protest, which was called to protest the invitation to Israel’s Deputy Prime Minister Shaul Mofaz to visit Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas in the Muqata’a in Ramallah, which was supposed to take place on Sunday, but which was cancelled on Saturday [see our previous post].

UPDATE: The Palestinian Journalists’ Syndicate said in a statement issued on Sunday that “Palestinian journalist Muhammad Jaradat was beaten by non-uniformed individuals at the protest, who referred to themselves as members of the security forces … Jaradat was injured in his left eye and had bruising on his chest, back and other parts of his body … After the beating, he was taken to the Ramallah police station where he was kicked in front of police officers who did not intervene to protect him … the assault on Jaradat breaks the government’s stated commitment to freedom of expression. They called on police to urgently investigate and punish those involved in the attack”. This is reported here.

UPDATE: And, according to another report by Ma’an News Agency, “PA Minister of Interior Said Abu Ali said Monday he will form a committee to investigate clashes between police and protesters in Ramallah in the last two days … [and that] the Palestinian Authority will take all necessary legal and internal procedures in line with its commitment to freedom of expression and right to assembly. He called on all Palestinians to obey the law in order to avoid repetition of the events in Ramallah. Security forces spokesman Adnan Dmeiri had defended his forces on Sunday, saying fighting only broke out when protesters tried to reach the presidential headquarters, which police are required to stop as protesting there is forbidden. He said police were investigating who was behind the protest, saying the ‘agendas of those unknown movements are to create chaos and harm security and attack Palestinian police’. But the forceful reaction to the protests drew criticism from some Palestinian officials who said the police were under standing orders not to intervene”. So, the situation is again unclear and chaotic.

UPDATE: Another completely different Ma’an article says that a group of activists, called Palestinians for Dignity, called on the Palestinian Authority to dismiss the head of police in Ramallah, Colonel Abdul Latif Qaddoumi, and his assistant, Mohammed Abu Bakr, director of the police headquarters in Ramallah. According to the Ma’an story, “Palestinians for Dignity called on the PA to form an independent committee of legal figures to investigate the incident.
It stressed that those who violate journalist rights and public freedoms should be punished. The group vowed to continue peaceful protests against negotiations with Israel”. This is posted here.

The PA was put in place 18 years ago to organize a transition to what they believed would be self-determination [freedom from Israeli military occupation and statehood] within five years.

And, peaceful protests are, unfortunately, more the exception than the rule — and not because the protesters were violent:
– Protests against the visit of the U.S. then-President George W. Bush to Ramallah in January 2010 were bloodily repressed — and the PA promised reform.
– Protests in support of the “Arab Spring” and particularly against the Egyptian uprising against military rule were repressed, also by force, from late January until 15 March 2011, when a relatively peaceful protest was allowed to proceed in Ramallah’s Manara Square.

Mohamed Jaradat, the man shown being beaten in the photo collage, above, covered those protests as a journalist, from last spring until this weekend.

None of the protests were violent, but they were often met with violence, often from the IDF. Now, again, we are back to a situation where the PA security forces have thrown out the window all the expensive training they have received with American military and financial and other support, and they have brutally and bloodily repressed two protests this weekend, contrary to what Hanan Ashrawi says was the instructions given to the PA security forces by the Palestinian leadership. So, how did this happen?

Jalal Abukhater, one of the bloggers on Electronic Intifada, later published this post about the PA reaction to reporting on the violence this past weekend here:

    “Have you heard the latest news? Foreign agents, supported by the Israelis and international intelligence agents, are working to destabilize the Palestinian Authority’s rule over Ramallah! … According to Adnan Al-Damiri, the spokesperson of the Palestinian Authority’s police force, violent individuals attacked the police and caused chaos. He was referring to the Palestinian Authority’s violent crackdown on peaceful demonstrators in Ramallah on Sunday. Al-Damiri continued that the police didn’t use any riot dispersal method, the police didn’t use any plainclothes security personnel. The dozens of police personnel and special intervention squads equiped with sheilds and battons didn’t exist, according to the police spokesperson’s statement. Speaking on the matter during a TV interview, Ahmad Assaf, an official spokesperson of Fatah, the political faction that dominates the Palestinian Authority, denied the involvement of any plainclothes security personnel in crushing the protests in Ramallah. Yes, because over a dozen plainclothed individuals carrying steel battons and guns, who also attacked and arrested protestors, simply didn’t exist. Assaf also added that the protestors are following ‘foreign agendas’ aimed at harming the Palestinian Authority. To make it worse; Bassam Zakarneh, the Palestinian Authority’s workers union president published a long statement attacking the protestors without making a shred of sense. Here is a small part of what is mentioned in the report from Ma’an News Agency [in Arabic, here]: ‘Zakarneh said that some of the civil society groups are nests of the Mossad and global intelligence whose goal is destroying the Palestinian society and dismantling it. Zakarneh said in a statement that Israeli officials are in direct contact with these groups and led directly through some of its officials or indirectly through the global intelligence services so that the 80% of these institutions lead a role to contribute in creating internal divisions and cause the theft of the Palestinian people’s money’…”

Now, why does the title of this post say: “Another journalist beaten in Ramallah”…?  Because, of course and  obviously, it is not the first time.

Other journalists have been arrested and jailed by the PA, and it would be really stretching the imagination to think that they were not roughed up somewhere along the line in this process.

But there is one clear case of another journalist being beaten in Ramallah that I can tell you about. It occurred in late 2009: A Palestinian journalist born in a large Palestinian refugee camp near Damascus, Syria, who left Syria at the age of 16 after being tortured for his political views, and who was granted asylum in a European country, where he settled down, married and had kids, came to Ramallah a few years ago on a short stay sponsored by his country of asylum and now citizenship. He was starry-eyed as all like him are, full of hope for a better Palestinian future, and full of desire to help contribute to that. After his first brief visit, he managed to come back to Ramallah for a longer period, cobbling together a series of low-paying jobs to support himself while here. [In Ramallah’s donor-funded economy, volunteers got a better deal, with living expenses paid, he pointed out]. He continued journalism, filming and writing and reporting for Arabic-language media, including Arabs48, in Israel.

In that publication, he wrote an article summing up media reports [including on Reuters] that were critical of business deals in the West Bank, some of which involved members of Mahmoud Abbas’ own family. Like other media reports, his linked some of those business dealings to the sudden Palestinian withdrawal of support, in the United Nations Human Rights Council in Geneva, for the Goldstone report that evaluated Israel’s Operation Cast Lead in Gaza [27 December 2008-18 January 2009], which Israel said was against “Hamas targets”. His article was bitter, but not substantially different from other media reports. The main difference is that he, on his own in Ramallah, was more vulnerable.

One weekend afternoon in the fall of 2009, after addressing — at the request of Birzeit university media center — a Young Fateh forum in the “old” City Inn [the one near Beit El] on the subject of the media’s role in elections [there were elections planned, at that time, but they were later postponed by Presidential decree], he took a service back to the center of Ramallah, and was walking home alone to his small apartment on Kulliya Ahliya Street. He noticed, beside the main Bank of Palestine building, a black van with men in it, but he did not see any reason to stop, and kept walking. About 50 meters further on, just as he was near the entrance to his building, the black van suddenly pulled up beside him and 4 or 5 men in plain clothes [not uniformed] jumped out, hit him in the abdomen, and dragged him into the van, which then drove off down the hill into an unpopulated area.

The van stopped in an area of scrub brush, and the men pulled this journalist out of the van, and began pushing him around, pulling his hair, beating him — and taunting him with words from the article published on the Arabs48 website: “So, this is trade/business [tijara]” they said. Then, whap, a big blow to his body. “So, this is human rights [huquq al-insaan]”, they sneered, another big blow. Eventually it stopped, and he was left there, wounded and bleeding, crumpled on the ground.

He made his way back to his small apartment, and stayed alone for two days. Remember, he had been tortured at the age of 16 by Syrian forces. This brought back all kinds of trauma. And, it added new trauma — as it happened in the place which he now felt was his homeland, not the place of his parents’ birth, but in the place which he could call “home” in the present-day political reality. On the third day, he told me. And he went to the pharmacy, where he was directed to a doctor’s office where xrays were ordered that revealed hairline fractures in the vertebrae of his neck. But he would not report this to the police! No, because he feared for his safety, and he believed that they or security forces associated with them were responsible for this beating which was clearly intended as a warning, and as a reprisal.

He felt betrayed by other Palestinian journalists, who loyally proclaimed that “this kind of thing doesn’t happen here!”. But it does.

[I was told the same thing when death threats were written on my car, in another area — an all-Palestinian area, but not under direct PA control .  The reaction was total denial: “Palestinians don’t do that!”, “It must have been a joke”, “It must have been children”.  But no, it wasn’t a joke, it wasn’t children.  And Palestinians do do this.]

And, this now-European Palestinian journalist refused to go even to the Palestinian Independent Commission on Human Rights, set up by the late Yasser Arafat in a show of attempting to prevent Palestinian abuses of Palestinians — because the lawyers didn’t bother very much to find out about his situation when they did become aware of it, and because he did not just want to be another statistic in their annual report — and then, unfortunately, another statistic showing mysterious unresolved crime…

He left, and he has not come back.

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