Anas Awwad, a 26 year old Palestinian Authority resident, was recently sentenced to one year in prison by a Palestinian court in Nablus. What was Awwad’s heinous crime? He dared to upload a post to his Facebook page displaying a photo of Mahmoud Abbas kicking a soccer ball, with the caption, “Real Madrid’s New Striker.” The Palestinian court found Awwad guilty of breaking a Jordanian law, which forbids “cursing the king.”
The Palestinians aren’t the only ones who should be concerned about this denial of Awwad’s freedom of speech regarding “King Abbas”. We should all be alarmed. We should consider the fact that a serious punishment was just imposed upon an innocent man; a man who was born, educated, worked and lived a few dozen kilometers from Tel-Aviv and Jerusalem.
Those who think that the government of Israel should immediately recognize a Palestinian state need to carefully consider the implications of such a move upon human rights and the quality of life in our region. If the State of Palestine was to be established today, it would not be a peaceful, democratic nation. It would continue to be the same militaristic dictatorship that persists to terrorize both its neighbors and its own citizens.
The deafening silence surrounding the sentencing of Awwad by MKs Ahmad Tibi and Hanin Zoabi, who failed to publicly condemn this action, was particularly interesting in light of their claim to be proponents of freedom of speech. In contrast, just five days after the pronouncement of his judgment, these same MKs vociferously attacked the State of Israel for placing a gag order on the Ben Zygier case, regarding an Israeli who carried out serious crimes against the security of our nation.
Tibi, Zoabi and their cohorts never miss an opportunity to criticize Israel’s actions and challenge the legitimacy of the State. They did, however, miss an excellent opportunity to establish their own legitimacy as genuine defenders of the Palestinian people, by not issuing a stern condemnation of the infringement upon Awwad’s freedom of speech.
If we hope to achieve a peace settlement, which will last in the long run, we need to first recognize the facts on the ground. Twenty years ago, the Palestinian Authority received administrative authority over large areas in the West Bank and Gaza Strip. Likewise, they also received enormous financial aid from the international community (primarily the US and Europe) in excess of 25 billion dollars. What have they accomplished so far with this authority and these resources to improve the daily lives of their citizens? Ask Anas Awwad.
In the framework of peace talks between Israel and the Palestinians, the historic rights of each of the parties are frequently raised. There are Palestinians who are requesting to turn the clock back and restore the situation that existed in 1948 or 1967. There are Jews who base their current objectives on the facts on the ground 3,000 years ago. I assert that looking towards the past will not help us reach the goals that the future requires. Like sitting backwards in an automobile and trying to drive forward, it is a recipe for disaster, particularly in light of the obstacles and pitfalls that lie on the road before us.
The only way to reach a lasting peace is to look clearly at the conditions, as they currently exist, and to proceed forward on that basis. The right of the Palestinian Authority to receive recognition as an independent state should be based on its ability to currently demonstrate governance, which upholds values of separation of powers, rule of law, individual freedoms and human rights. The Palestinian leadership must prove, by protecting these values, that it actually deserves to be a state.
Today, these basic tenets of democracy are sorely lacking in the Palestinian governing bodies. The PLO in the West Bank and Hamas in Gaza vet and approve every appointment of every civil servant to every public position, from teachers in schools to judges in courts. Both of these organizations have been recognized in the past by the US government and other Western nations as terrorist organizations.
Palestinian human rights activists explained that Anas Awwad received a harsh sentence for his benign exercise of freedom of speech, primarily because he is known to support the Hamas movement. In a court in the “kingdom” of Mahmoud Abbas, where judges are appointed by the PLO, being a Hamas supporter is considered to be a crime. It would behoove those who claim to advance Palestinian human rights, including the right to statehood, to start by soul searching a bit closer to home.