On college campuses and beyond, support for the Palestinians has been portrayed as a human rights campaign. While the anti-Semitic BDS movement is, according to its founders and leaders, a crusade to make Israel disappear, it has attracted many naïve supporters who believe ostracizing Israel will somehow help the Palestinians achieve independence. BDS has been an unmitigated failure, but it has shielded the Palestinian Authority and Hamas from criticism for their abuses of human rights.
Sadly, the people who loudly proclaim their concern for the Palestinians are silent when it comes to the way Palestinians treat each other. The “occupation” imposes limitations on the freedom of Palestinians, but Israelis have no responsibility for the denial of civil rights by the men (and they are all men) who rule over roughly 98 percent of the Arabs in the West Bank and Gaza.
Let’s start with freedom of speech and assembly. No one can demonstrate or speak out against the leaders of Hamas or the Palestinian Authority. This may be the most serious – and ignored — obstacle to peace. For decades, the irredentism of Yasser Arafat and Mahmoud Abbas has led the Palestinian people to ruin. Multiple opportunities for statehood have been squandered because of their unwillingness to compromise and the people have no recourse. The PA is a dictatorship, which does not tolerate dissent. Just last week, the Palestinian police dispersed demonstrations in Ramallah and Bethlehem against the prosecution of five wanted criminals. The one election held in the territories was concerned more with the corruption of Fatah than independence and, to ensure his continued autocratic rule, Abbas has refused to hold another election for more than a decade. Perhaps, if the people felt strongly enough about peace they would revolt against their leaders rather than the Israelis, but they have been content up until now to blame the Jews for their plight.
Not surprisingly, freedom of the press is non-existent. Journalists know what is and is not permissible to publish and those who dare to criticize Palestinian authorities may be arrested, tortured or killed. Like a communist state, Mahmoud Abbas believes the press should be a propaganda arm of the Palestinian Authority. In 2014, the Center for Development and Media Freedoms, a Palestinian rights group, found that 80 percent of Palestinian journalists practice self-censorship in their writing largely out of fear of reprisals and death threats from authorities. In 2015 alone, a Palestinian human rights group received complaints about the detention of thirty-five Palestinian journalists. At least fifteen more were interrogated or detained for posting controversial statements on social media. “Freedom of the media exists only when journalists direct their criticism against Israel,” journalist Khaled Abu Toameh observed. “The Palestinian journalists know that at the end of the day, they need to go back to their family in the West Bank and Gaza without having to worry about masked men knocking on their doors at night.”
Not even journalists abroad are safe; the Palestinian General Intelligence service reportedly provided the Palestinian Foreign Ministry a list of all the opponents of Mahmoud Abbas living abroad so that he could use his loyalists to silence them. The suppression of criticism also extends to social media, which is monitored by the PA security services to track people “inciting against Palestinian institutions.”
What about freedom of religion? In theory, it exists, practically however Christians face persecution in both Gaza and the West Bank. Islam is the official religion of the Palestinian Authority. When Hamas seized power in Gaza, Sheik Abu Saqer, leader of a group enforcing Islamic law, said, “I expect our Christian neighbors to understand the new Hamas rule means real changes. They must be ready for Islamic rule if they want to live in peace in Gaza.” Subsequently, most Christians fled and those who remain would prefer to leave rather than live under the persecution of the Islamists. In the West Bank, there were cases reported in which the Muslims expropriated houses and lands belonging to Catholics, and the authorities ignored acts of violence against young women, or offenses against the Christian faith. In 2015, the tiny minority of Christians remaining in Bethlehem were forced to limit religious celebrations after Muslim extremists threatened to target Christians and their holy places.
Do the Palestinians respect women’s rights or gay rights? Women are treated as second-class citizens in a variety of respects based on Islamic law, tradition and cultural norms. Rape is illegal under PA law, but the legal definition does not address spousal rape or explicitly prohibit domestic violence. “Honor killings” are supposed to be crimes; however, they continue, with at least 28 honor killings reported in 2015. This figure is believed to significantly underrepresent the true number because of the reluctance to report these crimes. No laws protect women from sexual harassment, which is significant and widespread. The situation is worse in Gaza where Hamas’s “morality police” punish women for riding motorcycles, smoking cigarettes or water pipes, leaving their hair uncovered, and dressing “inappropriately.” Worse, child abuse is a widespread problem and the authorities in the WB and Gaza rarely penalized perpetrators of family violence.
Palestinian law, based on the 1960 Jordanian penal code, prohibits consensual same-sex sexual activity and gays are persecuted based on Koranic prohibitions forbidding homosexuality. The State Department Human Rights report noted, “Societal discrimination based on cultural and religious traditions was commonplace, making the West Bank, East Jerusalem, and Gaza challenging environments for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex (LGBTI) persons.” Gays reported harassment from neighbors and security officers and it is well-known that many gay Palestinians seek refuge in Israel where a thriving gay community exists that is protected by laws forbidding discrimination based on sexual orientation.
If a Palestinian is persecuted, raped, or murdered in the forest and no Jews are around, did it happen?
Not according to the human rights community and supporters of the Palestinians who have been silent while Palestinians in Syria are slaughtered and displaced, and disinterested in the daily abuse of Arabs in the West Bank and Gaza by their fellow Palestinians.
If the Palestinians ever agree to live in peace with Israel, will human rights advocates turn their attention to these deprivations? Don’t count on it. They don’t care. Their focus will simply shift to attacking Israel’s treatment of its Arab citizens, complaints about the size of the Palestinian state, the limitations placed on its sovereignty and any other Palestinian grievance that can be blamed on their favorite victims. There’s a term for people who use Jews as scapegoats, which concisely summarizes the motivations of the myopic crusaders for Palestinian rights – anti-Semites.
Dr. Mitchell Bard is the author/editor of 24 books including the 2017 edition of Myths and Facts: A Guide to the Arab-Israeli Conflict, The Arab Lobby, and the novel After Anatevka: Tevye in Palestine.