Commentary Magazine


Topic: PalTel

Fayyadism 2012: Censorship Not Freedom

In 2010, when Nathan Brown concluded his report on the Palestinian Authority’s “state-building,” he declared “Fayyadism”–the idea that Salam Fayyad was building essential governing institutions–for the mirage it was. The impression on the ground was that Fayyad was merely managing the decay of the institutions Yasser Arafat had built. Crucially, Brown wrote: “To the extent that Fayyadism is building institutions, it is unmistakably doing so in an authoritarian context.” Translation: whatever it is Fayyad is doing would be impossible in a democratic setting.

Brown’s report echoes back this week as Jillian York, director for international freedom of expression at the Electronic Frontier Foundation, reports that the Palestinian Authority has now added a new element to its authoritarianism:

According to a report from Ma’an News published today, the Palestinian Authority has ordered the blocking of websites belonging to eight news outlets critical of President Mahmoud Abbas.  The report states that technicians at PalTel—the largest ISP in the West Bank—tweaked their proxy server and web cache daemon to block the sites, while other ISPs are using similar setups. The blocking is inconsistent across ISPs, with at least one failing to block certain sites on the list…

Prior to these latest developments, Internet under the Palestinian Authority (PA) has been relatively unfettered, with only one site—Dounia Al Watan, a news site that was reporting on corruption within the PA—ever reported as blocked in the West Bank.  Gaza’s Internet is considerably more restricted, with sexually explicit websites blocked.

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In 2010, when Nathan Brown concluded his report on the Palestinian Authority’s “state-building,” he declared “Fayyadism”–the idea that Salam Fayyad was building essential governing institutions–for the mirage it was. The impression on the ground was that Fayyad was merely managing the decay of the institutions Yasser Arafat had built. Crucially, Brown wrote: “To the extent that Fayyadism is building institutions, it is unmistakably doing so in an authoritarian context.” Translation: whatever it is Fayyad is doing would be impossible in a democratic setting.

Brown’s report echoes back this week as Jillian York, director for international freedom of expression at the Electronic Frontier Foundation, reports that the Palestinian Authority has now added a new element to its authoritarianism:

According to a report from Ma’an News published today, the Palestinian Authority has ordered the blocking of websites belonging to eight news outlets critical of President Mahmoud Abbas.  The report states that technicians at PalTel—the largest ISP in the West Bank—tweaked their proxy server and web cache daemon to block the sites, while other ISPs are using similar setups. The blocking is inconsistent across ISPs, with at least one failing to block certain sites on the list…

Prior to these latest developments, Internet under the Palestinian Authority (PA) has been relatively unfettered, with only one site—Dounia Al Watan, a news site that was reporting on corruption within the PA—ever reported as blocked in the West Bank.  Gaza’s Internet is considerably more restricted, with sexually explicit websites blocked.

Ma’an reports that the new round of censorship was the brainchild of the Palestinian attorney general, who cracks down on such freedom from time to time, chipping away at whatever temporary semblance of personal liberty Palestinians in the West Bank enjoy.

Usually these crackdowns earn some form of public protest, but that seems to be lacking in this case. Ma’an explains that this is because no one will risk even talking about participation in the program:

By contrast, the blocking has gone largely unnoticed. Mada, a press freedom group, raised the issue of Milad and Amad, while U.S. blogger “Challah Hu Akbar” reported extensively about In Light Press, but many Palestinians remain unaware the Internet is censored. This is partly because providers have not acknowledged their cooperation nor have subscribers been told any websites are off limits.

Even at private Internet companies, employees fear losing their jobs or worse if they discuss the program. “Sorry, but I’m not going to jail,” said one PalTel technician when asked for a list of the websites.

“Sorry, but I’m not going to jail” isn’t a very encouraging slogan for Fayyadism, but it is more accurate than pretending he is competently serving the Palestinian people.

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