Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Meanwhile, back in the Middle East's "only Western-style democracy"

...criticizing Israeli government policy is fast becoming illegal.

Israel is arresting a growing number of prominent opponents to its policies toward the Palestinians, say critics who are accusing the government of trying to crush legitimate dissent.

In the most high-profile case yet, Jerusalem police detained the head of a leading Israeli human rights group during a vigil against the eviction of Palestinian families whose homes were taken by Jewish settlers.

Since the summer, dozens of Palestinian and Israeli activists have been picked up, including those organizing weekly protests against Israel's West Bank separation barrier as well as others advocating international boycotts of Israeli goods.

Anyone doubting that there are legitimate concerns with respect to the current treatment of Palestinians by the Israeli government, military and West Bank colonists should check out the dismal, eye-opening reports by the Israeli B'Tselem human rights organization. One hopes that it is not next on the list.

And life for the Fourth Estate over there is no bed of roses either:

The English Desk at Ma'an News Agency, the largest independent news network in the Palestinian territories, is deeply concerned that its chief editor, Jared Malsin, an American citizen [and graduate of Yale University], was detained on Tuesday afternoon upon arriving at Israel's Ben Gurion International Airport near Tel Aviv. He is slated for imminent deportation.

In what can only be explained as a retaliatory measure for Malsin's reporting on Palestine, his long-term girlfriend, Faith Rowold, a two-year, registered volunteer with the Lutheran Church in Jerusalem, was also seized and placed in a holding cell pending deportation. Israeli security agents have prevented the couple from making calls, and lied to concerned American consular staff, denying that the two were even being held.

While the US Embassy is protesting both incidents, and is in constant contact with our staff on the ground, diplomatic officials say that there is little they can do when Israel cites "security reasons" for the denial of entry. Meanwhile, Israeli security officials have quietly expressed concern to Ma’an over this latest abuse of power by authorities at the Interior Ministry, skeptical that the professional journalist they know could be deemed a threat.

Ma'an News Agency has recently come under fire (metaphorical, as yet) from Hamas. One might think that would be a badge of honour among those who oppose Islamist fundamentalism. But the problem with independent news agencies is--their independence.

Democracy and the freedoms associated with it are simply too inconvenient for governments at times, even elected ones. Besides, "annexation" and "democracy" don't exactly coexist peacefully. But in fairness to Israel, parliamentless Canada is also a "Western-style democracy," presently ruled by an autocrat who found Parliament too destabilizing. Perhaps we need to take a closer look at that purr-term. Could it be--an oxymoron?

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