The truth hurts in the new 'Palestine'

Criticising President Arafat is a risky business for journalists, reports Robert Fisk in Gaza City

"We closed Al-Watan because of the report about the President. The editor was arrested for something else - he is under arrest, yes. He is being questioned. We have also closed Al-Istiqlal. They have been involved in disinformation." And Marwan Kanafani, special adviser to "President" Yasser Arafat of Palestine, glanced at his computer screen as if it contained the very law under which Imad al-Falouji, editor of the Hamas newspaper, had been taken from his home on Saturday by PLO security men.

Mr al-Falouji's sin, it seems, was to carry a small news item on his paper's back page which claimed to quote a report in the Independent that Mr Arafat had sold to a French company the right to use the name of his 13-day-old daughter, Zahwa, on its products. The Independent carried no such report.

"Hamas only printed this article to hurt the credibility of President Arafat," Mr Kanafani, brother of the militant (and murdered) poet Ghassan Kanafani, said with contempt. "Nobody believes it. President Arafat is a very generous man - he'd never do such a stupid thing. This has only been done to discredit the President. His response was more in sorrow than in anger."

Outside Mr Kanafani's office, armed members of Mr Arafat's security services wandered through the Palestinian Authority's headquarters; upsetting the President is obviously a risky business for journalists in the new "Palestine".

"I hope the suspension will be temporary," Mr Kanafani added, perhaps sensing that the closure of newspapers is not the sort of thing democracies are supposed to do. "I hope the writers of that paper understand that this kind of news has got nothing to do with what is called 'the people's right to know'. Writers on magazines like this, they are hurting the basis of the development and freedom of the press in this country."

A television crew from the Palestinian Broadcasting Company were sitting outside the office, waiting to interview Mr Kanafani about the Israelis' latest "violation" of the peace accord in allowing Jews to demonstrate on the Haram as-Sharif in Jerusalem, known to Jews as Temple Mount. They were very definitely not going to report Mr al-Falouji's arrest any more than they were going to remind viewers of the secret special courts which Mr Arafat has instituted in Gaza City for people like Mr al-Falouji. But there seemed no reason why Mr Kanafani should not explain to me the purpose of such courts.

"Yes, these state security courts, do you know whom they embarrass most, who complains most? The Palestinians. And me. I don't like them. Yes, they have passed a lot of sentences, some of them harsh." Mr Kanafani did not mention that some sentences are for 25 years.

"Yes, there are rules that the public are not allowed to attend ... under current conditions here, we may have certain rules that may not be democratic. But didn't Britain have special courts when it was at war? We're almost in a state of war against those who don't want us to implement peace here. It's a very critical situation. When 1.2 million Palestinians are punished for what one or two (militants) have done, then we are in a state that calls for extraordinary measures. We are trying to punish justly those who are jeopardising the security, property, lives and human rights of the Palestinian people."

Were things really this critical? Mr Kanafani replied: "The fact is ... I don't think the Israelis want peace in the way we want peace. We signed a peace treaty as partners with the Israelis and we are together with them in facing the obstacles on the path to peace, to co-operate to reach a settlement. But the Israelis are still dealing with us as enemies. They are trying to reach a ceasefire, not a peace. They don't seem to trust us or have the will to trust us."

Mr Kanafani's point seemed obvious: the PLO was arresting Hamas and Islamic Jihad militants at great cost to its own popularity, yet still the Israelis would not agree to abandon settlements and allow the Palestinians a state on the West Bank and Gaza.

"The Declaration of Principles signed in Washington was based on three words: land for peace. We will do anything humanly possible to satisfy Israel's security needs. But they must do everything possible to satisfy our need for land. President Arafat knew when he signed this agreement that there were big holes in it. And the Israelis got praise for making peace. [Prime Minister Yitzhak] Rabin shared the Nobel Prize with President Arafat. But now when we come down to the nitty-gritty, the Israelis want both peace and land. And if they want to keep their soldiers in the West Bank to protect settlements and keep most of our land under different pretexts, then we're not going to have peace."

Mr Kanafani sets off today for a further meeting between Mr Arafat and Mr Rabin at Taba, but he made no secret of Mr Arafat's impatience. "Yasser Arafat took a lot of chances for this. He took personally all the decisions that were necessary, including arrests and unpopular decisions, as well as raising the hopes of our people . . . He did this because he believes in peace. Heads of state don't take these chances, but leaders do - and he is a leader. He wants it to work, but he is exhausted. He is worried. He is not satisfied that the peace process is moving."

Which is clearly what Mr al-Falouji also thinks.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Senior Digital Marketing Consultant

£28000 - £45000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Senior Digital Marketing Cons...

Recruitment Genius: Assistant Stores Keeper

£16640 - £18500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An Assistant Stores Keeper is r...

Recruitment Genius: Claims Administrator

£16000 - £18500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an excellent opportunit...

Recruitment Genius: Software Developer - C# / ASP.NET / SQL

£17000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Developer required to join a bu...

Day In a Page

'It was first time I had ever tasted chocolate. I kept a piece, and when Amsterdam was liberated, I gave it to the first Allied soldier I saw'

Bread from heaven

Dutch survivors thank RAF for World War II drop that saved millions
Britain will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power - Labour

How 'the Axe' helped Labour

UK will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power
Rare and exclusive video shows the horrific price paid by activists for challenging the rule of jihadist extremists in Syria

The price to be paid for challenging the rule of extremists

A revolution now 'consuming its own children'
Welcome to the world of Megagames

Welcome to the world of Megagames

300 players take part in Watch the Skies! board game in London
'Nymphomaniac' actress reveals what it was really like to star in one of the most explicit films ever

Charlotte Gainsbourg on 'Nymphomaniac'

Starring in one of the most explicit films ever
Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi: The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers

Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi

The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers
Vince Cable interview: Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'

Vince Cable exclusive interview

Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'
Iwan Rheon interview: Game of Thrones star returns to his Welsh roots to record debut album

Iwan Rheon is returning to his Welsh roots

Rheon is best known for his role as the Bastard of Bolton. It's gruelling playing a sadistic torturer, he tells Craig McLean, but it hasn't stopped him recording an album of Welsh psychedelia
Russell Brand's interview with Ed Miliband has got everyone talking about The Trews

Everyone is talking about The Trews

Russell Brand's 'true news' videos attract millions of viewers. But today's 'Milibrand' interview introduced his resolutely amateurish style to a whole new crowd
Morne Hardenberg interview: Cameraman for BBC's upcoming show Shark on filming the ocean's most dangerous predator

It's time for my close-up

Meet the man who films great whites for a living
Increasing numbers of homeless people in America keep their mobile phones on the streets

Homeless people keep mobile phones

A homeless person with a smartphone is a common sight in the US. And that's creating a network where the 'hobo' community can share information - and fight stigma - like never before
'Queer saint' Peter Watson left his mark on British culture by bankrolling artworld giants

'Queer saint' who bankrolled artworld giants

British culture owes a huge debt to Peter Watson, says Michael Prodger
Pushkin Prizes: Unusual exchange programme aims to bring countries together through culture

Pushkin Prizes brings countries together

Ten Scottish schoolchildren and their Russian peers attended a creative writing workshop in the Highlands this week
14 best kids' hoodies

14 best kids' hoodies

Don't get caught out by that wind on the beach. Zip them up in a lightweight top to see them through summer to autumn
Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi: The acceptable face of the Emirates

The acceptable face of the Emirates

Has Abu Dhabi found a way to blend petrodollars with principles, asks Robert Fisk