Inside the Middle East
January 20, 2012
Posted: 1727 GMT

It was slightly before midnight last Friday when Mahmoud Abu Rahma was walking home from his office at the Al Mezan Center for Human Rights in Gaza City. But before he made it to his house he was set upon by three masked assailants. The men stabbed Abu Rahma multiple times in the leg and shoulder while screaming that he was an "atheist" and a "collaborator".

Even as the attack began Abu Rahma says he knew what it was about.

Three weeks ago, on New Year's eve, he published a scathing article on a Palestinian news website titled "The Gap Between Resistance and Governance." In it he took Palestinian political factions to task for their lack of tolerance, rampant corruption, and liberal use of torture and arrests to harass those who criticize them.

"Power and authority with a poor moral foundation are doomed to fail. They will destroy themselves and lead their people to corruption and injustice," Abu Rahma wrote in the essay.

"The people of any nation have a responsibility to criticize those who lead them. We must look in the mirror before we can see ourselves clearly. "

Mahmoud Abu Rahma
Mahmoud Abu Rahma

Abu Rahma also criticized armed militant groups for endangering the lives of civilians.

The unsparing critique on the powers-that-be in the West Bank and Gaza brought an immediate reaction.

Abu Rahma says he was quickly subjected to a series of threatening email and phone calls and three days after publication a group of masked men entered his building and beat him up.

During the course of the second attack Abu Rahma was able to escape his assailants and get home where family and friends got him medical attention.

The Hamas-controlled Information Ministry in Gaza said in a statement the government was investigating the circumstances of the attack on Abu Rahma and called it a violation of human rights. It also said Gaza authorities respected the right of political expression as long as it conformed with "national responsibility."

But international rights organizations like Human Rights Watch say the governments in both Gaza and the West Bank are complicit in the abuse and harassment of Palestinian critics using both detention and torture as a means of repression.

"Hamas's failure to protect Abu Rahma, who has been a leading voice for human rights in Gaza, sends a chilling message to other human rights defenders," says Human Rights Watch's Middle East director Sarah Leah Whitson.

"Hamas needs to investigate the attacks against him promptly and thoroughly and to appropriately punish those found responsible."

Speaking on the phone from Gaza, Abu Rahma says he does not know who is behind the "cowardly attack" but says the attempt to silence those looking to improve Palestinian society will not work.

He remains unbowed and said the tremendous outpouring of support following his article and subsequent attacks has only stiffened his resolve.

"I am confident that the Palestinian people will stand together for human rights and self freedom of expression"

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Filed under: Fatah •Gaza •Hamas •Human Rights •Palestinians •West Bank

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January 13, 2012
Posted: 1441 GMT
Imad Farajin on the set of Palestinian satire Watan Ala Watar (courtesy Iman Farajin)
Imad Farajin on the set of Palestinian satire Watan Ala Watar (courtesy Iman Farajin)

This week a court in the West Bank City of Ramallah overturned a government ban on the broadcast of a highly popular Palestinian satirical television show called "Watan Ala Watar".

Described as a Palestinian version of the American show, "Saturday Night Live", "Watan Ala Watar" or "Nation on the Edge" served up a weekly offering of cutting political and social satire which spared no one in Palestinian society and angered more than a few in the Palestinian Authority.

Sketches on the shows routinely featured parodies of Palestinian political factions including Fatah and Hamas and offered send-ups of sensitive cultural issues like the enforcement of veils for women in Gaza.

Speaking to CNN about the show in 2009, writer and actor Imad Farajin said that when it came to subject matter there were no sacred cows.

"We talk about Abu Mazen, the Palestinian president, and for Arab people to talk about their president through comedy show is not easy, but we did it and I am proud of it," Farajin remarked

The program was pulled off the Palestinian Authority controlled television station in August during the heavy viewing period of Ramadan after a number of Palestinian officials complained that the show unfairly misrepresented them and did damage to their reputations.

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Filed under: Culture •Fatah •Gaza •Hamas •Palestinians •West Bank

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March 18, 2011
Posted: 1505 GMT

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel meets with Piers Morgan(Getty)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel meets with Piers Morgan(Getty)

In a wide-ranging interview with CNN’s Piers Morgan Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu ruled out the possibility that his government would ever negotiate with a Palestinian government that included the Islamist group Hamas.

“Can you imagine a peace deal with Al Qaeda? Of course not.” Netanyahu told Morgan in Jerusalem. “What am I going to negotiate with them? The method of our decapitation? The method of their exterminating us? Of course not"

The vocal opposition from Netanyahu comes amidst Palestinians efforts to end the bitter political divide between their two main political parties.

Wednesday Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas said he was ready to visit the Gaza Strip immediately in an effort to end the internal political division between his Fatah party and the Hamas faction which rules in Gaza.

That move followed an invitation from Hamas Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh who extended the invitation to Abbas as tens of thousands of protestors both in the West Bank and Gaza took to the streets demanding political unity.

Israel has long rejected the idea of direct negotiations with Hamas which it regards as a terrorist organization but Netanyahu’s comments signal what appears to be a new Israeli push to prevent Abbas from striking deal that would include Hamas in any future Palestinian government.

Friday’s Haaretz newspaper reported that Israeli officials were working to convince the United States and other nations that any Hamas role in a government would attest to the Palestinian’s lack of interest in peace.

The division between Fatah and Hamas began in 2006 when the Islamist party won parliamentary elections and worsened a year later when Hamas seized power in Gaza from Fatah in a violent coup. Repeated attempts at negotiating a political rapprochement have failed .

While few are holding their breath that this latest effort at reconciliation will bear fruit there is considerably more pressure being brought to bear on both factions. Taking a page from protestors in Egypt and Tunisia internet savvy Palestinians have been using social media to organize increasing numbers to demonstrate publicly for reconciliation.

Independent lawmaker Mustafa Barghouti says recent demonstrations represent a new and important youth movement in Palestinian society.

"What you see is the beginning of change, what you see is the voice of the young people and the silent majority among the Palestinians which are pressuring both Fatah and Hamas to end this terrible division, to end this internal competition about an authority which does not exist because it is all under occupation," Barghouti said. "You see the voice of the Palestinian majority asking for democracy back and asking for unity, which is the only way to end occupation and the suffering of the people."

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Filed under: CNN Coverage •Fatah •Gaza •Hamas •Israel •Netanyahu •Palestinians •West Bank

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February 13, 2011
Posted: 815 GMT
Erakat, who presided over several rounds of peace talks with Israel, tendered his resignation on February 12, 2011, AFP/Getty images .
Erakat, who presided over several rounds of peace talks with Israel, tendered his resignation on February 12, 2011, AFP/Getty images .

Chief Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erakat has stepped down from his post, saying he did so because he felt responsible that controversial documents were stolen from his office but not because of how Middle East peace talks have unfolded.
Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas accepted the resignation of Erakat, a longtime face of the Palestinian movement. Mohammed Shtayeh, a senior negotiator and a member of Fatah's central committee, told CNN on Saturday that the move came after an investigating committee determined that documents were leaked and stolen from Erakat's office.
Erakat told CNN on Saturday that he was simply following through on his earlier offer to quit if the Palestinian probe determined as much. But the longtime Palestinian political figure insisted that his decision stemmed only from that fact, and not what was offered in the actual negotiations.
"I'm a person who has devoted his life to building institutions of transparency, accountability and the rule of law," Erakat said, explaining why he felt obliged to step down. "My resignation doesn't have anything to do with the substance of negotiations."
Previously, Erakat had accused TV network Al-Jazeera of taking parts of the controversial documents out of context and, in some cases, blatantly manipulating them. On Saturday, he continued to blast the Qatar-based network. Read more...

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Filed under: Fatah •Palestinians •West Bank

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October 13, 2010
Posted: 1619 GMT

A top Palestinian negotiator distanced the Palestinian Authority government from comments made by a senior Palestinian Liberation Organization official inferring  Palestinians might recognize Israel as a Jewish state in exchange for a future Palestinian state based on 1967 borders that included all of the West Bank and East Jerusalem.

 "We are not going to do anything that would pre-empt or prejudge the rights of the Palestinians in Israel or Palestinian refugees" Nabil Sha'ath, an advisor to Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas, told CNN. "We are not going to do it – forget it"

Sha'ath's comments followed a  report by the Israeli newspaper Haaretz quoting PLO official Yasser Abed Rabbo as saying "We want to receive a map of the State of Israel which Israel wants us to accept....If the map will be based on the 1967 borders and will not  include our land, our houses and East Jerusalem, we will be willing to recognize Israel according to the formulation of the government within the hour,"

He went on to tell the newspaper "It is important for us to know where are the borders of Israel and where are the borders of Palestine. Any formulation the Americans present – even asking us to call Israel the 'Chinese State' – we will agree to it, as long as we receive the 1967 borders. We have recognized Israel in the past, but Israel has not recognized the Palestinian state."

Sha'ath told CNN that Abed Rabbo's comments, as reported, did not represent  the position of the PLO or the Fatah political faction which dominates the Palestinian Authority.

On Monday Palestinians rejected an offer from Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyau to renew a freeze on new construction in the occupied West Bank in exchange for Palestinian recognition of Isarel as a Jewish state.

Arab Knesset member, Ahmed Tibi,  told CNN that in a phone conversation Wednesday with Mahmoud Abbas the Palestinian president assured him there was no intention to recognize Israel a Jewish state.

CNN, despite repeated attempts, was unable to contact Abed Rabbo for comment.

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Filed under: Fatah •Israel •Palestinians •West Bank

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September 2, 2010
Posted: 645 GMT
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February 27, 2009
Posted: 1229 GMT

(CNN) - Palestinian rivals agreed Thursday to work toward ending their bitter fighting in an effort to form a unity government in Gaza and the West Bank.

KHALED DESOUKI/AFP/Getty Images. Leaders of rival Palestinian factions discuss the results of reconciliation talks in Cairo, Egypt, on Thursday.
KHALED DESOUKI/AFP/Getty Images. Leaders of rival Palestinian factions discuss the results of reconciliation talks in Cairo, Egypt, on Thursday.

Among the measures reportedly reached in an Egyptian-brokered meeting in Cairo was an agreement between the two largest rival factions, Hamas and Fatah.

Hamas, which controls Gaza, said it would release Fatah prisoners it holds in Gaza. Fatah agreed to do the same with Hamas captives held in Fatah's West Bank base.

The participants also agreed to stop smear campaigns in the media, according to a statement released after the meeting.

KHALED DESOUKI/AFP/Getty Images. Palestinain chief negotiator and Fatah member, Ahmed Qorei (L) speaks with Mussa Abu Marzuq (R), the exiled number two of the Islamist Hamas movement, during a joint press conference with leaders of rival Palestinian groups.
KHALED DESOUKI/AFP/Getty Images. Palestinain chief negotiator and Fatah member, Ahmed Qorei (L) speaks with Mussa Abu Marzuq (R), the exiled number two of the Islamist Hamas movement, during a joint press conference with leaders of rival Palestinian groups.

Representatives from other groups in the region also attended the meeting. Although the statement referred only to "all the Palestinian forces and factions," without naming them, Gaza's Ramattan news agency reported Fatah and Hamas were present.

The group agreed to form five committees to address the issue of prisoners, security and the formation of an election commission.

The statement said the committees would begin work March 10 and complete their work at the end of the month, by which time they hope a national unity government will be formed.

Several Western nations have expressed a reluctance to work with any government that includes Hamas, which the United States and Israel consider a terrorist outfit.

Tensions between Fatah and Hamas reached a climax in June 2007 when Hamas took control of Gaza in a bloody siege.

Palestinian security forces controlled by President Mahmoud Abbas' Fatah Party were expelled from Gaza, and Fatah has since held sway only in the West Bank.

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Filed under: Fatah •Hamas •Palestinians

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