While growing up in Palestine, I learned that freedom of expression was one of the most sacred rights that a person could enjoy and that it was the foundation upon which any democratic system was based. This is reinforced by the United Nations Charter, which links freedom of opinion and expression to the goals of the UN, indicating the universality and necessity of this freedom, especially in the 21st century.
Freedom of opinion includes basic elements of freedom of expression and the freedom to hold, impart and publish opinions without interference by any person. This is represented in freedom of speech through audio, visual, written and printed means.
As Article 19 of the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights says: “Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression, and this right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas, by any means and without regard to borders.”
In addition, Article 19 of the Palestinian Basic Law states: “Freedom of opinion may not be prejudiced. Every person shall have the right to express his opinion and to circulate it orally, in writing or in any form of expression or art, with due consideration to the provisions of the law.”
All agree that absolute freedom does not exist. There must be limits to human freedom through legal, moral and religious controls appropriate to the nature of society to preserve people’s rights, national laws, public morals and public order. We all know the adage: “Your freedom ends where mine begins.” The various religions have also recognized that total freedom may negatively impact society, and thus have instituted limits, such as the prohibitions against lying, slander, backbiting, gossip, ridicule and harming the reputation of others under the pretext of freedom of opinion and expression.
Today, because of our broad knowledge of the lives of others, people enjoy freedoms that did not exist in the past. This happened due to the spread of mass communication, which eliminated the distance between people. Social media, especially Facebook, has provided everyone with a free public platform that is nearly impossible to restrict. Social media platforms have imposed themselves around the globe. Countries deal with them at different levels; there are countries that monitor the media with a high degree of authoritarianism and others that leave a wide space for thought, opinion and difference.
What we have witnessed recently in Palestine regarding freedom of opinion and expression is worrying and must be rejected. Moreover, resorting to addressing errors through the executive authority in everything related to public opinion is in itself a dilemma. In 2018, the executive dissolved the Palestinian Legislative Council and for 15 years Palestinians have not exercised their right to vote to choose their political representatives. What happened in Palestine is abnormal and contradicts the Palestinian Basic Law, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and all human rights conventions.
After the rise of the voices of Free Palestine from Gaza, Sheikh Jarrah, Beita, Silwan and the territories that became Israel in 1948, it is very unfortunate that, at the political and national level, while international human rights organizations have recently begun to focus on Israel’s violations and its apartheid regime against the Palestinian people, attention now turns to human rights violations in Palestine by the Palestinians themselves. This hinders the momentum Palestinians had in exposing the violations of the Israeli occupation against our people.
As Palestinians are demanding justice at the International Criminal Court, attention is, unfortunately, being shifted toward investigating cases of torture and ill-treatment inside Palestine!
Following the death of activist Nizar Banat in mysterious circumstances and an investigation by the Palestinian National Authority’s security forces, there is evidence that Banat suffered 10 fractures to his ribs, that his lungs were filled with bloody fluid, and that gas from grenades suffocated him to death.
The PA prime minister formed a special committee to investigate the killing of Banat on June 24. The committee worked for three days in Hebron, and then prepared its report after studying the case and testimonies to be handed over to the president through the prime minister. On June 29, the committee recommended referring its report and its attachments to the judicial authorities to take the necessary legal measures in accordance with Palestinian law. After hearing the statement of the special committee’s chairman, the Palestinian justice minister, important questions remain unanswered:
- What are the committee’s recommendations to the judicial authorities?
- What are the options and provisions according to Palestinian law?
- What is the time period recommended by the investigative committee for the judicial authorities to come up with a final ruling according to Palestinian law?
If we agree citizens have a natural right to full transparency from their governments, the prime minister must share the results of the investigation and the recommendations that came out of this committee.
Ever since the murder took place, the streets of Palestine have swarmed with protesters calling for justice and accountability.
Hundreds of Palestinians are protesting in the center of Ramallah against the Palestinian Authority, for its corruption, collaboration with the Israeli occupation authorities, and assassination of one of its critics, Nizar Banat. In the recent protests, PA security forces targeted and brutalized protestors, particularly women, stole their cameras and phones and continued to harass them online. Journalists weren’t allowed to do their jobs. Still, the voice of the street is clear: They demand that Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas step down! We are reminded that political detention is the most common form of abuse and that lack of accountability within the security services cannot be tolerated.
The policy of arrest and detention for investigation upends the scales of freedom and earns fame and reputation for those who dream of it. Serious action is now required to protect the rights of the victim and the family; respect the rights of every member of this steadfast people; prohibit repetition of this scene, reorient the compass that has deviated from its national path; and work to achieve national unity to end the occupation.
What we witness today is neither the Palestine we dreamed of nor the Palestine we were promised when the Palestine National Authority was founded. The Palestinian people deserve that their human rights be protected, and, above all, deserve freedom.