Friday, July 18, 2003
THE OFFICIAL ATTACK ON PALESTINIAN INTELLECTUALS: The mob assault on Palestinian political scientist Khalil Shikaki's center (see also here) has prompted some follow-up coverage on ways in which Palestinian intellectuals are threatened when they deviate from the Palestinian Authority's party line. The San Francisco Chronicle points out that Shikali is not the only Palestinian academic to feel the effects of the state-organized mob:

Years ago, [Al- Quds University president Sari] Nusseibeh was beaten up at Bir Zeit University for promoting dialogue with Israelis. Last year, he was dismissed as the PLO's representative in Jerusalem after he publicly questioned whether demanding the right of return was either logical or feasible.

The leaflet distributed in Ramallah on Sunday recalled how Nusseibeh was denied entry to the campus of Al-Najah University in Nablus two months ago and prevented from discussing a new Israeli-Palestinian peace initiative.

"We warn anyone who considers harming the national rights that their fate will be similar to that of Shikaki and Nusseibeh," said a statement by the group that organized the egg-throwing, the Committee for the Defense of Palestinian Refugees' Rights.

"They will be ostracized and put on popular trial," the statement continued.

"The committee salutes the masses who care about their rights and who do not allow mercenary academics to spread their poison among our people.

"The committee calls on the Palestinian prime minister not to be lenient on such people and to take a clear position opposing their activities and to put them on trial for high treason."

Read the whole piece to see the links between the Palestinian Authority and mob attacks. The article also points out that beyond the intellectual class, independent journalists are feeling the heat:

"People are often very cautious about expressing their political views, especially with regard to the government and sensitive issues," said Khaled Abu Toameh, an ex-PLO employee who is now an independent reporter and analyst. "Some writers and journalists have been punished by the Palestinian Authority for simply expressing their views. In one case, a group of intellectuals was imprisoned or beaten up by Palestinian Authority thugs for signing a petition calling for reforms."

Abu Toameh added: "There has been a slight improvement in recent years with more people speaking out openly in favor of reforms and against corruption, but you always have the feeling that you're being watched.

"It's not as bad as Syria or Saddam's Iraq, but it can be frightening. Palestinian journalists know that you don't mess around with sacred cows."

It is this kind of thuggery that makes Shikali's work so dangerous -- a fact that he and Arafat understand clearly. Shikali's follow-up interview in today's Chicago Tribune spells this out:

At his center this week, Shikaki shrugged off the incident.

"I'm just going to continue, and it's not going to disturb me at all," he said. "No one succeeded in silencing me in the past and they're not going to silence me now."

The source of the uproar, he said, was that his poll, conducted among 4,500 refugee families in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, Jordan and Lebanon, for the first time "tapped into private opinion, not public opinion--what people are saying to themselves and not saying to their neighbors. A lot of people want it to remain private, not public."

It should also be pointed out that Nusseibeh is not backing down either. He is currently spearheading an extraordinary petition drive with prominent Israelis to promote an alternative path to peace. In the span of six weeks, this effort has already garnered 30,000 signatures in Israel and the occupied territories.

Israelis have criticized Palestinian intellectuals for not speaking truth to power. However, a small slice of Palestinian civil society has spoken truth to power, espousing nonviolence and negotiation as the proper tools of resistance, despite the overwhelming pressure these individuals must face to toe the party line.

Shikali and Nusseibeh demonstrate that there are Palestinian intellectuals who are willing to challenge official doctrine. One can only hope that in the future, such challenges do not require the ample amounts of bravery these men clearly possess.

UPDATE: Judith Weiss posts on the emerging opposition to the Arafat's disastrous economic policies. Go check it out.


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