Yesterday morning I woke up to the disturbing news that the Palestinian Authority (PA) had arrested both the father of one of my dearest friends in the world and my brother-in-law. Why, you ask? They dared to point out the fact that the emperor, Mahmoud Abbas, has been running all over Ramallah without clothes. To be clear, Abu Mazen was not really prancing about naked; but if he was, you better not tweet about it or post a video on Facebook of his bare behind. If you do, you too my friend could end up in jail because Mahmoud Abbas has been channeling the late Kim Jong Il of North Korea and stepped up efforts to quash dissent among the fed up Palestinian people.
Abbas, whose term as president has been up for almost half a decade, is getting a little too comfortable in his fancy dictator shoes. For the past year, his thugs have been arresting journalists, bloggers, and your average Ali posting on Facebook. Anyone who dares challenge the loathed leader is fair game. George Canawati, the voice of Radio Bethlehem 2000, has been arrested multiple times for his candid and often hilarious critiques of the Fatah mafia family. Sami Al-Sa’i of Wattan News agency was also interrogated multiple times and threatened with slander charges if he didn't shut up about the ongoing final status negotiations being a joke. The PA has also arrested several college students representing opposing political factions during the Palestinian University campus elections.
Replacing democracy with a dictatorship seems to be Fatah's new strategy for beating Hamas, who trounced them in the 2006 parliamentary elections. The PA has also been channeling Anonymous and honing its hacking skills. Not only do they troll the statuses and tweets of their haters; they’ve also taken to hacking into users’ inboxes and threatening to use private correspondences against them if they don’t pipe down about the corruption the current leadership is legendary for. Using Palestinians’ personal lives against them is a play torn out of the Israeli handbook and the Palestinian Authority is not ashamed to use it.
Israel is still in the lead when it comes to violating Palestinian rights, according to the Palestinian Center for Development and Media Freedoms (MADA). Hamas comes in second, with the Palestinian Authority getting the bronze. On December 2, however, the PA decided it was time to take the lead. They swept through the West Bank arresting a college student from Bethlehem University, members of the opposing political factions from Nablus, Jenin, and Hebron, and in a move that sent shockwaves across the Palestinian diaspora, Abbas's cronies arrested one of the most respected, influential, and charitable Palestinian businessmen, Dr. Mohamed al Sabawi.
Dr. Al Sabawi is chairman of MENA Geothermal, UCI, TABO, and Ahlia Insurance. He is also 68 years old and a Canadian citizen who holds no other allegiance. Mahmoud Abbas arrested a respected Palestinian foreign national because two weeks earlier Al Sabawi had the nerve to mention to the press that it was time for Abbas to step the hell down. Khaled Al Sabawi, Mohamed’s son is extremely popular with the 18 to 39 Palestinian demographic. His TEDx talk on the use of geothermal technology gave the world a glimpse of an innovative, cutting-edge Palestine rarely seen before. He and his pops have also dedicated their lives to securing Palestinian land to protect it from Israeli confiscation. Khaled was present during his father’s arrest, which was also caught on video. In the video, Al Sabawi, the father, tears the PA a new one for attempting to humiliate him and forgetting who the real enemy is.
The ordeal went on for nine hours. Khaled Al Sabawi tweeted and posted a full account of his father's illegal detention on Facebook. The first post read, “My father, 68 year old Canadian investor in Palestine, has been arrested by the corrupt Palestinian Authority for his outspokeness against PA President Mahmoud Abbas! They've ILLEGALLY detained us for 7 hours now. ” [sic]
Furious, his next status stated, “My father is Canadian citizen…” This is what shocks me the most. I was fully aware that the Palestinian Authority had started cracking down on freedom of expression, but I figured that even though I‘ve made an art of mocking Abbas, Erekat, and Hamas, I was untouchable. I assumed the PA wouldn’t dare arrest a U.S. citizen. I don’t even stop at red lights when I’m driving in Bethlehem because the idea that they have any authority over anything is obscene to me, since Israel controls everything—including the water.
The PA has decided to take its job as enforcer very seriously these days. They’ve got $4 billion coming their way from their friend and honest peace broker the U.S. They can't afford the pesky population they supposedly represent ruining it for them by pointing out little things like the two-state solution being unattainable if the illegal Israeli settlements continue to expand exponentially. Abbas has somehow decided that hacking refugees’ Facebook accounts is far more important than getting the fuel supply flowing in long forgotten Gaza. House demolitions in Jerusalem won’t elicit a peep from the leadership, but post a video on YouTube of cartoon versions of Abu Mazen and Netanyahu doing the ChaCha and you’re going to jail without passing “Go.”
I have spent the past three decades splitting time between New Jersey and Ramallah, and I have never witnessed such an oppressive atmosphere. When I began doing stand up comedy in Palestine in 2002, at the height of the Second Intifada, I mercilessly poked fun at then President Yasser Arafat, who at the time was under siege at his nearby compound. It didn’t occur to me that any topics were taboo and I performed completely uncensored. After my first show a BBC reporter walked up to me and said, “You know they are going to kill you for saying that.” I asked him, “Who?” and he laughed. I thought he was kidding.
Obviously, no one killed me and I have continued to perform completely uncensored in front of Palestinian audiences for the past decade. I would brag to my fellow comics who are battling censorship in Egypt and the Gulf. I’d tell them, “You’ve got to come to Palestine. You can say whatever you want, just not in an Israeli airport.” American reporters stateside, interviewing me about my stand up, would tell me, “You could never do this in Hebron. They would kill you.” I would tell them that I can and I have. It seems the days of free speech in the Occupied Territories may be coming to a horrifying end and although they may not kill me, the Palestinian Authority may very well arrest me the next time I head back to Jerusalem for a show.
After nine hours of illegal detention, somebody broke free from the mob mentality and convinced the PA that arresting the senior Al Sabawi was a very bad idea. He was finally set free and never charged. According to Khaled Al Sabawi’s first post-freedom status update, the PA gave the father and son a lovely parting gift. “We just received word the PA has stopped all our title deed procedures for our TABO project. This project protects Palestinian land by creating title deeds in neglected villages! Now they're coming after our businesses!”
The Palestinian leadership has lost the plot. Desperate to continue fattening their pockets, they have betrayed the cause and empowered the Israeli stranglehold on the Palestinian people. Students on college campuses, where free thought is fostered, are being jailed for dissertations that don’t promote violence but demand equality. Actions, such as the arrest of Mohamed al Sabawi and the repeated bullying of Palestinian social media users, does nothing to strengthen Abbas, Fatah, or the PLO.
Quite the contrary, it shines a light on the need for new elections and a new leadership that focuses on the crimes against humanity being perpetrated daily by the Israeli government against the Palestinian people—rather than joining in the fun and arresting bloggers whose only crime is speaking the truth. Dr. Al Sabawi hit the nail on the head. It is time for Mahmoud Abbas to retire.