In light of the power fight among hyenas, and before the background of the deteriorated political relations between Hamas in Gaza and Fatah in the West Bank, the Central and the Executive committees of Fatah decided to hold an election for the congress of the Palestinian Journalists Syndicate (PJS) according to their whims, without taking into account initiatives of the civil society, the positions of Palestinian journalist groups, legal and human rights institutions, and the International Federation of Journalists IFJ, which all required that the elections be postponed for a short time in accordance with the by-laws of the PJS, and stressed that these elections should be transparent and should represent all Palestinian journalists.
The Palestinian Journalists Syndicate has not had an election for nearly 20 years, Mr. Naim Tubasi has headed the PJS for at least 16 years, and the PJS has been de-facto inactive for about the last 12 to 14 years. The membership in the syndicate has been a more or less honorary issue, but it has always welcomed Palestinian journalists from all political factions and stayed away from politics as it was seen by all members strictly as a professional group. But, suddenly during the last 10 days or so, it was imperative for the Fatah to install over 60 of its own people.
- What would happen, or what would be lost, if the PJS elections were postponed for two, three months or even half a year if this delay is in the interest of journalists and the PJS assembly?
- What prompted the former intelligence chief Tawfiq Al-Tirawi and Presidential General Secretary Al-Tayeb Abed Al-Rahim for holding of the PJS congress and elections and ignoring the demands of the journalists and the civil society organizations?
- Which is the purpose of the presidential secretary general and former intelligence chief that he needs to urgently hold elections in the PJS?
- Why do men in the business of power, politics and repression like Tawfiq Al-Tirawi and Al-Tayeb Abed Al-Rahim, who have no relation to journalism, need to stick their nose into the elections of Palestinian journalists?
- Why are the PA and Fatah deliberately politicizing the PJS? Is this in the interest of the journalists and journalism, Palestine, the civil society or the PA?
- Has any journalist dared to ask Mr. Al-Tirawi and Abed Al-Rahim these questions?
- Would they have been tortured if they had asked?
Last Friday 5 February 2010, the General Assembly of the PJS was convened in the Salim Effendi hall next to the El-Bireh municipal building and very close to the center of downtown Ramallah. The meeting was held despite calls from various institutions to postpone the meeting, and the elections.
On 29 Jan 2010 Aidan White, Secretary General of the International Federation of Journalists  (IFJ), issued a press release  calling for unity among the Palestinian journalists ahead of the congress of the Palestinian Journalists Syndicate (PJS), and called for the postponement of the congress scheduled to be held on 5th February 2010, in order to allow journalists to put in place a structure acceptable to all, which will guarantee an open and inclusive process leading to a unifying congress.
On 2 February 2010 the Palestinian Center for Human Rights  (PCHR) “apologized for not participating  in the supervision of elections of the Palestinian Journalists’ Syndicate scheduled to be held on 05 February 2010″. Mr. Raji Sourani, Director of PCHR, sent his apology in the form of a letter, in response to an invitation previously sent by the PJS asking the PCHR to participate in the supervision of the Syndicate’s elections. Sourani added that they had followed the reactions towards elections in the PJS closely and that they adhered to the stance of the IFJ, which calls for deferring elections for some time.
Sourani expressed the hope that the PJS gives consideration to calls from inside and outside the Union for deferring the elections. However, the PCHR stressed that these elections “should be transparent and should represent all journalists. This step should be considered the basic foundation of the Syndicate, so that it does not only represent and serve journalists, but also constitutes a basic component of Palestinian civil society, helping in the resolution of our national questions”. Under the current circumstances, PCHR said in this statement, it could not help tp supervise these elections unless they would be delayed: “it would not be able to participate in the supervision of elections because supervision is part of a more comprehensive process and a series of procedures, which were not observed by the Centre”.
On 3 February 2010 the Al Mezan Centre for Human Rights sent a letter to the PJS  to thank them for inviting the Centre to monitor their elections, and apologize for declining their request. Al Mezan asserted that elections and the electoral system for the PJS must be accepted by journalists: “Elections are a delicate process. Any defect in any of its stages could affect the results. Therefore, Al Mezan does not view with favor that it was invited to monitor only one of these stages, which is the voting stage. This would not allow Al Mezan to give an objective assessment as to the integrity of this election process.
Al Mezan believes that, like the presidential and legislative elections, for the Syndicate elections to be fair and democratic, there must be agreement between the involved parties. Such agreement could foster the credibility and integrity of the PJS, and also strengthen its role in Palestinian society; including promoting and defending democracy and liberty. It will also enable it to defend the press and journalists from government interference”.
For its part, the Palestinian NGO Network launched an initiative to find a compromise to resolve the dispute surrounding the PJS elections. The NGO initiative requires postponing the elections for a maximum period of two months, and the elections to be conducted after this period in accordance with the rules which had been enacted for the PJS elections in 1999. During the postponing period of the two months, a selection of a professional committee must work on the examination of the old PJS memberships and the acceptation of new members.
On 3 Feb. 2010 a meeting was held between Mr. Al-Tayeb Abed Al-Rahim and the former PJS secretary general Naim Al-Tubasi. Mr. Abed Al-Rahim demanded that Al-Tubasi must not stand for election and announce his “unwillingness” before the PJS assembly on the next 4 Feb. 2010 “in order to withdraw the other member of PJS council to nominate themselves in the new elections”. This will be in the interest of Fatah which will be able to impose their own candidate for the PJS General Secretary and council. Abed Al-Rahim offered Al-Tubasi to take a job in one of the PA ministries or embassies. Abed Al-Rahim showed Al-Tubasi a written and a signed order by President Mahmoud Abbas in which he was ordered to not run for the PJS elections!
What a farce that Abu Mazen, supposedly a head of state, would get himself involved into quarrels around a professional organization in order to force the nomination or withdrawal of a certain candidate?
- Who could be the new general secretary which Abbass, Abed Al-Rahim and Al-Tirawi want to appoint?
- If Mr. Naim Tubasi was so horrible and failed in his duties as general secretary of the PJS, then how can we understand the offer of Abed Al-Rahim to Mr. Tubasi to take instead the position of an ambassador or a minister of the PA?
- What does this mean? Corruption or disregard for Palestine and the Palestinians?
- Are all presidential affairs and appointments managed in the same way?
- How many PA employees, paid by EU aid, are engaged in the same way as this “offer” of Mr. Abed Al-Rahim?
On 4 Feb. 2010, one day before the PJS congress, the Fatah central committee, the Fatah executive committee, many representatives from the PA military officials held a meeting with about 500 Palestinian journalists at the Palestinian security academy headed by Tawfiq Al-Tirawi in Jericho.
- The question is why was the meeting held at the security academy in Jericho?
- Is there a shortage of civil institutions in the West Bank and Ramallah?
- Is there no shame and disgrace to meet journalists at the security academy, where of course they will be intimidated?
- Which are the relations between the security, intelligence and PA men in power and the Palestinian journalists? Where are the institutions of civil society which we dream to build?
During the meeting Mr. Al-Tirawi sat in the middle of the first row, surrounded by PA officials, body guards and other security. My colleagues told me that he was seen looking with suspicion, frightening and intimidating the speakers. How could they express their opinions freely?
Mr. Abd Al-Rahim made a long political speech before PJS attendance. His speech was very long, about 45 minute, so that most of the attending journalists went out to have a coffee. This speech was published in full in the daily newspapers, not because it was so interesting, but because all the daily newspapers are in way or another paid and controlled by the PA.
At the same time, these same newspapers avoided even one word about the farce of organizing the meeting of the PJS assembly at the security academy. And also, no word was published about the chaos in the wake of the announcement by Mr. al-Tirawi that the central committee of Fatah would choose and impose the names of new candidates of Fatah into the PJS.
According to my sources, Mr. Al-Tirawi stated that the central committee of Fatah will impose their candidates, and that the coming general secretary of the PJS has also been decided to be somebody close to Mr. Abd Al-Rahim.
After the farcical meeting between Abed Al-Rahim and Al-Tirawi was over, another meeting was held with the other factions of the PLO, namely the Democratic Front and the Popular Front for Palestine Liberation. Al-Tirawi used all tactics to convince both parties to participate in a consolidated list on the basis of a quota for the factions instead of the proportional representation stipulated in the by-laws of the PJS.
This “clever” system (actually standard procedure in fascist dictatorships) was adopted by Al-Tirawi and other fat cats inside the PLO to enable them at once to kick out “undesirable” (independent) journalists and insert various straw-men into the PJS. This politization of the PJS will not “renew and cleanse” the syndicate as the Fatah ostentatiously proclaim, but rather to bring it to a standstill.
On 5 Feb 2010, the Salim Effendi hall was filled with assorted fat cats from the power, national security, intelligence, military and security guard businesses and their thugs, intermingling with the PA representatives and their own stable of Fatah and PLO associated journalists who came to face the independent candidates. On behalf of President Mahmoud Abbas, a speech was delivered by Mr. Abdel Rahim, followed by a speech delivered by the PLO executive committee member Abu Ismail, followed then a speech delivered by Bassam Zakarneh from the Palestinian trade union of Fatah. Finally Naim Tubasi read the administrative and financial reports, which were approved by raising hands.
The attendants to the congress selected the Conference Committee, headed by Mr. Riad Al-Hasan, the director of government agency “Wafa” and with members Yahia Barakat, an employee of the PA-controlled Palestinian Satellite Channel, Maher Shalabi, a Palestinian who is Director of the Dubai satellite channel, Abed Allah Siyam, an employee of the PA, the so called Palestinian Deputy Mayor or Governor of Jerusalem, an illusory position since all of Jerusalem is under occupation.
The Committee members immediately approved various amendments to the PJS by-laws imposed by the central committee of Fatah. They then adopted by the Mediator Council, consisting of 63 broker members, who function as “representatives” of whatever professional members of the PJS, and have the power of control, surveillance, assessment and evaluation of the work of the Secretariat. The council will also elect the Chairman of the PJS, the Secretary General and the Council of PJS (Secretariat) consisting of 21 members, all this “without undue interference” from the PJS assembly members.
This will make sure that a “Secretary General” of the PJS will be imposed by entities operating outside of the PJS. The former PJS general secretary Naim Al-Tobassi said that the “Mediator Council” will be comprised of 21 members inserted by Fatah (the people outside of the PJS). Al-Tobassi stated that all the PJS candidates are imposed by Fatah as well the new general secretary too.
The conference committee imposed new by-law just five minutes before the elections started. Accordingly, the committee announced that the persons who have the right to vote in the election “are required to vote on all 63 candidates, or to vote for all members of the group”, and that anyone who violates this resolution will have his vote cancelled.
On 7 Feb 2010, the leadership of the PJS elections declared that the list of the Palestine Liberation Organization (National Unity) had won the overwhelming majority of seats in the Board of PJS administrative council. The head of the PJS congress, Riad Al-Hasan, stated during a press conference in Ramallah that the rate of participation in elections among those with the right of membership had been over 80 percent. The new Mediator Council, which does not dare to override any decision of Al-Tirawi and the central committee of Fatah, will vote for the PJS council (21 members) according to the vision of the Fatah central. The general director of the PJS will then be imposed by the Central committee of Fatah, and the PJS will be declared an official organization of the PLO. The final result of the PJS elections shows that Fatah has won over Fatah. There were no other groups to contend against Fatah in the PJS. Actually, Fatah expelled the independent journalists from the PJS at the last moment before the elections.
Mr. Tawfiq Al-Tirawi even added to the “National Unity” block some names of journalists from the Gaza Strip, who never had anything to do with this block, nor were able to attend. According to this “new” PJS configuration, the West Bank journalists should not vote in favor of journalists who they don’t know and are from Gaza. A colleague of mine told me that it was planned that journalists from Gaza should vote for the candidates from Gaza and the journalists from the West Bank should vote only for the candidates from the West Bank, but at the last moment everything changed and the PJS congress committee forced the journalists to vote for one block.
Call Upon the IFJ – As a reaction to the PJS elections, the Journalists Assembly, an independent journalist group in Palestine, described the PJS elections as a robbery on the freedom of opinion and speech. The Assembly issued a statement in which they “thanked everybody (journalists and organizations) in Gaza and the West Bank who refused to be a false witness to the abduction of the political and democratic principles which took place with the PJS elections”. The director of the Assembly had been member of the board of the PJS. The statement of the Assembly called on the International Federation of Journalists (IFJ), the parent organization of the PJS, and the Federation of Arab Journalists, to not dealing with the product of these illegitimate and illegal “elections” which account to a robbery of freedom of opinion and expression.
Other independent journalists said that the procedures followed in the PJS elections, “have nothing to do with the work and actions of a journalistic syndicate and instead are a stab in the back of each and every Palestinian Journalist”. The independent journalist Fathi Sabbah rejected the results of the PJS election.
He said that the results lack in professional standards and due process, and he called for the abolition of all the consequences of these “farcical elections” and instead to begin a dialogue to restore cohesion to the Palestinian journalist corps. He confirmed that the independent journalists will respond to these illegitimate elections and resort to the judiciary and to constant pressure through sit-ins, information and address to the relevant organizations and Federations, particularly the Arab Federation of Journalists and the International Federation of Journalists, (IFJ).
The journalist Gevara Budeiri, Al-Jazeera correspondent, disapproved of the exclusion a large segment of the Palestinian journalists, the colleagues in Gaza, and denying them the right of participate in the PJS elections.
Tariq Al-Kayal said that the interference of Tawfiq Al-Tirawi was “in the interest” of the PJS. He commented that all parties should respect the new PJS configuration and to hold the elections on schedule. He added that the Al-Tirawi interference was “not political”, that it is merely part of his work because he is in charge of the national organizations file at the PLO. Al-Kayal said that Al-Tirawi “deserves respect and we should thank him for his positive and honorable intervention”. Al-Kayal also commented of the failure of the independents in the PJS elections, saying that “they failed because of their negative attitudes. We offered them ten seats to contest the elections with the PLO bloc, but they refused and decided to contest the elections by themselves”. He described the results of the elections saying “the results were positive and very satisfactory”. He thanked Al-Tirawi and Hani al-Hasan and all the members of the conference committee for their help.
Zakariah Al-Talmas, a member of the former PJS council, said that the announcement of the names of the successful candidates from Gaza is “reprehensible, ridiculous and a scandal, which causes vomiting to everybody”. He added that “10 names which were declared winners in the elections were not even members in the PJS, others did not have the requisite 5 years of membership in the PJS, and others did not run in the elections, or do not work as journalists”.