The sale of books written by Edward W. Said, one of Yassar Arafat’s most out-spoken critics, has been banned in Palestine. This action, coming on top of several human rights abuses by the Palestinian Authority, has increased concern among many residents in the country.
Government officials and book retailers claim that the ban began in July when a small bookstore in Ramallah was raided by the police. They seized two Arabic collections of essays written by Said, a Palestinian scholar and professor of literature at Columbia University in New York City.
The police claimed that the ban was ordered by the Ministry of Information; however the Ministry denied ordering the action. Additionally, the police ignored an order from the Ministry demanding that the books be returned to the shop.
There was much speculation on whether the ban was requested by a government official or was an independent initiative taken by one of several security services Arafat has established. According to reports, these security forces have become increasingly assertive and intimidating since the Palestinian Authority ordered a crack-down in March on Islamic militants.
Prior to the book banning, several incidents occurred which outraged Palestinians and have alarmed several human rights groups. Among these were the detention of human rights activist Eyad R. Sarraj, the death of a prisoner by torture, and the Palestinian Authority’s refusal to heed the Palestinian High Court’s order to free 10 university students who have been detained without charges since March.
A member of the Palestinian Authority Council, Mr. Ziad Abu Amr, told the New York Times that he thought the book banning and the human rights violations were dangerous and said he planned to disucss the issues at a council session in August. “I don’t know whether the security people acted on their own or at the behest of someone else, but whether by mistake or by design, this is very harmful. These violations are creating anxiety and alarm among Palestinians.” He added that there had been “such excitement about building a new society, and now these repeated violations are frustrating expectations.”
The books written by Said that were banned include two collections of essays which sharply criticize the 1993 agreement between Israel and Palestine. According to the New York Times, Said, who had been a strong supporter of Arafat’s prior to the treaty, claimed that the agreement was an “instrument of Palestinian surrender” and that Arafat had agreed to become “Israel’s enforcer.” Since that time, Said has also been extremely critical of Arafat’s rule.
Said told the Times that “all dictators make the same mistake, thinking they can cut off criticism by putting critics in jail and banning books. I think what enraged him is that I have been quite unrelenting. I’ve made no compromise with what he’s done, I’ve refused to be ‘pragmatic,’ to ‘rally around the leader at a difficult time.’ A lot of people are being hurt, are being killed...The abuses by his security people, taking people off in the middle of the night, the cronyism, his high-handed way -- he’s become like a little emperor.”
Although many Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza are more understanding of Arafat’s techniques, aware of the Israeli imposed restrictions under which he must lead, there is still increased concern and alarm over the methods by which the many Palestinian security services -- at least 10 -- continue to operate.
This article appeared in Al Jadid, Vol. 2, No. 10, August 1996.
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