The Palestinian Authority has quietly instructed Internet providers to block access to news websites whose reporting is critical of President Mahmoud Abbas, according to senior government officials and data analyzed by network security experts.Fatah treats its Internet users just like the dictators in Syria and Iran.
As many as eight news outlets have been rendered unavailable to many Internet users in the West Bank, after technicians at thePalestinian Telecommunications Company, or PalTel, tweaked a US-developed software called Squid to return error pages, a detailed technical analysis indicates. Several small companies are using a similar setup.
The decision this year to begin blocking websites marks a major expansion of the government's online powers. Experts say it is the biggest shift toward routine Internet censorship in the Palestinian Authority’s history. Aside from one incident in 2008, Palestinians have generally been free to read whatever they wanted.
"This is unprecedented for them," says Jillian York, director for international freedom of expression at theElectronic Frontier Foundation, a US digital rights group. "It is troubling because they had done a relatively good job at keeping the Internet open until now."
The affected websites are Amad, Fatah Voice, Firas Press, In Light Press, Karama Press, Kofia Press, Milad News and Palestine Beituna. With their focus on internal Fatah issues, none are among the most popular outlets in Palestine. But they all report on daily news.
Many of the sites have been described as loyal to Muhammad Dahlan, a former Fatah leader and critic of Abbas. A feud between them took on new urgency last summer, when Fatah sought to expel the former strongman and security forces raided his home. As far back as June 2011, the Palestinian Authority was complaining about its inability to shut down alleged Dahlan media based abroad, the al-Hayat newspaper reported at the time. Four of those sites are now being blocked.
This is freedom of expression - Fatah-style.