- The Washington Times - Wednesday, April 19, 2006

GAZA CITY, Gaza Strip — The Hamas government’s toughest detractors have popped up at home, criticizing the Islamic militant rulers in Palestinian newspaper cartoons, TV commentaries and radio talk shows.

Such friction between the government and the press is rare for the Arab world.

But the Hamas government has proven an easy target. It’s broke and internationally isolated because of its refusal to moderate its hard-line views, and has been unable to pay the salaries of tens of thousands of government employees.

Hamas remains defiant, claiming it’ll be able to govern without Western aid by persuading Arab and Muslim countries to step in — an assertion ridiculed in the Palestinian press.

A cartoon in the Al Ayyam daily lampooned Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh, who told a rally Palestinians would rather live on bread with olives, hyssop and salt than bow to Western demands. The cartoon showed a Palestinian with an empty shopping basket standing before bank cash machines labeled olives, salt and hyssop. He called his wife and, waving his bank card, asked what she wanted for dinner.

Bassem Abu Somayeh, head of the Palestinian Broadcasting Corp., wrote in a recent newspaper commentary that the Hamas government must step down.

And on the private Hurriyeh radio station, commentator Muafaq Mattar suggested sarcastically that Hamas officials who headed to Iran to plead for money bring back Iranian caviar.

“The Palestinian media is clearly biased against Hamas,” said Mahmoud Ramahi of Hamas, secretary-general of the Palestinian parliament. “What they are doing is not monitoring or criticizing. What they are doing is inciting against Hamas, in the interest of Fatah.”

Pro-Fatah journalists say they are giving equal treatment to all politicians and that Hamas is simply frustrated because it cannot control the press.

“It’s only because they can’t impose their agenda on us, they say we are inciting,” said Mohammed al-Dawoudi, a senior official in the Palestinian Broadcasting Corp., which runs the Voice of Palestine radio, Palestine TV and the official Wafa news agency.

For now, Fatah and its moderate leader, Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, seem to have the upper hand — in part because Mr. Abbas took control of the Broadcasting Corp. by decree after the election.

The three main Palestinian dailies — Al Ayyam, Al Quds and Al Hayat Al Jedida — are close to Fatah. Al Ayyam and Al Quds are privately owned. Al Hayat Al Jedida gets government funding; Hamas could try to slash its budget.

The Al Ayyam cartoonist, Baha al Bokhari, said he’s just expressing the concerns of Palestinians. “I used to draw cartoons against the previous government,” he said. “I am doing the same now. The only difference is that in the past, the newspaper used to refuse to publish some of my drawings, and now it doesn’t.”

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