- Free-speech advocates say continued crackdown violates international laws and ‘entrenches disrespect for human rights’
RAMALLAH: Israel’s security authorities are cracking down hard on Palestinian social-media activists and users for allegedly inciting violence, Palestinian human rights groups claim.
The groups say that Israeli authorities significantly escalated their persecution of Palestinians on social-media platforms, especially Facebook, in 2022. Around 410 Palestinians were detained over the year because of their social-media activities, according to the Palestine Center for Prisoners’ Studies.
The center claims that the number of Palestinians arrested for expressing opinions online had steadily increased over the past few years. In 2018, the figure was 45, climbing to 184 in 2019, 220 in 2020, and 390 in 2021, when arrests soared during Israel’s attack on the Gaza Strip in May of that year.
Shahid, the Palestinian Association for Human Rights, claimed the crackdown violates the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, and described it as a dangerous development in Israel’s repressive policies in the Palestinian Territories, saying that Israel had “significantly escalated” its persecution of Palestinians last year to stifle their freedom of speech.
I did not invite or participate in any mass marches after that veiled, indirect threat, and I became cautious and careful with the words I use on social media.
Amer Hamdan, Legal activist
Shahid also warned that continuing such policies will likely lead to “a violent environment that entrenches disrespect for human rights.”
More than 2 million Palestinians currently use Facebook, with around half that number using Instagram, TikTok, Snapchat and Telegram, Palestinian social-media experts confirmed to Arab News.
Israel had tried to pressure Meta — the owner of Facebook and Instagram — to restrict the accounts of Palestinians they accuse of incitement to violence against Israel. Meta has restricted and blocked hundreds of Palestinian accounts, prompting many Palestinian activists to turn to Tik-Tok and Telegram.
Israel reportedly intends to enact a law that it says will curb content on social media that it views as inciting violence against Israelis.
Shahid claims Palestinians are being arrested for Facebook posts that simply express anger at Israeli oppression and continued occupation of Palestinian territories, without any incitement to violence.
Israel’s censorship of social networking platforms increased following the recent escalation of violence in the West Bank that started in April 2022. The Israeli authorities claim that social media sites have witnessed, since that time, an unprecedented number of posts encouraging readers to launch attacks against Israel.
Israeli security services have set up monitoring units to track Palestinian posts on social media, looking for any content that indicates support for violence or membership of an armed group. An indictment is filed against the owners of content that the security services categorize as incitement to violence.
Akram Tamara, a lawyer for Palestine’s Commission of Detainees and Ex-Detainees Affairs, told Arab News that the Israeli military authorities were arresting and prosecuting people under the Military Emergency Law, and that sentences ranged from six to 18 months, depending on the number of likes the published post received, the number and content of the comments, and the Israelis’ classification of the people who wrote the remarks.
Legal activist and lawyer Amer Hamdan from Nablus told Arab News that Shin Bet had summoned him in April 2022 because of the content of some of his Facebook posts and warned him to stop calling for solidarity marches with Gaza.
“They told me clearly and frankly that I was on their radar, and that if they thought I was inciting against the State of Israel, they would deal with me ‘as an instigator,’” Hamdan told Arab News.
Hamdan subsequently reduced the number of posts he made on Facebook and other social-networking sites including Tik-Tok and began to self-censor those posts, he said.
“I did not invite or participate in any mass marches after that veiled, indirect threat, and I became cautious and careful with the words I (use) on social media,” Hamdan said.