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Report: 400 Palestinians detained in under a year for social media activity

April 17, 2017 5:36 P.M. (Updated: April 22, 2017 11:58 P.M.)
Israeli forces raid Shufat refugee camp. Jan. 17, 2017 (Photo: Israeli police spokesperson)
By: Lily Leach

BETHLEHEM (Ma’an) -- Israeli forces have detained at least 400 Palestinians in less than a year over social media activity, according to report by Israeli daily Haaretz citing sources from the Israeli army and Israel’s internal security service the Shin Bet, with only “some” of the detainees having faced trial.

Previous reports indicated a lesser rate of so-called Facebook arrests, saying 400 were detained over the last two-year period. Meanwhile, the Arab Center for Social Media Advancement 7amleh said in January that among these, only 200 Palestinians were involved in court cases.

According to the Haaretz report published Sunday, which lauded the detention campaign as an “impressive achievement,” the Israeli army alleged they had stopped 2,200 Palestinians "at various stages of planning and preparing for attacks, mostly stabbings and car-rammings,” through detentions based intelligence gathered on the internet.

In addition, Israeli forces had “warning conversations” with some suspects or in some cases with their parents, Haaretz wrote, presumably referring to interrogations, largely conducted by breaking into Palestinian homes in the occupied territory during near-daily predawn raids.

Israel also reportedly passed the names of hundreds of other Palestinians to Palestinian Authority (PA) security forces, who then detained the suspects and “warned them against planning attacks on Israel” -- as part of the policy of security coordination between the PA and Israel, which has sparked growing discontent among Palestinians in recent months.

The report by Haaretz, which is generally considered Israel's most left-leaning newspaper, said that the Shin Bet has also tightened its cooperation with intelligence services in the United States and several Western European countries to the same end.

Haaretz claimed -- as Israeli leadership has numerous times since a wave of violence in the fall of 2015 appeared to ebb over the past year -- that the severe security measures have succeeded in reducing a the trend of small-scale knife and car ramming attacks against Israelis.

The Palestinian young people apparently feel that Israeli Big Brother is keeping an eye on them, and they’re also being deterred based on the fear that their families will be punished for their actions,” Haaretz wrote in the report that appeared to be based exclusively on anonymous Israeli military sources.

Haaretz deduced that Palestinians “appear to have been motivated by media coverage of previous attacks, by the Israeli security forces’ killing of Palestinians, by family members, or by other events happening around them.”

Palestinians have instead pointed chiefly to the frustration and despair brought on by Israel's nearly 50-year military occupation of the Palestinian territory and the absence of a political horizon as reasons for the outbreak of violence, while analysts have dismissed the Israeli narrative of “lone wolf” assailants under the influence of online incitement as overly simplistic.

Furthermore, despite boasts by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu that attribute the decrease in violence to "the (Israeli) government's strong, responsible and methodical policy," the Palestinian Center for Policy and Survey Research found in a poll last year that support for stabbing attacks declined "due, it seems, to a rising perception in its inefficacy."

Many Palestinians have also pointed out that Israeli violence has continued to shape everyday life, regardless of any recent “upticks” in clashes or attacks.

Meanwhile, suppression of Palestinian freedom of expression has seen bookstores shuttered, activists, journalists, novelists, and poets detained, while a wider security crackdown in the form of large-scale punitive measures in the occupied West Bank has been branded as collective punishment by rights groups and international organizations.

The crackdown on social media activity also comes as a bill introduced by Israeli Justice MInister Ayelet Shaked seeks to allow Israeli officials to force Facebook to censor certain content deemed to be “incitement” -- but only when it is made by Palestinians against Israelis, according to 7amleh.

The law has passed its first reading in Israel’s parliament, the Knesset, though Shaked has said Facebook already complies with 78 percent of Israel’s requests to delete content or suspend accounts, the Israeli outlet NRG reported.

Shaked herself has also been accused of inciting violence, particularly after she advocated for the killing of the mothers of slain Palestinians, referring to them "snakes."

A report recently released by 7amleh further documented that slanderous, provocative, and threatening posts made by Israelis against Arabs and Palestinians more than doubled in 2016, reaching 675,000 posts made by 60,000 Hebrew-speaking Facebook users -- without a single case being opened against an Israeli.
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