When the Palestinian political discourse is an “incitement”
JUNE 11, Mohammad Kana’neh joined a few hundred protesters in a weekly protest against settlement expansion in Sheikh Jarrah, a neighborhood in East Jerusalem that has become a hotspot for protests against the displacement of Palestinians. Kana’neh, a Palestinian citizen of Israel and prominent leader of the secular Arab nationalist movement Abnaa el-Balad, stood under the scorching sun and addressed the crowd in Hebrew, calling for an end to the occupation Israeli “from Silwan to Sheikh Jarrah, from Acco to Gaza. He then turned to the border police line facing the crowd, shouting at them to” get out of the army “. dispersing the protest, Kana’neh shared a video of his speech that another attendee uploaded to Facebook; within hours, his post had been re-shared by hundreds of users.
Three days later, Israeli police arrested Khana’neh. According to an Adalah spokesperson: The Legal Center for Arab Minority Rights in Israel, which represents Kana’neh, the police accused him of provoking the soldiers. They argued that by sharing the video he had committed a crime that has been attributed to hundreds of Palestinian activists and dissidents in recent years: incitement to violence.
Incitement has become an increasingly common accusation since 2016, when Israel adopted an updated anti-terrorism law. The law broadened legal definition of the term to encompass not only speeches which “call directly for violence”, but also speeches which, according to the judgment of prosecutors, “express their support for terrorist acts”, with or without a resolution to carry them out. Incitement accusations that have been leveled against Palestinian social media users over the past five years show that when it comes to Palestinian speech on these platforms, the Israeli police often define “support” as broadly as possible: for example, when the poet Dareen Tatour job a video of herself reading a poem titled “Resist, my people resist themAlong with images of Palestinians clashing with Israeli soldiers, on Facebook and YouTube, she faced the same charge that would be brought against someone who calls for deadly attacks on specific users. The Israeli police have exercised the law against users who retweet or like posts that the security forces define as arson; According to Rabea Eghbariah, an Adalah lawyer who has worked on incitement cases, even an RSVP to an event can lead to criminal charges. Palestinians could be detained for months without access to a lawyer, and may not be informed of the nature of the charges against them, according to Eghbariah. They may also be prohibited from speaking to the press, accessing the Internet, or sharing information about their cases while awaiting trial.
These were the bans imposed on Kana’neh while he remained in detention for a month, as Israeli authorities scoured his Facebook page, supplementing his file with posts ranging from International Women’s Day celebrations to messages mourning the death of Palestinian political prisoners. Eghbariah explained that by interpreting the definition of inflammatory content broadly, police frequently make social media a source of evidence for charges against Palestinian detainees. Indeed, in the case of Kana’neh, the Israeli prosecution team claimed that not only the video, but also these old status updates had incited acts of violence and supported terrorism.
Since the latest escalation in violence in Israel / Palestine last May, cases of incitement against Palestinian social media users have increased, according to Adalah; 185 such indictments were filed in late spring and summer. With the proliferation of these accusations comes the increasing use of online platforms to condemn the Israeli military occupation and the expansion of settlers. This spring, Palestinian activists used Twitter and TikTok to coordinate an unprecedented campaign general strike who have closed businesses on both sides of the Green Line; In the months that followed, they continued to broadcast scenes of US-born settlers taking control of Palestinian homes in East Jerusalem and to share with the world their experiences of living under siege in the Strip. Gaza. Political experts have nicknamed this new wave of resistance “the TikTok Intifada”. But even as Palestinians have found new ways to congregate online, leading activists have been penalized for using these platforms. While prominent figures like Kana’neh are forced to hide from the public, organizers who would follow their lead may be intimidated and shut up.
BROAD CRIMINALIZATION of Palestinian social media users are occurring as Israeli Jewish extremists have been left free to incite platform violence in full view of the authorities. During the last war, 7amleh: The Arab Center for Social Media Advancement, a Palestinian digital rights organization, tracked 183,000 cases of inflammatory speech and incitement to violence against Palestinians by social media users in Israel. / Palestine between May 6 and 21, ie to a 15-fold increase in hate speech. Out of the thousands of archived 7amleh posts, many called for acts of rape and murder against the Palestinians, as well as the destruction of their property and businesses. Yet of the 185 indictments of incitement filed in response to the events of May, only 30 were against Jewish Israelis. Meanwhile, police arrested over 2,000 Palestinians between May 10 and May 21.
In some cases, Jewish extremists have used social media platforms not only to harass Palestinian accounts, but also to lay the groundwork for near-fatal acts of violence. Right-wing militias, made up of both militant settlers and young followers of the Jewish supremacist Kahanism ideology, have used online platforms like WhatsApp, Telegram and Facebook groups to coordinate attacks on Palestinian citizens of Israel in cities like Bat Yam, Haifa and Lydd. On Facebook threads and via cryptic chats, they chose Palestinian-owned businesses to target, discussed which weapons to use and where to get them, and defined places and times when violent crowds would gather. “We could see the planned attacks,” said Alison Carmel, international outreach coordinator for 7amleh, recalling finding “thousands of stories calling for Arab deaths, for real violence.”
The ease with which independent watchdogs like 7amleh found meeting points for extremists online raises questions about how authorities have missed them. J., an Israeli Jewish activist who tracks down far-right groups and who requested anonymity due to the nature of their work, described the militias as being largely made up of young Israeli Jews who often lack basic skills in digital security. Many are easily identified by their legal names and phone numbers. “They don’t even try to hide things like arms sales,” J said. “They know the authorities won’t target them.
“All groups are open,” agreed Ori Kol, founder of the Israeli media watchdog Fake Reporter, which tracks disinformation and extremism online. Fake Reporter even approached the Israeli authorities at the height of the violence in May, offering to help them crack down on online communities coordinating attacks on Palestinians. The organization’s researchers combed social media networks and email threads, sharing screenshots of discussions with authorities, some of which showed the legal names and phone numbers of armed extremists. But according to Kol, the police refused to act on the advice, allowing the attacks to take place despite sufficient warning. “I want to believe that [the authorities] didn’t understand the seriousness of what was going to happen, or couldn’t keep an eye on each group, but it was so easy to document, ”Kol said. “It takes a concerted effort not to monitor this stuff. “
The behavior of these users meets the legal definition of incitement – and indeed some have continued to commit serious violence, beating civilians like Moussa Saeed in Bat Yam. almost to death. The lack of an official response shows that, as Eghbariah said, “there are provisions for the Jews and provisions for the Arabs. Very little [Jewish Israelis] are actually incarcerated for these kinds of things.
The Israeli authorities are not alone in imposing a double standard on the digital activities of Jews and Palestinians in Israel / Palestine. The algorithms that social media giants rely on to flag speech are often unable to distinguish inflammatory content from harmless content. As a result, they may flag Arabic words like “shahid” or martyr, even if they appear quoted in a poem or song without reference to violence, or confuse a Palestinian user’s name – for example, “Qassam” – with the name of a militant organization, such as the Qassam Brigades. For this reason, Nadim Nashif, the executive director of 7amleh, described Palestinian social media users as “doubly moderate”. Last May, 7amleh documented 500 cases in which Palestinian users reported that social media companies violated their digital rights, including reporting or deleting their posts and banning their accounts.
7amleh responded by calling on companies to repeal their decisions, pushing for the reinstatement of tens of thousands of censored profiles, tweets and photos. But social media platforms are ill-equipped or unwilling to answer such calls. Repeal requests go unanswered and meeting messages are ignored. 7amleh produces an annual report that monitors anti-Palestinian hate speech online, but its findings have not appeared to influence the behavior of tech companies. Regarding the repression of Palestinian speech, “we keep seeing the same thing, otherwise things get worse,” Carmel said.
Palestinians facing charges of incitement are sometimes forbidden to speak to the press or post on social media until their trials are over, Adalah says, which can leave them out of the public sphere for months. Mohammed Kana’neh, who was released from detention on July 14, a month after his arrest, was ordered to remain under house arrest at his home in northern Israel for the duration of his trial. The prosecution appeals the decision to release Kana’neh and attempts to return him to prison. Meanwhile, the Jerusalem Magistrate’s Court has banned Kana’neh from accessing the internet, conducting interviews or speaking in front of an audience. Even so much celebrate a new era of online activism, in his case and others, Israeli authorities censor Palestinians’ speech, excluding them from public space online as well as offline.
Sophie good friend is a doctoral student in cultural anthropology at Duke University whose research examines the ethics of artificial intelligence and digital rights. She is currently based in Jerusalem.