GAZA CITY, Gaza Strip — At the onset of 2016, the number of Palestinian detainees in Israeli prisons increased significantly, specifically those detained for social media posts. This is the latest Israeli strategy against Palestinians to halt the uprising.
The Palestinian Prisoners Center for Studies (PPCS) stated in a report published May 17 that 28 Palestinian women were arrested in the West Bank on the grounds of incitement through Facebook. They served administrative detention sentences and spent from 45 days to six months in jail. Four of them remain in Israeli prisons to complete their prison sentence.
On Feb. 20, Israel unveiled a special task force, Hatzav, to monitor Arab and Palestinian social media outlets. The unit was established 10 years ago to provide Israel’s military intelligence, Aman, with useful information to make decisions and conduct security operations.
Israeli intelligence created 5,000 Facebook accounts with Arab female usernames to monitor Arab accounts and extract information from them. Israel accused Facebook of helping to promote incitement, and this is why Facebook shut down many Palestinian accounts and pages.
Osama Chahine, director of the PPCS, told Al-Monitor that arresting people for inciting against Israelis on Facebook was not a recognized accusation in the past. It is a new Israeli way to justify the arrest of young Palestinian men and women to extinguish the Palestinian uprising in the West Bank.
Chahine noted that the center documented 300 cases in this regard since the uprising that broke out in October 2015. People face administrative arrest because Israeli law does not include an article incriminating Facebook posts. He indicated that this justification in one case allowed the Israeli court to sentence a Palestinian to seven years in prison.
Chahine added that the Israeli courts legalized this accusation of incitement, which is a clear violation of the freedom of expression. He said that Israel might allow itself to legalize new laws to justify the arrest of Palestinians.
Jorine Qadeh is a university student from the village of Shuqba in the Ramallah governorate, in the West Bank, and she was arrested by the Israeli army because of her Facebook posts on Oct. 29, 2015. She was kept in an Israeli army vehicle for 18 hours before being transported to Hasharon prison. She was then moved to Ramla prison and then to Ofer prison for investigation purposes before being transported back to Hasharon prison to complete her sentence.
Qadeh told Al-Monitor that the investigation lasted for less than half an hour, and the investigators mainly asked about her Facebook posts. She said that she was verbally abused by an Israeli investigator who ordered her to take off her veil to see her hair.
She said that on Nov. 1, 2015, she appeared before the Israeli court and the presiding judge ordered her to be administratively arrested for three months without disclosing the charge against her. The judge merely said that “the indictment file is covert, and revealing information would harm the source of information. Qadeh boasted about the killings of Israelis via Facebook.” However, Qadeh said that her Facebook post had nothing to do with Israelis, but it was rather a social post.
Similarly, Majd Atwan, a 22-year-old Palestinian woman from Bethlehem, south of the West Bank, was also detained over her Facebook posts supporting the Palestinian uprising. She said that this was her personal freedom, which is guaranteed by the law, and that she will continue to express her views on social media.
“Since the very first moment I was arrested on the morning of April 19, 2016, I had been beaten and tortured, mainly on my left foot and my stomach, where I had already had a surgery,” she told Al-Monitor. She said that the investigator asked why she writes such posts on Facebook. She answered that it was her personal right and she will continue to express her views.
The Israeli court sentenced Atwan to 45 days in prison with a 3,000 shekel ($780) fine but was released before completing the sentence duration on May 19, after paying the bail.
The mother of Palestinian detainee Suad Zureikat, who was also charged and arrested by the Israeli army for making incendiary Facebook posts, said that the Israeli army stormed their home in northern Hebron on Dec. 3, 2015, and arrested her daughter brutally.
She told Al-Monitor that the PPCS shared the list of charges with the parents of the detainees. Her daughter was accused of incitement against Israelis on her Facebook page through her posts and images and was sentenced to six months in administrative prison, before the sentence was renewed for another four months.
The mother said that she and her sons are not allowed to visit Zureikat under security pretexts, while the Israeli authorities allowed only her younger sisters to visit her. Zureikat went on a hunger strike in solitary confinement for 20 days. She ended her strike when the Israeli Prison Service responded to her demand to be moved to the Hasharon prison, since most detained women serve their sentences there instead of serving it in solitary confinement.
Samih Mushen, director of the West Bank branch of the Palestinian Center for Human Rights, accused Israel of not respecting international rights laws and arresting people for their opinions. He said that Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and Article 19 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights provide for the respect of freedom of opinion and expression.
He told Al-Monitor that since the outbreak of the uprising in the West Bank in early October 2015, Israel has dedicated a unit to monitoring the posts of Palestinians on social media. Many people have been arrested because of their posts and expressed views that are against the occupation forces. He described what is happening as security and military decay in the Israeli institutions.
The pertinent question, however, is why are Israelis who are inciting against Palestinians on social media not being arrested?