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Occupation of the digital space: When a Facebook post can lead to prison

By Marc Henry - September 25, 2018
Section: [Main News] [Features]
Tags: [social media] [prisoners]

For most people, a Facebook post leads to numerous likes and comments. For the Palestinians, under Israeli occupation, a Facebook post can lead to time in prison.
Palestine has been under Israeli occupation long before social media was even thought of, but the last couple of years the occupation is not only limited to the land and streets of Palestine. Today, Israeli authorities are keeping an eye on what is posted online.
Under the Israeli military law, an individual can be prosecuted and imprisoned for making a statement about Israel or the occupation.
According to Nadim Nashif, Director of 7amleh Arab Center for Social Media Advancement, an estimated 800 people were arrested between 2015 and 2016, and around 300 in 2017 by Israeli forces. All of them for posting what Israel consider incitement.
“The accusations are normally vague. Incitement can basically be any kind of criticism or any kind of intentions to resist, even peacefully,” Nashif told Palestine Monitor.
“This is very problematic and shrinks the Palestinians freedom of speech in a big way.”
Scanning Facebook
Facebook especially has been under Israeli surveillance within the last couple of years.
And according to the prisoner support and human rights association Adameer Advocacy Coordinator Dawoud Yousef, Israel has easy access to Facebook profiles.
“We have reports from organisations that the Israelis and Facebook have some kind of agreement where information can be passed back and forward without going to the High Court,” Yousef said.
The statement is supported by Nadim Nashif, adding that Facebook has an official answer of not having any policy or agreements with countries or governments.
“However, a majority of the Israeli requests to Facebook are approved. So even if they don’t officially take a stance, they are working closely,” Nashif told Palestine Monitor.
While the Israeli authorities might have an agreement with Facebook, it often only takes the Israeli authorities a keyword scan to discover public posts projecting incitement against Israel.
“Public posts on Facebook are for sure being scanned, and I assume that there are people that are specifically targeted,” Nashif said.
One of the Palestinians that has been targeted is the 29-year-old journalist Faysal Alrifaee, who reported from his own village Anata and the nearby refugee camp Shaufat.
In 2016, just seven days after his engagement with his wife-to-be, he was arrested and imprisoned for incitement after posting some of his work in Facebook.
“It was a normal post with photos from the clashes, just like any other journalist would post,” Alrifaee explained to Palestine Monitor.
“I was working as a journalist, and the Israelis said that when we posted a photo or wrote about protests, we were encouraging Palestinians to clashes.”
Shortly after being arrested a detective told Alrifaee that he was on a list of 21 journalists that had been under surveillance for six months, accused of encouraging protests. And it was not just the photos from the clashes that had caught the Israeli’s eyes.
“They said that I had made more than a 1000 posts all about the Israelis and the occupation, but they used only a 100 posts which were all about pictures of martyrs and journalists that were jailed,” Alrifaee said.
“I would post a picture of my jailed friend and write 'freedom for my friend’. In jail, they used those photos against me.”
Not only the Israelis
While Faysal Alrifaee was arrested by the Israelis, they are not the only authority monitoring Facebook and other social media. Both Hamas and the Palestinian Authorities are carrying out similar actions.
According to Dawoud Yousef from Adameer, the PA have arrested journalists and human rights activists for incitement.
“I think the crucial thing to empathise is that the Palestinian people have their freedom of expression boxed in by the occupation and the PA,” Yousef said.  
However, there is a difference between how the different authorities carry out their actions towards critical social media posts. Not only are the Israelis more advanced when it comes to security, but there is also a difference in the length of the arrests.
“When the PA arrests people, it is often for a short time and about showing who the boss is. If you are arrested by the Israelis you can easily spend a year or more in jail,” Nadim Nashif said.
Not giving up
Faysal Alrifaee was released from prison after 31 days but kept under strict control for another year.
Today he is still posting photos and comments on Facebook, even though his name has been blocked from the social media giant.
“Before I was in jail I always published two or three posts about Israel and occupation every day. Now I only post one or two,” he said.
“I still try to publish things on Facebook, but I am more careful now. I try to show my ideas in other ways.”
And it is reasonable to be careful what you post on the social media, Dawoud Yousef warns.
“The Israelis can already get what they want out of the Palestinian internet, so people should be more careful with what they post and what they say.”
While the Israelis might do what they can to prevent social media post against Israel and the occupation, Faysal Alrifaee does not believe that they will be able to shut down all the critical voices online.
“They try to punish every journalist by Facebook. When I was arrested, they said that I had many friends that were behind clashes. They said that to prove that we had an effect on the people,” he said.
“They cannot arrest everyone, so they punish them who can affect people.”

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