Haneen Alderbashe _Gaza
Jerusalem – Facebook, the social network, may have capitulated to the Israeli narrative and is taking the side of an occupying power, according to Palestinian journalists and activists.
“Israel doesn’t want the Palestinian story about violations against them in the occupied territories to reach a worldwide audience,” said Musa Rimawi, director of MADA, the Palestinian Centre for Development and Media Freedom.
The warning came following a decision by Facebook on Friday to disable several Palestinian accounts on the basis that they breached community standards.
Last week, four editors from the Shehab News Agency , which has more than 6.3 million likes on Facebook, and three executives from the Quds News Network, with about 5.1 million likes, reported they could not access their personal accounts. Both agencies cover daily news in the occupied Palestinian territories.
Editors at the Gaza-based Shehab News agency say that the move was hardly surprising. This is the fourth time in a year that they have been censored by the social network, says Rimah Mubarak, director of Shehab news agency.
“Previously, it was the page that was suspended. One time it was suspended partially and back online after a week, the other two times the suspension was permanent, so we had to create a brand new page,” Mubarak told AlAmal news. “We contacted Facebook many times [about the latest incident] but they never replied. The same has been happening to many other pages and news agencies in Gaza.”
Facebook later said they had made a “mistake” and restored all pages except one of the editors’ accounts at Shehab agency.
“We want people to feel safe when using Facebook, and for that reason, we’ve developed a set of community standards which make it clear there is no place for terrorists or content that promotes terrorism on Facebook,” a spokesperson for the social media giant told Al Amal news in a statement.
The Israeli government has repeatedly blamed the flare up of violence in Israel and the West Bank since last October – which claimed the lives of more than 220 Palestinians, 34 Israelis and two Americans – on online incitement.
Since then, hundreds of cases have emerged of Palestinians arrested by Israel for Facebook posts.
“The concern is that Facebook is adopting Israeli policy and terminology when it comes to defining what incitement is,” Nadim Nashif, cofounder of 7amleh, the Arab Centre for the Advancement of Social Media, told Al Amal news.
Palestinians say that the root cause of the violence is to be found in the frustration and denial of rights that a generation growing up under military occupation has had to endure.
And it is this very frustration that, Palestinians say, has led youth to vocally express their views online – and to be arrested for them.
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Since the beginning of October 2015, prisoners’ support group Addameer has documented more than 200 cases of arrests of Palestinians, including children, for alleged incitement.
The Haifa-based Adalah Legal Centre has put that number closer to 400, including 150 Palestinians in the West Bank, and 250 Palestinian citizens of Israel. Many of the cases, according to Addameer, have been placed under administrative detention due to lack of evidence.
“There is certainly deep concern that the law is being enforced in a discriminatory way,” lawyer Nadeem Shehadeh, a lawyer with Adalah’s Civil and Political Rights Unit, told Al Amal news.
“The vast majority of arrests in 2015 and the first half of 2016 for charges related to alleged incitement on social media outlets have been of Palestinian citizens of Israel. New laws are regulating and impinging upon freedom of expression in the country – particularly for Palestinian citizens – and this is most worrisome,” Shehadeh said.
Palestinians say the Facebook suspension move is the result of an agreement between the social media giant and the Israeli government. Activists took to twitter to protest against the move and called for a boycott of Facebook “to protest the censorship agreement between Facebook and the Israeli government”.
Earlier this month, a Facebook delegation met Israeli Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked and Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan to “improve cooperation against incitement to terror and murder”, said a statement from Prime Minister’s office.
Ayelet Shaked of the right wing, settler-supported Jewish Home party, hailed the meeting as a success.
Several Israeli press reports suggested Facebook and the Israeli government would set up “joint teams” to counter online incitement, but no further details were provided. Gilad Erdan’s office did not respond to Al Amal news request to elaborate.
“A Facebook delegation visited Israel as part of our ongoing dialogue with policymakers and experts around the world to keep terrorist content off our platform and support counter-speech initiatives,” a spokesperson for the social network told Al Amal news in a statement.