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On the Anniversary of the Nakba: Restrictions and Israeli Pressure on Facebook

Mustafa Ibrahim
Palestinian Journalist
May 18, 2020
The Israeli government has been trying to silence the Palestinians and remove social media content that criticizes Israeli policies and practices, especially through the cyber unit, which was previously headed by Emi Palmor.

My father, Hajj Khalil, still remembers the beautiful days he lived in his village of Barir, to the northeast of Gaza City, whose inhabitants were forcibly displaced 72 years ago, in the year of the Palestinian Nakba. He can never forget those happy times; the days of safety, and liveliness. He remembers the songs of the moon: “O young people, come out and play, do not fear death, life is good, and like the moon, we could not get enough of it.”

He remembers his father, mother, and only brother, Mohammed, also known as “al-Pasha” and 20 years older than him, and how much he loved him. He also remembers the wheat harvest season and the farmers and Bedouins, the village’s neighbors. He looks at the photos of his relatives and friends, sadly remembering how the Zionist movement’s gangs infiltrated his and surrounding villages, with the help of the British, and the crimes they committed. He clearly remembers who killed his relatives and friends, and how he and his brother used to sneak back into the village to restore the remaining wheat crop they had stored.

On the 72nd anniversary of the Nakba, Palestinians are experiencing successive crises under a confused, divided and fragile political system, while signs of disintegration threaten the entire Palestinian land, under successive and escalating Israeli colonial policies and procedures, which are trying to complete what could not be completed in 1948 and 1967. The 72nd anniversary comes amid the agreement on forming the Israeli governmental coalition, and to annex the region of al-Aghwar and settlements in the West Bank starting from the beginning of July 2020, in addition to issuing military orders to confiscate more lands, and the systematic incitement campaigns against Palestinian civil society.

The “Terrorism” Stigma

Moreover, there is the stigma of “terrorism” that haunts the Palestinian society, the official government letters to the European Union about funding Palestinian institutions, and letters from an Israeli lawyer who works as an adviser to settler groups, to Palestinian banks threatening them with accountability if they continue to keep the accounts of Palestinian prisoners in Israeli jails, according to an Israeli military order with wide authorities to confiscate Palestinian properties, give any soldier the authority to confiscate, seize any property belonging to the Palestinians and diminish their rights to legal representation.

Israel oppresses prisoners and freezes their bank accounts, while banks are looking out for their interests, as they were left without protection from the authorities. Most of the Palestinian civil society organizations are threatened, especially human rights organizations, to the extent that they are on the verge of collapse and bankruptcy because they document the Israeli violations and crimes, and present files to the International Criminal Court. EU countries have thus placed difficult financing conditions on humanitarian organizations, which sometimes get accused of helping “terrorist” groups. Furthermore, Palestinian academics and researchers are pursued and blacklisted, on account of anti-Zionist accusations.

Emi Palmor

“Facebook”

Another issue that Palestinian civil society considered oppressive to the Palestinians, was the selection of Emi Palmor, former Director-General of the Israeli Ministry of Justice, for membership in the Facebook Oversight Board, who has played a serious role in reducing the space for freedom of expression on the internet, as well as that of defending human rights. Palestinian civil society said in a press statement that similarly to the importance of the Oversight Board members’ diversity, it is equally important that members should be persons supporting the rule of law and the protection of human rights all over the world.

Emi Palmor’s record is full of monitoring the legitimate discourse of human rights defenders and journalists, simply because this speech is politically undesirable, contrary to the norms of international human rights laws, and the recommendations made by the UN Special Rapporteur on the defense of the right to freedom of opinion and expression. During Palmor’s tenure at the Israeli Ministry of Justice (2014-2019), the ministry established the Israeli Cyber Unit (unit of cyber referral), which deliberately targeted and removed tens of thousands of Palestinian content and imposed severe restrictions on freedom of expression online, especially with regard to Palestine. This has affected the Arab and Muslim societies around the world unevenly.

Another issue that Palestinian civil society considered oppressive to the Palestinians, was the selection of Emi Palmor, former Director-General of the Israeli Ministry of Justice, for membership in the Facebook Oversight Board, who has played a serious role in reducing the space for freedom of expression on the internet, as well as that of defending human rights.

In 2017, two years after the construction of the cyber unit, there was a 500 percent rise in the removal of content. In 2018, one year before the end of Palmor’s term as General Manager, 14285 removed content cases were documented. Meanwhile, research on encouraging racial hatred against Palestinians online showed that in 2018, instigatory content was published in Hebrew directed against Palestinians every 66 seconds, while no one expressed the desire to combat the phenomenon of instigatory content against Arab Palestinians.

In addition, as documented in Facebook Transparency Report, there has been a rise in the number of Israeli government data requests -about 700 requests so far-, 50% of which have been submitted as “emergency requests”, although they were not related to legal procedures.

These are not isolated attempts to restrict Palestinian digital rights and freedom of expression over the Internet. This comes in the context of systematic, large-scale attempts by the Israeli government, particularly through the cyber unit, formerly headed by Emi Palmor, to silence Palestinians and remove the social media content that criticizes Israeli policies and practices, and to de-legitimize human rights defenders, activists and organizations seeking to address and face Israeli violations of the rights of the Palestinian people.

Collective punishment

These policies and measures come within the context of the policy of collective punishment against the Palestinian people and their continuing struggle to determine their own destiny and end the occupation, and within the context of imposing measures aimed at eliminating the tools of the Palestinian struggle, including peaceful and legal tools. Everyone is pursued, standing helpless in the face of the arrogance of Israel and the US, and Europe is weak and collusive, to say the least, while the PLO and the Palestinian Authority are incapable of protecting the Palestinians in the face of a total collapse.

What the Palestinians do, or what became commonly known as “Arab Outburst” to face the Israeli policies, including closing the bank accounts of prisoners, and families of martyrs and injured people, is what the Palestinians usually do without planning and recognizing that they are a national liberation movement. The movement remains an “outburst” and a “flare” that ends once stopgap solutions are put in place to resolve their crises, angry statements are issued and violence is used against some banks.

The solution is clear: To return to the fundamentals, the Palestinians must realize that they are a people under occupation, that their struggle is legitimate, and that they are the victims of the occupation and the Zionist project, and that the prisoners are fighters for freedom, and the victims are their strategic impetus and our encouragement for the continuation of the Palestinian narrative of injustice that has been going on for 72 years.

On the 72nd anniversary of the Nakba, Palestinians will carry out a process of self-destruction, moral, national and political hypocrisy, from the top of the pyramid to the smallest faction, as well as political abuses, arrests, torture and attacks on public freedoms and freedom of opinion and expression.

Human rights violations in Gaza are denounced by Fatah supporters, while blindly disregarding violations in the West Bank. Each of Fatah and Hamas movements, who are equal in disrespecting and destroying human rights, is ardently defending its ‘illusionary’ authority.

As if the Palestinian people are saying to them: “What a shame!”. About which homeland are you speaking, when the only resource both authorities have is the Palestinian people, yet they are carrying out a systematic operation to destroy it and to eliminate the potential of its powerful force and resistance?

Is this the homeland of heroes, the homeland of freedom and resistance? And what resistance are we talking about when the Palestinian factions have become decrepit, their leaders suffer senility, and the leadership has not been transferred in a transparent manner, in the absence of true democracy in its institutions? There are aging leaders who established both movements, and it is unreasonable to keep them forever.

The only thing remaining for the Palestinians is to raise hope in the souls of their children, that Palestine used to be called Palestine, and is still called Palestine.

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