Israel extends its Palestinian occupation to the digital realm – OpEd – Eurasia Review

It’s ironic that even right-wing former Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu rejected a Knesset bill that proposed giving the government greater power to police and remove online content. That was in 2016, when the bill was introduced by Netanyahu’s Likud party rival Gideon Sa’ar.

Some analysts have argued that Netanyahu fears a law aimed at suppressing Palestinian freedom of expression online could be exploited by his enemies to control his own speech and incitement. Now that Netanyahu is no longer in the picture, the bill is back, and so is Sa’ar.

Saar is currently Minister of Justice and Deputy Prime Minister of Israel. While his boss, Naftali Bennett, moves quickly to expand settlements and worsen already horrific realities for Palestinians on the ground, Saar is taking Israel’s military occupation of Palestinians into the digital realm. The so-called “Facebook Law” is set to grant “Israeli courts the power to require the removal of user-generated content on social media content platforms that may be perceived as inflammatory or as undermining ‘state security,’ or the safety of persons or the safety of the public,” according to the Palestinian Digital Rights Coalition.

The PDRC and the Council of Palestinian Human Rights Organizations said last month that Israeli censorship of Palestinian content online had deepened since 2016, when Sa’ar’s bill was first introduced. In their statement, the two organizations pointed to the fact that Israel’s so-called cyber unit submitted 2,421 requests to social media companies to remove Palestinian content in 2016. This number has since grown exponentially and the cyber- unit alone called for the elimination of more than 20,000 Palestinian jobs. The groups suggest that the new legislation, which was approved last month by the Ministerial Committee for Legislation and will subsequently be submitted to the Knesset, “would only strengthen the relationship between the cyber unit and social media companies.”

However, that relationship is already strong, at least with Facebook, which regularly censors Palestinian content and has been heavily criticized by Human Rights Watch and other similar organizations. After reviewing numerous censorship allegations, Deborah Brown, senior digital rights researcher and lawyer at HRW, concluded that “Facebook has removed content posted by Palestinians and their supporters speaking out on human rights issues. man in Israel and Palestine”.

Facebook’s involvement in Israeli efforts to silence Palestinian voices calling for justice, freedom and an end to occupation stems from a deal the company struck with Tel Aviv in September 2016. , the Israeli government announced that it had signed an agreement with the social media giant “to work together to determine how to combat incitement on the social media network”. Within days, the accounts of many prominent Palestinian journalists and activists reportedly began to be deleted.

The proposed Facebook law isn’t just about controlling content on Facebook-owned platforms, including Instagram. According to a Haaretz op-ed published Dec. 29, the impact of this particular bill could be far-reaching, as it would grant district court judges across the country the power to remove posts “from any website “.

Not surprisingly, Israel’s censorship of Palestinian content is justified under the typical guise of protecting “national security.” We all know how Israel interprets this elusive concept to include anything from one Palestinian demanding that Israel be held accountable for its crimes in the Occupied Territories to another demanding an end to Israeli apartheid and a third writing a poem. The humiliating imprisonment of Palestinian poet Dareen Tatour is a case in point. The Israeli citizen was imprisoned in 2018 for writing a short poem titled “Resist, my people, resist them.”

Judging by past experience, Facebook’s proposed law will almost exclusively target Palestinians. Moreover, based on Israel’s previous successes, many digital and social media companies will simply comply with the demand to censor Palestinians everywhere.

In a January 11 report, the Arab Center for the Advancement of Social Media detailed some of the practices Israel engages in to monitor, silence and spy on Palestinians. The report, titled “Hashtag Palestine 2021,” discusses the growing use of surveillance technologies, particularly in the context of an Israeli proposed law that would expand the use of facial recognition cameras in public spaces. It should be noted that these technologies have been used against Palestinians at Israeli military checkpoints throughout the West Bank for at least two years.

Additionally, the Israeli spyware Pegasus, which recently made headlines around the world for its use against many high-profile figures, has also long been used to monitor Palestinian militants. In other words, Palestine continues to be the testing ground for Israel’s various human rights abuses, be it new weapons, crowd control or surveillance.

Predictably, what applies to Palestinians demanding their freedom online does not apply to Israelis inciting violence and spreading hatred against those same Palestinians. According to the Arab Center for the Advancement of Social Media’s “Racism and Incitement Index,” released last June, “Hebrew-language incitement against Arabs and Palestinians increased 15-fold” during the Israeli war against the Gaza Strip and the anti-Palestinian violence that followed in May. 2021 compared to the same period the previous year. Much of this has gone unnoticed and is hardly the subject of the Facebook Bill or the sinister activities of the Cyber ​​Unit. For Saar and his ilk, anti-Palestinian incitement, as well as the daily violence inflicted on occupied Palestinians, is not a problem.

While Israel is allowed, thanks to the deafening silence of the international community, to maintain its military occupation of Palestine, cement its apartheid and deepen its control over Palestinian life everywhere, it should not be allowed to expand this matrix digital domain control. Civil society organizations, activists and ordinary people everywhere must speak out to end this travesty.

Moreover, as our experiences with Pegasus spyware and facial recognition surveillance technologies have taught us, what is typically applied first to Palestinians is eventually normalized and applied everywhere else. Israel should therefore be confronted with its human rights violations in Palestine. If allowed to normalize, they will become part of our daily lives, wherever we are in the world.

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