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Almost 20% of Palestinian youth have faced arrest after online postings

February 28, 2017 at 10:28 am

A Palestinian man holds his samsung tablet in Rafah in southern Gaza strip on 13th May 2013 [Eyad Al Baba/apaimages]

A recent survey of Palestinian youth has revealed the depth of Israeli spying on the indigenous population of historic Palestine. The poll by the Arab Centre for Social Media Advancement (7amleh — “Campaign”) indicated that 19 per cent of 15 to 25-year-olds reported being arrested or pulled up for investigation after having their online communications spied on.

The poll was conducted in the occupied West Bank and Gaza Strip, as well as among Palestinian citizens of Israel (who make up 20 per cent of the total population). As such, the spying and subsequent arrests were carried out by the Israeli occupation authorities and their Palestinian Authority surrogates, as well as (to a lesser extent) the Palestinian authorities in the Gaza Strip (where the arrest figure is 9.5 per cent).

The figures were highest for the Palestinians in the West Bank: 35 per cent of Palestinian youth there reported being arrested for something that they had posted on social media, or said in private to a friend using online tools.

Unit 8200 — the Israeli equivalent of America’s National Security Agency or Britain’s GCHQ – uses its technological spy capabilities to monitor the entire Palestinian civilian population living under Israel’s yoke in the West Bank, Gaza and the Zionist state.

The results of this are telling. Israel’s obsession with controlling every aspect of Palestinian life is maniacal and sadistic.

A recent example is the case of Dareen Tatour, a Palestinian poet who has spent the last 16 months in an Israeli prison and now house arrest for writing a poem and posting it on Facebook. Her poem entitled “Resist Them” encouraged Palestinians to defend themselves against Israel occupation soldiers: “Resist, my people, resist them,” is its refrain. For this, and for a couple of accompanying Facebook posts, Tatour has been denied her freedom by Israel.

My colleague Charlotte Silver reported in September that the Israeli occupation authorities’ indictment claimed that a YouTube video of Tatour’s poem set to news footage of Palestinian protesters defending themselves against Israeli occupation soldiers with rocks and slingshots had been viewed by just 153 people. Nevertheless, this video, seen by so few people, was considered to pose such a “threat” to Israeli security that the poem’s writer had to be locked-up. (A YouTube video that appears to partially match the description in the Israeli indictment has racked up 5,150 views, at the time of writing this article.)

Such online surveillance is only the tip of the iceberg, as the recent poll shows.

The survey was carried out by Haifa-based Palestinian organisation 7amleh, which campaigns to improve online security usage within Palestinian civil society. Its director, Nadim Nashif, said in a press release that the poll was at the heart of the group’s work, which promotes Palestinians’ rights to be free to use the internet without having their communications intercepted by corporations, governments or other authorities.

In 2014, the whistle was blown on the extent of Israeli surveillance when 43 reservist members of Unit 8200 signed a letter stating that they would no longer play a role in spying on the Palestinian civilian population in the West Bank and Gaza.

According to one Israeli journalist, the reservists wrote that examples of the routine work of Unit 8200 in oppressing and spying on Palestinians includes “revealing the sexual preferences of Palestinians in order to blackmail them and thereby recruit them as collaborators. That, or by exploiting economic hardships or medical needs of Palestinians who need treatment in Israel.”

One reservist wrote, “Some of it is just destroying Palestinian society, preventing them from improving their lives.” Another reportedly considers the extent of Israeli spying on Palestinian civilians to be akin to that carried out by the former East Germany’s notorious Stasi secret police agency.

Last year, a different Palestinian rights organisation noted Facebook’s increasing amount of collaboration with the Israeli occupation authorities in removing Palestinian content that it considers to be “inciting” social media users. “Prosecutors use the numbers of ‘likes’ and ‘shares’ of specified posts, while failing to connect these posts or these individuals, to acts of violence. The trend is an alarming one,” the director of Addameer, Sahar Francis, told the Independent.

The fact that almost 20 per cent — that’s one in five — of Palestinian youth within historic Palestine have been arrested as a result of something they wrote online is a truly staggering statistic. It demonstrates Israel’s obsessive desire to control all aspects of Palestinian life. In this context, though, as disturbing as it is, it is merely another phase in a long history of social control by Israel’s brutal military occupation, which has simply been updated to take advantage of the social network era.

Correction: the headline and final paragraph initially stated that the 19 per cent figure affected all Palestinians in Palestine. It should have read  ‘of all Palestinian youth’. This has been amended in the text. 

The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.