Expressing a negative opinion about Israel on social media can land you in prison if you happen to be a Palestinian in occupied Palestine, which is not a good image to project when you claim to be the only democracy in the Middle East. The law doesn’t always just apply to Palestinians, though, as four Israeli soldiers have found out to their cost; they were jailed this week for declaring that “God is with Palestine”.
But — there has to be a “but”; this is Israel — before anyone rushes to praise the even-handedness of the Zionist state, it is fair to say that Israel is still living up to its apartheid reputation by jailing the soldiers for no more than one month for uploading a video in which they congratulated Jenin and cursed Israel. Palestinians are routinely given between several months and several years in jail by Israeli occupation courts for incitement if they do anything similar; some are still being held under administrative detention with neither charge nor trial.
In the light-hearted video the soldiers joked about supporting Palestine and Jenin after deadly fighting in the occupied West Bank city. Speaking in Arabic, the quartet used strong language and boasted: “Yes, Jenin. Say it. God is with Jenin. God is with Jenin. God is with Palestine. F*** Israel.” Within minutes of uploading the video from their army base in the south, a military spokesman vowed to take swift “disciplinary action” against them.
Without a hint of irony, the spokesman said that the video contravened the Israeli army’s “values”. By yesterday, three of the four were sentenced to 30 days in prison, while the other was given 21 days. Israeli soldiers often face allegations of war crimes for their brutality while enforcing the occupation, but rarely face criminal prosecution, despite their violence against Palestinians. Insult Israel, though, and… whoosh, Go Straight to Jail.
However, before Israel wades in to congratulate itself over disciplining the quartet, it’s worth pointing out the settler-colonial state has arrested 410 Palestinians, including women, children, journalists, activists and community leaders, for expressing their opinions on social media. The statistics were published by the Palestine Centre for Prisoners’ Studies (PCPS) in a report which MEMO featured in January.
The centre’s report for 2022 was co-authored with the Commission of Detainees and Ex-Prisoners’ Affairs, the Palestinian Prisoners’ Society, Addameer Association for Prisoner Care and Human Rights, and the Wadi Hilweh Centre. It highlighted Israel’s use of a new “Vigilance Unit” to monitor Palestinian social media accounts and issue recommendations to the security agencies to make arrests on the pretext that their opinions amount to incitement and call for violence against the state. According to PCPS Director Riyad Al-Ashqar, Palestinians were arrested simply for posting a picture of a martyr online, or merely mentioning his or her name, or sharing an invitation to protect Al-Aqsa Mosque.
The Israeli authorities have also forced detainees to sign pledges not to use social media for several months, fined them and placed some under house arrest. It will be interesting to see if the four soldiers have to sign such pledges when they are released in July, assuming that they actually serve the full sentence. It is quite possible that the sentences are window dressing for international consumption, and that they will be sent back to their unit as soon as the dust settles. That has happened with brutal killers, never mind jesters. In apartheid Israel, those who wear the occupation uniform get away, literally, with murder, so why worry too much about a few pro-Palestine words uttered for fun?
As much as the Zionist state and its lackeys in the West might deny the apartheid label, nowhere is it more obvious than in the application of Israeli “justice”. Last week, for example, troops were cleared of criminal charges in the case of Omar Assad, an 80-year-old Palestinian American who had a heart attack after being stopped at a checkpoint, dragged from his car and blindfolded by Israeli soldiers. His body was dumped and left overnight.
The truth is that under one per cent of soldiers accused of violence against Palestinians in the occupied West Bank and the Gaza Strip are ever charged with crimes, according to a human rights report published by Israeli NGO Yesh Din. Statistics for 2017 through to 2021 show that the so-called Israel Defence Forces faced 1,260 cases of alleged offences by Israeli soldiers against Palestinians. The data included 409 cases of Palestinians killed by Israeli troops.
Yuli Edelstein, of the majority Likud party and chair of the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defence Committee, has very little to say about these shameful statistics, but on seeing the video of the soldiers dissing Israel he called them a “bunch of brats” who would be “dealt with quickly and with a significant punishment.”
There is little hope, though, that Edelstein will move just as quickly over the killing of a 15-year-old schoolgirl who was shot in the head by an army sniper in Jenin on Monday and died from her wounds on Wednesday. The Palestinian Ministry of Health confirmed that Sadeel Ghassan Turkman died in hospital, taking the death toll from Israel’s military offensive in Jenin — involving an Apache attack helicopter, for goodness’ sake — to seven. The other victims were named as Ahmed Youssef Saqr, 15; Khaled Azzam Darwish, 21; Qassam Faisal Abu Sariya, 29; Qais Majdi Jabareen, 21; Ahmed Daraghmeh, 19; and Amjad Al-Jas, 48.
In the Jews’ Holy Book of Exodus, the freed Israelite slaves arrived at Mount Sinai where they entered into a covenant with the Almighty. Apart from holy festivals, a system of animal sacrifice and the establishment of the priesthood, the covenant included specific provisions for human relationships, including the establishment of fair courts; protecting the vulnerable (the non-Israelite, the widow, the orphan and the poor); lending money to the needy without usury; treating waged labourers fairly; and much more.
Justice lies at the core of the covenant. It contains nothing about stealing other people’s land; or establishing an apartheid state based on racial supremacy; or imposing a brutal military occupation on other people; or giving supposedly inferior people harsher punishments than those given to Jews. It contains none of the injustices that are now routine in the Zionist state. Justice in apartheid Israel reflects the racist nature of the state. Remember that the next time you hear an army spokesperson, or extreme far-right minister, or any other apologist for Zionist Israel talk about Israeli “values”.
The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.