This week, over 1,000 Palestinian prisoners launched a mass hunger strike to protest rights violations by the Israeli prison system. Marwan Barghouti, a prominent leader of Fatah and the mass hunger strike, penned an op-ed in The New York Times describing the reasons for the strike and the prisoner’s demands. In response to the op-ed, Israeli authorities threw Barghouti, who is in prison serving multiple life sentences following a widely-condemned show trial, into solitary confinement.
Punishing Barghouti for writing an article is one example of Israel’s larger campaign of silencing Palestinian political expression. Describing such expressions as incitement, Israel uses a variety of methods, including military orders, archaic laws, private companies and international pressure, to prosecute Palestinian thoughtcrimes and silence or seriously hamper Palestinian political expression.
Merely two months after its occupation of the West Bank and Gaza Strip in 1967, Israel issued Military Order 101, “Regarding Prohibition of Incitement and Hostile Propaganda.” According to the Palestinian prisoners’ rights group Addameer, that order:
Criminalizes civic activities including: organizing and participating in protests; taking part in assemblies or vigils; waving flags and other political symbols; printing and distributing political material. In addition, the order deems any acts of influencing public opinion as prohibited “political incitement” … Military Order 101 also establishes a basis for censorship in the occupied West Bank by forbidding any individual to “print or publicize in the region any publication of notice, poster, photo, pamphlet or other document containing material having a political significance”, except in cases where the military commander has granted a permit.
This military order, which remains in force, is Israel’s legal basis for silencing all political activity in the West Bank.
This same campaign against Palestinian expression exists within Israel itself. In 2015, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu banned the northern branch of the Islamic Movement, which is an Islamist political party and offshoot of the Muslim Brotherhood within Israel. He did so by using a 1945 law, issued by the British Mandate authority in historic Palestine, regarding unlawful organizations. The law defines an unlawful organization as any group that incites or encourages “the overthrow by force” or the “destruction or injury to property” of the government, according to the Law Library of Congress. The law allows for the arrest and imprisonment of anyone belonging to the organization, and multiple alleged members have been arrested.
Netanyahu’s decision to ban the group relates primarily to its leader Sheikh Raed Salah, who was imprisoned for incitement after making a speech praising Palestinian martyrs who died fighting Israel. It is “highly likely,” according to political scientist Lawrence Rubin, that the Israeli Supreme Court will find the politically-motivated ban unlawful.
Israel has also taken its prosecution of Palestinian political expression to cyberspace. It has been working directly with Facebook to counter what it describes as incitement to violence against Israelis by Palestinians inside Israel and the Occupied Territories. A law that would allow the Israeli government to force Facebook to remove content it labels as incitement recently passed its first reading in the Knesset. According to Israeli Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked, who once shared a post on Facebook describing Palestinian children as little snakes, Facebook already complies with 78% of requests from Israel to remove content. This compliance is likely the reason Facebook recently suspended the accounts of seven Palestinian journalists, who had not, in fact, engaged in any incitement. The accounts were later reinstated, with Facebook calling the suspensions a “mistake.”
The Israeli government has gone even further to prevent Palestinians from freely expressing their views. According to a recent report in Haaretz, Israel has arrested more than 400 Palestinians it claims were planning attacks on Israelis, based on social media posts. Some of those arrested are facing trial. The Israelis also gave the Palestinian Authority “a similar number” of names to arrest.
It is certainly true that some Palestinians have advocated violence against Israelis on social media. At the same time, however, a report by the Arab rights organization 7amleh found that Hebrew language social media users posted hundreds of thousands of hateful messages against Arabs on Facebook. One in eight of these posts used derogatory terms or incitement to violence. Not a single instance resulted in arrest or trial. This clear double standard reveals that Israel’s concern is not about security, but about limiting Palestinian expression.
The arrest of poet Dareen Tatour is emblematic of this campaign to silence Palestinian speech. A Palestinian citizen of Israel, she was arrested and detained for three months after posting a poem calling for resistance to the Israeli occupation and sharing a YouTube video that featured images of Palestinian protesters. Her detention and trial brought condemnation from the literary rights group PEN America and the Israeli daily Haaretz, whose editorial board called Tatour “a political prisoner in every respect.”
Israel’s attempts to silence Palestinian expression extend far into the international arena. Palestinian activist, Bassem Tamimi, who was previously accused and eventually acquitted of incitement by Israel, had his visa to Australia canceled shortly before a planned speaking tour. Tamimi blamed Israeli pressure for the decision. The Australia government stated that the reversal came after it “recently became aware of information” about the potential risks posed by Tamimi due to “his views of the ongoing political tensions in the Middle East,” according to The Guardian.
Israel also funds efforts to silence criticism of it on U.S. college campuses and backs proposed laws in the United States that would outlaw the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions movement, a peaceful initiative to end Israel’s occupation of the Palestinians territories and discrimination against Palestinians.
This coordinated campaign to silence so-called incitement is an attempt to stifle a wide variety of Palestinian political expression and suppress pro-Palestine political activity at home and abroad.