Israeli military tanks are seen stationed in the Jordan Valley during a military training exercise on 6 May 2015
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said yesterday that this is the time to apply Israeli sovereignty over the Jordan Valley and legalise Jewish settlements in the occupied West Bank, local media reported.
The Jordan Valley makes up approximately 28 per cent of the occupied West Bank. It is home to nearly 65,000 Palestinians.
“It is time to apply Israeli sovereignty over the Jordan Valley and legalise all the Judea and Samaria [West Bank] settlements, those that are in settlement blocs and those outside of them,” he said during a conference organised by the right-wing newspaper Makor Rishon.
Referring to the illegal Israeli settlements in the occupied West Bank, he said: “They will be part of the State of Israel.”
He added: “I want American recognition of our sovereignty over the Jordan Valley, it’s important,” noting he recently discussed the issue with US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo.
Last week, a Guardian investigation traced a network of Facebook accounts fuelling far-right Islamophobic pages around the world to Israel. Journalists at the UK daily uncovered a plot to take over some of Facebook’s largest far-right pages in an attempt to foment hatred towards Islam and Muslims while fostering support for Israel, in a report titled Inside the hate factory.
As many as 21 of the of the biggest far-right Facebook pages churning out hatred of Muslims at an industrial scale were tracked to “a mysterious Israeli-based group.” Thousands of coordinated fake news posts per week were being produced and circulated to millions of followers around the world.
Major concerns over foreign interference were highlighted in the report published as part of the Guardian’s “transparency project.” It found that messages that were being spread as part of a covert plot included those linked to right-wing terror groups.
Posts from the pro-Israel group stoked what the authors described as “deep hatred of Islam across the western world and influence politics in Australia, Canada, the UK and the US.” Israeli groups were found to be “amplifying far-right parties such as Australia’s One Nation and vilifying Muslim politicians such as the London mayor Sadiq Khan, and the US congresswoman Ilhan Omar”. The latter, like Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn, has been the target of a merciless smear campaign to label the Minnesota representative as an anti-Semite.
Details that should raise questions over the anti-Semitism row gripping the British public since Corbyn became leader in 2015 include the fact that attacks on left-wing politicians were timed at critical points in national election campaigns. False stories claiming that Corbyn had said Jews were “the source of global terrorism” were spread to millions of Facebook followers.
While the Guardian investigation shed light on this worrying development that threatens to undermine the democratic process, it failed to adequately address the reasons for the rise of such networks within Israel. The authors suggested that these groups peddling anti-Muslim hate and spreading pro-Israel propaganda were motivated in “milking the traffic for profit” and seeking to “create a commercial enterprise that harvests Islamophobic hate for profit.”
Their suggestion, though, ignores a plethora of data indicating that the industrial scale production of hatred towards Muslims and the circulation of fake news by pro-Israel groups is more than just the commercialisation of hate.
It should be noted that one of the top priorities of Benjamin Netanyahu’s government in 2015 was to deal with the global rise in pro-Palestine activism. His solution was to adopt a more aggressive response to, for example, the global Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement. Netanyahu appointed his Ministry of Strategic Affairs to marshal pro-Israel sympathisers and create covert, anonymous groups to target pro-Palestine activists, often with the help of professional political consultants.
Since the ministry’s launch, Israel has put together a million dollar troll army of more than 15,000 to “influence foreign publics” and “battle” BDS. At times the recruitment drive is rather shameless. In May, for instance, Israel embarked on a massive recruitment drive for its online propaganda campaign through an initiative unveiled by the Ministry of Strategic Affairs.
Details of the tendering process for recruiting pro-Israeli activists were published in the British newspaper TheJewish Chronicle. The right-wing community paper has led a vicious campaign against Corbyn with several sensational headlines including a warning to the British public that Jews would flee the UK if Labour were to win this month’s general election. The Israeli government offered $1.6 million to successful candidates for creating online campaigns designed to combat BDS and to offer support to anti-Palestinian groups hosting pro-Israel events across the world.
In the same month Israel launched a recruitment drive in the Jewish Chronicle, its firms were uncovered by Facebook for meddling in the elections of several African, Asian and Latin American countries. The social media giant traced the accounts to Archimedes Group, a private company based near Tel Aviv which had engineered the campaign.
While Israeli firms have developed a reputation as the go-to places for anyone wishing to manipulate election results, these arsenals of propaganda have been deployed most successfully in efforts to vilify pro-Palestinian groups and critics of Israel. Earlier this year an investigation found fake online accounts being used to fuel the anti-Semitism row within the Labour Party. Several Twitter accounts posed as Corbyn supporters while issuing virulent anti-Semitic posts.
Similar tactics uncovered in the Guardian investigation appear to have been used in the campaign against Labour. There were reasons to suspect that the accounts, seemingly supporting Corbyn while spreading anti-Semitism, belonged to the same person or group. Six of the 10 fake profiles were ostensibly Muslims that posted some of the most disturbing anti-Semitic posts, including direct calls for violence against Jews. In one instance the fake Twitter accounts responded to the targeting of the official Twitter accounts of Corbyn and his deputy, John McDonnell, by threating “Jihad” against “Jews” alongside a bloody graphic of a knife.
In the US, a Jewish daily newspaper, The Forward, uncovered practices of pro-Israel groups that resembled tactics that maybe best described as guerrilla warfare on social media. A series of articles were published by the paper exposing the source of funding for many of the hyper-aggressive and shadowy groups believed to be spearheading a coordinated hate campaign against critics of Israel.
Community heads and prominent Jewish organisations with a carefully-crafted and respectable public profile were found donating millions to fund projects targeting students and lecturers. On a number of occasions, their blind support for Israel has seen them bankroll far-right and anti-Muslim hate groups. A series of Forward exposés revealed that one of the many foundations controlled by the Jewish Community Federation of San Francisco, a major Jewish charity with an annual budget of over $100 million, had donated to groups whose work has drawn comparisons to a McCarthyite blacklist.
For those that have been following the rise of hate groups and fake news, the Guardian’s investigation on far-right Islamophobic sites being spread around the world by networks located in Israel will not have come as a shock. With Israel increasingly seen by racists and far-rights extremists as an ideal political model to fulfil the aspirations of ethno-religious nationalists, this worrying pattern of the vilification of Muslims is set to continue. While at this moment Islam and Muslims may be their target, the ultimate goal is to accelerate the retreat of a multi-national system founded on the ideals of a rules based international order, respect for human rights and minorities.
If this sounds hyperbolic, consider the statement of US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, who last month reduced Palestine to an extra-legal matter by urging us to dispose of the legal framework for determining right from wrong on the question of illegal Israeli settlements. The trend has been set and many an autocrat and dictator are sure to follow.
Israeli Minister of Defense, Naftali Bennett, has threatened to destroy all Palestinian structures in West Bank areas under complete Israeli control (Area C), including those which were funded by Europeans, under the pretext of unlicensed construction.
According to Days of Palestine, Bennett made the threat during a meeting with ambassadors of European Union states, last week.
He called on Europeans to direct their money towards humanitarian aid instead of what he called unlicensed construction.
The minister’s threat came one day after the Israeli army’s central region commander announced a plan to launch an unprecedented demolition campaign, against Palestinian buildings, in Area C of the West Bank.
The occupied West Bank was divided into three areas – A, B and C – as part of the Oslo Accords, signed by the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) and Israel, in 1993 and 1995.
The agreements led to the establishment of the Palestinian Authority (PA), which was granted limited powers of governance in Areas A and B.
However, the outcomes of the Oslo Accords have instead left Israel in complete control of the Palestinian economy, as well as its civil and security matters, in more than 60 percent of the West Bank, designated as Area C.
Despite granting the PA control over administrative and internal security matters in parts of the West Bank, Israel maintains military control over the entire area.
Occupied Palestine (QNN)- The Committee of Prisoners and Former Prisoners said on Monday that Palestinian minors in the Damon jail are held in very bad conditions and are subjected to several abuses.
After a visit to the Israeli jail, a lawyer for the committee said that the representative of the Palestinian minors in Israeli jails, Muhammad Joulani, in addition to other children prisoners were subjected to several abuses during arrest and interrogation and also during transfer to courts.
Joulani assured that children prisoners are usually sent to courts by prisoner transport vehicles, which are poorly ventilated and have no seats. They normally need three days on the way to courts, during which they stay handcuffed and get beaten and robbed by the Israelis.
Joulani also said that Israeli jailers and members of the Nahshon unit at the Ramleh jail have recently attacked six minors, who tried to get their robbed personal belongings back. The committee has identified five of the six minors; Usama Taha, Noor Ajlouni, Ahmad Khalifeh, Abdel Munem Natsheh, and Odai Derbas.
Noor Ajlouni (16 years old) and Ahmad Khalifeh (16 years old) said they were beaten by Israeli undercover soldiers during their arrest in Shu’fat refugee camp back in September 29.
The soldiers held them down and handcuffed them before brutally beating them using their rifles.
Khalifeh stated that when he arrived the Nabi Yaqoub police center, an Israeli policeman untied his lace and tried to strangle him, which pushed Khalifeh to bite the policeman in self-defense. Seven policemen came after that, held him down and tear-gased him, then left the cell, leaving him suffocating alone.
Ajlouni and Khalifeh were interrogated at the Maskoubiyyeh interrogation center in Jerusalem as well, where they were subjected to 36 days of torture and solitary confinement. Khalifeh has got a deep wound in his head during a torture session.
In the same vein, Abdessalam Abu Laban (16 years old) from Jerusalem, who has been held since last October, said that he has been held at the Maskubiyyeh center for 24 days, during which he was tortured and beaten. Members of Nahshon unit also assaulted him while he was being sent to a court session. They tightened his handcuffs, which caused severe pain. When he complained, they hit his head to the wall several times.
‘Israel’ holds 47 Palestinian children in the Damon jail, most of them are from occupied Jerusalem. It also holds approximately 200 children in its jails.
On Oct. 11, 2019, Facebook shut down the Palestinian Information Center, a news page with five million followers, without prior notice. Six days later, at the request of the attorney general of the Palestinian Authority (PA), the Ramallah Magistrates Court ordered the blocking of 59 websites under the pretext that they were threatening “national security, public order, and public manners.”
Shortly afterward — ironically, on the morning of the International Day to End Impunity for Crimes against Journalists — Twitter blocked three accounts of the Quds News Network, an independent Palestinian media outlet with a large online following. Metras, another Palestinian website on the PA’s blacklist, reported that a number of their Facebook posts were flagged and deleted, and that they received a warning that their page might be taken down.
WhatsApp, the messaging app now owned by Facebook, also blocked or shut down around one hundred accounts belonging to Palestinian journalists and activists, and banned them from sharing information and updates during Israel’s military attacks on Gaza last month.
Such censorship of Palestinian online content is escalating at an unprecedented and dangerous speed. To express your political views as a Palestinian, you must now tiptoe around three different authorities: Israel, the Fatah-led PA in the West Bank, and the de facto Hamas government in the Gaza Strip, each of which suppresses political speech according to their own varying definitions of incitement and unwanted dissent.
Legal cover for repression The crackdown on Palestinian free speech on social media began in late 2015 in the aftermath of the “knife intifada,” during which social media platforms were blamed for allowing communications that encouraged the outbreak of violence and so-called “lone-wolf attacks” by Palestinian youth. As a result, social media platforms became fresh grounds for suppression and surveillance by governing authorities.
Since then, Israel has arrested and interrogated hundreds of Palestinians for posts they wrote or shared on social media. Using “predictive policing” tools to monitor social media accounts and flag suspects of future attacks, Israel has targeted Palestinians — both citizens of Israel and residents of the occupied West Bank — for jail sentences based on broad and vague charges of “incitement to violence.”
The PA joined this repressive wave in 2017 when President Mahmoud Abbas enacted the controversial Cybercrime Law, which drew heavy criticism across the board and was reformed a year later after pressure from Palestinian civil society. The law provides legal cover for the PA’s increasing crackdown on political dissent, particularly from its political rivals, and on criticism and calls for accountability by ordinary Palestinians.
It is no wonder, then, that most of the websites targeted in the PA’s recent ban are either affiliated with Fatah’s rival Hamas, or are independent sites critical of the Palestinian leadership and which have exposed corruption within the PA. The law has also been used to prosecute Palestinian activists, journalists and, last month, a lawyer, Muhannad Karaja, for criticizing the PA’s relations with Israel on Facebook.
The Cybercrime Law is not the PA’s first foray into online censorship; just days before the law first emerged in 2017, the PA blocked about 20 websites, some of which re-appeared on the public prosecutor’s list this year. But its recent actions have gone much further than before.
The takedown of Metras’ Facebook content, and the deletion of all the Twitter accounts of the Quds News Network, indicates that the PA is following Israel’s direction in pressuring social media companies to remove unfavorable Palestinian content from their platforms. The head of the cybercrime division at the public prosecution’s office, Nisreen Zeina, said herself that they would contact Facebook to request the removal of such pages.
The status of freedom of expression in Gaza is equally dire. The Hamas government relies on a 2009 amendment to the penal code which criminalizes the “misuse of technology” to promote or disseminate “indecent” or “inciteful” content. These terms are so vague that they serve as catch-webs for Palestinian activists and journalists who use social media to express their views; even the charge of “indecency” effectively includes any public criticism of Hamas officials, their governance, or their policies.
Corporate complicity A centerpiece in all this is the social media companies themselves and their policies of “content moderation.” In recent years, American social media companies like Facebook, Twitter and YouTube have tightened their rules regarding hate speech and content that incites to violence, terrorism and discrimination — or, at least, that’s what they claim to have done.
These rules are opaque and only loosely relate to human rights, which leaves it to the companies to decide what does or doesn’t constitute hate speech. Indeed, there are countless examples, particularly of Facebook, the most popular platform among Palestinian internet users, deleting content or suspending Palestinian accounts only to apologize and reinstate them following public outcry.
Take the recent case of Facebook’s content removal campaign, which triggered angry calls to boycott the platform among Palestinians. According to Sada Social, a Palestinian initiative that monitors and documents cases of censorship on social media, Facebook deleted hundreds of posts and accounts, including some dating back many years, that contained any of the following words: “Hamas,” “Jihad,” “Shaheed,” “Al Qassam,” “Al Saraya,” and “Hezbollah.”
The flagging and removal of old and new content indicates the use of artificial intelligence (AI) for content moderation, meaning that these words are added to a list of content to be automatically listed and removed. If this is the case, numerous questions remained unanswered to the public: how are these rules developed? Who decides them? And how are they enforced?
In addition to all this, Facebook’s practices reveal a political bias in favor of elevating the Israeli narrative while suppressing the Palestinian one.
In policing Palestinian online spheres since 2015, Facebook accepted most requests made by the Israeli government’s cyber unit, which was set up to counter Palestinian social media content that it deems to be “inciting to violence.” This strategy of levying pressure on social media companies to regulate their own content has become common for many governments both democratic and authoritarian alike.
The asymmetric battle of narratives did not start with the social media era, but was certainly amplified by it. Some words that Facebook had censored, such as “shaheed” (martyr in Arabic), are part of expressions of Palestinian collective identity as an occupied people. In these cases, what Palestinians consider to be an exercise of their rights to freedom and self-determination is regarded by Israel as terrorism and incitement.
This is what Israeli scholar Yonatan Mendel describes as the politics of non-translation: Israeli authorities, media, and academia systematically empty the Palestinian lexicon of its contextual meaning, and fill it instead with demonizing and negative values tied to glorifying death, violence, and terrorism.
Politicized technology Do Facebook employees in Silicon Valley or elsewhere take these aspects into consideration? It’s highly doubtful, and they cannot use ignorance as an excuse. There are far stronger economic and political incentives for Facebook and other social media companies to comply with Israeli government requests. This is in addition to the fact that the companies do not see the Palestinian “market” as significant, except for when there is occasional outcry at the companies’ discriminatory policies that garner international media attention.
There is also a general perception that AI is a neutral technology that is protected from the whims of human intervention and people’s subjective bias. The belief is that whereas in the past, an overworked and underpaid worker would have to make a quick and possibly flawed decision whether to delete, ignore, or report a flagged content on a social media platform, today an algorithm can objectively identify content that violates a platform’s rules.
This is a false and dangerous claim. Human bias and discrimination always seep into the programming of these technologies and the decisions to ban certain words. And in the Palestinian case, those decisions are political at their very core.
Palestinian cyberspace has therefore become a scary place, and the growing crackdown on Palestinian freedom of expression on the internet has had a severe chilling effect on political speech and participation. According to a new research by the organization 7amleh, two thirds of young Palestinians now refrain from airing their political views on social media for fear of reprisal and oppression.
With attacks and restrictions on free speech coming from every direction, it has become harder to defend Palestinians’ online space and fundamental rights — but it remains an urgent responsibility nonetheless. Yet instead of assuming this duty, the PA, like Israel and Hamas, is learning how to better censor its own people’s voices. If it genuinely wants to safeguard “national security, public order, and public manners,” as it claims, the PA should start by taking its eyes (and its hands) off the screens of ordinary Palestinians.
Occupied Palestine (QNN)- A new joint study revealed that the occupation state arrested 374 Palestinians throughout occupied Palestine during last November, including 66 children and 6 women.
According to a fact sheet, which was issued by Palestine Prisoners’ Club, Addameer, and the Committee of Prisoners and Former Prisoners, most prisoners were arrested in occupied Jerusalem.
It revealed that 137 Palestinians were arrested from occupied Jerusalem, 42 from Ramallah and Bireh, 70 from Hebron, 22 from Jenin, 43 from Bethlehem, 12 from Nablus, 15 from Tulkarem, 7 from Qalqilyah, 5 from Tubas, 2 from Salfit, 8 from Jericho, and 11 from Gaza.
The total number of Palestinian prisoners in Israeli jails has reached nearly 5000 until last November, including 38 women, 200 children, and 450 under administrative detention.
The sheet also revealed that Israeli authorities is holding dozens of elderly Palestinians (over 60 years old) in very poor conditions.
Israeli NGO Peace Now: ‘This is an additional example proving the extent to which the occupation is messianic’
Israeli occupation authorities have told the Palestinian municipality in Al Khalil (Hebron) that it must agree to the construction of new Jewish settlement or lose its right to the land.
Israeli newspaper Haaretz reported that the Israeli Defence Minister Naftali Bennett sent a letter on 1 December to the municipality of the Palestinian city, through the office of the Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories, stating “If it failed to comply within 30 days, legal proceedings would be filed to lift its protected status.”
The plan, which was firstly proposed by the head of Yisrael Beiteinu Avigdor Lieberman, states that the Palestinian municipality must accept the demolition of the wholesale market, located in the Old City, and accept the construction of new – illegal – settlement homes for Jewish settlers.
Haaretz said that the plan would give the Palestinian municipality the right to maintain the ground floor of the new project to use as a market.
The market was closed in 1994 after occupation forces declared the area a closed military zone following protests by the Palestinians who were angered with the settler attack on Al-Ibrahimi Mosque that led to the murder of 29 Palestinian worshippers.
Israeli authorities claim the area was owned by Jews prior to 1948 and the Jordanians, who then ruled the West Bank leased it to Hebron municipality through a protected tenancy.
After the Israeli occupation of the West Bank in 1967, Israeli authorities transferred the area to the custodian for abandoned property while the municipality remained a protected tenant.
Haaretz reported Samer Shehadeh, who represents the municipality, saying: “This letter is akin to a threat and an attempt to pressure the municipality to grant its consent to the move, but it will never happen.”
It also reported the Israeli NGO Peace Now saying: “The legal acrobatics have reached new heights when it comes to expanding the settlements.”
“Ethical standards are being trampled to satisfy an extremist minority that wishes to deepen control and entrench the apartheid that exists in the Hebron settlement. This is an additional example proving the extent to which the occupation is messianic.”
The Israeli occuaption municipality of West Jerusalem forced a Palestinian resident in the East Jerusalem neighborhood of Jabal al-Mukkabir, to demolish the room where he and his family have been living.
Local sources said that the municipality forced Ali Jaabis to demolish his 70-square-meters room where he and his family have been living, citing unpermitted construction as a pretext.
Jaabis was handed a notice two days ago ordering him to demolish the room or else the municipality would send its own crews to demolish it and force the family to pay exorbitant costs.
According to international and Israeli civil organizations, Palestinians are forced to build on their property in East Jerusalem without permits because the Israeli municipality rarely issues construction permits to them.
Testimonies collected by the Applied Research Institute – Jerusalem (ARIJ) also found that the procedures to apply for Israeli-issued building permits were lengthy, sometimes lasting for several years, while the application costs could reach up to $80,000. As four out of five of Palestinians in East Jerusalem live under the poverty line, applying for costly building permits is nearly impossible, leading to only seven percent of Jerusalem building permits go to Palestinian neighborhoods.
The Palestinian Commission of Detainees’ and Ex-Detainees’ Affairs has said that the Israeli prison service continues to impose punitive measures on prisoner Nael al-Barghouthi, 62, who has been in jail for 40 years.
In a statement on Sunday, the Commission said that its lawyer recently visited prisoner Barghouthi in Hadarim after he was transferred from Eshel jail, where he had been isolated for one week.
It added that the jailers also imposed a financial penalty on him and deprived him of using the commissary and seeing his family for one month at the pretext that he issued a statement to mark 40 years in detention.
Barghouthi, from the village of Kobar in Ramallah, was first arrested on December 18, 1977 for resisting the Israeli occupation. He was sentenced to three months in prison, but 14 days after his release, he was rearrested and later sentenced to life in prison plus 18 years.
Many years later, Barghouthi was released in 2011 in a prisoner swap deal brokered through mediators between the Hamas Movement and Israeli occupation state. However, he was ordered not to leave his own town after his release.
He got married a month after his last release thinking that he was going to have a normal life again and raise a family, but this did not last. He was rearrested in 2014 and had his previous life sentence plus 18 years reinstated.
GAZA, PALESTINOW.COM — At least two Palestinians sustained moderate injuries, early Sunday morning, as Israeli fighter jets struck several locations in the northern besieged Gaza Strip, the Palestinian News and Info Agency reported.
The two Palestinians were injured when Israeli warplanes bombed a location west of Gaza City, they were rushed to nearby Shifa Hospital for medical treatment.
The warplanes also bombed two other locations east of Gaza City and east of the town of Jabalia, in the northern Gaza Strip, causing serious damages to the sites bombed but no human casualties.
The Israeli occupation forces claimed that the airstrikes came in response to the purported firing of three projectiles from the Gaza Strip into southern Israel, which were allegedly intercepted by the Iron Dome system.