Israel’s occupation forces shot a young man at a checkpoint in the Tulkarem district of the West Bank on the evening of Friday October 18th and left him to bleed to death.
Israeli occupation claimed that 25-year-old Ra’ad Majed Mohammad al-Bahri would have run towards the Jabara checkpoint, allegedly with a knife, and would then have been shot.
According to Palestinian sources, Israeli occupation did not allow Palestinian ambulance to reach al-Bahri – who would have been seriously wounded after having been shot – and nor was he given first aid by Israeli occupation forces themselves.
Ra’ed al-Bahri died on the scene, south of the city of Tulkarem and near his home village of Kafr Zibad.
On Saturday October 19th @paldf published screenshots of his last Facebook post, in which he wrote in past tense that he had been killed by Israel’s occupation forces at the Jabara checkpoint.
On Friday October 18th Israel’s occupation forces again attacked the weekly Great Return March demonstration in the besieged Gaza Strip, the 79th time it was held after it began on March 30th 2018.
According to the al-Mezan Center for Human Rights, 88 people were wounded including 39 minors, while the Palestine Center for Human Rights(PHCR) gives the number of wounded as 97 and the number those underage among them as 45. Both agree that 36 people were shot with live ammunition.
According to the PHCR at least 38 people were shot with rubber-coated steel bullets and 21 were directly hit with tear-gas grenades; 4 people more were hit with either ones, according to the same source without further clarification.
One person suffered a serious injury: 24-year-old Iyad Ibrahim Hussein Zanoun was shot in his back with a live bullet at Rafah in the southern part of the tiny coastal enclave.
On October 9, the social media platform, Facebook, deleted the page of the popular Palestinian news website, the Palestinian Information Center (PIC). This act, which was carried out without even contacting the page administrators, confirms that Facebook’s war on pro-Palestine voices is continuing unabated.
PIC had nearly five million followers on Facebook, a testament to its popularity and credibility among a large cross section of Palestinians and their supporters internationally. For Israel’s trolls on social media, PIC was simply too effective to be allowed to spread its message. As usual, Facebook obliged.
This oft-repeated scenario – where pro-Israeli social media trolls zoom in on a Palestinian media platform while working closely with Facebook management to censor content, bar individuals, or delete whole pages – is now the norm. Palestinian views on Facebook are simply unwanted, and the margin of what is allowed is rapidly shrinking.
Sue, a Facebook user, told me that she had been warned by the platform for alleged “hate speech/bullying” for claiming that “Israelis are militarized in their psychology”, and that the “perceived threat of and real hatred for the Palestinians (are) kept alive by the (Israeli) government.”
‘Sue’ is, of course, correct in her assessment, a claim that has been made numerous times even by the Israeli president himself. On October 14, 2014, President Reuven Rivlin, said that “the time has come to admit that Israel is a sick society, with an illness that demands treatment.” Moreover, the fact that Israeli Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, has been stoking the fire of fear, hatred and racism to win a few votes in the Israeli elections has made headlines around the world.
It is unclear where exactly ‘Sue’ had gone wrong, and what portion of her comment constituted “hate speech” and “bullying”.
I asked others to share their experiences with Facebook as a result of their pro-Palestinian speech. The responses I received indicated the unmistakable pattern that Facebook is indeed targeting, not hate speech, but criticism of Israeli war, siege, racism and apartheid.
For example, ‘José’ was censored for writing, in Spanish, that “there is nothing more cowardly than attacking or killing a child.”
“Damned coward army, assassins of Palestinian children, this is not a war, this is a genocide,” he commented.
Meanwhile, ‘Derek’ has been suspended from using Facebook for 30 days, “many times” in the past on “various charges.” He told me that “all it takes is a certain number of reports by trolls who have secret groups on who to target.”
The same pattern was repeated with ‘Anissa’, ‘Debbie’, Erika’, ‘Layla’, ‘Olivia’, ‘Rich’, ‘Eddy’ and countless others.
But who are these “trolls” and what are the roots of Facebook’s unrelenting targeting for Palestinians and their supporters?
According to a document obtained by the Electronic Intifada, the Israeli government has funded a “global influence campaign” with a massive budget with the sole aim of influencing foreign publics and combating the Palestinian Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement (BDS).
Writing in EI, Asa Winstanley, reported on a “troll army of thousands” that is “partly funded by the Israeli Ministry of Strategic Affairs”.
“To conceal its involvement, the ministry has admitted to working through front groups that ‘do not want to expose their connection with the state,’” Winstanley wrote.
One such troll group estimated to include 15,000 active members, is Act.IL.
Writing in Jacobin Magazine website, Michael Bueckert describes the main function of Act.IL app users:
“With the mobile application and online platform Act.IL, Israel aims to recruit a mob of slacktivists and trolls to join their war against the most insidious forms of violence: pro-Palestinian tweets and Facebook posts.”
Act.IL is only the tip of the iceberg of a massive, centralized effort led by the Israeli government and involving legions of supporters around the world. However, Israel would never have achieved its objectives were it not for the fact that Facebook has officially joined the Israeli government in its social media “war” on Palestinians.
In 2014, Sohaib Zahda was reportedly the first Palestinian to be arrested by the Israeli army for his social media post, in a new strategy of cracking down on what Israel sees as “incitement”. The arrest campaign since then has expanded to include hundreds of Palestinians – mostly young artists, poets, and student activists.
But Israel only started monitoring Facebook in earnest in 2015, according to the Intercept.
“The arrests of Palestinians for Facebook posts open(ed) a window into the practices of Israel’s surveillance state and reveal social media’s darker side,” Alex Kane wrote. “What was once seen as a weapon of the weak has turned into the perfect place to ferret out potential resistance.”
Israel quickly manufactured a legal basis for the arrests (155 cases were opened in 2015 alone), thus providing a legal cover that was used in its subsequent agreement with Facebook. The Israeli Penal Code of 1977, art. 144 D.2 was repeatedly unleashed to counter a social media phenomenon that was established much more recently, all in the name of cracking down on “incitement to violence and terror”.
The Israeli strategy began with a massive hasbara (propaganda) campaign aimed at creating public and media pressure on Facebook. The Israeli government activated its then-nascent troll army to build a global narrative centered on the purported notion that Facebook has become a platform for violent ideas, which Palestinians are utilising on the ground.
When, in September 2016, the Israeli government announced its willingness to work with Facebook to “tackle incitement”, the social media giant was ready to reach an understanding, even if that meant violating the very basic freedom of expression it has repeatedly vowed to respect.
During that period, the Israeli government and Facebook agreed to “determine how to tackle incitement on the social media network,” according to the Associated Press citing top Israeli officials.
The agreement was the outcome of two days of discussions involving the Israeli interior minister, Gilad Erdan, and justice minister, Ayelet Shaked, among others.
Erdan’s office said in a statement that, “they agreed with Facebook representatives to create teams that would figure out how best to monitor and remove inflammatory content.”
In essence, this meant that any content related to Palestine and Israel is now filtered, not only by Facebook’s own editors, but by Israeli officials as well.
For Palestinians, the outcome has been devastating as numerous pages, like that of PIC, have been deleted and countless users have been banned, temporarily or indefinitely.
Quite often, the process of targeting Palestinians and their supporters follows the same logic:
Pro-Israel trolls fan out, monitoring and commenting on Palestinian posts.
The trolls report allegedly offensive individuals and content to the Facebook/Israeli “team”.
Facebook carries out recommendations regarding accounts that have been flagged for censorship.
The accounts of Palestinian and pro-Palestinian pages and individuals are deleted or banned.
While PIC did not receive any warning before their popular account was axed, chances are the decision followed the same pattern as above.
When social media was first introduced, many saw in it an opportunity to present ideas and advocate causes that have been, for one reason or another, shunned by mainstream media.
Palestine suddenly found a new, welcoming media platform; one that is not influenced by wealthy owners and paid advertisers, but by ordinary individuals – millions of them.
Israel, however, may have found a way to circumvent the influence of Facebook on the discussions pertaining to Palestinian rights and the Israeli occupation.
When exposing apartheid, condemning child killers and discussing the fear-mentality pervading in Israel become “hate speech” and “bullying”, one should then ponder what has become of social media’s promise of freedom and popular democracy.
While Facebook has done much more to discredit itself in recent years, no other act is as sinister as censoring the voices of those who dare challenge state-sponsored violence, racism and apartheid, anywhere, with Palestine remaining the prime example thereof.
Israeli settlers seen in the the Al-Aqsa Mosque Compound, during the Jewish holiday of Sukkot, on 17 October 2019
Hundreds of Jewish settlers forced their way into Jerusalem’s flashpoint Al-Aqsa Mosque compound again on Sunday to mark the Jewish holiday of Sukkot, according to a Palestinian source.
“Around 653 settlers backed by Israeli police stormed the Al-Aqsa compound since early morning,” the source with the Religious Endowments Authority, a Jordan-run agency responsible for overseeing the city’s Muslim and Christian holy sites, said.
The incursions have caused frictions between Muslim worshippers and Israeli forces near the flashpoint compound.
According to local residents, Israeli police assaulted worshippers performing prayers near one of the compound’s gates after being banned from entering the site.
Settlers are celebrating Sukkot, a week-long holiday, which will end Sunday.
For Muslims, Al-Aqsa represents the world’s third holiest site. Jews, for their part, refer to the area as the “Temple Mount,” claiming it was the site of two Jewish temples in ancient times.
Israel occupied East Jerusalem, in which the Al-Aqsa is located, during the 1967 Middle East War. It formally annexed the entire city in 1980, claiming it as its capital – a move never recognised by the international community.
Rohingya refugee girls carry metal pitchers with water at Balukhali makeshift refugee camp in Cox’s Bazar, Bangladesh, September 13, 2017
Thousands of Rohingya living in Bangladesh refugee camps have agreed to move to an island in the Bay of Bengal, officials said Sunday, despite fears the site is prone to flooding.
Dhaka has long wanted to move 100,000 refugees to the muddy silt islet, saying it would take pressure off the overcrowded border camps where almost a million Rohingya live.
Some 740,000 Rohingya fled Myanmar in August 2017 in the face of a military crackdown, joining 200,000 refugees already in makeshift tent settlements at Cox’s Bazar.
Bangladesh’s refugee commissioner, Mahbub Alam, said officials overseeing the relocation would be posted to Bhashan Char island in the next few days.
“Approximately 6,000-7,000 refugees have already expressed their willingness to be relocated to Bhashan Char,” Alam told AFP from Cox’s Bazar, adding that “the number is rising”.
He did not say when the refugees would be moved, but a senior Navy officer involved in building facilities on the island said it could start by December, with some 500 refugees sent daily.
Bangladesh had been planning since last year to relocate Rohingya to the desolate flood-prone site, which is an hour by boat from the mainland.
Rights groups have warned the island, which emerged from the sea only about two decades ago, might not be able to withstand violent storms during the annual monsoon season.
In the past half a century, powerful cyclones have killed hundreds of thousands of people in the Meghna river estuary where the island is located.
Rohingya leaders would be taken to Bhashan Char to view the facilities and living conditions, Alam said.
Safety facilities built on the island include a nine-feet (three-meter) high embankment along its perimeter to keep out tidal surges during cyclones, and a warehouse to store months-worth of rations, he added.
Rohingya father-of-four Nur Hossain, 50, said he and his family agreed to relocate to Bhashan Char after they were shown video footage of the shelters.
“I have agreed to go. The camp here (at Leda) is very overcrowded. There are food and housing problems,” the 50-year-old told AFP.
There was no immediate comment from the UN, although Bangladeshi officials said they expect a delegation would visit the island in the next few weeks.