These days, Palestinians find themselves surveilled and censored online from all directions. The general assumption is that all Palestinians are under some kind of surveillance. In the past, Israel‘s security services monitored specific targets using fake accounts; befriending someone to try to get information. But their methods have grown much more sophisticated.
Israel has since developed a “predictive policing” programme – a programme that would not sound out of place on the pages of George Orwell’s 1984. It tries to identify would-be Palestinian attackers by building profiles based on things like age, location and the types of posts they write on Facebook.
“He probably doesn’t even know it yet, but technology predicts that according to certain conditions, he will commit the next attack,” says Nadim Nashif, 7amleh’s executive director, “and so he gets interrogated, investigated, threatened along with members of his family, and even jailed.”
There is now total awareness among a lot of journalists that social media platforms are no longer secure, and that internet service providers can no longer be trusted … Everyone is watching you. Israel is watching you, the PA is watching you and you’re the journalist, the one who’s meant to be uncovering the story as it is.
These days, if you’re Palestinian and you’ve written something online that the Israelis don’t like, you’re likely to end up getting arrested and charged with “incitement”.
The Israeli government says Palestinians use social media to incite violence against Israelis. But many of those charged are simply guilty of criticising Israel and its occupation of the West Bank and Gaza. While the Listening Post‘s Tariq Nafi was in Palestine, the well-known writer Lama Khater, as well as six other journalists, became the latest victims of incitement charges.
What we had not anticipated was just how controlled Palestinian speech is by their own authorities. Much like their Israeli counterparts, the Palestinian Authority security forces have also used incitement as a means to silence dissent.
Just a few years ago, it was not uncommon to hear stories about journalists being arrested by Palestinian security officers who did not know the difference between a Facebook “post” and a “tag”. Not any more.
“There’s been a marked evolution, they [the Palestinian Authority] now have special units dedicated to social media … as a result, the fight over civil liberties has become much harder,” according to Naela Khalil, bureau chief for Al Araby Al Jadeed. “Why harder? Because the entire social media output of journalists is now monitored.”
Armed with a restrictive Cybercrimes Law that was passed by presidential decree in 2017, the Palestinian Authority, the PA, can now target anyone expressing opposition online.
Journalists are regularly summoned by the Palestinian Preventive Security for posts they write on Facebook. Sometimes they are shown the entire contents of their private messages, adding to the fear that social media is no longer a safe space.
“There is now total awareness among a lot of journalists that social media platforms are no longer secure, and that internet service providers can no longer be trusted,” says Khalil. “You feel as if we’ve somehow become like that TV programme, Big Brother. Everyone is watching you. Israel is watching you, the PA is watching you and you’re the journalist, the one who’s meant to be uncovering the story as it is.”
Nadim Nashif – Executive director of 7amleh, The Arab Center for Social Media Advancement
Naela Khalil – West Bank bureau chief, Al Araby Al Jadeed
Rania Muhareb – Legal researcher, Al Haq
Elia Zureik – Professor emeritus in sociology, Queen’s University, Canada