Israeli border police search a mother entering the Old City of Jerusalem through Damascus Gate on November 6, 2023.


Fadel Senna/AFP via Getty Images

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Israel Muzzles Free Speech, Arresting Dozens and Creating Fear

In the wake of Hamas’s attack on October 7, 2023, and Israel’s declaration of war on Gaza, Israel passed a series of emergency regulations that have been used to detain and punish Palestinians for expressions of solidarity with Gaza. Palestinians in Jerusalem are at greater risk for monitoring and arrest than Palestinians elsewhere, because they come into constant contact with Israeli police and society, and they do not have the protections of Israeli citizenship.

On November 8, Israel extended the restrictions to Israeli citizens by passing an amendment to the 2016 Counter-Terrorism Law that criminalizes the “systematic and continuous consumption of specific publications of a terrorist organization,” with the named organizations being Hamas and ISIL (Islamic State). The law grants specific government officials the right to declare additional terrorist organizations in the future. Thus, the law criminalizes thoughts even short of any actions,1 a broad description that is being used to silence Palestinian critics of the war.2

As soon as the law was passed, authorities wasted no time putting it into action. A video of Israeli citizen Yasmin Qaddourah and her husband being arrested in Nahf, Israel, for posting vaguely on her WhatsApp account on October 25, “May God grant them victory and protect them,” sprang up and spread like wildfire on social media, a warning of how the law will be used.3

According to a news release by Adalah4—The Legal Center for Arab Minority Rights in Israel, which wrote an urgent letter to the Knesset about the law:

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Now, as Palestinian citizens face a severe crackdown on their freedom of speech for expressing dissent against Israel’s war crimes in Gaza, the Israeli Knesset is actively working to criminalize even passive social media use, where users merely observe content without engaging. This bill is one of the most egregious attempts by the Israeli parliament not only to restrict speech, but also to police the thoughts of citizens of Israel.5

Repressive Climate

Since the war began, Palestinians have experienced a severe crackdown on free speech. According to Adalah,6 this has included student expulsions, suspensions, job terminations, mass arrests, and a police ban on solidarity protests with Palestinians in Gaza.

Hundreds have been arrested so far, the vast majority detained for social media posts, often for expressing solidarity with Gazans, sharing verses from the Quran, or calling for a ceasefire. These arrests are typically carried out in the middle of the night, often in private homes.

“Today you’re being arrested for posting literally anything—whether solidarity with the situation or not—Israeli police is translating that into incitement,” Muhammad, a Palestinian activist in Jerusalem who wished to not be fully identified out of concerns for his safety, told Jerusalem Story.7

In many cases, right-wing extremist groups or Jewish students monitor Palestinian students’ social media profiles and then file complaints against them with their academic institutions, resulting in the pupil’s suspension or expulsion, or even summons to the police.

“Often this is done just based on the claim, not necessarily any proper examination of the claim made,” Aviv Tatarsky, a researcher at the Jerusalem-focused nonprofit, Ir Amim, said. “People can be accused of sympathizing with a terrorist organization, even if they just wrote something about the death toll in Gaza. The Israeli authorities don’t have the tolerance to make this distinction.”8

At the same time, far-right groups online are calling for violence against Palestinians. The Israeli Telegram channel “Nazi Hunters” names dozens of Palestinians and calls for their murder. No investigations have been opened or arrests made in connection with these social media posts, however.

Currently, nearly 50 Palestinians have been indicted for incitement or supporting terrorism, half of them from East Jerusalem, according to data from the Mossawa Center, an organization representing Palestinian citizens of Israel.

Blog Post “Raise Your Hands and Give Us Your Phones!” Palestinian Jerusalemites Silenced in Their Private and Public Spaces

Yet another newly passed “emergency” law allows Israeli police to search Palestinians’ phones and arrest them on charges of hate speech or incitement.

“Today you’re being arrested for posting literally anything.”

Muhammad, Palestinian Jerusalemite

Israeli border guards search Palestinian youths at the Damascus Gate of the Old City of Jerusalem, February 2023.

Israeli border guards search Palestinian youths at the Damascus Gate of the Old City of Jerusalem, February 2023. Since October 7, authorities are only allowing residents to enter and all must undergo a search, often of mobile phones as well.


Ahmad Gharabli/AFP via Getty Images

“Jerusalemites are the community that’s most under attack, because they are more vulnerable since they are not citizens,” Suha Salman Mousa, Mossawa Center’s executive director, told Jerusalem Story.9

“Jerusalemites are the community that’s most under attack, because they are more vulnerable since they are not citizens.”

Suha Salman Mousa, Executive Director, Mossawa Center

The latest law, however, targets Palestinians with Israeli citizenship. It amends the Counter-Terrorism Law whereby the “consumption of terrorist materials” can land an individual in prison for a maximum of one year.10 The amendment is valid for two years.

“If you see posts from Hamas in your social media a lot, then you can be indicted,” Mousa explained.

In October, Israel passed emergency regulations,11 extending the period in which detainees suspected of “security offenses” can be denied access to a lawyer. Suspects can now be detained for up to 30 days without seeing a lawyer and this can be extended for up to 90 days with judicial approval. While these conditions were commonplace for Palestinians detained in the rest of the occupied West Bank, their extension to Palestinians in Jerusalem and Israel is new.

“If you see posts from Hamas in your social media a lot, then you can be indicted.”

Suha Salman Mousa, Executive Director, Mossawa Center

Forbidden Dissent

The legal measures come amid a chilling climate of repression and fear.

Few Palestinians wanted to be interviewed for this article for fear that their words would be cause for arrest. “Before October 7, you would be arrested for inciting violence, but now they arrest about anything—whether it’s about the war or not. I have a friend who posted a poem, it was written 400 years ago, and he was detained for it even though it has no relationship to the war at all,” Muhammad told Jerusalem Story.

Another friend posted a Facebook status asking why there was a double standard between the world’s position on Ukraine and Gaza. He posted this on Monday. On Tuesday at 4:00 a.m., he was arrested and taken to administrative detention without any opportunity to see a lawyer or mount a defense.

Palestinian leaders of political groups represented in Israel’s parliament were detained for seven hours on November 9 by Israeli police after they sought permission to hold a small demonstration of about 40 people, with one sign reading “Stop the War.”12 Larger demonstrations by Palestinians in Israel have been banned by Israel’s high court, citing the war conditions, although mainly Jewish mass demonstrations were allowed.13

“We have been struggling for the last month to do demonstrations against the war which is happening against our people. We are prevented from freedom of expression. We are not allowed to make demonstrations, we are not allowed to hold different discussions between Arabs and Jews to talk against the war, and we are not allowed also to do any small demonstrations,” Sami Abou Shehada, head of the Balad/Tajamou’ party, shared on X (formerly Twitter).14

While students have been the main victims in Israel’s crackdown on freedom of expression, a professor at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, Dr. Nadera Shalhoub-Kevorkian, is also facing harassment for joining more than 1,000 child researchers in signing a letter calling for a ceasefire and describing Israel’s current assault on Gaza as genocide.15 The Hebrew University’s leadership then sent her a public letter denouncing her for signing the petition and suggesting she resign (as a tenured faculty, she cannot be fired). The letter, signed by University President Asher Cohen and Rector Tamir Sheafer, read, in part:

“I have a friend who posted a poem, it was written 400 years ago, and he was detained for it.”

Muhammad, Palestinian Jerusalemite

We read with astonishment, disgust and deep disappointment the public petition you published, which claims that Israel is committing genocide in Gaza. . . . We are sorry and ashamed that the Hebrew University includes a faculty member like you. In light of your feelings, we believe that it is appropriate for you to consider leaving your position at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem.16

The letter was leaked to the media, turning Shalhoub-Kevorkian into the target of a public hate campaign and placing her in physical danger.17

Mousa says that many of those who have been fired from their jobs, investigated at schools or universities, or otherwise harassed will not contact her organization for legal advice, preferring to stay silent. “People do not express their fear, their feelings about what is happening, because this is totally different [from previous periods].”

She says that the fear is aggravated by the arming of Jewish citizens of Israel. “We are not talking about Jewish settlers and that they get weapons to protect themselves in the West Bank. [Minister of National Security Itamar Ben Gvir] is giving away guns and weapons to groups of Israeli Jews in order to ‘protect themselves’ from the Arab communities, especially in the mixed cities.” She is referring to the Kitat Konenut, rapid response squads of civilian groups, that act as volunteer defense forces in emergency situations. Since October 7, Ben Gvir has been recruiting rapidly for such groups, establishing hundreds of them and handing out rifles to civilians with little or no training. Previous army service is a requirement for joining, meaning that only Jews can volunteer.18

Afraid to Speak Out

In Jerusalem, police are stopping Palestinians and asking for their phones.

“If they refuse, they can be beaten,” Tatarsky said. “And if police claim to see something on social media in the phone that they’re not happy with, then the person gets in trouble.”

Muhmmad witnessed this firsthand when buying groceries recently in a Palestinian neighborhood of the city. The Jerusalemite activist described how soldiers stormed the supermarket he was in and harassed a young Palestinian in the store.

According to Muhammad, they placed his hands behind the man’s back and demanded his ID. When the man explained he couldn’t reach it because of the position they put him in, the soldiers then searched him and took his phone. The background photo of the man’s phone was a picture of a father in Gaza holding his injured son that was recently published in the media.

“He’s done nothing. He didn't react to them. He was beaten up at that point. His phone was taken, and he is arrested until now for doing nothing but having a photo on his phone,” Muhammad said.

He explained how he used to be active online and in public—regularly posting about the situation in Palestine on his social media and giving interviews to the press. But since the start of the war, he’s posted nothing on his platform and rarely talks to the media. Even a phone conversation, he says, isn’t safe, as he knows of Palestinians who spoke about their views over the phone and were subsequently detained.

“We knew from before that our phones and social media are under surveillance, but it looks like today that it’s 100 percent under surveillance,” Muhammad said.

And with Jerusalemites scared into silence, Muhammad fears for the future of a city that’s already a tinderbox.

“The arrests that the Israeli government and police are making will definitely increase pressure, violence, and hatred, especially among youth. This is eliminating all the options of coexistence and peace that could have been a subject to discuss before,” Muhammad said. “What they’re doing is pushing everybody to the corner.”

Even a phone conversation isn’t safe.

Posted in:



Al Jazeera English (@AJEnglish), “Israel-Palestine: Palestinians arrested over WhatsApp status,” Twitter, November 9, 2023, 3:07 p.m.


“Israeli Govt.”


“Israeli Knesset.”


Muhammad, interview by the author, November 8, 2023. All subsequent quotes from Muhammad are from this interview.


Aviv Tatarsky, interview by the author, November 8, 2023. All subsequent quotes from Tatarsky are from this interview.


Suha Salman Mousa, interview by the author, November 8, 2023. All subsequent quotes from Mousa are from this interview.


“Israeli Knesset.”


Sami Abou Shehadah (@ShehadahAbout), “I have been released after 7 hours of detention,” Twitter, 7:01 p.m., November 9, 2023.


Jeremy Sharon, “High Court Rejects Request to Hold Anti-war Marches in North, Cites Lack of Manpower," Times of Israel, November 8, 2023.


Abou Shehadah, “I have been released.”


Judith Butler, “In Defense of the Freedom to Speak Out against Genocide,” Mondoweiss, November 1, 2023.


Eyal Lurie-Pardes, “Ben-Gvir Is Arming Thousands of Israelis—and Playing with Fire,” Dawn, November 3, 2023.

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