Blog Post

Perspective: The Silencing of Palestinians in Jerusalem Today Is More Obvious but Hardly New

Israel’s “civil emergency,” declared on October 7, 2023, turbocharged the state’s already existing laws that silence the political expression of Palestinian Jerusalemites.1 

As described in a previous Jerusalem Story article, since October 7, Israel has been  taking extraordinary measures to punish expressions of sympathy for Palestinians in Gaza, who have been undergoing massive Israeli bombardment. Israel has given authority to the police and military forces to arrest, deport, and seize the property of Palestinians in Israel and in Jerusalem who criticize the state, on the premise that they may harm “national morale” during the war on Gaza.2 They can be intimidated, harassed, detained, and prosecuted for expressing their views online. Even a mere “like” on social media platforms for content by entities related to Hamas or ISIL could get one in serious trouble.

“The police stopped me three times these past two weeks on my way back from school and demanded to see my phone,” shared Gino [a pseudonym], a 17-year-old Palestinian Jerusalemite, on October 27, 2023.3 “I told them I don’t have a phone, but they demanded that I raise my hands and proceeded to search my pockets.” Gino’s mother said she doesn’t let her son carry his phone outdoors anymore, knowing that the police may search it at any moment. “He doesn’t post anything on social media,” she stressed.4 “But we have become really paranoid due to their extensive inspections.”

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.

Israeli police mounted on horseback patrol Salah al-Din Street and intimidate Jerusalem residents, November 11, 2023.

Israeli police mounted on horseback patrol Salah al-Din Street and intimidate Jerusalem residents, November 11, 2023.


Jerusalem Story Team

Although the subject of Israeli censorship has been at the center of public attention lately, it is in no way new for Palestinians in Jerusalem. Jerusalemites know this is broader and more long-standing than a strategy triggered by the events of October 7.

Gino’s mother said she doesn’t let her son carry his phone outdoors anymore, knowing that the police may search it at any moment.

“Shutting Down” Palestinians in Jerusalem: It Isn’t New, and It Has Nothing to Do with Hamas

Today, the Israeli state and all communication therein has seemingly been focused against Hamas in particular: Immediately after the Hamas al-Aqsa Flood operation on October 7, 2023, a “Special State of Emergency” went into effect that allows authorities to punish individuals who express sympathy with or support of Hamas in areas under Israeli control, such as Jerusalem. In Gaza, of course, Palestinians (regardless of affiliation, ethnic or religious background, age, color, race, sexual identity, health condition, political position, or any general viewpoints or ideology) are being brutally collectively punished.

It is clear to anyone who follows the news that the war on Gaza has seriously degraded, if not extinguished, media freedom. As of November 22, at least 46 Palestinian journalists have been killed in Gaza since October 7, and the numbers increase almost daily.5 International networks such as Al Jazeera have been threatened by Israel with closure. In Jerusalem, Palestinian reporters have been systematically summoned for interrogation and held at gunpoint by the Israeli police.6 Western media have overwhelmingly adopted the Israeli narrative; for example, by describing the October 7 events as having been “unprovoked.”7

As senior Vox reporter Sigal Samuel observes, “Israel’s climate of repression,” whether in Jerusalem or elsewhere, is not new. Rather, it has “been building for a long time.”8 Below are just a few selected examples.

Just over two years ago, in October 2021, Israel declared that six Palestinian human rights groups—The Union of Palestinian Women’s Committees (UPWC), ADDAMEER—Prisoner Support and Human Rights Association, Bisan Center for Research and Development, Al-Haq Organization, Defense for Children International—Palestine (DCI-P), and the Union of Agricultural Work Committees (UAWC)—would henceforth be considered “terrorist organizations.”9 The six civil society organizations are not affiliated with Hamas: They are in fact associated with secular Palestinian groups, but they expose Israeli human rights violations.10

Defense for Children International — Palestine (DCIP)

Defending and calling attention to Palestinian children who are arbitrarily arrested, detained, and prosecuted in the Israeli military court system

Some time later, when the new Israeli government came to power in January 2023, the security cabinet immediately passed measures, including one taking unspecified “action” against organizations in the West Bank that “promote terrorist activity or any hostile activity.” That includes groups carrying out “political and legal action against Israel under the guise of humanitarian work,” it said.11 Writing at the time, the deputy editor of Haaretz, Noa Landau, observed, “The significance of this decision is an official declaration of war on all Palestinian civil society groups fighting the Israeli occupation by peaceful means.”12


Al-Haq, one of the first human rights organizations in the Arab world, promotes the rule of law in the occupied Palestinian territories

Netanyahu’s Policies Go Back Decades

On November 3, 2023, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu promised a merciless war on Hamas. All governmental decisions were designed to punish anything and anyone who had any connection to this entity. This calls to mind another move by Netanyahu taken in 1999. Netanyahu was in his first term as prime minister, and he pledged to close down the Orient House, which had served as the headquarters of the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO). This was noteworthy because Israel had already recognized the PLO as “the representative of the Palestinian people (in September 1993),” and the PLO had recognized the State of Israel. Ignoring the international community’s warning, the Israeli police laid siege to the Orient House and shut it down entirely in 2001.13 Netanyahu was taking aim at an institution that represented Palestinian national aspirations and making it clear that such aspirations had to be extinguished.

Israel continues to ban Palestinian political activities in Jerusalem. Any hint of support of an activity by the Palestinian Authority results in its being shut down.14 Even carrying a small Palestinian flag could lead to arrest.

Orient House

An organization that aimed to serve and protect the interests and rights of Palestinians in Jerusalem until Israel closed it in 2001

Erasing Palestinian Identity through Shutting Down Educational and Cultural Institutions

Long before the war on Gaza, and before the “threat of Hamas,” Israeli authorities approved legislation to impose government control and censorship over Palestinian life and thought. One of the ways they did this was through targeting the educational system. The aim was to “wipe out their [Palestinian] national identity and remove their national affiliation and political stances from the education sphere.”15

The Israeli authorities have also long taken measures to control and suppress the education system for Palestinians in East Jerusalem, ever since they first occupied it in 1967. Most recently, for example, in August 2023, the Association for Civil Rights in Israel released a report on the 25th Knesset (Israeli Parliament) and 37th Israeli Government in which it describes a proposed law that calls for inspecting schoolteachers and monitoring their statements inside classrooms as well as on social media.16  Any act that could be interpreted as implying support for an organization Israel designates as“terrorist” would lead to that person’s dismissal from work, the withdrawal of their teaching certification, and conviction.

The Palestinian National Theatre El-Hakawati

The first (and until the early 1990s, the only) Palestinian public theater and cultural center in Jerusalem

Cultural activities have not been exempt from repressive measures. The Palestinian National Theatre, El-Hakawati, founded in 1984 and the only Palestinian theater in Jerusalem, has been shut down more than 35 times by the Israeli authorities; even a children’s puppet festival it organized was shut down.17

In 2009, the Palestine Festival of Literature, an annual event where international authors attend public events and hold workshops across the country including in East Jerusalem, had to relocate both its opening and closing nights, originally planned to be held at the El-Hakawati Theatre, to the French Cultural Centre for the opening and the British Council for the closing.18 This happened again in later years as well. The National Conservatory of Music, Yabous Cultural Centre, and Shafaq Cultural Network were raided and looted by the Israeli police in July 2020.19

What Jerusalemites are experiencing today is not exactly new or surprising; the only slight change is Israel’s unrelenting determination to make living in Jerusalem an unnerving, even dangerous, experience for its Palestinian residents.

The Jerusalem Society for Music Teaching and Research

A national music institute that promotes culture through orchestras and ensembles, annual concerts, and instruction in musical instruments



Amichai Cohen and Mirit Sharabi, “Operation Swords of Iron: Special Situations and Emergency Events,” The Israel Democracy Institute, October 11, 2023.


Gino [pseudonym], interview by the author, October 27, 2023. All subsequent quotes from Gino are from this interview.


Gino’s Mother, interview by the author, October 27, 2023. All subsequent quotes from Gino’s mother are from this interview.


Jemimah Steinfeld, “The Stakes Are High for Free Expression in Israel-Hamas Conflict,” Index on Censorship, November 1, 2023.


How Deadly Is the Gaza War for Journalists?” Al Jazeera, November 9, 2023.


Anna Rajagopal, “Meta Censors #Gaza Content,” Institute for Palestine Studies, October 17, 2023.


Sigal Samuel, “Israel’s Crackdown on Dissent Will Only Hurt It,” Vox, November 1, 2023.


Journalist Casualties in the Israel-Gaza War,” Committee to Protect Journalists, November 22, 2023.


An example of the charges justifying the designation of DCI-P as a terrorist organization is available here.


Jonathan Lis and Ben Samuels, “Israel Slaps Sanctions on PA after Palestinians Turn to ICJ,” Haaretz, January 6, 2023.


Noa Landau, “Israel Sees Palestinian Human Rights Groups as Terrorist Organizations,” Haaretz, January 8, 2023.


Fact Sheets: The Orient House,” MIFTAH: The Palestinian Initiative for the Promotion of Global Dialogue and Democracy, May 31, 2003.


Times of Israel Staff, “Police Shut East Jerusalem Soccer Tournament Claiming It Had Ties to the PA,” Times of Israel, August 31, 2019.


Mada al-Carmel, “Political Persecution of Palestinians Using the Education System and Israeli Universities,” Arab Center Washington DC, September 21, 2023.


The Attack on Democracy,” Association for Civil Rights, August 2023.


Abir Kopty, “Israel to Shut Down the Only Palestinian Theatre in Jerusalem,” Blog, November 26, 2015.


 “Palfest 2009: Day 1,” YouTube, May 24, 2009; “Palfest 2009: Israeli Army Attempts to Shut Down Closing Night,” YouTube, May 28, 2009.


Yara Hawari, “Destroying Palestinian Jerusalem, One Institution at a Time,” al-Shabaka: The Palestinian Policy Network, October 29, 2020.

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