In the midst of Israel’s genocidal assault on Gaza that exploded into open indiscriminate bombardment in the wake of Hamas’ Operation al-Aqsa Flood that took place on October 7, 2023, Palestinian Jerusalemites have been subject to a new discriminatory “emergency policy”: having their personal mobile phones inspected by the police at any moment. This is on top of the existing policy that allowed their bodies to be searched on demand.
Oren Ziv/picture-alliance/dpa/AP Images
“Raise Your Hands and Give Us Your Phones!” Palestinian Jerusalemites Silenced in Their Private and Public Spaces
“Forbidden, Forbidden, Forbidden”
Ahmad al-Budeiri, a Jerusalem-based correspondent at Al Ghad TV and film producer at ABC News, posted a video on October 20, 2023, that sheds light on Israel’s currently imposed emergency law.1. “The police may detain whomever they will, and courts are postponed for months.”2
“Mamnu‘, mamnu‘, mamnu‘,”3 he exclaims. Everything is forbidden. He shares recent cases of a doctor, a singer, a lawyer, and over 25 journalists who have all been detained for posting content online that was not consistent with the Israeli war discourse. That content led to the denial of their digital rights and freedom of expression.
Although Israel declared a “state of emergency” a few days after it was established in 1948 and remains in effect to this day, on October 7, several types of additional emergency laws were declared by various Israeli officials. The defense minister declared a “special home front situation” in the areas along the line demarcating the Gaza Strip and 80 kilometers inward. At 6:00 p.m., Minister of National Security Itamar Ben Gvir declared a “civil emergency event throughout the State of Israel” in all other areas of the country. Then at 9:00 p.m., the defense minister declared the special home front situation to span the entire country. This latter one rendered the “civil emergency event” ineffective; it has been overridden by an emergency declaration by the Ministry of Defense.4 The latter, however, remains in effect.
The “special home front situation” grants the army expanded military powers. For instance, such laws allow specific army officials “to ban or restrict studies in educational institutions,” “to issue instructions about personal equipment and supplies for civil defense purposes,” and “to enter any location in order to perform their duties,” among others.5
“Any location,” in this respect, refers not only to all public spheres across the country, but also to the private spaces of individuals, including their homes, their digital devices, and their use of social media platforms.
There have been declarations to this effect, including by the Israeli attorney general’s office and the police. More importantly, public officials can now intimidate, harass, detain, and ultimately prosecute anyone whom they suspect expresses Palestinian identity publicly or sympathizes with or shows support for Gaza.
“An Israeli Crackdown on Free Speech”
A recent article published on Mondoweiss lists the many punishments suffered by Palestinian and Jewish Israeli citizens, as well as Palestinians of Jerusalem for their so-called crimes of self-expression, such as arrest, expulsion from university, or termination of employment, which one Palestinian Jerusalemite lawyer described as a “witch hunt.”6
Another lawyer with Adalah—The Legal Center for Arab Minority Rights in Israel has noted that one could suffer dire consequences simply for quoting verses from the Quran. Anyone opposing, criticizing, warning, or discouraging the governmental decision to go to war in the “Operation Swords of Iron” or objecting to the carpet bombing of Gaza could get in trouble. Almost 100 Palestinian students reported that they were suspended, expelled, or arrested due to sharing reflections online.7
Journalist al-Budeiri brought attention to the call of the Israeli Minister of Communications Shlomo Karhi to shut down foreign news and broadcast channels. In an article published in Haaretz, Avi Bar-Eli claims that the communications minister has been “promoting regulations that would allow him to direct police to arrest civilians, remove them from their homes, or seize their property if he believes they have spread information that could harm national morale or served as the basis for enemy propaganda.”8
Karhi won’t stop there, asserts Nadim Nashif, executive director and co-founder of 7amleh (Arab Center for Social Media Advancement); the communications minister is aiming to legitimize the criminalization of the “consumption” of “terrorist content.” What this means, Nashif explains, is that any person or journalist who merely watches (let alone shares) a video from Hamas could face criminal charges.9
In this context, Nashif raises the issue of “shadow banning,” which refers to blocking or dissolving (making invisible) a user from an online forum or social media site. The issue here, as he describes it in an 7amleh webinar, is not only about forbidding users from sharing or expressing opinions/hashtags or even from following other profiles (albeit public)—it is essentially about limiting any content, ultimately with the aim to “control the narrative.”
From Your Device to Your House: Be Careful of What You “Like”!
“I hid my phone,” says Mimi [pseudonym], a young woman from Jerusalem. “I cannot imagine the police taking my phone away from me.”10 This became her fear after she saw a friend get randomly stopped by the Israeli police who ferociously went through her phone, without any justification. One may imagine the fear of a young woman in this situation: The police may find her sharing random footage of or posts about demolished houses or children shelled in Gaza, which may qualify as “terror incitement” and lead to detention. She might be averse to having her own personal photos, texts, or videos randomly inspected—which is clearly an encroachment on privacy. “I don’t post anything anymore,” reflects Mimi. She herself lost family members in Gaza, but could hardly talk about it—at least not online.
“In Israel, something as simple as a ‘like’ button will be enough to destroy you,”11 shares Queenie [pseudonym], a manager of an organization in East Jerusalem. She is referring to the Palestinian cardiologist at Hadassah Ein Kerem Hospital who got suspended from his job and lost his entry permit to Jerusalem because he “liked” a Facebook statement with a quote by a Hamas leader.
“Meanwhile,” Queenie reflects, “one cannot keep up with the hateful chants, racist slurs, and calls for the death of Arabs and Palestinians that we hear from Jewish settlers and extremists both online as well as in the streets, festivals, and marathons—yet no one holds them accountable.”
One must admit that it would be difficult, perhaps impossible, to control all expressions of hatred, contempt, racism, or incitement online, whether they are against Israelis or Palestinians and irrespective of the source. However, it is undeniable that one group gets away with threatening and advocating “killing, raping, burning, and erasing” Arab speakers and another group is punished on the grounds of mere suspicion. Evidently, the police brutality, censorship, intimidation, and silencing in Jerusalem experienced by Palestinians (living under constant threat) goes beyond anything experienced by Israeli Jews, who are vastly more protected by Israeli law.
By October 20, 2023, 7amleh had documented over 103,000 instances in a 12-day period, from October 7 to 18, of hate speech or incitement in Hebrew and which explicitly target Arabs and Palestinians.12 To date, there have been no consequences for those posting anti-Palestinian content.
Amichai Cohen and Mirit Sharabi, “Operation Swords of Iron: Special Situations and Emergency Events,” The Israel Democracy Institute, October 11, 2023.
Cohen and Sharabi, “Operation Swords of Iron.”
Yumna Patel, “In ‘Witch Hunt’, Palestinians with Israeli Citizenship, Jerusalem IDs, Face Harassment, Persecution amid Gaza War,” Mondoweiss, October 21, 2023.
Chantal Da Silva, “Death Threats, Doxxing and Suspensions from School: Concerns Grow Over Free Speech in Israel,” NBC News, October 19, 2023.
Avi Bar-Eli, “Likud Minister Formulates Emergency Regulations to Imprison Citizens Who 'Harm National Morale,’” Haaretz, October 15, 2023.
Nadim Nashif, “Palestinian Narrative and Digital Rights Shifts in Times of Crisis” [in Arabic], YouTube, October 19, 2023.
Interview with author, October 19, 2023.
Interview with author, October 19, 2023. All subsequent quotes from Queenie come from this interview.