‘The reaction is extreme’: Palestinians fear arrest if they voice sympathy for Gaza civilians

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But the police did come for her.

Abu Sneineh, 22, said she was told she was being arrested and asked to hand in her phone. “When I asked why, (the police officer) started pushing me and snatched my phone out of my hand,” she said.

The officer checked Abu Sneineh’s phone for TikTok or Facebook – she doesn’t have either — then checked her Snapchat account, the only social media she uses.

“[The officer] noticed that I hadn’t posted anything. Then she went to my WhatsApp… I had posted a verse from the Quran, and that turned out to be what they were after. They said I was inciting terrorism. I couldn’t believe it,” Abu Sneineh said.

The verse in question, Abu Sneineh said, was: “God is not unaware of what the oppressors do.”

Abu Sneineh is one of dozens of Palestinian residents and citizens of Israel to have been arrested in Israel for expressing solidarity with Gaza and its civilian population, sharing Quran phrases or showing any support for the Palestinian people since the latest war between Israel and Palestinian militant group Hamas began last month.

Gaza has been under intense bombardment by Israeli forces after Hamas carried out gruesome terror attacks against Israel on October 7, killing 1,400 people and taking more than 240 hostages, according to Israeli officials.

More than 9,000 people, including thousands of children, have been killed in Israeli strikes on Gaza since then, according to figures released Friday by the Palestinian Ministry of Health in Ramallah, drawn from sources in the Hamas-controlled enclave.

The huge death toll from the Israel Defense Forces’ (IDF) bombing and the unfolding humanitarian crisis in Gaza have prompted global criticism of Israel, with even some of its closest allies calling for a humanitarian “pause” or ceasefire.

But Palestinians expressing solidarity with Gaza are facing serious consequences in Israel.

The Israel Police said that as of October 25, it had arrested 110 people since the start of the war for allegedly inciting violence and terrorism, mostly on social media. Of these arrests, only 17 resulted in indictments. Most people were released without further charges, usually after a few days.

Baker said the low number of indictments suggested that people were being arrested for making statements that are not illegal.

‘Not talking about the law’

The Israel Police says it is acting under Israel’s Counter Terrorism Law. Article 24 of this legislation states that anyone who does anything to “empathize with a terror group” whether that’s by “publishing praises, support or encouraging, waving a flag, showing or publishing a symbol” can be arrested and jailed for up to three years.

However, Adalah, a non-governmental organization (NGO) that advocates for Arab rights in Israel said in a statement that these arrests are arbitrary and target Palestinians only. It said that many are carried out with brutal force in the middle of the night, and without proper legal justification.

“The criteria is not whether it’s legal or not, the criteria is whether it makes people angry or whether it’s something that is against the mainstream, we are not talking about the law. We are talking about atmosphere,” Baker said, adding that discussing the context of the October 7 attacks is “forbidden.”

“You cannot ask what can drive people to commit such horrible crimes. Can you ask who failed here? Why has Hamas succeeded? No,” Baker said, pointing to numerous articles written in Israeli media that pose the same questions. “They can do it. But if you’re Palestinian, you cannot do this,” the lawyer said.

One of the people Baker represents is Dalal Abu Amneh, a well-known Palestinian singer and neuroscientist who found herself arrested after turning to the police for help on October 16.

She was receiving a large number of serious threats over a post on her Facebook and Instagram pages that included the Quranic phrase “There is No victor but God” and a Palestinian flag emoji.

The police said the statement, was inciting terrorism and violence. Her lawyer said the statement was posted on Abu Amneh’s Facebook and Instagram pages by her PR team and has since been deleted. Baker said the post, published late on October 7, after the Hamas terror attack and the first IDF strikes against Gaza, was meant as a “reaction to the war on both sides.”

Abu Amneh has spent the past two weeks holed up in her parent’s house, even though her house arrest has ended. “She is very afraid, she is scared of going back to her house,” Baker said. “People have put up Israeli flags around her house and made threats against her and shared where she lives on social media.”

‘Zero tolerance’

He said that ever since Israel withdrew from the Gaza Strip in 2005, Israeli authorities have made a “concerted effort” to silence Palestinians in the West Bank by imprisoning them.

Boulos said that despite the odds being stacked against his clients in a court system “not built to establish justice for the Palestinians,” some prisoners were freed in the past. That, he said, is no longer an option.

The Israeli State Attorney’s Office said in a statement that “there should be zero tolerance for those who publish – explicitly and even implicitly – expressions of support for the enemy and his criminal acts against the citizens of the country.”

The State Attorney’s Office has also made it easier for the police to open investigations into alleged instances of these acts, according to the statement.

The crackdown is creating an atmosphere of fear among Palestinians.

“If I were to write about how airstrikes on Tel Aviv are bad, they probably wouldn’t mind. But if I said airstrikes on Gaza are also bad, they will arrest me for it,” he said.

Adli said he was feeling ashamed and embarrassed for not being able to express support for Palestinians in Gaza or denounce Israeli airstrikes. The risk of doing that was too high, he said.

But the consequences of expressing sympathy with Gaza could soon become even more serious.

Under current Israeli law, the Ministry of Interior has the authority to revoke the citizenship or residency of anyone who is convicted of taking part in “terror activity,” as defined by the Counter Terrorism Law.

However, Israel’s Minister of Justice Yariv Levin said last week that he and Minister of the Interior Moshe Arbel were looking into the possibility of widening the scope of the law to include the authority to revoke the citizenship of people who publicly support, incite or praise terror.

At the same time, Israel’s far-right minister of national security, Itamar Ben-Gvir, has made it one of his priorities to combat what he calls incitement of terrorism online. He has established a taskforce focused specifically on incitement on social media and has led calls for a stricter approach to the issue. Ben-Gvir has been convicted in the past for inciting anti-Arab racism and supporting terrorism.

Baker, the lawyer, said that some of the arrests, and Ben-Gvir’s rhetoric, were an extreme reaction to the brutal Hamas attack.

“Israel is going through a trauma, a terrible trauma. But the law did not change even if we are in a tragic situation. The criteria of what is illegal is the same criteria. The reaction is extreme,” Baker said.

“She has been sick every day since she came home, she hasn’t been able to eat,” her mother added.

The family said that after Dua was arrested, the police searched the house, turning it upside down. When Dua’s 27-year-old brother Ibrahim got home, he too was arrested and remains in jail.

“He has done nothing wrong. They say he has incited and supported terrorism, but he hasn’t posted anything on social media. And even if he did, he would never incite violence or say something wrong,” Fatina said, explaining that her older son Aboud has been in jail for eight months for protesting around al-Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem.

“He (Aboud) also did nothing wrong, but because he’s in jail, Ibrahim would not risk getting into trouble,” she said.

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