According to 7amleh, around 350 Palestinians were arrested on such cases of incitement in 2018, though the numbers are hard to corroborate, as the Israeli government routinely denies access to the data. "Social media is increasingly becoming one of the major places for people to express themselves, particularly in the context of the West Bank, where movement is restricted," said Shakir.

Tatour echoes this sentiment and describes how important social networking sites are to take her voice outside of the country. "My access to the outside world is somewhat limited by the occupation and the political, social and economic conditions."

Now, realising that her voice is constantly monitored across all social media platforms, Tatour fears she could be rearrested at any moment. "[Israel] does not want Palestinians to talk about politics and the reality of the occupation. They are afraid of the truth."

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas has enforced a highly problematic law to punish cyber crimes. All it takes to end up in prison is to publish something on websites or in other social media that allegedly violates public order.

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas (photo: picture-alliance/dpa)
Control and persecution rather than strengthening freedom of expression and fundamental rights: Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas has enforced a highly problematic law to punish cyber crimes. All it takes to end up in prison is to publish something on websites or in other social media that allegedly violates public order

Algorithmic monitoring of online activities

Israel has also developed a predictive policing system in the form of a computer algorithm. Monitoring hundreds of thousands of Palestinians online accounts, the algorithm identifies "suspects" likely to carry out attacks against Israel. This algorithm worries Shakir of Human Rights Watch: "The algorithm is based on principles that do not conform with international law."

As an occupying power, Israel is bound by international humanitarian rights law and is required to provide for civilian rights, including freedom of expression. The law also safeguards the criticism of political policies and any limitation must be restricted to a specific context, which a computer cannot do.

Sahar Francis, director of the prisoners' rights organisation Addameer, asserts that Israel's monitoring and arrests based on social media posts are illegal. "We have the right under international law to criticise and resist occupation."

Social media companies have also been urged to play a genuine role in ensuring the rights of their users. "They must, in the Palestinian context, scrutinise requests for user data and [understand] the way it could lead to serious human rights abuses," Shakir said. 7amleh reports that 85 percent of Israeli requests to "remove content deemed harmful or dangerous" from services such as Facebook and Twitter were accepted in 2017.

Francis pointed out a series of posts, which are removed and often land Palestinians in jail. "If you share a picture of a martyr and you write a sentence like 'may God bless him', this would already be considered supporting a terrorist act and inciting violence."

Tessa Fox

© Deutsche Welle 2019

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