By Henriette Chacar
JERUSALEM (Reuters) – When Palestinian singer and neuroscientist Dalal Abu Amneh filed a complaint with Israeli police over death threats she had received following a social media post, she didn’t expect to be the one put in jail.
Abu Amneh is one of dozens of Arab citizens of Israel who have been arrested since the start of the Israel-Hamas war on suspicion of incitement and support for terror based on social media posts, police say. Civil rights lawyers say Israeli authorities are interpreting any expressions of solidarity with Palestinians in Gaza as incitement.
Abu Amneh posted a Palestinian flag emoji with the words “There is no victor but God”, a Muslim phrase. The post has since been taken down.
Police said Abu Amneh, who has over 300,000 followers on Instagram, was promoting hate speech and incitement, something she denies.
After two days in detention, she was placed under house arrest and banned from discussing the war for 45 days, her lawyer said. It is not clear if she will be charged.
On Tuesday, Israel’s police commissioner Kobi Shabtai said there would be zero-tolerance for incitement against the state and its symbols, following a deadly Hamas rampage across southern Israel, in which 1,400 people were killed and at least 200 were taken hostage.
“Whoever wants to be a citizen of the state of Israel, ahlan wa sahlan (“welcome” in Arabic). Whoever wants to identify with Gaza is welcome, I will put them on a bus headed there,” Shabtai said in a video message.
Since the Oct. 7 Hamas attack, Israel has bombarded the densely populated Gaza Strip, killing more than 4,000 Palestinians, including more than 1,500 children, the health ministry in Gaza says.
Arabs in Israel – Palestinian by heritage and Israeli by citizenship – make up some 20% of the population. After the 1948 war surrounding its creation, Israel placed the minority of Palestinians who had not fled or were not expelled, under military rule for almost 20 years.
Scrutiny over speech during times of emergency and war is not new, said lawyer Abeer Baker, who represents Abu Amneh. What is different this time is the lower threshold.
Israeli authorities are interpreting any sympathy for the people of Gaza as support for terror, she said.
“We’re being forced to silence ourselves because being Palestinian has become a crime,” said Baker. “Before, we would be called a fifth column for such statements, but at least we weren’t imprisoned. That’s the escalation.”
At least 100 Arab citizens have been detained, most on allegations of incitement and support for terror over social media posts, said the Haifa-based centre for Arab minority rights Adalah, citing data from the State Attorney’s office.
The centre said it knows of at least 83 students who are facing disciplinary action at universities and that it received over 40 reports from employees who are at risk of being fired for social media posts expressing solidarity with Gaza.
“About 90% of the cases, legally speaking, have no basis,” said Hassan Jabareen, the founder and director of Adalah. “The conduct of the police is illegal. You cannot arrest people over such things.”
One case involves a 60-year-old urban planner who was arrested on suspicion of aiding the enemy at a time of war for posting a sketch and analysis of ways Israel could launch a ground invasion into Gaza — scenarios that journalists and commentators discuss daily on Israeli media, said Jabareen.
Police spokesperson Eli Levy said in a radio interview on Thursday that a special team formed in February to combat incitement to terror had spotted nearly 180 posts since Oct. 7, which he described as a “very worrying increase”.
Levy said 96 people were being investigated and 63 of them had been detained – “in some cases, within 40 minutes of the publication of a post”.
“Look at this audacity and ungratefulness. Citizens with a blue, Israeli ID… have the audacity to think that we as police will allow them to take to the streets and support a murderous, Nazi terrorist organization,” he said.
Police have said those arrested include teachers, lawyers and nurses. Some of the evidence police provided includes TikTok videos of people using a filter with the Palestinian flag.
During an 11-day Israel-Hamas confrontation in May 2021, when Palestinian citizens took part in widespread protests across Israel, police arrested at least 1,600 Arabs, many of them civil society leaders and activists, said Adalah.
Most of the indictments were based on “racial” or “terrorist” motives, it said.
For the first time in some 20 years, Israeli authorities are launching an arrest campaign before any organised protests have taken place, said Adalah’s Jabareen, adding: “They want to instil fear.”
(Editing by Crispian Balmer and Gareth Jones)