Israeli Police Crack Down on Arab Citizens Expressing Solidarity with Gaza

Israeli soldiers keep watch from the distance Palestinians during clashes at the northern entrance of the West Bank city of Ramallah, near the Israeli settlement of Beit El, 20 October 2023. (EPA)
Israeli soldiers keep watch from the distance Palestinians during clashes at the northern entrance of the West Bank city of Ramallah, near the Israeli settlement of Beit El, 20 October 2023. (EPA)
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Israeli Police Crack Down on Arab Citizens Expressing Solidarity with Gaza

Israeli soldiers keep watch from the distance Palestinians during clashes at the northern entrance of the West Bank city of Ramallah, near the Israeli settlement of Beit El, 20 October 2023. (EPA)
Israeli soldiers keep watch from the distance Palestinians during clashes at the northern entrance of the West Bank city of Ramallah, near the Israeli settlement of Beit El, 20 October 2023. (EPA)

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.

Close scrutiny

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 center for Arab minority rights Adalah, citing data from the State Attorney's office.

The center 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."

Sketch

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 organized protests have taken place, said Adalah's Jabareen, adding: "They want to instill fear."



Netanyahu Dissolved His War Cabinet. How Will That Affect Ceasefire Efforts?

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu speaks during a press conference at the Sheba Tel-HaShomer Medical Center, in Ramat Gan on June 8, 2024 amid the ongoing conflict in the Palestinian territory between Israel and Hamas. (AFP)
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu speaks during a press conference at the Sheba Tel-HaShomer Medical Center, in Ramat Gan on June 8, 2024 amid the ongoing conflict in the Palestinian territory between Israel and Hamas. (AFP)
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Netanyahu Dissolved His War Cabinet. How Will That Affect Ceasefire Efforts?

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu speaks during a press conference at the Sheba Tel-HaShomer Medical Center, in Ramat Gan on June 8, 2024 amid the ongoing conflict in the Palestinian territory between Israel and Hamas. (AFP)
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu speaks during a press conference at the Sheba Tel-HaShomer Medical Center, in Ramat Gan on June 8, 2024 amid the ongoing conflict in the Palestinian territory between Israel and Hamas. (AFP)

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu disbanded his war cabinet Monday, a move that consolidates his influence over the Israel-Hamas war and likely diminishes the odds of a ceasefire in the Gaza Strip anytime soon.

Netanyahu announced the step days after his chief political rival, Benny Gantz, withdrew from the three-member war cabinet. Gantz, a retired general and member of parliament, was widely seen as a more moderate voice.

Major war policies will now be solely approved by Netanyahu's security cabinet — a larger body that is dominated by hard-liners who oppose the US-backed ceasefire proposal and want to press ahead with the war.

Netanyahu is expected to consult on some decisions with close allies in ad-hoc meetings, said an Israeli official who spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to brief the media.

These closed-door meetings could blunt some of the influence of the hard-liners. But Netanyahu himself has shown little enthusiasm for the ceasefire plan and his reliance on the full security cabinet could give him cover to prolong a decision.

Here’s key background about the war cabinet, and what disbanding it means for ceasefire prospects:

Why did Gantz join and then quit the war cabinet? The war cabinet was formed after the Oct. 7 Hamas attack on Israel when Gantz, an opposition party leader, joined with Netanyahu and Defense Minister Yoav Gallant in a show of unity.

At the time, Gantz demanded that a small decision-making body steer the war in a bid to sideline far-right members of Netanyahu’s government.

But Gantz left the cabinet earlier this month after months of mounting tensions over Israel’s strategy in Gaza.

He said he was fed up with a lack of progress bringing home the dozens of Israeli hostages held by Hamas. He accused Netanyahu of drawing out the war to avoid new elections and a corruption trial. He called on Netanyahu to endorse a plan that — among other points — would rescue the captives and end Hamas rule in Gaza.

When Netanyahu did not express support for the plan, Gantz announced his departure. He said that “fateful strategic decisions” in the cabinet were being “met with hesitancy and procrastination due to political considerations.”

How will Israel's wartime policies likely be changed? The disbanding of the war cabinet only further distances Netanyahu from centrist politicians more open to a ceasefire deal with Hamas.

Months of ceasefire talks have failed to find common ground between Hamas and Israeli leaders. Both Israel and Hamas have been reluctant to fully endorse a US-backed plan that would return hostages, clear the way for an end to the war, and commence a rebuilding effort of the decimated territory.

Netanyahu will now rely on the members of his security cabinet, some of whom oppose ceasefire deals and have voiced support for reoccupying Gaza.

After Gantz's departure, Israel's ultranationalist national security minister, Itamar Ben-Gvir, demanded inclusion in a renewed war cabinet. Monday's move could help keep Ben-Gvir at a distance, but it cannot sideline him altogether.

The move also gives Netanyahu leeway to draw out the war to stay in power. Netanyahu's critics accuse him of delaying because an end to the war would mean an investigation into the government's failures on Oct. 7 and raise the likelihood of new elections when the prime minister's popularity is low.

“It means that he will make all the decisions himself, or with people that he trusts who don’t challenge him,” said Gideon Rahat, chairman of the political science department at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. “And his interest is in having a slow-attrition war.”