Haifa University students face day in Israeli court over social media posts – Mondoweiss

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The most tragic cases in the latest wave of Palestinian political prisoners within ’48 Palestine all tell almost an identical story. They woke up early on Saturday morning, October 7, and found in their social media feed some innocent images of Palestinian civilians breaching the dreaded walls around the Gaza Strip or joyful images of celebrations on abandoned Israeli military vehicles. Without having any idea what might come next, they shared such images on Facebook or Instagram. The most common text that accompanied these images was “Good Morning!” in different variations. Later, when they heard the news and became aware of the bloody conflict that was unfolding, they hurried to remove these posts.

The second common characteristic these unfortunate prisoners share is that they had Zionist friends who followed their social media, took screenshots of the posts, and reported them to the authorities.

Falling victims of Israel’s furiously revengeful “justice” system, hundreds of such people were subsequently arrested, and dozens are still being held for more than a month later in harsh conditions in Israel’s “security” prisons. I have seen the indictment documents for some of them. They describe in detail all the atrocities that Israel attributes to Hamas, with some exaggerations that do not appear even in Israel’s official propaganda. Then comes the punchline: by posting this or that image on his/her social media page, the accused supported these terrorist organizations, praised these terrorist acts, and encouraged other people to commit terrorist activities. In view of the current dire times, according to the prosecution, the accused constitutes a tangible danger to state security and should not be released on bail.

Naturally, after the first wave of detentions for social media posts, things started to calm down. The illusion that we live in a democratic country with freedom of speech evaporated fast. Many people stopped posting or closed their social media accounts altogether. 

Fascist mobs lay siege to an Arab Students residence dorm in Netanya. (Photo: Arab 48)
Fascist mobs lay siege to an Arab Students residence dorm in Netanya. (Photo: Arab 48)

Haifa University instigates arrest of Arab students

This week, we witnessed another wave of detentions for October 7 social media posts. As I reported previously, Zionist student organizations have organized campaigns to monitor Arab students on social media and report them to the university administration. About a week after Haifa University finished holding disciplinary hearings, on Sunday and Monday of this week, the police detained five of its students.

Upon the detention of the students, Yousef Taha, the head of the Joint Body of Arab Student Blocs in Universities and Colleges (in 48 Palestine), told the news website “Arabs 48“:

“What happened with the students of the Haifa University is really strange, as the students were summoned to disciplinary committees weeks ago, and they imposed sanctions on them. But the university was not satisfied with that. Rather, it sent pictures of the students’ publications to the police and acted as an ‘informant’ reporting its students to the police. The police, in turn, arrested the students. The policemen admitted the role of the university in these detentions during the court session that was held when the students’ detention was extended.”

Taha added, “What the University of Haifa is doing towards Arab students is absolutely unacceptable, especially since a very large percentage of its students are from the Arab community. A university must not play the role of an informant, causing the Imprisonment of its own students, but it should protect them.”

Yousef Taham central coordinator for the defense of Arab Students (Photo: Arab 48)
Yousef Taham, central coordinator for the defense of Arab Students (Photo: Arab 48)

Regarding the number of students who have been persecuted for their posts, Taha stated that “the cases that reached us and that we dealt with exceeded 130 cases of male and female students who received summons to disciplinary committees or were subject to other measures. As some of the students did not approach us, but consulted private lawyers, we estimate the total number to reach more than 160 students since the outbreak of war.”

Upon their detention, the five students were brought to the Akka court for remand. Today, Thursday, November 16, the five students and two other Facebook detainees were brought for their second remand hearing. I accompanied Advocate Afnan Khalifa to the hearing.

Self-service occupation

Akka (its Arabic name, known in the West as “Acre”) is an old city with a historical heritage extending over five thousand years. It is located some 20 kilometers north of Haifa, on the other side of the Haifa Bay. “New Haifa” was established in 1761 by Daher al-Omar, the Palestinian ruler who rebelled against the Ottoman Empire, whose capital city was Akka. He initiated the building of Akka’s massive walls, which later enabled the local defenders to defeat Napoleon’s invading army. Since then, Haifa stole Akka’s place as the administrative and economic center of North Palestine, and Akka became Haifa’s poor sister. It might have been Akka’s luck in 1948, as the ethnic cleansing of the Arab Palestinian population there was less comprehensive. Of Akka’s 50,000 residents, about a third are Arab, but in the Galilee hinterland around it, there is a clear Arab majority.

Akka’s court mirrors the local demographics. In the hall of Judge Ziad Salih, who heard the remand requests, almost everybody was Arab: The police prosecutors, the detainees, their families and lawyers, the court guards. As far as I could see, only the woman who typed the protocol was not a native Arab speaker. This human composition in an Israeli court handling “state security” makes for strange theater. All the official players are reciting the expected texts in Hebrew, to be written in the protocol. When they really want to speak with each other, they switch to Arabic, and their tone becomes more human and friendly.

It seemed that Judge Salih was discomforted by his role and saddened by the fate of the innocent (most of them female) students that he sent to spend more time in harsh conditions in jail, regardless of how slim the evidence against them was. But he was unable to refute the ruling convention that any pronouncement of Palestinian solidarity is infinitely dangerous. I wondered how much it mattered to those whose detention was remanded whether the judge gleefully humiliated them, as some Jewish judges do, or whether he was lamenting their fate.

To top off this strange experience of self-service occupation, I had a weird encounter while I was waiting for the hearing to start. A uniformed police officer approached me, trying to concentrate as he stared at me, and asked, “where do I know you from?” 

Since some local fascists published my picture on the internet following my latest detention, I have developed some extra sensitivity to strangers who appear to recognize me. But he continued: “You are from Abna al-Balad, aren’t you?” referring to the leftist Palestinian movement that I belong to.

“Who are you, and why are you asking?” I replied.

“I remember you, and I very much appreciate your positions,” he replied. “I also was in Abna al-Balad, when I was student, before I wore this uniform.”

All remanded, bar one

Of the seven remand hearings that I attended today in Akka, all related to single social media posts made on the morning of October 7 that were later voluntarily removed. Six of the seven detainees had their detention remanded, except for one female student whom the police decided to send for house arrest. It was not clear what the difference was, as she shared the same picture as other students, but it provided a cheerful moment for all of us when tears of distress were temporarily replaced by tears of joy.

The detainees were presented by video through Skype, which today happened to work. Most of them were female students, and they were attending the hearing from Damon Prison, where many Palestinian political prisoners are held.

When the student that was to be released was on video, the judge left the courtroom. Lawyer Khalifa used the opportunity to ask her about conditions in the prison. The student said that she was beaten in the prison by two guards, but she does not know their names. When asked whether she has seen other women prisoners beaten, she explained that the guards take prisoners to the showers and beat them there so that the other prisoners hear the sounds but do not see the beating. Then Khalifa asked whether there were also threats. The student said yes. Khalifa asked whether she was threatened with rape (as we heard this complaint from another female detainee yesterday) – and she said no. What threats were made against her? She replied that they told her (I am not sure whether it was interrogators or prison guards) that they knew her address, and even if she were released by the court, they would come to her house and take revenge.

It is just the latest example of how the distinction between “law enforcement” and fascist gangs in current-day Israel is blurring, and it all becomes one repressive continuum.

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