In ‘witch hunt,’ Palestinians with Israeli citizenship, Jerusalem IDs, face harassment, persecution amidst Gaza war – Mondoweiss
On the night of Monday, October 16, a popular Palestinian singer and neuroscientist, Dalal Abu Amneh, was arrested by Israeli police from her home in the Palestinian city of Nazareth, in northern occupied Palestine.
Amneh’s lawyer confirmed to the news website Arab 48 that she was arrested and subject to interrogation and investigation by police. Abu Amneh was later released after spending two days in jail.
Abu Amneh’s crime? A Facebook post.
According to the singer’s lawyer, she was arrested over a Facebook post in which she wrote “There is no victor but God,” and “Lord grant me relief,” along with links to charities working in Gaza.
The police “had the intention to arrest her” even before an interrogation, her lawyer told Arab 48, adding that in the lead-up to her arrest, Abu Amneh herself had been receiving violent threats and online harassment from Israelis, which she and her team had reported to the police.
The arbitrary arrest of Abu Amneh over her Facebook post is the latest in a campaign of targeted harassment by Israeli authorities, institutions, individuals, and right-wing groups against Palestinian citizens of Israel and Palestinian residents of occupied Jerusalem, who, due to the nature of where they live, are more entrenched in Israeli society, public spaces, and workplaces than Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza.
The censorship and suppression have even extended to Israeli politicians. On Thursday, October 19, Ofer Cassif, an Israeli member of parliament, was suspended by the Knesset Ethics Committee for 45 days, and his salary was stopped for two weeks over his public criticisms of the Israeli government’s handling of its war on Gaza.
According to rights groups and firsthand accounts, Palestinians with Israeli citizenship and Jerusalem residents are being increasingly targeted in both professional and public environments over their Palestinian identity and any expressions of support or sympathy for Gaza and for Palestine in general, in the wake of the Hamas attack on October 7 and the ongoing Israeli bombardment of Gaza.
The forms of harassment range from being reported by colleagues or fellow students internally on an institutional and company level, to being harassed and doxxed online by right-wing Israeli groups. In many cases, the harassment and persecution have led to Palestinians being fired from their jobs, suspended from their universities, or, in more serious cases, being arrested by the police.
“It’s a witch hunt,” one Palestinian lawyer in Jerusalem, who is licensed by the Palestinian and Israeli bar associations, told Mondoweiss, speaking on the condition of anonymity. “People are scared of posting, or even liking or following anything about Palestine. We are being reported by our colleagues, and people are being arrested and disbarred.”
A Palestinian doctor in Jerusalem who works at a private Jewish-Israeli medical center told Mondoweiss that he and his colleagues have received multiple instances of Jewish patients filling out satisfaction surveys, expressing that they did not wish to be attended to by Arab doctors.
A Palestinian woman who is a citizen of Israel told Mondoweiss that many of her friends have received threatening letters from their employers saying they will be fired for publicly expressing their support for Gaza. Another Palestinian citizen of Israel, a Haifa-based lawyer, told Mondoweiss, “Everyone is really scared to even speak amongst colleagues or in public,” she said. “People are keeping their mouths shut out of fear of what could happen to them.”
Since October 7, dozens of Palestinian workers across various sectors have been arbitrarily dismissed from their workplaces, and have even been threatened or targeted with criminal action on the pretext of “supporting terrorism.”
Lawyers from Adalah-The Legal Center for Arab Minority Rights, told Mondoweiss they’ve received upwards of 80 complaints from Palestinian university students, and 48 complaints from workers across the private and public sectors in Israel.
“And those are just the formal complaints we have received. Many other organizations are also receiving lots of complaints,” Nareman Shehadeh-Zoabi, an attorney at Adalah, told Mondoweiss.
“People are feeling intimidated. We are getting phone calls from people who want to consult with us, asking, ‘should I even be on Instagram at all?’,” Shehadeh-Zoabi said. “They are questioning whether to be on social media. They are scared that if they follow a certain page, like Eye on Palestine, they will be called to the police. They are scared of losing jobs, income, their studies, all because of their Palestinian identity.”
Teachers fired, university students suspended for social media activity
On Tuesday, October 17, Israeli state-owned Kan News reported that a teacher in Tiberias in northern Israel was suspended from her job and could stand criminal charges, after liking posts on Instagram belonging to the popular account “Eye on Palestine,” which has more than 5 million followers and posts frequent updates and news from the ground in Palestine.
According to the Kan report, the teacher was suspended pending further disciplinary action upon request by the mayor of the city. The report added that a police complaint was being “considered” due to the teacher’s alleged “encouragement of hostile and false information against the State of Israel during a war.” The report did not explicitly state if the teacher was Palestinian or not.
“If she still thinks she deserves to continue education, she is invited to go and teach in Gaza,” the mayor of Tiberias said in a statement.
“Since the beginning of the War, the academic institutions targeted Palestinian students for publishing posts on their social media accounts in what their schools defined as ‘support of terrorism’ and ‘sympathizing with terror organizations,’” Adalah said in a statement.
Some of the social media posts in question simply quoted verses from the Holy Qur’an, while others published lists of journalists to follow from the Gaza Strip, Adalah added.
At Haifa University, Palestinian students were suspended and expelled for their social media posts about Palestine and Gaza. According to a report from Al-Araby Al-Jadeed, one student was reported after sharing a video of Palestinian writer Ghassan Kanafani on the ‘story’ feature of Whatsapp. The video in question was a decades-old interview with Kanafani and was not directly related to the ongoing events in Gaza. The student was then expelled from the university.
When a group of Palestinian and leftist Israeli professors and lecturers at Haifa University approached the director of the university with their concerns over the censorship and targeting of Palestinian students, saying the outright suspension of students went against university regulations, they were reportedly reprimanded and told that the administration would not engage with them, sources familiar with the incident told Mondoweiss.
At the Haifa-based Technion – Israel Institute of Technology, Israel’s top public research university, a number of Palestinian students were the subject of a doxxing campaign by their fellow students. In a presentation, seemingly prepared by Jewish Israeli students at the university, screenshots of social media posts along with the names, a link to their social media profiles, which faculty they study in, and a Hebrew translation of the social media post they either shared, liked, or commented on. This presentation, which was viewed and verified by Mondoweiss, was sent to the Technion administration.
Some of the posts in question included an Instagram story of a Palestinian student cooking shakshuka, along with the Arabic caption “soon we will eat the Shakshuka of victory,” along with a Palestinian flag. Several others pointed out the accounts of Palestinian students who liked a photo from the account Eye on Palestine showing a bulldozer breaking down a portion of the Israeli fence along the Gaza border on October 7. Another post that was included in the “presentation” was an Instagram story sharing a widely-circulated post by the popular Instagram account @savesheikhjarrahnow, which said, “Do you see events in a vacuum? Or do you recognize the decades of injustice and oppression that preceded them?”
The administration at the Technion released a letter of condemnation addressing the situation, saying “there are no words to describe the opacity and evil reflected in the messages of joy and support for the atrocities of Hamas,” the statement said, adding, “The Technion views these expressions very seriously and there is no place in our community for expressions of support, even indirect, for terrorist acts and their perpetrators.”
“Support for terrorism and atrocities is not included in freedom of expression, and neither is incitement and expressions of hatred,” the administration said, the latter referring to incitement against Arab students, which the administration noted in its statement and condemned.
The Israeli news website Calcalist reported that around 50 disciplinary proceedings have been opened against students at various universities and academic colleges in Israel, with the highest numbers recorded at the Bezalel Academy of Art and Design in Jerusalem (11 disciplinary prosections) and Haifa University (six active proceedings, 12 investigations of complaints).
According to the report, the Hebrew University in Jerusalem has established a “special committee” to investigate complaints against students who allegedly express “supporting Hamas,” and that the university has a “zero tolerance” policy.
While dozens of disciplinary proceedings against students are reported to be ongoing, Salam Irsheid, an attorney at Adalah, told Mondoweiss that the group has documented numerous cases in which students have been suspended or expelled without any prior notice or disciplinary hearings.
“What is sad is that in the case of a lot of universities and institutions, they are suspending people immediately without even having a hearing first. Without giving students an opportunity to explain themselves or their posts,” Irsheid said.
“All around, their rights are being violated without any procedure or due process. People being suspended from their workplaces and universities without a hearing is uncalled for, it’s not legal , and it’s hurting their livelihoods,” she continued.
Irsheid emphasized that in many cases, people are being suspended or even prosecuted on a criminal level for simply liking a post on social media, or for following pages that are posting about the situation in Gaza. She added that many of the cases that have come across Adalah’s desk are instances in which students or professionals expressed grief over the humanitarian situation in Gaza, or simply wrote verses of the Quran that are being misinterpreted or wrongfully connected to support for Hamas.
“These posts fall under freedom of expression. There is nothing calling for or justifying violence of any kind,” Irsheid said. “Lots of the people approaching us say that the things they are being accused of are very far-fetched. Nothing I have seen violates any sort of law.”
On Monday, October 16, the Israeli Attorney General’s Office announced that it had “instructed some of the heads of higher education institutions, who contacted it following cases of students who published words of praise for terrorism, to forward the details to the Israel Police, so that their case could be dealt with as soon as possible at the criminal level, beyond the disciplinary level handled by the educational institution. At this time, we will examine the case of several Israeli students who allegedly published words of praise and support for Hamas.”
Palestinian laborers expelled, rounded up
On Tuesday, October 16, reports began circulating on social media that the Israeli city of Rosh Haayin had “cleared its city” of Arab workers, allegedly upon instruction by the mayor. A video posted on X showed an Israeli man, reported to be an employee of the city, celebrating as he says, “The mayor gave an instruction to stop the work. There are no Israeli Arabs inside the work sites, period. Israeli Jews, foreign workers [only], get the Israeli Arabs out of the place. That’s what there is,” said the man who is filmed in the video.
The mayor of Rosh Haayin subsequently made a statement on the Rosh Haayin municipality’s Facebook page, denying such a directive from his office, saying, “in terms of work and workers, there is no distinction between an Arab and a Jewish worker, and there is no discrimination…Any such statement is unacceptable…and not part of my worldview. That’s why I disapprove of any statement that discriminates against Arab workers.”
Rosh Haayin is a predominantly Jewish city, but many of its laborers are Palestinians with Israeli citizenship, also commonly referred to as “Israeli Arabs.” Despite the mayor’s statements condemning the video posted by the city worker, many say the damage had been done, and was indicative of the general attitude right now towards Palestinians and Arabs in Israel, and the consequences such racist attitudes are having on people’s jobs and livelihoods.
According to a report from Israeli news website Walla, “dozens of other cases” similar to the incident in Rosh Haayin were reported at construction sites across Israel, where Palestinian laborers were expelled or prevented from entering their job sites.
A +972 Magazine report cited the Civil Society Coalition for Emergencies in the Arab Community, as saying that at least 30 Palestinian citizens of Israel have been fired from their jobs “in retail, car companies, and restaurants, as well as the Jerusalem Municipality” since October 7, “because of social media posts perceived as supporting the Hamas attack.”
Attorney Shehadeh-Zoabi told Mondoweiss that while Adalah did not have data concerning recent discrimination, harassment, or dismissals of Palestinian laborers in Israel, the construction and manual labor is one of the primary industries for Palestinian Citizens of Israel, many of whom live below the poverty line.
In addition to the workforce of Palestinians with Israeli citizenship, close to a quarter million Palestinian day laborers from the West Bank and Gaza also work in Israel. According to data from the International Labour Organization, an estimated 192,700 Palestinian workers from the occupied West Bank and Gaza work in the Israeli labor market. At least 40,000 more undocumented workers from the West Bank work in the construction and service industry in Israel.
In the immediate aftermath of the Hamas attack on October 7, Israeli security forces began rounding up hundreds of Palestinian laborers from Gaza and expelled them into the West Bank, where they have been stranded for days, sleeping on the floors of local community centers in Palestinian cities.
Palestinian media reported that some laborers from Gaza were assaulted, forced to strip naked, and left stranded at Israeli military checkpoints in the West Bank. Since being deported to the West Bank, hundreds of Gazan laborers have since been re-arrested by Israeli forces and are being held in Israeli jails, according to Palestinian prisoners groups.
‘It’s a witch hunt’
The harassment and racial profiling towards Palestinians over the past ten days has grown to affect virtually every private and public sector within Israel and occupied Jerusalem, including the legal profession.
On October 10, a Palestinian lawyer, whose identity is being withheld for their personal and professional safety, filed a motion in a Tel Aviv magistrate court to adjourn a court session due to his inability to be present in court, citing the war and ongoing situation in Israel.
The judge, a Jewish Israeli who has been described by multiple lawyers, both Palestinian and Israeli, as a “known fascist,” responded to the motion with the following message, which was viewed by Mondoweiss: “It is too soon to adjourn this session due to war, maybe by the time of that session we will annihilate ‘Amalek’ from the face of the earth.”
Amalek is a nation or tribe described in the Hebrew Bible as a staunch enemy of the ancient Israelites. In this context, the judge is comparing Palestinians/Hamas to Amalek, which “every Jew is required to obliterate (including their women, children, livelihood, property, etc).,” as told to Mondoweiss by a Jewish Israeli lawyer.
The response of the judge, lawyers tell Mondoweiss, is indicative of the repressive and discriminatory climate being faced at the moment by Palestinian lawyers who practice in Israeli courts and Israeli law firms. In addition to outright racism and anti-Arab sentiment, Palestinian lawyers are also being monitored on social media and are being reported to the Israeli Bar Association for any posts or social media activity deemed as “supportive of terrorism.”
The situation goes beyond workplace disciplinary action, lawyers tell Mondoweiss, saying that even beyond people losing their licenses, lawyers, amongst Palestinians in other professions, are being prosecuted in criminal court over their social media posts.
A Palestinian Jerusalem-based lawyer, Asala Abu Khdeir, was arrested by Israeli police on Monday, October 10, over comments she wrote on Facebook related to Gaza.
According to a screenshot viewed by Mondoweiss, the comments in question were reportedly written by Abu Khdeir on October 7, the day Hamas launched “Operation Al Aqsa Flood,” and said, “I feel like I am in a dream” with black, red, and green heart emojis, seemingly representing the colors of the Palestinian flag. Explaining her social media posts, Abu Khdeir’s lawyer told Mondoweiss that “exciting events happened in her life that were not related to the tragic circumstances that happened that day,”
According to her lawyer, she surrendered herself to the police after police came to her house in the Shu’fat neighborhood of East Jerusalem, where they “vandalized” and ransacked her home. She was then interrogated by police, who photographed her and published photos of a handcuffed Abu Khdeir online.
Abu Khdeir’s lawyer told Mondoweiss that she was reported to the police by the Israeli Bar Association. He described her arrest as “a political arrest simply based on recent war events…due to the fact that the Israeli authorities want to prevent Arab citizens from posting anything that can be understood for the support of the Palestinians in Gaza.”
The head of the Israeli bar association, Amit Bachar, and the chairman of the national ethics committee in the bar, lawyer Menachem Moshkowitz, opened disciplinary proceedings against her, saying her posts on social media “show a public expression of support and identification with a terrorist organization,” Israeli Walla news website reported.
The bar association had received a number of “inquiries” regarding Abu Khdeir’s posts, including from a former Israeli Minister of Justice Gideon Sa’ar. “This lawyer’s place is not among our ranks,” the head of the bar association said in a statement, adding, “we will take all the necessary steps in order to lead to her license being revoked and her removal from the bar.”
Abu Khdeir’s lawyer said that her law license has not yet been revoked and that she was released from jail following two days of detention.
The targeting of Abu Khdeir has sent shockwaves through the Palestinian legal community, with many lawyers not only fearful of posting or liking anything on social media regarding Palestine but also of even holding conversations amongst colleagues that could be misconstrued and used against them.
Lawyers told Mondoweiss that the Israeli bar association is temporarily suspending licenses until final verdicts are reached in “disciplinary hearings” similar to that of Abu Khdeir, and that the association itself is filing complaints to the police.
“It’s a witch hunt,” a Palestinian lawyer from Jerusalem told Mondoweiss. “Our Israeli colleagues are monitoring everything we do, and are trying to get us suspended or even disbarred if we post anything in support of Palestine or Gaza,” he said. “It’s a very hostile environment right now.”
Another Palestinian lawyer, who is a citizen of Israel, echoed similar sentiments, telling Mondoweiss, “We are feeling very alienated. Even if we are not posting on social media, there is this need to check where we stand, if we are ‘good Arabs.’ We all feel like we’re suspects of being ‘supporters of terror,’” she said.
“I have friends who have deleted Instagram, are staying off of social media, and are staying silent altogether. It hurts,” she said, adding that on the first day of the Hamas attack, October 7, she received threatening messages from a former Israeli colleague, also a lawyer, using derogatory and racist language about Arabs, calling her “trash,” amongst other things.
“I hadn’t even posted anything on social media at that point, but in general, people are being really aggressive towards Arabs,” she said.
Social media harassment against Palestinians skyrockets
Overwhelmingly, in the cases studied by Mondoweiss, as well as cases documented by rights groups, a significant amount of the harassment and persecution being faced by Palestinians is taking place online and on social media.
In addition to the internal reporting of fellow students and colleagues based on their social media activity, a simultaneous trend has emerged in which right-wing Israeli groups, operating on platforms like Telegram, Whatsapp, Facebook and more, engage in the monitoring of Palestinians’ social media accounts and subsequently embark on targeted smear and doxxing campaigns.
Such was the case of Dalal Abu Amneh, who, after publishing a number of posts related to Gaza, was being harassed by Israeli groups and social media users, who flooded her pages with death threats and also published personal information about her and her husband, where they live, and their places of work.
“The harassment campaign against Dalal Abu Amneh was huge,” Nadim Nashif, Director at 7amleh – The Arab Center for Social Media Advancement, told Mondoweiss. “We were trying to work with platforms to take down the incitement and threats against her. But when we would take down pages or posts, they could come back in huge numbers that we couldn’t even track.”
According to 7amleh, which monitors and reports digital rights violations against Palestinians on social media, the group has documented 103,000 instances of hate speech and incitement against Palestinians on social media between October 7 – October 18. Of the violations, 63% of the documented instances of hate speech and incitement were based on political affiliations and/or nationalist sentiments, and 34% were rooted in racist bias.
Nashif told Mondoweiss that that harassment is “happening everywhere,” across all social media platforms. One extreme, he said, is platforms like Telegram, whose content moderation policy essentially allows for the proliferation of all types of violent content. “Their policy is essentially that ‘we are not a social media platform,’ if you wish to see certain content, you go to that channel. If you don’t wish to see such content, don’t go to those platforms. It’s why they haven’t restricted official channels belonging to Hamas, for example,” Nashif said.
But with such a policy, Nashif added, Telegram has allowed for the existence of groups like the self-named “Nazi Hunters” in its platform, which Nashif said are a group of right-wing Israeli activists who circulate the personal information of Palestinians, their social media profiles, and photos of individuals with targets on their heads.
On the other end of the spectrum are platforms like Meta (Facebook), which have a stricter content moderation policy but one that Nashif says is inherently biased against Palestinians.
“They [Meta] use machines that are taking down content as it aligns with their policies. The problem with Meta is that the enforcement is not the same,” Nashif said, explaining that Meta has developed advanced technology to moderate Arabic-language content, which quickly detects and removes what they consider violations in that language. The same technology simply does not exist in the Hebrew language, where the majority of incitement and harassment against Palestinians is taking place.
According to Nashif, Meta only began developing its technology around Hebrew-language content in 2023, after immense pressure on the social media giant following the events of May 2021, when groups like 7amleh documented similar jumps in anti-Palestinian and anti-Arab harassment online.
“We are tracking it, but it is still very beginner,” Nashif said. “With machine learning, you need huge datasets and a long period of time before they are functional. Right now, it’s being deployed, but it’s very far from where the Arabic content moderation is.”
“There is an obvious bias against the Palestinian side,” Nashif continued. “We are hearing really unconventional things happening, like Israeli intelligence calling people to take down social media posts. Even by Israeli standards, what is happening now is crazy and unprecedented.”
While social media companies and Israeli authorities are failing to act on incitement against Palestinians, Israeli lawmakers are proposing further crackdowns on Palestinians’ social media use. Adalah attorney Nareman Shehadeh-Zoabi told Mondoweiss that a new amendment to Israel’s terrorism law has been proposed by Israeli lawmakers, aiming to criminalize the “consumption of content related to terror organizations.”
Although it hasn’t passed yet, Shahadeh-Zoabi described it as “illegal,” saying it is akin to “policing people’s thoughts.”
“I think there’s no way to enforce this law, but the reason why they are initiating it is because of the war that’s happening in the media,” Shehadeh-Zoabi said. “Israel wants to silence the Palestinian voice online. This is one of the means that will be used to achieve that.”
Offline: Palestinians report assault, arrest, increased discrimination
The events of the past two weeks have far-reaching consequences for Palestinian citizens of Israel and residents of occupied Jerusalem, beyond the already detrimental impacts of losing your job, being expelled from university, and facing online harassment and death threats.
The rise in anti-Palestinian and anti-Arab sentiments since the Hamas attack is being described by Palestinians as something they have never felt before.
“We have always felt like the ‘other,’ like we are not really welcome or accepted because of our Palestinian identity,” a Palestinian with Israeli citizenship told Mondoweiss. “We felt this in 2021 when the mobs were attacking Arab homes and businesses. But this time, it’s even worse than that. It feels very dangerous just to be a Palestinian.”
A large element of the targeted harassment campaign of Palestinians that’s taking place offline is being carried out by the Israeli police and officials. According to an October 16 statement on the official Israel Police account on X, the police said they had arrested 63 suspects since the beginning of the war “on suspicion of offenses of incitement and support for terrorism.”
On October 7, the day of the Hamas attack, a Palestinian doctor in Jerusalem, who also requested anonymity, told Mondoweiss that he and his cousins and friends were wrongfully detained and beaten by Israeli police outside the Damascus Gate area of East Jerusalem.
“We were just driving when the police surrounded our car, pointing guns at us. They pulled us out of the car and began beating us up,” the doctor said. “When we asked what we did wrong, they just kept beating us up and cursing at us. They said they were ‘examining’ [searching] us, but they didn’t even take our phones or IDs. It was clear they just had one goal, to humiliate us.”
“This kind of harassment happens all the time, and there’s always an increase in these incidents when Gaza is in the news, but this time, it’s really getting a lot worse,” he said. “They don’t care who you are, they just care if you are Arab or not.”
The Jerusalem-based Palestinian lawyer told Mondoweiss that while racial profiling of Palestinians is commonplace in Jerusalem, Palestinians are being stopped and searched at random wherever they go, at levels even higher than the norm.
“I work in West Jerusalem. If you are Palestinian, you can be stopped and frisked at any moment, and your phone can be taken and searched without a warrant right now. They are rabid with anything they consider to be ‘terrorism.’ If they find anyone on your social media posting anything, you can be arrested,” he said. “It’s a tactic of intimidation: even if you’re not indicted, you can still be arrested and jailed for a few days,” the lawyer told Mondoweiss.
Due to the fears that many Palestinian citizens of Israel and residents of Jerusalem are facing, the past few weeks have not witnessed the same level of protests seen in the past, particularly in May 2021, when mass protests took Israel and the occupied Palestinian territory by storm, surrounding the bombardment of Gaza at the time, and the forced expulsion of Palestinian families in Sheikh Jarrah.
Smaller protests have cropped up, however, and have been met with a swift and harsh response by Israeli police. On Thursday, October 19, Israeli police violently broke up a group of protesters in Haifa who were demonstrating against the Israeli onslaught on Gaza. Five protesters were arrested on charges of participating in an “illegal gathering,” Haaretz reported.
In response, the Israeli Police Commissioner Kobi Shabtai said: “Anyone who wants to be a citizen of Israel, ahlan wa sahlan [“welcome,” in Arabic]. Anyone who wishes to identify with Gaza is welcome to — I will put him on the buses that are heading there now.”
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