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Is Israel criminalising Palestinian thoughts too, amid Gaza war? | Israel-Palestine conflict News

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Following the October 7 Hamas attack, Israel has been clamping down on pro-Palestinian sentiment within its borders, including passing an amendment to its counterterrorism law that has been criticised for violating civil and human rights.

Much has changed for Jews and Palestinians living inside Israel since the Hamas attack, which killed about 1,200 people, and the subsequent devastation wrought by Israel on Gaza, which has killed more than 14,500 Palestinians, mostly women and children.

Here’s a look at the amendment and how it will affect people living inside Israel:

What is the ‘terrorist content’ amendment?

Israeli politicians began debating a temporary amendment to the counterterrorism law adding “consumption of terrorist materials” as a new criminal offence shortly after the war began.

The Knesset, the Israeli parliament, passed the amendment to the law on November 8 that criminalises “identification” with Hamas and ISIL (ISIS) and carries a maximum penalty of one year in prison. The amendment will be in effect for two years, with the option to extend and add other groups to the list at a later date.

The bill outlines the aim of tackling the phenomenon of “lone-wolf terrorism”, or the radicalisation of individuals not affiliated with any group through consuming content online.

What are the criticisms of the amendment?

Nareman Shehade Zoabi, a lawyer at Adalah, an Israel-based human rights organisation and legal centre, told Al Jazeera it is difficult to tell the severity of the implications of the new law, given its vague nature and the difficulty of understanding what precisely “consumption” means under the law.

“However, this vagueness, together with the exceptions stipulated in the law, clearly reveals the intent to target Palestinians in particular,” she said. “What is extremely concerning is that, in recent days, we have seen the law enforcement authorities in Israel constantly lowering the standard for what can be defined as ‘incitement to terror’ – one form of content prohibited in the law – which has resulted in dozens of outrageous indictments.”

Criminal investigations for such offences usually involve the use of “intrusive tools of surveillance against individuals”, Zoabi said. “We fear that this move is intended to further expand the state’s ability to lock up Palestinians as a means of silencing them.”

Others have criticised the amendment as well.

The Tel Aviv-based Association for Civil Rights in Israel (ACRI) said the law “remains unprecedented in democratic countries and may have a chilling effect on freedom of expression”.

Haifa-based Adalah called it “one of the most intrusive and draconian legislative measures ever passed by the Israeli Knesset, since it makes thoughts subject to criminal punishment”.

Are there any safeguards in the new law?

Gur Bligh, a Knesset legal adviser, said the law is not as draconian as critics claim. It includes a provision requiring law enforcement officials to establish that the accused identifies with banned groups.

That, Bligh said, will help avoid “excessive criminalisation”.

But others disagree.

Adalah has called it “one of the most intrusive and draconian legislative measures ever passed by the Israeli Knesset, since it makes thoughts subject to criminal punishment”.

Will the amendment change Israel’s response to pro-Palestinian activities?

There had been reports of people being arrested – and mistreated while detained – for their online activity, including posting on Instagram and liking Facebook content, soon after the war and even before that amendment was passed.

But Israel’s crackdown on pro-Palestinian sentiment has gone much further.

There have been reports of dozens of cases of Palestinian students enrolled in Israeli universities and colleges facing disciplinary action – and sometimes expulsion – over any expression of support for Gaza or raising awareness about Palestinian children being killed by Israeli operations.

Rights groups have also reported instances of Palestinians there losing their jobs and being hit with demotions or suspensions in various sectors, including retail, tech, hospitals and private companies, over support for other Palestinians.

A ban has been imposed on pro-Palestinian and anti-war demonstrations. Lawyers have been warned by the Israeli Bar Association not to publish content online that may be perceived as “incitement to violence”. Members of the Knesset who represent Palestinian political parties have been pressured and threatened with expulsion.

Earlier in November, Israel deported thousands of Palestinian workers from the Gaza Strip who were working inside Israel back to the besieged enclave. They had been abruptly detained without judicial process, having had their work permits revoked, and said they were tortured and insulted in prison.

Does the amendment affect only Palestinians?

The overwhelming majority of crackdowns taking place in Israel following the war have been targeted at Arabs, specifically Palestinians, living in Israel.

But Jewish citizens of Israel have not been spared.

There have been reports of Jewish Israeli activists being targeted by right-wing mobs with what appears to be at least a tacit approval by the state. Shabak, the security services of Israel, is conducting so-called warning talks with Israeli citizens who have spoken or posted online about anything that could be construed as support for Gaza or criticism of the war.

Since the start of the war, Israel more than doubled its number of Palestinian prisoners and conditions in Israeli prisons have significantly deteriorated. Reports and testimonies indicate that Palestinian prisoners have lost a number of limited privileges – like televisions, books, family photos and cooking slabs – that they had gained over decades of struggle, including through hunger strikes.

Rights groups have reported that the Israeli Prison Service (IPS) has considerably restricted access to water, food, medical care, family and lawyer visits, and communal items, is ordering more raids resulting in prisoner beatings, and overcrowding prisons by increasing cell capacities.

The Knesset on October 18 approved an amendment to its “prison ordinance” that effectively allows for the overcrowding of prison cells as the Israeli government arrests more Palestinians.

The amendment legally allows those suspected or convicted of national security-related offences to be placed on mattresses on prison floors.

It was passed as a temporary measure and is slated to remain in effect for three months unless extended. It effectively allows Israeli prisons to take in more inmates even if they are already at full capacity.

Earlier this month, the Israeli Ministry of Interior said it aims to introduce amendments to the counterterrorism and citizenship laws to authorise the revocation of permanent residency or citizenship of an individual who has been convicted of a “terrorism-related” offence.

Israeli media reported on Tuesday that Sports Minister Miki Zohar has requested revocation of citizenship for Ataa Jaber, an Israeli footballer who plays for the Palestinian national team, because he observed a minute of silence during a match against Lebanon last week.

Who is behind the amendments and crackdowns?

Israel’s National Security Minister Itamar Ben-Gvir, one of the most hardline figures in what was already Israel’s most far-right administration under Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu even before the war, is believed to be a main driving force behind the crackdowns.

Ben-Gvir was convicted in 2007 – when he was a far-right activist – by a Jerusalem court for “incitement to racism” for carrying signs that, among other things, read “expel the Arab enemy” during demonstrations.

Along with other officials, the minister has been a driver of a policy to significantly increase the number of Israeli civilians who are armed. Days after the Hamas attack, he announced loosening gun controls to allow thousands of assault rifles to be doled out to civilian teams, especially in border towns.

Adalah’s Zoabi noted that since the war began “the most extreme right-wing ministers and lawmakers have been taking advantage of collective feelings of fear and vengeance to advance various measures that entrench Jewish supremacy in Israel”.

“Such measures include efforts to make substantive changes on the ground, like the forcible displacement of Palestinians in the occupied West Bank, the arming of Jewish civilians, and the redefinition of the limits of rights and liberties of Palestinians through legislation and governmental policies,” she said.

“These steps are especially alarming when the courts do not make the pretence of curbing the attack on Palestinian rights.”

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