Palestinians threatened by digital monitoring, censorship: report

Palestinians threatened by digital monitoring, censorship: 7amleh annual Palestine report
3 min read
12 May, 2021
The report, "#Hashtag Palestine 2020" provides an overview of violations occurring during a year in which Covid-19 turned Palestine upside down.
The report criticised Israel, Hamas and the PA [NurPhoto/Getty-file photo]

The Arab online rights organisation 7amleh cautioned over digital monitoring and censorship in its annual report on Palestine, published on Monday.

The document, “#Hashtag Palestine 2020”, provides an overview of violations occurring last year, particularly while Covid-19 turned Palestine and the world upside down.

It criticised Israel for its authorisation of a new location-tracking provision in March 2020.

While acknowledging that this was to monitor Covid patients’ whereabouts, 7amleh said “this move to monitor citizens’ movements set a dangerous precedent in terms of human rights”.

The Haifa-based NGO noted that Shin Bet, the Israeli internal security service, was charged with conducting and handling the measure.

It explained that the security service has a track record of inserting itself into civilians’ lives, especially those of Palestinians.

However, it was revealed last December that the Shin Bet Covid-tracking effort would be stopped by 20 January this year 7amleh continued, citing a Reuters article.

The Shin Bet measure was responsible for only 7 percent of Covid causes identified in Israel.

Read more: Sheikh Jarrah and the ethnic cleansing of Palestinians in East Jerusalem

The report also referenced Israeli social media censorship activities, particularly through its Cyber Unit.

The Cyber Unit contacts social networks with posts they want deleted, according to a legal battle between rights organisations and the state attorney.

The rights organisation dismissed Israeli claims of neutrality, saying since “the vast majority of cases from the Cyber Unit” concern Palestinians, “their focus is primarily on censoring Palestinians and their online content.”

It was subsequently suggested in December 2020 that authorities maintain widespread digital monitoring capabilities, according to reports in Haaretz.

This includes an initiative under which particular targets can have their information forwarded to a “police-controlled system.”

The Israeli daily said: “The police could thus effectively track the online activity of any Israeli citizen on their radar.”

Hamas also came under fire for using legal measures surrounding “indecent” and “inciteful” online activities to crackdown on dissent.

Last year, Shawkat Abu Afiya, an online activist, was subject to torture during inquiries into allegations of “incitement that ‘aims to an upheaval’”.

Physically assaulted in the 5-hour period, Abu Afiya was informed that the reuse of blindfolds and restraints had given him Covid-19.

The report also critiqued Israel for detentions over “incitement on social media” that lacked “any formal charge”.

The Palestinian Authority did not escape criticism either.

Presidential decrees by Mahmoud Abbas have hit online free speech, the NGO said, leading to the detention of critics and others for “threatening civil peace”.

Al-Haq said 24 arrests were made in connection to comments on social sites.

Moreover, in civil society, 7amleh raised concerns about the targeting of a digital gender-based-violence helpline run by Assiwar – Feminist Arab Movement.

Last year, they faced blackmail and what is described as “long abuse”, among other incidents.

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