In a bizarre and confusing case, a Bedouin was being released Sunday night after being arrested for writing a Facebook post that mocked anti-Israel arsonists, because police misunderstood his comments. His lawyer and several Arab MKs claimed the cops had belatedly admitted their error, but the police denied this.
Anas Abudaabes, a 24-year-old social activist, was arrested Friday after writing a sarcastic post on Facebook intended to condemn those supporting the spate of wildfires on social media.
The Arabic Facebook post, written by Abudaabes about the wave of blazes raging across Israel for six days, ended with the hashtag “Sarcasm, not serious.”
The post was written in overly dramatic language, and apparently meant as satirical derision of those who were hailing the blazes ravaging the country.
In the post, he called for a boycott of Turkey for helping Israel extinguish the fires, and called for hooligans to make sure fires burn down every forest in Israel.
Arab lawmakers said Anas Abudaabes was released on Sunday.
Police did not immediately confirm that he had been freed, saying in a statement only that he was expected to be released shortly.
Ahmad Muhana, an aide to MK Ahmad Tibi, told The Times of Israel that Abudaabes was released on NIS 15,000 ($3,800) bail. He will be barred from using the internet for two weeks and will remain under house arrest for five days, the aide said.
Police had pounced on Abudaabes, a resident of Rahat in southern Israel, hauling him in for questioning and, in Kafkaesque fashion, keeping him in custody for three days.
Joint (Arab) List MK Osama Saadi, who accompanied Abudaabes in the police proceedings, also said in a statement that Abudaabes had been released.
“A mountain has been made out of a molehill. Anas Abudaabes is free!” the lawmaker said.
A statement from the Joint (Arab) List said the court ordered Abudaabes released when police admitted their translation of the Facebook post was flawed, conceding that the post was sarcastic in tone and critical of those in the Arab world encouraging the fires. They claim that police had to plead with the court to release Abudaabes after the judge three times rejected the appeal, according to the Mekomit news website.
The Joint List added that the arrest points to a systematic failing within the police force. “A proper translation would have saved the police and court this embarrassment and shame,” it said. Saadi suggested to the police that “they stop making use of Google Translate.”
Abudaabes’ lawyer told Israel Radio was “pro-Israel” and that his arrest was a case of “criminal negligence.”
The court and police denied any error.
In his decision, Justice Elon Gavison said there was reasonable suspicion of incitement and damage to state security in what Abudaabes wrote, the Haaretz news website reported. “Someone who writes on the internet must think carefully about what he writes, and must also think carefully about how others will understand what he wrote.”
The police also released a statement saying that they “completed their investigation and passed the file on to the prosecutor.”
“The Israel Police will continue to work with determination against any form of violence, including incitement to violence, and incitement to violence on social media,” the statement said.
Abudaabes was the first Israeli to be detained for incitement in the current wave of arrests linked to the fires. Arab MKs immediately called for his release, saying his post was misunderstood.
The Ynet news website identified him as the son of a prominent leader of the Islamic Movement in Israel. Abudaabes has a bachelor’s degree in economics, a master’s degree in communications, and teaches photography in Rahat.
On Thursday, the Islamic Movement was one of the first Arab groups to offer assistance to Israelis evacuated due to the fires burning across the country. The group said the offer extends to “every citizen of the country — Arabs, Christians and Jews — without differentiation.”
“Dozens of families from the Arab population are ready to host families affected hurt by the fires in Haifa and [around] the country, Jew and Arab alike,” said the group, which works to advance Islam in Israel.
Since Tuesday, firefighters have been battling wildfires throughout the country that on Thursday hit the city of Haifa, forcing some 60,000 residents to evacuate their homes. The residents have since been cleared to return home, though over 1,000 houses have been damaged.
More favorable weather, including a rise in humidity and drop in wind, is expected by Tuesday, while forecasts look for rain by Wednesday, ending the unseasonable dry spell that started and exacerbated much of the wave of fires.
On Sunday, officials offered assurances that the wave of wildfires had mostly come to an end, at least for the time being, but fresh blazes were later reported across the country.
Police on Sunday said that one-third of the fires are suspected to have been set deliberately. In a statement, the police said that they suspect between 30-40 of the 90 fires they have investigated thus far were started by arsonists.
However, police have not yet found any evidence that the arson was coordinated nationally or planned in advance. Their assessment is that the arson was local and opportunistic, the statement said.
“Many of the incidents were caused by normal reasons, like weather or an electrical short circuit. But a serious number were caused by arson,” a spokesperson said. Many fires starting over a small area is an indicator of possible arson, he added.