Fatah Facebook page goes offline as group launches campaign to take it down

Editor says he and his staff temporarily deactivated the page amid concern the social media giant will close it over complaints

Adam Rasgon is the Palestinian affairs reporter at The Times of Israel

A post on a Facebook page connected to Fatah of Dalal Mughrabi, a Palestinian terrorist who participated in a terrorist attack near Tel Aviv in 1978, which resulted in the death of 38 Israelis including children. (Credit: Palestinian Media Watch)
A post on a Facebook page connected to Fatah of Dalal Mughrabi, a Palestinian terrorist who participated in a terrorist attack near Tel Aviv in 1978, which resulted in the death of 38 Israelis including children. (Credit: Palestinian Media Watch)

A Facebook page linked to Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas’s Fatah party that has made numerous incendiary posts in the past several years went offline on Wednesday.

Munir Jaghoub, the editor of “The Palestinian National Liberation Movement ‘Fatah’/ The Official Page,” said he and his staff decided to temporarily deactivate the page after they grew concerned that Facebook would shut it down over mounting complaints against its content.

“We decided to close it down for a period of time as a precautionary measure,” he told The Times of Israel in phone call.

“We were worried that Facebook would shut it down permanently because of that Israeli organization’s campaign and complaints against it,” he said, referring to Palestinian Media Watch (PMW), a non-governmental organization that frequently reports on controversial posts on the page.

Some two weeks ago, PMW launched a social media campaign calling on Facebook to close down the page, which it asserted Fatah was using to “incite and glorify hatred and violence.”

A post on a Facebook page connected to Fatah from October 2015 of a knife stabbing a religious Jew. (Credit: Palestinian Media Watch)

As part of the effort, the organization asked social media users to send pre-written emails to Brian Fishman, the director of Facebook’s global counterterrorism team, urging the company to close the page.

In 2015, Facebook shut down a previous iteration of the page, and in 2017, the social media giant suspended the current version of the page and then reinstated it.

The page was down as of Wednesday.

Facebook confirmed that it did not recently close down the page.

“We have received reports about potentially violating content on this page and, as we do with all such reports, are in the process of reviewing that content to determine whether it violates our policies. We did not, however, take the action that unpublished this page,” a spokesperson for Facebook said in a statement.

Some of the most controversial posts on the page include an image of a knife with a Palestinian flag on its handle stabbing a religious Jew; praise for Dalal al-Mughrabi, a Palestinian terrorist partially responsible for the death of 38 Israelis; and a claim that Fatah has killed thousands of Israelis.

Jaghoub said he and his team intend to reactivate the page in the future, but have not settled on a date yet.

“We will be patient,” he said. “We can reactivate it at any moment, but we want to make sure we do that after this wave of attacks against the page passes.”

Jaghoub, who is also the spokesman of Fatah’s Mobilization and Organization Commission (the party body that oversees local branches, activities and recruitment), claimed in an interview earlier this year that critics of the page misunderstand what he called the “symbolism” of some of its most controversial posts.

Still, Jaghoub admitted at the time that sometimes higher-ups in Fatah have requested that he take down posts they found too contentious. Meanwhile, three high-ranking Fatah party officials have indicated that the page does not reflect their faction’s official positions.

Munir Jaghoub, the chief editor of a Facebook page connected to Mahmoud Abbas’s Fatah party, sitting in his northern Ramallah office on January 22, 2019. (Adam Rasgon/Times of Israel)

Israeli critics including Itamar Marcus, the head of PMW, have derided Jaghoub’s claims about “the symbolism” of the page’s posts, arguing that it has “consistently” incited Palestinians to carry out violent attacks against Jews.

After the page went offline on Wednesday, Marcus said: “It’s a good sign that Fatah itself realizes how terrible its page is that it decided to suspend it to prevent it from being closed down. We are hoping Facebook will recognize what Fatah itself recognizes and will close down terror-promoting page.”

Before it became inaccessible, the page had just under 224,000 followers and made posts dozens of times daily about Fatah, Israel, Hamas and the Arab world, most of which are not controversial.

Tens of thousands of Facebook users visit the page every month — 68,400 in December, according to analytics provided to The Times of Israel in January.

PMW has a section on its website dedicated to PA and Fatah social media that features well over 100 reports on contentious posts from the page dating back to 2012.

Marcus has said his group has sent many of its reports to the Prime Minister’s Office and US government officials.

Other watchdog groups and think tanks, including the Middle East Media Research Institute and the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs, have also written reports about incendiary posts on the page.

While Jaghoub said in the interview earlier in 2019 that every post on the page “undoubtedly” represents the official positions of Fatah, other officials in the party have disagreed.

Fatah spokesman Osama Qawasma said at the time that the page represents only the Fatah Mobilization and Organization Commission.

“The page belongs to the Mobilization and Organization Commission and represents its positions,” Qawasma said then. “The Media Commission expresses Fatah’s official political positions,” he added, referring to the Fatah body he works for that frequently puts out statements on developments relating to Israel and the Palestinians.

A post on a Facebook page connected to Fatah that claims the party has killed 11,000 Israelis. (Credit: Palestinian Media Watch)

Fatah has some 11 commissions, headed by various Fatah Central Committee members.

Another high-ranking Fatah official, who asked to remain nameless, said earlier in 2019 that the page “definitely does not represent Fatah’s official positions,” labeling Jaghoub and his editors “a group of amateurs.”

Senior Fatah official Azzam al-Ahmad has said that he knows nothing about the page. “I swear to God I have never seen or heard about that page,” Ahmad said in an interview earlier in 2019 in al-Bireh, a town adjacent to Ramallah.

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