On the same July night, at the same time, a Jewish-Israeli declared he would kill Arabs and an Arab-Israeli declared he would kill Jews. The declarations were made on Facebook. Each told their followers they sought revenge for crimes against their community.
A few hours later, the post by the Jewish-Israeli had received more than 1,000 likes, 34 shares and numerous comments in support of his words. The post by the Arab-Israeli received a total of seven likes, and he was immediately contacted by family and friends to ask him what’s wrong. The next day, the police came knocking on the Arab man’s door and he went to a police station for questioning. No police ever contacted the Jewish man.
The above scenario actually took place, but as part of an experiment by Israel’s Channel 10 that aired on July 9. The report highlighted an accusation made by human rights groups that Israeli police only crackdown on incitement by Arabs against Jews, but Jews are left free to threaten Arabs over the internet without fear of legal retribution.
The Israeli police told The Times of Israel they have investigated Jews for incitement, and operate based on the “security assessment” of each case. Additionally, a police spokesperson argued there is “no comparison whatsoever” between the threat of Jewish incitement towards Arabs and Arab incitement towards Jews, with hundreds of actual Arab attackers inspired by social media over the past nine months.
50% of online incitement aimed at Arabs
Research released in a Knesset report on Tuesday found Israeli social media is flooded with incitement, the Israeli daily Yedioth Ahronoth reported. The study, done by the Berl Katznelson Foundation and the research company Vigo, found over the past year 175,000 calls to violence were made, of which one-third were direct threats. The most popular terms were: to kill, to murder, to eliminate, to destroy, to burn, to rape and to break. Over 50 percent of these threats were aimed at Arabs, the report said.
Such online incitement against Arabs made headlines in Israel last week, after hundreds lamented over Facebook that 5-year-old Ahmad Dawabsha wasn’t burned to death in the firebombing attack that killed his mother, father and baby brother last July. The young Palestinian had recently returned to his West Bank village of Duma after being released from the hospital.
The Nazareth-based human rights center Meezaan filed official complaints with the police chief and attorney general, against those who wished Dawabsha death on Facebook.
Omar Khamaisi, director and head lawyer for Meezaan told The Times of Israel on Wednesday that the police still haven’t responded to the complaint of incitement against Dawabsha, nor does he expect any action, even if criminal investigations are opened. Khamaisi said he has filed tens of formal complaints over incitement against Arabs but none have led to any arrests.
“They can’t say they don’t have enough manpower to go after Jews, if they have enough to go after Arabs,” Khamaisi said.
Dozens of Arabs in Israel and the West Bank have reportedly been questioned or even arrested by Israeli police over the past year for writing posts in support of violence against Israelis, or declaring their intention to carry out attacks.
An Israeli police spokesperson said statistics on the number of arrests for incitement were unavailable.
Though the large scope of online incitement against Arabs “creates a big challenge for the Israeli government,” it is “absolutely unacceptable” and “immoral” that it isn’t being taken care of, Ron Gerlitz, co-executive director of the Israeli civil equality organization Sikkuy, told The Times of Israel.
“The current relations between Jews and Arabs are very fragile, with a big potential to be explosive,” said Gerlitz. He added that inaction by the police, such that they don’t crackdown on incitement against Arabs, leaves Israeli Jews with the impression that such talk is acceptable.
“Our kids can also see the Facebook posts of Israelis wishing Dawabsha had died in the fire. This gives legitimacy to a serious racism that is very dangerous,” Gerlitz said.
While going after the many Facebook users who write threats to Arabs might not be feasible, Gerlitz argued the police could open up a small amount of public investigations that lead to arrests or fines. Such minimal action could go a long way to creating deterrence, he argued.
Police: ‘No comparing’ Arab and Jewish threat
The crackdown of Arab inciters over social media comes amid an extended period of attacks against Israelis, in which hundreds of Arabs, primarily Palestinians from the West Bank and East Jerusalem, have carried out or attempted to carry out lethal attacks against Jewish Israelis.
Since October, 35 Israelis and four foreign nationals have been killed in a spate of car-ramming, stabbing, shooting and bombing attacks. Some 215 Palestinians have also been killed. Israel says most of the Palestinians killed were involved in attacks or clashes.
The police say that incitement over social media encourages the Arab attackers. Additionally, many of these attackers either openly declare or suggest their intention to commit an attack over Facebook before actually doing so.
Since the wave of violence began in October, Israel Police has responded by creating new units designed to prevent attacks by spotting the literal writing on the Facebook wall before they occur.
Israeli Police spokesperson Micky Rosenfeld told The Times of Israel on Wednesday that police have “picked up and questioned individuals making threats to Arab-Israelis.”
“These violent threats on Facebook are considered a criminal act,” he said of the incitement against Arabs from Jews.
But, according the police spokesperson, operations against Arabs due to social media posts are far more numerous than against Jews because the cases from the minority community pose a greater threat.
“There is no comparison whatsoever, when you have an immediate terrorist threat, and someone who is writing on their Facebook page that they are not coming home this evening after going to the mosque for prayer. These are not just words….When someone writes a letter saying they aren’t coming home to their family, they mean it. We don’t have these types of threats within the Jewish community. There hasn’t been a [Jewish] Israeli, man or woman, who wrote on their Facebook page that they are going to enter an Arab village and carry out an attack. We haven’t seen that until now, thankfully. But of course, we can respond to that type of threat as well.”
No Jewish-Israeli civilian is suspected of being involved in a lethal attack against Arabs since last July’s firebombing in Duma.
“Everything is based on the security assessment, both within the Israeli Arab community and Israeli Jewish community,” Rosenfeld concluded.