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Israel, "the only democracy in the region" that silences voices and turns off cameras

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إسرائيل "الديمقراطية الوحيدة في المنطقة"... تقطع الألسنة وتطفئ الكاميرات

All of a sudden, approximately one million Telegram followers of Ahmed Abu Eyad, a lawyer known online as Al Mustashaar ('the counselor'), lost access to the translations he was providing of Israeli news coverage. This came after Israeli forces arrested him at his home in Al 'Eizariya, east of Jerusalem, on October 18.

According to his brother Eyad Abu Daamous, Israeli military forces raided their house after midnight “in a brutal manner terrifying the children, who woke up to the sounds of the banging and shouting.” He continues, “They arrested my brother, and we only knew of his whereabouts nearly 5 days after his arrest when the lawyer informed us that he was being held at the Ofer Detention Center before being transferred to Ofer Prison.”

Ahmed Abu Eyad, 41, gained prominence for following, translating and reporting Israeli and Hebrew news and media. According to his brother, Abu Eyad used Facebook to share news, but after his account was closed multiple times by Facebook, he "turned to Telegram, becoming influential there, especially during the recent war, he amassed a substantial following.” His recent arrest, and subsequent lack of new posts, led to a drop in followers to around 850,000 followers.

Abu Eyad is not the only influencer in Jerusalem and the West Bank that has been detained by Israeli occupation forces. According to journalist Samer Khoury, several vocal figures have been detained since October 7. These are “individuals who gained prominence on social media with tens of thousands of followers on platforms like Telegram, TikTok, and others,” according to Khoury. “Their videos generated significant interaction, with millions of views, as seen in the case of journalist Ala'a Al-Rimawi, Al Mustashaar, and others.”

Khoury explains that the arrests “did not only target influencers,” and extended to activists including “Ahed Tamimi (who was later released through the exchange deal during the recent temporary ceasefire), as well as some preachers and imams.”

Israel is aware of the significance of the media battle it faces and therefore appears to be “getting rid of voices that challenge their narrative with the truth, to prevent their impact on shaping public opinion, be it Palestinian, Israeli, or international”

Khoury, who lives in Nablus in the West Bank, believes that Israel’s motive for arresting Palestinian influencers and activists is to silence the voices that debunk and refute their promoted narrative. He considers it part of the media battle that the occupation wages.

Since October 7, Palestinians and the voices of those who support them across the world, have faced significant media restrictions. Samer Khoury has closely observed this situation, and believes that Israel is fully aware of the media battle it is engaged in, and does so in order to “get rid of voices that challenge the Israeli narrative with the truth.” Through arrests, and therefore silencing, vocal figures are “sidelined in order to mitigate their impact on shaping public opinion, be it Palestinian, Israeli, or even international, by presenting the reality of what is happening on the battlefield.” Without these voices, “we might not have witnessed global solidarity marches in support of Palestine, even from countries that have historically stood by Israel, like Britain.”

Legal violations and night raids

During his trial, Abu Eyad witnessed a host of violations against his rights as a defendant, according to his brother Eyad Abu Daamous. An Israeli court sentenced him to six months in prison via a Zoom session, without the presence of his lawyer, just three days after his arrest on charges of incitement. Upon appeal, the sentence was reduced to three months, information that Abu Eyad himself “only learned a month after the appeal was accepted, through a fellow prisoner. None of us were able to reach him, not even his lawyer.”

According to Abu Daamous, his brother “was neither paid nor an instigator, and there was nothing inciting in his online content. All he did was translate what the Israeli media was reporting.” He added that “in all his posts, whether spoken or written, Abu Eyad would cite the source he was getting the news from.” He explains that his brother sought to deliver news immediately to every Palestinian “so that other outlets did not beat him to it.”

Among the preachers and imams arrested by Israel is university professor Dr. Ayman al-Badareen, 46, from Hebron. He was taken from his home on October 15. Raseef22 contacted his wife, who asked to postpone any interviews until after her husband's release.

Raseef22 also reached out to Ahed Tamimi, 23, following her release on November 29. She spent 23 days in detention on charges of “incitement to terrorism” but refused our request, explaining that she has opted not to speak to the media for the time being.

Tamimi, like many others in her position, was threatened by Israeli intelligence officers ahead of her release. Her father remains in Israeli captivity, having been arrested just days before her. Upon her arrest, Israeli forces searched the family home in Nabi Saleh, northwest of Ramallah, confiscating mobile phones. Israeli Minister of National Security, Itamar Ben Gvir, later posted a photo onto social media praising the arrest.

Families of prisoners become hostages

Israel often also detains the parents and children of those they have, or seek to, arrest. Alaa al-Rimawi, a journalist specializing in Israeli affairs and director of the local J-Media outlet, was forced to turn himself in after Israeli forces took his 18-year-old son hostage. He is currently serving a six month prison sentence.

Israel is actively pursuing and detaining Palestinian activists and online influencers for their role in "exposing the misleading Israeli narrative", sometimes even taking their children and parents hostage to force them to turn themselves in.

Dr. Maimouna Hussam al-Din, al-Rimawi's wife, recounts how Israeli forces raided their home in Beit Rima, a town in the Governorate of Ramallah and Al-Bireh, at 2 am on October 19, “with the aim of arresting my husband.” However, he was not home. Al-Din explains that “ever since the war on Gaza, my husband would come home at dawn due to the nature of his journalism and live coverage, which sometimes goes on until the early morning.”

She details the evening of the raid, “After searching the house and not finding him, they took my two sons, Mohammad and Iyas, and put them in a separate room, then began interrogating them about their father's whereabouts, all the while yelling to intimidate them. When they told them their father was still at work, they took Mohammad, who is 18 years old, hostage so that my husband would surrender himself! Before leaving, they took Iyas's phone number in order to contact us.”

Israeli forces called Iyas repeatedly inquiring about his father and “whether we had been in contact with him, his whereabouts, and if he would surrender, and when,” Maimouna continues, explaining that she and her children have received “threats that they would bring down the house over our heads, and told us to tell him that.” These calls persisted until they were finally able to reach al-Rimawi over the phone, “where they threatened him that if he does not surrender, they will keep Mohammed hostage.”

Before surrendering, Al-Rimawi went live on various social media platforms, discussing the blackmail he received from the occupation and the arrest of his son. He confirmed that he would turn himself in as soon as the medical examinations he was undergoing at hospital were complete. According to his wife, once Al-Rimawi returned home, he “gathered his essentials and turned himself in at Ofer Prison. A few hours later, our son Mohammad was released.”

Like Ahmed Abu Eyad, Al-Rimawi had been detailing the crimes of the occupation online. As the war intensified, so too did his coverage, and he consequently gained thousands of new followers on TikTok and other social media platforms.

Al-Rimawi’s wife describes her husband’s actions as inline with his “professional role in exposing and debunking the misleading, deceptive Israeli narrative and the propaganda endorsed by the occupation, which is attempting to distort the facts before public opinion, often by turning the victim into the assailant and the criminal into the victim.” According to his wife, Al-Rimawi plays an influential role, especially among the youth.

Israel fears the spread of resistance

According to Suleiman Bsharat, director of the Yabous Foundation for Consulting & Strategic Studies, these arrests constitute the most prominent tools used by Israeli authorities to undermine potential confrontation in the West Bank.

These arrests are the most prominent tool used by Israeli authorities to undermine any potential confrontation in the West Bank, according to Suleiman Bsharat, director of the Yabous Foundation for Consulting & Strategic Studies.

He tells Rasef22 that such arrests “reflect Israel's fear that their war on Gaza will impact other aspects of the Palestinian situation, whether in the West Bank, Jerusalem, or the territories occupied in 1948. The mass popular movement could turn into an organized movement that establishes a Palestinian national movement, similar to the first and second intifadas, affecting Israel's vision regarding the future of the settler-colonial project in the West Bank.”

According to Bsharat, Israel is taking preemptive measures by targeting journalists and influencers in their communities, in fear that they will influence societal and popular movement against Israeli practices. He adds, “This movement doesn't necessarily have to be in the form of a revolution or intifada, but at the very least, it should express solidarity and support for the events that unfolded on October 7th.”

Suleiman Bsharat points to a law that Israel passed during this war, criminalizing any acts praising, endorsing, encouraging, or sympathizing with the resistance on social media. Even watching any content supportive of the resistance could lead to imprisonment for up to a year.

According to Adalah, The Legal Center for Arab Minority Rights in Israel, there have been 251 documented cases of arrest, investigation or “warning conversations” between the start of the war and November 13. Of these, 121 were related to posts on social media, mostly charged with supporting and aligning with what they call a “terrorist organization” or “incitement to terrorism.”

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