Israel’s latest assault on the besieged Gaza Strip has been accompanied by yet another sharp increase in incitement against Palestinians and solidarity activists on social media outlets, such as Facebook and Twitter.
Facebook groups have been set up to call for the collective punishment of Palestinians in the Gaza Strip. Others host incitement against Palestinian students at Israeli universities, including posting pictures of and personal information about individual students.
The radical and violent anti-Palestinian climate in Israel is not divorced from reality.
After more than a week of Israeli government threats to do so, commandos launched the first ground incursion into the northern Gaza Strip early Sunday morning, reported Ma’an News Agency.
At the time of writing, there have been no Israeli deaths as a result of rockets fired by armed Palestinian groups in Gaza, though much of the mainstream media have focused on the impact of rocket fire on Israel rather than the staggering death toll in the Gaza Strip.
As Israel’s latest military offensive enters its sixth day, the Ministry of Health in Gaza reports that 170 Palestinians have been killed and more than 1,000 injured.
“Four thousand people and rising are fleeing this heavy bombardment in the north; they are in eight different UNRWA schools,” said Chris Gunness, spokesperson for UNRWA, the United Nations agency for Palestine refugees.
“We call on all parties to respect obligations under international humanitarian law, and to respect the sanctity of civilian life and the inviolability of United Nations buildings,” he told The Electronic Intifada by telephone.
Gunness explained that during Israel’s Operation Cast Lead (December 2008-January 2009), more than 50,000 Palestinians took shelter in UNRWA installations across the Gaza Strip as Israel’s bombs destroyed buildings and homes. “They believed in the sanctity and safety of UN properties,” he said of those Palestinians who took shelter in UNRWA’s facilities.
“As a result of military operations, the main office of UNRWA was directly struck and the main warehouse was burned to the ground after [Israeli military forces] fired white phosphorous” during Cast Lead, Gunness said.
Approximately 1,400 Palestinians were killed by Israel’s military during the three-week long military assault.
“Gaza, Gaza a graveyard!”
Meanwhile, Israelis are taking to social media to call for a yet higher body count in Gaza.
A Facebook page for the group LEAVA — “Preventing Assimilation in the Holy Land” — is dedicated to preventing romantic relationships between Palestinian men and Jewish women and has more than 37,000 followers. The page regularly posts pictures of its “activists” patrolling parts of Jerusalem and other cities.
On 11 June, a picture was posted on LEAVA’s page of a young man standing next to an Israeli flag at a protest and wearing a shirt with the group’s emblem. Written above the photo is the following: “Citizens of Ashdod are also standing with LEAVA. Waiting for Gaza to be turned into a big blaze!” It received more than 2,300 “likes” in just two days:
A post published later that the same day gives what it said were words for a protest chant: “Gaza, Gaza a graveyard! Very soon!” It received more than six hundred “likes.”
With more than 5,300 Facebook followers, a Jerusalem-based house moving company, though ostensibly non-political, posted the following “status” in poorly-written Hebrew on 7 July, the first day of Israel’s latest attack on Gaza:
One of our advantages: we don’t observe Ramadan!!! We look after our clients and we don’t abandon them […] we keep our word and go to every delivery. If you already closed a deal for a delivery with a company that employs our cousins [commonly used in Hebrew to refer to Arabs], it’s time to cancel and move to us. 0525530344. Why provide for those who kidnap our children? Have a good and peaceful day!
Many Israeli Facebook users have posted violent and disturbing content on their personal accounts. Talya Shilok Edry, who has more than one thousand followers, posted the following “status”: “What an orgasm to see the Israeli Defense Forces bomb buildings in Gaza with children and families at the same time. Boom boom.”
Edry’s Facebook timeline shows a pattern of calls for bloodshed against Palestinians. Writing about the murdered sixteen-year-old Muhammad Abu Khudair, who was kidnapped and burned alive by Israeli youth, she stated: “Sweet settlers, next time you kidnap an Arab boy, call me and let me torture him!! Why do you get to have all the fun?”
Edry deleted the statuses on Sunday after screenshots of them went viral on Twitter and Facebook.
Journalist David Sheen reported for Mondoweiss last week about the “terrifying tweets of pre-army Israeli teens.” After searching on Twitter using the Hebrew word for “Arabs,” Sheen found dozens upon dozens of Israeli youths “proclaiming their desire for all Arabs to die and in some cases be tortured to death.”
“Feels like Kristallnacht”
Another Israeli Facebook page, “Dismiss Abu Hussein from Netanya Academic College,” was created for the purpose of incitement against a Palestinian student at Netanya Academic College.
More than five hundred Israeli students have “liked” the page, which was created on 11 July after Palestinian student Tamer Abu Hussein arrived on campus wearing a t-shirt with the word “Palestine” and a kuffiyeh (traditional Palestinian scarf):
After a confrontation with a campus security guard, a post on the page claims that “many students panicked and fled for fear of a hostile act of terrorism.”
It adds that police detained and interrogated Abu Hussein, though there is no proof whatsoever that he did anything wrong. Ostensibly referring to Palestinians under bombardment in Gaza, the post added: “Abu Hussein and every other student who identifies with the enemy should be removed from the college.”
Netanya Academic College students also started a petition demanding Abu Hussein’s expulsion from the school, claiming without proof that he “glorifies terrorism.”
Muhammad Abu Toameh, a friend of Abu Hussein and a student at Tel Aviv University, said he and many others have also been harassed by rightwing Israeli groups on Facebook throughout the past week. A group of students posted photos of him and other friends on a Facebook page for students at Tel Aviv University which he said mocked the safety concerns of Arab students on campus.
“The madness and winds of racism in the air, along with the pogrom-like actions taking place in Jerusalem and other places, feels like Kristallnacht,” Abu Toameh told The Electronic Intifada.
This hate speech and incitement is not limited to fringe groups and individuals.
As Electronic Intifada contributor and award-winning author Max Blumenthal demonstrates in his recent book Goliath: Life and Loathing in Greater Israel, deep-seated racism is pervasive throughout Israeli institutions and society.
Writing for the +972 Magazine website, Israeli journalist Haggai Mattar reported that leftwing demonstrators were attacked on Saturday night by a mob of Israelis chanting “Death to Arabs!” in Tel Aviv. Mattar recalls:
By the end of the protest (and a little after it, when they chased us through the streets) one person who had a chair broken over his head was injured and evacuated to hospital, another got punched hard in the head, and one came out with a black eye, someone else had their expensive video camera stolen, and dozens of others hit, pushed, or eggs thrown at them. Some also said that the fascists attacked them with pepper spray.
Leading Israeli politicians and public figures play an integral role in spreading anti-Palestinian incitement.
Ali Abunimah reported on Friday that Moshe Feiglin, the deputy speaker of Israel’s parliament, the Knesset, called for Israel to cut off all electricity to the Gaza Strip. “The blood of a dialysis patient in Gaza is not redder than the blood of our IDF soldiers who will, God forbid, need to enter [Gaza],” he said last Wednesday during a speech in the Knesset.
And just one day before the kidnapping and murder of Muhammad Abu Khudair by Israeli youth, lawmaker Ayelet Shaked, a senior figure in the Habeyit Hayehudi (Jewish Home) political party, posted a Facebook “status” calling for genocide against “the entire Palestinian people.”
In a public letter written in Hebrew, an Israeli military commander declared a “holy war” on Palestinians, who he referred to as “the enemy who defames” God.
The racist calls for violence are not limited to “times of war,” either. As I reported for The Electronic Intifada last month, an Israeli Facebook page called for killing “a terrorist every hour” until three Israeli youths who were then missing were returned (the teens were found dead in the West Bank on 30 June).
Although the content of that page made it clear that the Facebook users consider all Palestinians as legitimate targets, Facebook has refused to remove the page, despite dozens and dozens of requests to do. Nearly 21,000 Facebook users “like” the page.
As the vast majority of the Facebook pages and posts mentioned in this article and others about pervasive Israeli racism on social media have not been removed, it appears Facebook has no problem with anti-Palestinian incitement, even though it poses no idle threat.
To read more about phenomenon of Israeli racism on social media, see The Electronic Intifada’s past coverage:
- Kill a Palestinian “every hour,” says new Israeli Facebook page
- Israeli soldier becomes overnight hero after pointing loaded gun at Palestinian youths
- Israel soldiers have depraved ‘fun’ making “Rachel Corrie pancakes”
- “Reprimanded” Israeli soldier still posting violent, racist material on Instagram
- Stoned, naked, armed and dangerous: more disturbing images from an Israeli soldier’s Instagram
- “Castrate them!” “Burn them!” “Bullet in the head!”: Facebook Israelis react to photo of Palestinian kids
- “Oops… one less Arab”: even more disturbing Instragram images from the Israeli army
With thanks to Hanan Darawsha for translation.