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Israel: Document reveals criminalisation of word ‘martyr’ on social media

Policy guidance issued by the attorney general’s office says quoting Quran verses could amount to incitement if used in context of 'terrorism'
A demonstrator raises a placard that reads 'down with the fascist occupation government' during a protest in the village of Yafia, west of Nazareth, on 9 June 2023 (AFP)
A demonstrator raises a placard that reads 'down with the fascist occupation government' during a protest in the village of Yafia, west of Nazareth, 9 June 2023 (AFP)

A document prepared by Israel’s Attorney General’s office reportedly reveals plans to criminalise social media posts containing the Arabic word for martyr "shaheed", as well as Quran verses used in particular contexts, Israeli news site Ynet reported on Tuesday. 
The disclosure of the document came during secret deliberations of the Constitution, Law and Justice Committee in the Knesset, the Israeli parliament. 

According to Ynet, Simcha Rothman, the committee’s chairman, accused public prosecutors of being “lenient” in pursuing those who shared “inciting” social media posts after the war on Gaza started. 

Rothman made references to posts that included religious prayers, invocations to God and the use of the word shaheed. 

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In response, Deputy State Attorney Alon Altman revealed there was already a policy in place to deal with such posts but prosecution depended on the context, a reference to the document, which contains guidance on prosecuting those accused of incitement.

According to the document, using the word martyr to refer to someone killed by Israeli forces while “carrying out a terrorist attack” can be viewed as “ support or praise for the terrorist act”.

The policy also states that investigation can be initiated against users who post supplications to God linked to persons or events deemed connected to a “terrorist act”. 

In unclear cases, investigations can be opened based on “reasonable suspicion”. 

However, Altman said that the religious text is not criminalised in and of itself, according to Ynet. 

Campaign of repression

Since the Israeli war on Gaza began in October, Palestinian citizens of Israel say they have faced repressive measures implemented by authorities, including arrests for social media posts, bans on peaceful anti-war protests, and dismissals from jobs and universities over their views on the conflict. 

According to rights group Adalah, which advocates for Palestinian rights in Israel, hundreds of people have been arrested in relation to their social media posts since the start of the war. 

Israel-Palestine war: Israeli forces arrest Palestinian singer Dalal Abu Amneh
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Popular Palestinian folk singer Dalal Abu Amneh was arrested in mid-October following two social media posts that included links to charities working in Gaza and captions that read: “Lord, grant me relief and mercy” and “There’s no victor except God".

She was later released. 

Palestinian citizens of Israel are the descendants of Palestine's native population, who remained within territory controlled by the nascent Israeli state in 1948. The majority of the Palestinian population was violently displaced by Zionist militias during the creation of Israel in 1948. 

Today, there are more than two million Palestinian citizens of Israel, which equates to nearly 20 percent of the country's total population. 

For decades, they have suffered under discriminatory laws and practices imposed by the Israeli state, and have long complained they face inequality. 

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