If you’re Palestinian in Israel, satire can land you in jail

Anas Abudaabes was arrested last week for publishing a satirical Facebook post criticizing Arabs who celebrated the wildfires raging across Israel. Three separate judges claimed he was inciting to violence.

By John Brown*

A Palestinian human rights activist is led to the Jerusalem District Court in handcuffs following his arrest Tuesday morning, January 20, 2016. (photo: Oren Ziv/Activestills.org)
Palestinian being led to court in handcuffs. (Illustrative photo: Oren Ziv/Activestills.org)

The Be’er Sheva District Court rejected an appeal on the detention of Bedouin journalist Anas Abudaabes on Sunday, after he was arrested last week over a Facebook post. The police, which claimed the post incited people to commit arson in the wake of the current wildfires blazing across Israel, decided to release Abudaabes from detention under restrictive bail conditions.

Despite the stated reasons for his arrest, Abudaabes’ Facebook posts actually criticize Arabs from surrounding countries who are praising the fires on social media. In one of his two posts he satirically suggests to burn more forests in order to win the respect of the celebrants. He also mocks Muslims who suddenly forgot that protecting nature is supposed to be part of their religion. The irony of the posts was lost on the police detectives.

Abudaabes’s attorney Eyal Avital explained to the court that the posts were satirical and were even criticized for their content — even going so far as to present to the court an article published on Local Call, which includes a translation of the statuses (originally published in Arabic). Yet the judges remained unmoved; the case was brought before them three times, and each time they upheld his detention.

Last Friday Judge Alon Gabison ruled that there is reasonable suspicion that the post includes incitement to harming state security, and that the author of the post should have thought about how others would interpret his words. The police explains that the status was written in very high language, and thus there are those who will not be able to understand it.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu brings along press photographers as he takes a helicopter ride to see the forest fires near Zichron Yaakov, northern Israel, November 23, 2016. (Emil Salman/POOL)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu brings along press photographers as he takes a helicopter ride to see the forest fires near Zichron Yaakov, northern Israel, November 23, 2016. (Emil Salman/POOL)

On Saturday Judge Orit Lifshitz ruled that “ostensibly an innocent reader who reads this post and did not read the other posts could come to the conclusion that it is a post intended to encourage the arsons.” Avital’s argued in response that even if what Lifshitz says is true, Abudaabes acted without any criminal intention. On Sunday Judge Amit Cohen approved the judges’ rulings, arguing that the posts were posed a danger to state security, and that the question of Abudaabes’ sarcasm will have to wait for the trial itself.

To Abudaabes luck, the police decided to release him, although it is not clear what went through the judges’ heads when they issued their Kafkaesque rulings. In order to establish that incitement did in fact take place, the author must first intend to incite others to act, and there must be some likelihood that others will indeed act.

Moreover, let’s assume that there is a chance the case turns into an indictment — what kind of danger does Abudaabes pose that he cannot be released ? This is especially alarming when we contrast his case to that of Y., an Israeli Jew who published the following status on Facebook that reads “Haifa and Jerusalem share the same fate as Umm al-Fahm burn them back sons of whores.” He was arrested and immediately released.

This strange case emphasizes, once again, how problematic it is that Israeli courts unequivocally adopt the security establishment’s positions, regardless of how absurd they are, and all the more so when the cases involve Arab citizens in times of tension.

Israel Police issued the following response:

In the last hours Israel Police wrapped up its investigation on the issue and handed the case files to be looked over and decided by the state attorney. Last Thursday the suspect published an unusual Facebook post that raised suspicions of incitement. The police arrested the author of the post and brought him in for questioning, during which his detention was extended by the court. With the end of the investigation, the case was transferred over to the state attorney, and the suspect is expected to be released under restrictive bail conditions. Israel Police will continue to act with determination against violence of all kinds, including incitement to violence on social media networks.

*John Brown is the pseudonym of an Israeli academic and a blogger. This article was first published in Hebrew on Local Call. Read it here.