Ali Dar Ali was arrested for two posts he published on Facebook. But the prosecution and the judge are far more concerned with his large following than the content of the posts.
By Oren Ziv
Israeli forces arrested Ali Dar Ali, one of the most renowned Palestinian journalists in the West Bank, at his home near Ramallah last week, for incitement to violence. On Monday, an Israeli military court extended his remand until the end of legal proceedings.
Ali, who has been working for Palestinian television since 2007, is known for broadcasting live from demonstrations in the occupied territories, where he routinely documents clashes between young Palestinians and the army, as well as IDF raids on villages. Often times, he is the only journalist that covers these events as they unfold, and thus is able to document daily life under occupation from up close.
Ali often uses Facebook Live to broadcast the events. He has more than 245,000 followers on Facebook, a fact that would be mentioned repeatedly by both the military prosecution and the judge at Ofer Military Court.
Ali was arrested in his home village of Braham early last Wednesday. On Monday he was brought before Judge Shimon Leibo; Ali’s wife and father were present during the hearing, as were two Israeli women activist who regularly come to Israel’s military courts.
Most often, when Palestinians are arrested for materials published on social media networks, the prosecution will generally unveil a laundry list of dozens of posts culled from the defendant’s Facebook page. In Ali’s case, however, the prosecution chose to distinguish between posts that were published as part of his work as a journalist, and those in which he ostensibly expressed his opinion, thus constituting incitement to violence.
One of those two posts was published on Nakba Day this year, which fell on the same day as the opening of the U.S. Embassy in Jerusalem. That post included a photo of a Palestinian man with his face covered who is seen throwing a rock under a street sign that reads “We are at your service” in Arabic. Ali captioned the photo “We are at your service. Photo by the colleague Hudeifa Sarur.”
It appears that the prosecution decided to treat the caption as a form of incitement or a call for other Palestinians to join the protests. But from the photo it is clear that Ali simply quoted the sign — most likely in an attempt to draw the reader’s attention — rather than as a political declaration.
The second post in question was published in July 2017, during the protests in East Jerusalem against the metal detectors placed at the entrance to Al-Aqsa compound. According to the indictment, Ali posted a video of a song about Al-Aqsa to his Facebook page, which included the words “Take revenge, Arab, take revenge.” The indictment further stated that Ali wrote a caption under the video that read: “A song titled ‘Take Revenge.’”
The indictment, however, did not state that Ali wrote the song or had edited the video — only that he posted it. Although the prosecution accused him of incitement to violence, arguing that he constitutes a danger to public safety, the army never asked Facebook to remove the posts, both of which can still be found on Ali’s page. The charge sheet does not include a translation of the song in full.
During the hearing, Ali’s attorney, Ihab Al-Jalid, argued that even if the posts did contain incitement, it was negligible, and that not a single post published since the post on Nakba Day was included in the indictment. Thus, said Al-Jalid, Ali should be released and put on trial as a free man. Instead of extending his remand, the attorney suggested an alternative to detention, bail, or a signature bond. Furthermore, Al-Jalid stated that photos of young men throwing stones can be found on every Israeli news channel, yet it would be ludicrous to accuse them of incitement.
Meanwhile, it seems that the military prosecution is far more concerned with the fact that Ali is well known in the occupied territories and has a large following. According to the military prosecutor, Ali should be considered dangerous mainly due to his “character” and the “scope of his publishing, regardless of whether it is his own or he is only passing on a message.”
Judge Leibo, too, appeared disturbed by Ali’s popularity, going into detail about the number of Ali’s followers, the fact that he has 5,000 Facebook friends, and the hundreds of “likes” he receives for every post. According to Leibo, it was Ali’s exposure that tipped the scales in favor of keeping him in detention.
Ali has not once been arrested since he began working as a journalist since 2007. But that fact was not enough to convince the judge to release him. According to the Palestinian Prisoners Society, there are around 30 Palestinian journalists currently in Israeli prisons. As of this writing, neither the Union of Journalists in Israel nor international organizations have released a statement regarding Ali’s detention.
Oren Ziv is a blogger for Local Call, where this article was first published in Hebrew. Read it here.