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Israel's secret deportation plan faces biggest challenge yet

A petition on behalf of 119 human rights activists to Israel’s High Court of Justice is the most serious challenge yet to the Israeli government’s plan to deport tens of thousands of asylum seekers. 

The Israeli government’s plan to deport tens of thousands of African asylum seekers may face its most serious hurdle as the country’s High Court of Justice hears a challenge to the deportation plan, slated to begin in two weeks.

The deportation plan is based on an agreement between Israel and Rwanda, which Israel insists must remain secret and which Rwanda has denied even exists.

Supreme Court Justice Hanan Melcer asked the state attorney how asylum seekers can be sure they will receive what Israel is promising them — legal status and the ability to work — if the Rwandan government denies that any agreement exists. According to Eitay Mack, who along with Attorney Avigdor Feldman is representing 119 Israeli human rights activists petitioning the court for an injunction, the state representative was completely unprepared and unable to answer this question.

“If some of the refugees have problems in Rwanda, and theoretically they go to a Rwandan court, the court will say, ‘the Rwandan government denies that there is an agreement,’ so how could this agreement be enforceable?” the justice asked the state, according to Mack.

+972 Magazine went to Rwanda and Uganda last month to see how the asylum seekers that Israel deports fare upon their arrival. The deported asylum seekers are not given any status in Rwanda and most are pressured or pushed out of the country within days of their arrival — left with little cash and no travel documents.

In a hearing on Monday, the court recommended that the government freeze the deportations until that and other key questions are resolved. The justices declined to issue an injunction before hearing the state’s response, which is expected by Wednesday afternoon.

In court on Monday, according to Mack, the state was completely unprepared to answer any of the court’s questions. “The judge told the state, ‘you thought that we were going to get to the hearing today and that we were going to dismiss the petition without hearing it,’” Mack said in an interview on Tuesday. “The state didn’t have any plan B [in the event] that the court would want to see the agreement.”

The High Court approved a previous version agreement with Rwanda...

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Seeds of resistance: The woman fighting occupation with agriculture

Vivien Sansour, founder of the Palestine Heirloom Seed Library, talks to +972 Magazine about Palestinian agricultural heritage, the occupation in global context, and the movement to preserve local farming techniques and biodiversity.

“I speak about the occupation within a global context because it does not exist in isolation from global trends,” Vivien Sansour tells me. “Farmers who can produce their own food and make their own seeds represent a threat to any hegemonic power that wants to control a population. If we are autonomous, we really have a lot more space to revel, to create our own systems, to be more subversive.”

Vivien Sansour wears many hats. She is a writer, a photographer, a film producer, and the founder of the Palestine Heirloom Seed Library. Raised in Beit Jala, a town near Bethlehem in the occupied West Bank, Sansour has worked with farmers in Honduras, Uruguay, and Palestine on issues relating to agriculture and autonomy.

With the Palestine Heirloom Seed Library, her latest project, Sansour hopes not only to preserve Palestinian agriculture heritage — “the rituals, practices, methods, that we’ve used over centuries, that we’ve inherited from our ancestors,” she explains — but to revive varieties of seeds once native to Palestine, which are no longer widely grown.

Sansour and I spoke Wednesday about the occupation’s impact on Palestinian agricultural practices and the global movement to preserve local agricultural heritage and biodiversity. “I’m not inspired by great world leaders,” Sansour says. “I’m really inspired by farmers who keep planting, cultivating, and feeding the world. There are so many forces working against them, yet they continue to be generous in spirit.”

The following interview has been edited for length.

How did you get interested in the study of agriculture?

I grew in Beit Jala, which today is just a mound of very unattractive cement buildings, but which used to be full of terraces that were full of biodiversity and different natural habitats.

At some point in my adult life, I realized more and more old olive trees were being uprooted to build another building. I felt like I wanted to do something. What I do today probably sprouted from an instinct to survive: trying to participate in a global movement to save our agricultural heritage and biodiversity.

What is agricultural heritage?

It is the rituals, practices, methods that we have used over centuries, which we inherited from and our...

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'Hate speech against Palestinians posted every 71 seconds'

A new report published by 7amleh documents anti-Arab and anti-Palestinian content on Hebrew-language social media and highlights the disparities in the way Israeli authorities treat violent speech online. 

Hate speech, derogatory statements, and calls for violence against Palestinians are posted on Israeli social media every 71 seconds, according to a report published this week by 7amleh (pronounced Hamleh), the Arab Center for the Advancement of Social Media.

One out of nine social media posts about Palestinians in Hebrew contain calls to violence or curses, according to the 2017 “Index of racism and incitement in Israeli social networks against Arabs and Palestinians,” which 7amleh says was developed by monitoring violent and inciting rhetoric according to a list of 100 keywords of expressions, names, and personalities in Hebrew. Some 50,000 Israeli social media users published at least one post that contained “incitement” against Palestinians, according to the index.

Headquartered in Haifa, 7amleh provides social media training for Palestinian activists in Israel, Gaza and the West Bank and advocates for greater internet access and for the protection of Palestinian freedom of expression online.

The group’s use of the term “incitement,” which can be a crime in Israel, is intended to draw attention to the asymmetry in the way Israeli authorities treat violent speech on social media. Hundreds of Palestinians — in Israel and in the occupied territories — have been arrested and jailed for posts deemed incitement, while comparatively few Israeli Jews have faced similar charges.

Notable cases of Palestinians arrested and prosecuted for social media incitement include Dareen Tatour and Nariman Tamimi. Israeli police arrested 34-year-old Palestinian poet Dareen Tatour in October of 2015 for a poem and several statuses she posted on Facebook. Charged with incitement to violence and identifying with a terrorist organization, Tatour has thus far spent over two years in prison and under house arrest — and she has yet to be convicted of a crime.

Nariman Tamimi, mother of teenaged Ahed Tamimi, was charged with incitement in an Israeli military court for livestreaming the now-famous video of her daughter’s attempt to push two armed Israeli soldiers off of the porch of the family’s home. Nariman was denied bail and, like her daughter, will remain in prison until the end of her trial.

Palestinian political figures — both members of Knesset and Fatah and Hamas leaders — were most often the targets of violent social...

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Christian leaders shut down Holy Sepulchre church to protest Israeli policy

A bill to expropriate church property and a plan to charge the church 650 million NIS in back taxes prompt protest from Christian leaders.

Christian leaders announced that the Church of the Holy Sepulcher, one of the holiest sites in all of Christianity, will be closed indefinitely to protest a Knesset bill that will allow the government to seize church land, as well as a plan to tax church property.

In a statement released Sunday, the heads of the Greek Orthodox, Roman Catholic, and Armenian churches, the bodies responsible for governing the Holy Sepulcher and other Christian holy sites, denounced what they are calling “a systematic” and “offensive” campaign “against the Churches and Christian community in the Holy Land, in flagrant violation of the existing Status Quo.”

The Knesset bill will reportedly allow the government to expropriate property sold by the churches to private companies over the past decade. The government will compensate the private companies that purchased the land.

The story, however, is more complicated than the Church simply protesting Israeli policy. The bill was proposed following reports that the Greek Orthodox Patriarchate of Jerusalem had sold off several million dollars-worth of property in Caesarea, Jaffa, and Jerusalem to companies that remain anonymous because they are registered in tax shelters — including to the settler group Ateret Cohanim, which is attempting to Judaize Palestinian neighborhoods in East Jerusalem.

The Church owns the property it recently sold, but in most cases had leased it to the Israel Land Authority or the Jewish National Fund (JNF), typically for 99 years, which then sold it to individual owners. When news of the Church’s deals surfaced, apartment owners reportedly began to panic, fearing that when the leases to the JNF or Land Authority expire in 30 years they will lose their property, which will transferred to the new, anonymous owners who purchased the property from the Church.

Palestinians have protested the Church’s sale of its property — at prices that critics say are far below the actual value — to unnamed companies and, in particular, to Ateret Cohanim. Hundreds of Palestinian citizens of Israel demonstrated against the Greek Patriarch Theosopholis III in Nazareth in September, following the final announcement of the Church’s sale of property in East Jerusalem to the settler group. When Patriarch Theosopholis III visited the city of Bethlehem in the occupied West Bank for a Christmas ceremony...

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Ruling gives a drop of hope for asylum seekers facing deportation in Israel

An appeals tribunal recognizes an Eritrean man’s refugee status on the grounds that he fled the Eritrean army, rejecting a policy that has resulted in one of the lowest refugee recognition rates in the world. Attorney Elad Cahana, who worked on the case, speaks to +972 Magazine about its implications for the thousands of asylum seekers Israel is planning to deport.

A Justice Ministry appeals tribunal last week handed down what many are hoping will be a groundbreaking ruling for Eritrean asylum seekers in Israel. A judge ruled that desertion from the Eritrean army, which forms at least part of the basis of a great number of Eritrean nationals’ asylum applications, is a valid basis for refugee status. Up until now, the Interior Ministry has refused to recognize desertion as a basis for refugee status in asylum claims.

Under the ministry’s existing policy, Israel has rejected thousands of Eritrean asylum seekers’ requests for refugee status. According to the Migration Policy Institute, 91.4 percent of Eritreans are recognized as refugees in Europe. Israel, in comparison, has granted refugee status to just 11 Eritreans — including the man whose application was validated in court last week.

In Eritrea, ruled by dictator Isaias Afwerki, adult men face indefinite conscription and slavery-like conditions in the army. Fleeing indefinite military service is the basis for the high refugee recognition rates of Eritreans around the world.

So will this possibly precedent-setting ruling spell hope for the thousands of Eritreans in Israel with asylum claims pending, and perhaps even for the thousands whose claims have already been rejected? As Israel prepares to deport tens of thousands of African asylum seekers, these questions are more urgent than ever.

To find out, +972 Magazine spoke with Attorney Elad Cahana of Tel Aviv University’s Refugee Rights Clinic who, along with Atty. Anat Ben Dor, represented the Eritrean man at the center of last week’s case. Cahana, speaking by phone on Monday, stressed that while the decision is an important change, it is too early to say what the precise implications will be.

You had a case recently in which a Justice Ministry appeals tribunal ruled that, contrary to Interior Ministry policy up until now, desertion from the Eritrean army can be part of a valid asylum claim. What does that decision...

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'IDF killed five unarmed Palestinians in a single month'

The Israeli army shot and killed five unarmed Palestinians in January, all of whom were shot in the upper body, none of whom posed a danger to the soldiers.

The Israeli army shot and killed five unarmed Palestinians last month, all of whom were shot in the upper body during clashes and demonstrations in the West Bank and Gaza, according to Israeli anti-occupation organization B’Tselem. None of them posed a danger to the soldiers when they were killed, says the organization.

The first killing took place on January 3rd, when Israeli soldiers reportedly shot Mus’ab a-Sufi, 16, in the neck from a distance of 200 ft., during clashes between Israeli forces and Palestinian youth outside the village of Deir Nidham, northwest of Ramallah. N.S., who witnessed the killing, provided the following testimony:

The next day, during clashes following a-Sufi’s funeral, B’Tselem says soldiers shot Muhammad Awad, 19, in the head from a distance of 70 ft. He was diagnosed with a fractured cranium and metal shrapnel lodged in his head, and remains hospitalized.

On January 11, following the killing of Rabbi Raziel Shevach outside a West Bank outpost two days earlier, soldiers set up a checkpoint on the road near the village of Iraq Burin, close to Nablus. Clashes erupted and lasted until 5 p.m. At around 4:30 p.m., Palestinian youth reportedly began throwing rocks as two military jeeps drove from the village of Burin toward Iraq Burin. According to B’Tselem, the first jeep continued driving toward the village, while the second one stopped about 100 ft. away from the youths. Demonstrators say a soldier opened fire from inside the jeep, hitting Ali Qinu, 17, in the head and killing him. A.Q. described what happened:

That same day, during a demonstration near the fence between Israel and Gaza, soldiers reportedly shot Amir Abu Masa’ed in the armpit from a distance of 50 to 70 meters away, killing him. Four days later, soldiers shot and killed Ahmad Slim, 28, during clashes along the separation wall near Qalqiliya.

On January 30, Layth Abu Na’im, 16, was killed while reportedly hiding between pillars in a yard at the center of the village of al-Mughayir. Abu Na’im had been part of a group of Palestinians who were throwing stones at a nearby road. IDF soldiers chased them back into the village. A.M., a married father of six who owns a nearby store, saw the killing:

Physicians at the hospital in Ramallah pronounced Abu...

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Hagai El-Ad talks war crimes, forced displacement, and int'l pressure

B’Tselem’s executive director speaks to +972 Magazine about his organization’s decision to describe the demolition and displacement of Palestinian villages as ‘war crimes,’ and the role of international pressure in changing Israeli policy in the West Bank.

By Joshua Leifer and Michael Schaeffer Omer-Man

The international diplomatic and human rights community often couches its criticism of Israeli policies vis-à-vis the Palestinians in softened, diplomatic terms. For years the U.S. State Department called Israeli settlements “unhelpful.” EU diplomats described the planned forced displacement of entire Palestinian communities as “contrary to Israel’s obligations” under international law.

There are other words to describe these actions, however. According to the Rome Statute, the treaty that established the International Criminal Court (ICC), both Israel’s settlement enterprise and forcible transfer of Palestinian communities could easily fall under the definition of war crimes.

It was of particular note, therefore, that late last year Israeli human rights organization B’Tselem sent a letter to Israel’s prime minister, defense minister, justice minister, and top military officials about the planned forcible displacement of two Palestinian communities, Susya and Khan al-Amer, warning that “these actions would constitute a war crime committed at your instruction and under your responsibility, and for which you would bear personal liability.”

B’Tselem’s decision to start describing forcible displacement as a war crime is of particular significance considering that the ICC prosecutor is currently conducting a preliminary examination into Israel’s actions in the occupied territories, specifically including its settlements and forcible population transfer, among other alleged crimes.

Fast-forward to 2018, and the two villages named in B’Tselem’s letter, Susya and Khan al-Amer, are once again waging public campaigns to stave off their demolition and displacement. In the past pressure by European and American diplomats has succeeded in delaying demolitions in those villages. But with the Trump administration thus far showing zero willingness to criticize Israel, all that could change.

+972 spoke with B’Tselem Executive Director Hagai El-Ad earlier this week about the decision to describe Israel’s actions against Palestinian communities in the West Bank as war crimes, whether that should also be the case for settlements and the planned mass deportation of asylum seekers, and the most effective path for saving communities like Susya and Khan al Amer.

The following interview has been edited for length.

What prompted the change in language?

When we issued that statement [about moving to war...

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Asylum seekers sent to Rwanda warn: 'If you don’t want to die, stay in Israel'

Israeli officials often imply that African asylum seekers sent to Rwanda will receive legal status and the ability to build a life there. Testimonies collected in a new report paint an entirely different — and much grimmer — picture. 

“I saw 400 people [in the Mediterranean]. They drowned […] many children died, I remember. I don’t have the strength to talk about it.”

“[In the Sahara] people died and we buried them […] At night it returns to our head. It returns. I don’t want to remember. It wakes me up, what I saw, people dying, no food.”

“[In Uganda] they take all that we had…3,500 dollars…clothes, cellphone, they take everything…and we don’t know what to do.”

“You want to die? Then go back. If you don’t want to die, stay in Israel.”

These testimonies of Eritrean refugees who left Israel for Rwanda as part of an Israeli government program to rid the country of African asylum seekers appear in a report by researchers Lior Birger, Shahar Shoham, and Liat Bolzman, published on Thursday. Israeli and international activists have launched a broad campaign in recent weeks, aiming to highlight the fate that awaits asylum seekers who leave Israel. The report tells the stories of 19 Eritrean asylum seekers sent to Rwanda between 2014 and 2016.

All of the Eritrean refugees interviewed in the report were denied refugee status in Israel and labeled “infiltrators” by the Israeli government and the media. Nearly all of them received official refugee status after their arrival in Germany or the Netherlands. Despite having made it to relative safety, the refugees interviewed in the report warned asylum seekers still in Israel: “It is better in Israel in prison than dying on the way.”

Israeli officials often imply that asylum seekers who leave Israel will receive some sort of legal status or future in Rwanda. The testimonies of those who have been sent there paint an entirely different picture.

According to the refugees’ testimonies, in Rwanda, they had their travel documents, and in some cases their $3,500 travel grants, stolen from them. They were also denied legal status and the ability to work in Rwanda. They recalled being trafficked into Uganda, where they were imprisoned, threatened, and robbed again. From Uganda, they crossed into South Sudan, where they were incarcerated for lacking any forms of documentation. After South Sudan, they continued to Sudan, and then to Libya. Their fear of being forced to return to...

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Activists barricade JNF headquarters to protest eviction of Palestinian family

The JNF has been trying to evict the Sumarin familiy from their home in the East Jerusalem neighborhood of Silwan for decades. An international campaigned stopped the eviction in 2011. Now, the family is threatened again. 

Several dozen Israeli and international activists demonstrated outside the Jewish National Fund’s (JNF) Jerusalem offices Wednesday, protesting its role in the eviction of a Palestinian family from Silwan, a neighborhood of East Jerusalem.

The JNF, through a subsidiary called Himnuta, has been attempting to evict the Sumarin family for decades. In 1991, after the JNF received land and houses in Silwan from the Israeli government, it leased the land, including the Sumarin’s home, to Elad, a right-wing settler organization that runs the City of David archeological site in Silwan.

The JNF filed suit to evict the Sumarins in 2005, and in the fall of 2011 the Sumarin family received an eviction notice. A massive letter-writing campaign led by Israeli and international activists successfully delayed the eviction of the family.

Now, the Sumarin family is facing eviction again. The JNF, through Himnuta, has returned to court to evict the family. According to Peace Now, the next hearing is set for April 2018, and a verdict is expected in a few months.

The protest, organized by Jerusalem-based anti-occupation group Free Jerusalem, was planned to coincide with the Jewish holiday of Tu’Bishvat, customarily celebrated in Israel with the planting of trees. Activists dressed in tree costumes blocked the entrance to the JNF’s Jerusalem headquarters, holding signs that read: “JNF don’t uproot the Sumarin family,” and, “JNF your $$$ support the occupation.”

The roughly 30 protesters also included members of All That’s Left, an anti-occupation collective primarily composed of North American Jews in Israel, Peace Now and Meretz activists, Jerusalem City Council Member Laura Wharton, and former Deputy Mayor Yosef “Pepe” Alalu.

“We are here to demonstrate against the activities of the JNF, an organization that’s been in the service of the right and the settlements, collaborating with the settlers to uproot Palestinians from their homes,” said Shabtay Bendet, head of Peace Now’s settlement watch program.

Council Member Wharton said she joined the protest after hearing of the JNF’s attempt “to evict the family from their home and confiscate their property to serve the interests of ultranationalist extremists, who are a disgrace to our people and our country.” She added that she hoped the JNF would stop...

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Following protest, Interior Ministry refuses to accept asylum requests

Activists splashed red paint and left mannequin heads at the entrance to the Population and Immigration Authority’s office in Tel Aviv. The Interior Ministry decided to collectively punish the asylum seekers in response.

The Israeli Interior Ministry said it was refusing to process any asylum claims Sunday morning as a collective punishment of sorts in response to a protest action against the planned deportation of tens of thousands of Eritrean and Sudanese asylum seekers.

Unknown activists spilled red paint and left mannequin heads Saturday night at the entrance to the Tel Aviv office of the Population and Immigration Authority’s (PIBA), where Israeli authorities normally process asylum claims. The activists left notes that said, “Their blood is on your hands,” and “This won’t pass quietly for you, this is just the beginning.”

“After the government and the courts approved the policy, all that remained was to attack the clerk, to attack the messenger. It’s disgusting,” Daniel Solomon, legal advisor to Israel’s Population and Immigration Authority, said during a radio interview Sunday morning. “So, naturally, today they’re not accepting [asylum] requests today as a protest and as a way to show support [for the clerks].”

Israel has granted refugee status to only one Sudanese man and 10 Eritrean nationals, all under special circumstances. An estimated 27,000 Eritrean and 8,000 Sudanese asylum seekers live in Israel. In comparison to Israel’s extremely low refugee recognition rates, globally, between 80 and 90 percent of Eritrean and 70 percent of Sudanese asylum seekers are recognized as refugees, according to the Aid Organization for Refugees and Asylum Seekers in Israel (ASSAF).

Asked why Israel has reviewed only 7,000 out of the 15,000 asylum requests submitted by Eritrean and Sudanese asylum seekers, Solomon, the PIBA legal advisor, replied, “anyone in Israel who has submitted an [asylum] request to date will be reviewed and will not be asked to leave the country without their case being reviewed.”

The government announced in early January that Eritrean and Sudanese asylum seekers have three months to leave the country. Those who remain in Israel after the three months will face a stark choice: agree to be deported to Rwanda or Uganda, or indefinite imprisonment in Israel. Beginning in April, employers of asylum seekers will also be fined, and the $3,500 cash incentive being offered to asylum seekers to leave will be gradually reduced.

The Israeli government claims that a secret...

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Thousands of asylum seekers protest deportation outside Rwandan embassy

The demonstration, held by African asylum seekers, Israelis, and international activists, marks the opening of a new front in the struggle against the deportation. 

Approximately 2,000 asylum seekers demonstrated outside of the Rwandan embassy in Herzilya on Monday against the Israeli government’s plan to deport them. The demonstrators, joined by Israeli and international human rights activists, chanted “We are Eritrean, we are not Rwandan” and “refugees are not for sale.”

“Israel must check our asylum requests and provide us protection,” the organizers of the protest said. “We are demanding that the Rwandan embassy oppose any agreements with Israel.” The protest organizers also called on Israelis to join them in resisting the deportations.

The Israeli government approved the deportation of asylum seekers, most of them from Eritrea and Sudan, to third countries, including Rwanda and Uganda, in December of last year. According to the government’s plan, the asylum seekers will face a “choice”: deportation or indefinite imprisonment.

The government claims to have agreements with Rwanda and Uganda, under which Israel will pay those countries $5,000 for each refugee they take in from Israel. Israel will also pay $3,500 to each asylum seeker who agrees to leave, though beginning in April, that sum will gradually decrease to incentivize the asylum seekers to leave. As recently as early January, however, the governments of Rwanda and Uganda denied reaching a deal with Israel.

Attorney Asaf Weitzen, formerly of the Hotline for Refugees and Migrants, said earlier this month that public pressure on the Rwandan government could be key to fighting the deportations. “There’s a reason Rwanda is keeping this a secret, why they won’t talk about in public,” Weitzan said, adding that activist efforts should focus on protesting in front of Rwanda embassies around the world and flooding them with emails and faxes.

As my colleague Yael Marom writes, the agreements between Israel and Rwanda and Uganda are not new. For years, Israel has paid asylum seekers to leave to those two countries. And while the Israeli government insists that the asylum seekers who leave will not be in danger, the testimonies of hundreds of asylum seekers who left paint a very grim picture of what awaits them upon their departure: torture, rape, mass and arbitrary imprisonment, forced labor. They are often denied status and prohibited from working. When attorney Anat Ben Dor of Tel Aviv University’s Refugee Rights Clinic visited...

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Not just Ahed: Israel holding 300 Palestinian minors in prison

There are hundreds of Palestinians like Ahed Tamimi: denied bail and held in detention until the end of their trials. Over 400 more are imprisoned without ever being charged with a crime.

While the case of Ahed Tamimi has garnered international media attention, the Israeli military prison system’s treatment of Ahed and her mother is not unique. Israel Prison Service (IPS) statistics published by Israeli anti-occupation organization B’Tselem earlier in January reveal that Israel is holding over 300 Palestinian minors in prison. Over 180 of those minors are being held in detention until the end of legal proceedings, without having been convicted, like Tamimi.  

According to IPS data handed over to B’Tselem, as of the end of November 2017 there were 5,881 Palestinians imprisoned by Israel, of whom 1,775 were being detained until the conclusion of legal proceedings. Over 400 were administrative detainees, including three women and two minors (aged 16 and 18). Administrative detention is a measure Israel uses to detain Palestinians (and some Jews) indefinitely without charge or trial. It is meant to be adopted rarely and with moderation. In practice, however, Israel uses administrative detention as a first, not last, resort.

In total, 2,200 Palestinians were being held in Israeli jails without having been convicted of any crime.

The data shows a sharp increase in the number of imprisoned minors over the past three years. In December 2014, there were 181 Palestinian minors in Israeli jails. By December 2015, that number had jumped to 477. The total number of Palestinian administrative detainees peaked in April of 2016 at 692.

B’Tselem spokesperson Amit Gilutz condemned the systematic practice of denying bail to Palestinian defendants in Israeli military courts in a statement issued on Wednesday, following the rulings in Ahed and Nariman’s cases. “The routine decision, prior to sentencing, to imprison a person who has not been convicted until the end of legal proceedings in fact empties the legal process of substance,” he said.

The military court system, Gilutz continued, “is one of the most destructive apparatuses of the occupation whose goal is not to pursue justice or truth but to maintain Israeli control over the Palestinian people. So it is in the case of the Tamimi family, and in hundreds and thousands of other cases.”

Correction: An earlier version of this article left out the year during which there were 181 Palestinian minors in Israeli jails. It was 2014.

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Social media giants feel the heat at Palestinian digital conference

At the Palestine Digital Activism Forum, representatives from both Google and Facebook faced a crowd that demanded to know why the two companies cooperate with Israel’s attempts at silencing Palestinians.

Not long after the Arab Spring began, social media companies rushed to embrace the popular narrative that their platforms had the potential to change societies and reform institutions. If the revolts across the Middle East and North Africa were any indication, the revolutions of the 21st century would not be televised but livestreamed, tweeted, shared, and liked.

Facebook founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg wrote in a letter to potential investors the week the company went public—and almost exactly one year after Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak resigned—that “building tools to help people share can bring a more honest and transparent dialogue around government that could lead to more direct empowerment of people, more accountability for officials and better solutions to some of the biggest problems of our time.”

However, as social media companies grew in the years that followed, they shifted from bromides about social change to cooperating with governments, including authoritarian ones. What’s important now is the bottom line.

The shift in social media companies’ orientation to dissent was on full display in at the Palestine Digital Activism Forum on Wednesday, organized by 7amleh (pronounced Hamleh). Headquartered in Haifa, 7amleh, the Arab Center for Social Media Advancement, provides social media training for Palestinian activists in Israel, Gaza, and the West Bank, advocates for greater internet access and for the protection of Palestinian freedom of expression online, and runs campaigns of its own. Recent campaigns focused on restoring electricity to Gaza and opposing violence against the Palestinian LGBT community.

Several hundred people attended the forum, held at the Palestine Red Crescent Society in Ramallah–Al Bireh. The panelists included representatives from human rights groups, including Joshua Franco, a researcher at Amnesty International, Omar Shakir, director of Human Rights Watch – Palestine, Mahmoud Hassan, a lawyer at Addameer, and Dr. Issam Abdeen, Head of Regional and Local Advoacy at Al Haq, as well as representatives from Google and Facebook.

The representatives from Google and Facebook did not receive a warm welcome. The Q&A session following the panel on which they spoke, titled “Global Trends on Digital Rights: From International Perspectives to Palestinian Reality,” was contentious and tense. Attendees, sometimes angrily, demanded answers about Facebook’s cooperation with the Israeli government in taking down...

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