TRNN’s Shir Hever discusses the reasons for the rapid rise in Palestinian incarceration, including hundreds of children
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JAISAL NOOR: Welcome to The Real News Network. I’m Jaisal Noor in Baltimore. More than 50 years into the Israeli occupation of Palestine, Israel has arrested over 1200 Palestinians in June and July of this year alone, the highest rate in years. According to human rights groups like Amnesty International, Israeli forces also unlawfully killed Palestinian civilians including children in both Israel and the occupied territories and detained thousands of Palestinians who opposed Israel’s continuing and growing military occupation without trial. Shir Hever is a researcher for The Real New Network. Thank you so much for joining us to discuss this Shir. Can you tell us, can you go over these numbers with us over the past two years? Who is being arrested? We know the number includes hundreds of children, and is it true that most of these arrests are happening in East Jerusalem? SHIR HEVER: Right. So what we’re seeing now is a very rapid increase in the rate of arrests. In the month of June, the were almost 400 people being arrested. In the month of July, which is very alarming, 880 people were arrested. Among them, 144 children. Right now we have 6128 Palestinian political prisoners in Israeli jails. This is Palestinians from the occupied territory, not including Palestinians who are citizens of Israel and who people who are arrested for regular crimes. These are specifically those who are known by the Israeli authority as security prisoners, which means political prisoners. 450 of them are just administrative detainees. That means that they have not had any charges pressed against them. They didn’t, they don’t go to trial. They don’t get the very basic right to defend themselves. They just wait until the Israeli officials will decide to let them go. Now if we’re looking at that in a little bit of a broader perspective, if we just look about three years ago, there were about 4,000 Palestinian political prisoners, so the number has increased by about 50% in the last three years. Also when we’re talking about the administrative detainees, it was around 200 and now it’s 450, so that’s over 100% increase. I think this is really a change of policy on the Israeli side. You also asked about East Jerusalem. This is of course within the context of the mass protests around the al-Aqsa mosque in East Jerusalem and in the course of these protests, in an attempt to crush the protests, about half of the people arrested in July were arrested in East Jerusalem, so about 450. JAISAL NOOR: Talk to us about why Palestinians were protesting at the al-Aqsa mosque, which really helped as you said, set off this increased rate of arrests? SHIR HEVER: The al-Aqsa mosque is an area of constant provocation. There are extreme right wing groups, Israeli groups, trying to call for a demolition of the al-Aqsa mosque in order to build a third Jewish temple on its ruins. Most Israelis are opposed to that, but the current Israeli government is actually allowing this extremist group more and more access to the al-Aqsa mosque. That causes a lot of concern. There was actually an attack by three Palestinians from [inaudible] which is inside Israel. They killed three Israeli police in the occupied al-Aqsa compound. They were killed themselves. After that, the Israeli government imposed severe restrictions, put cameras as well as metal detectors. That was considered completely not legitimate and a violation of the status quo in that area. So a sort of show of force and a show of sovereignty by the Israeli government in an occupied territory and that caused a lot of international uproar and also a boycott by Palestinian Muslims who decided not to pray in the al-Aqsa mosque until those measures are removed. Instead they prayed around the mosque. Those protests were very attractive. In the end, the Israeli government was able to stave off the international pressure, but they were not able to get the believers themselves, the Palestinian believers themselves to give up their struggle until they removed both the metal detectors and the cameras. JAISAL NOOR: So Shin Bet has been boasting they’re using a new computer algorithm, which scans social media and identifies potential terrorists so they can be arrested before they’ve even committed a crime. Thought crime essentially. There are reports that between 400 and 800 Palestinians have already been arrested because this algorithm selected them. Talk about the impact of this on the lives of Palestinians and their social media activity. SHIR HEVER: Yeah. If it correlates, the information coming from the Israeli secret police, and the information coming from the Palestinian prisoner organizations like Addameer, we see that actually the majority of Palestinians who were arrested in the month of July were arrested based on this algorithm. They were preemptively arrested, and that’s something which is really unprecedented. It’s a way, it allows some kind of AI to pick people based on their behavior in social media and then the Israeli secret police arrest that person without a warrant. They don’t need one. They just say, we have reason to believe that that person may intend to commit a crime in the future. We don’t know exactly what is in this algorithm. It’s of course secret but it seems to be tracking things like people changing their profile picture or people using farewell words in their posts on Facebook for example. If they say goodbye to their friends, then the Israeli secret police believes that maybe they are saying goodbye because they’re about to commit suicide as part of a suicide attack. Actually there is a Palestinian poet. Her name is Doreen Kapoor. She’s currently on trial because she published a poem. In the poem, she was praising Palestinians resisting the occupation but the poem is actually not the reason that the Israeli secret police found her and decided to arrest her because they don’t really read Palestinian poetry. That’s not what interests them. Instead, after writing the poem, she concluded her post on Facebook by saying, “I am the next shahid.” Now the word shahid in Arabic literally means witness, but in a religious context it means a martyr, somebody who dies and in their death they perform some kind of testimony to the cruelty of the Israeli occupation and so on. A lot of Israelis understand the word shahid as a suicide bomber, somebody who dies and in the process of dying, commits an attack. Because she used that word and because the Israeli secret police and also the Israeli court and the Israeli police don’t have a very good understanding of the Arabic language and the Muslim culture, they arrested her and put her on trial based on her poem. You mentioned thought crime. I don’t think you can get more than that when you’re talking about thought crimes. JAISAL NOOR: Finally Shir, what role has the Palestinian Authority played in all of this? Because especially over the last two, two and a half decades of the Israeli occupation, the settlements have expanded greatly. It seems like the Palestinian Authority is unable to stop them, unable to stop the arrests, the arbitrary arrests and detention and killing of Palestinian civilians and those that are resisting the occupation. Where do they stand in this? They’ve said they’re going to stop security cooperation with Israel. What does this really mean for the Palestinian people. SHIR HEVER: The Palestinian Authority plays a very important role when it comes to the prison industry, the prison system of Palestinian political prisoners. We’re not talking about 6,000 Palestinian political prisoners in Israeli jails, 4,000 just three years ago, but if you go a little bit, way back to the years before the Palestinian authority was established, the years of the First Intifada, there were 11,000 Palestinian political prisoners in Israeli jails. What happened? What happened is that the Palestinian Authority started to build its own jails. The Israeli government would give the Palestinian Authority instructions and say, “We suspect these people of possibly being members of the Hamas party or possibly being, planning some kind of attack or some kind of protest, so why don’t you arrest them?” So the Palestinian authority actually collaborated with that and arrested thousands of Palestinians and kept them in Palestinian jails. Most recently there’s been a report published by Amnesty International but also by a lot of Palestinian human rights organizations say the Palestinian Authority is now in the habit of arresting Palestinian journalists who are criticizing the government. They’re using those prisons also to cement their own power. The Palestinian Authority started to chafe under the Israeli regulations, especially this summer with the al-Aqsa struggle and the protests and so on. President Mahmoud Abbas said they’re going to stop the security cooperation with Israel. This of course immediately leads to more arrests by the Israeli forces because they cannot count on the Palestinians to arrest people on their behalf. But just today, it was reported that a senior Israeli security official told Israeli journalist Shlomi Eldar from the El Monitor magazine, that this Palestinian Authority decided to resume security cooperation with Israel. That was a statement that was made by President Mahmoud Abbas to stop the cooperation, but he is now apparently quietly and under the table resuming this security cooperation because actually without it the Palestinian authority plays no important role for the Israeli government and then the Israeli government has no incentive to let it continue to exist. Now, I think there’s also an interesting aspect to this because of the US involvement because Tillerson, Secretary of State Tillerson is completely accepting the Israeli talking points about how the Palestinian authority is actually financing terrorism because they’re financially supporting the families of Palestinian prisoners. He’s putting a lot of pressure on the Palestinian Authority to stop doing that. In fact, there is now a bill that was approved by Senate, not voted on yet, but approved for a vote to revoke funding from the Palestinian authority unless it stops funding the families of prisoners. What I think … JAISAL NOOR: So finally Shir, what is … Talk about what the Palestinian civil society is demanding in response to this, especially from Americans that are largely subsidizing the Israeli occupation. We know there’s a bill being considered that would criminalize support for the boycott divestment sanction movement. What is Palestinian civil society calling for today? SHIR HEVER: The more the cooperation between the Palestinian Authority and the Israeli government becomes more apparent, the more the Palestinians turn to alternatives. I think most Palestinian civil society organizations and the vast majority of the Palestinian public on the ground are furious with both the Fatah Party and the Hamas Party. They don’t consider them to be their representatives. So they go for a kind of civil disobedience model and trying to promote various forms of protest, which require international solidarity. You mentioned the boycott divestment sanctions movement. This is what they are actually asking from the world. Almost all Palestinians support this movement and see it as a ray of hope that with international support, they could put more pressure on the Israeli government to respect their rights, to respect their dignity and to treat them as human beings. JAISAL NOOR: All right Shir Hever. Thank you so much for joining us on The Real News. SHIR HEVER: Thank you Jaisal. JAISAL NOOR: And to our viewers, thank you so much for joining us.