The Cyber Occupation of Palestine; Suppressing Digital Activism and Shrinking the Virtual Sphere
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Since the October 2015 uprising, the Israeli regime has intensified its prosecution of Palestinian digital users. Hundreds of Palestinians were arrested under the pretext of ‘incitement’ over social media platforms, particularly journalists, human rights defenders (HRDs), activists, artists and students. As alternative ‘public spheres’ for digital protests, social media platforms have had a significant impact on promoting human rights and exposing violations. The Israeli repressive policy against Palestinian digital rights has narrowed the online sphere censoring the right to express and speech; thus, shifting the role of these digital platforms from a tool to strengthen freedom of expression and rights to open arenas for prosecution and suppression. This policy brief argues that social media companies are complicit in facilitating the Israeli occupation violations of Palestinian digital rights through restricting their rights to freedom of expression, thought and privacy. It shows that Facebook has been censoring Palestinian content based on Israeli regulations since 2015. The policy brief outlines the major challenges pertaining to the protection of Palestinian digital rights in the context of the current repressive policies undertaken by the Israeli occupation and highlights the key repercussions and impact of neglecting abuses of Palestinian digital rights. It underlines the importance of digitalisation for the proper protection and promotion of human rights. Furthermore, it proposes a set of recommendations aimed at adopting a human rights-based approach to digitalisation and guaranteeing protection to safeguard Palestinians’ rights to freedom of expression and public participation in the virtual sphere. The policy paper suggests that social media companies must commit to their transnational human rights obligations and refrain from being complicit with violating Palestinian digital rights through ceasing their collaboration with the Israeli regime. On the contrary, they have a responsibility to ensure a safe and protected digital environment for Palestinian HRDs and activists over social media platforms.