Mayor of the Occupation Clamps Down on Free Speech

Palestinians in East Jerusalem say Israeli police have been strictly monitoring social networks and hampering freedom of expression.

Last week the East Jerusalem photographer Ameer Abd Rabbo updated his status on Facebook after returning from an event in Beit Hanina, and attached photos. He described Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat, who took part in the event, as “the mayor of the occupation.”

That evening he received a phone call from the Jerusalem police and was summoned for questioning at the Russian Compound station. The investigator told him he was suspected of incitement. “You live in this city; why did you write occupation?” the investigator asked.

Abd Rabbo lives in Beit Hanina, one of Jerusalem’s occupied neighborhoods. For him, as for more than a quarter million Palestinian residents of the city, the mayor of Jerusalem is the mayor of the occupation. For them there is no other way to describe him, especially when their reality is based on life under occupation.

Alongside the heinous discrimination in services the municipality and the state give Jerusalem’s Palestinian residents, Israel denies many of them, on various pretexts, the right to live in their city. It expels them from their homes to the West Bank.

Settlers are gradually taking over Palestinian neighborhoods, many houses are demolished and many residents are evicted. East Jerusalem’s residents are discriminated against to such an extent that the city’s health care system, which suffers from a severe shortage of Arabic-speaking professionals, is unwilling to accept doctors who have completed their studies at Al-Quds Hospital in the eastern part of the city.

The questioning of Abd Rabbo is not an unusual event in Jerusalem. Palestinians there say the police have been more strictly monitoring social networks.

At a book party, the author Rania Hamam tried to launch her autobiography as a Palestinian woman in Jerusalem. A Border Police contingent with four vehicles broke up the event. A few months earlier, 10 of the city’s Palestinian residents were arrested on suspicion of incitement on social networks.

Jerusalem’s Palestinian residents are allowed to view Barkat as the mayor of the occupation, and they are allowed to write this on Facebook. Meanwhile, the police and security agencies in the city must not harass, intimidate, investigate or arrest them for doing so.

As long as Israel controls East Jerusalem, it must protect the rights of the Palestinians living under its sovereignty. This includes the freedom to define oneself and one’s condition.

Michal Fattal