Opinion |

Jews Are Alarmed, but Arabs Can Only Dream of Police Using Pegasus Against Them

חנין מג׳אדלי - צרובה
Hanin Majadli
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Israeli police removing a Palestinian woman from the street during the annual Flag March in Jerusalem.
Israeli police removing a Palestinian woman from the street during the annual Flag March in Jerusalem. Credit: Ohad Zwigenberg
חנין מג׳אדלי - צרובה
Hanin Majadli

Last Saturday, a male and a female political activist from Nazareth were summoned for questioning by the police. They were released by the officer in charge, who stipulated that they would have to remain at home for five days without contacting each other, as well as posting their own bail to the tune of 3,000 shekels ($956) and refraining from going on social media.

The pretext for this was that they had “conspired to commit a misdemeanor.” In fact, the reason was that they had organized a rally in solidarity with the incarcerated Palestinian Nasser Abu Hamid, who has cancer and is in a coma, with Israel refusing to release him, so he can get medical attention. The female activist was released after Adalah – the Legal Center for Arab Minority Rights, filed an appeal.

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Another activist from Jaffa said in a Facebook post how, after a demonstration at Jaffa’s Clock Tower, someone followed her and accosted her in a dark alleyway, calling her by name. At some point he handed her a summons to appear at a police station for “clarifications,” threatening that if she didn’t show up, there would be “other ways” of bringing her in. I assume he meant methods that were even less pleasant than ambushing a woman at night.

These two stories passed under the radar screen not just because these things routinely happen to Arab citizens but because they were subsumed under the more gripping news about the scandalous use of Pegasus spyware. It turns out that the police have been using Pegasus against Jewish citizens. Well, not only Jewish citizens, but them too. That is what ignited the bonfire, with the bemoaning of the “death of Israel’s civil society and democratic nature.”

The anxiety and alarm among the liberal left and center regarding the death of privacy and the restriction of the freedom of expression, mainly due to the possibility that this software was used to track members of the Black Flag protest movement, are justified.

But what can I do? They don’t evoke that much empathy from me or much sense of identification. Certainly not when I recall how last May, when many randomly chosen Arab citizens received threatening phone messages from the Shin Bet security service, accusing them of participating in the “riots” at the al-Aqsa mosque, in order to intimate them. No anxiety or alarm was noted by the same left-center liberals at the time. The irony doesn’t end there. It grows when it comes to the way the police treat demonstrators and protesting activists. If there is anything this issue reminds us of, it is the two kinds of attitudes and treatment existing in this country, based on racist, national and religious considerations. Jewish demonstrators get high-tech treatment, with the low-tech methods reserved for Arabs.

In order to trace and confront Jews, the police make sure they follow them through sophisticated technological methods, quietly and clandestinely, since, after all, it’s not nice, they’re Jewish. When it comes to Arab demonstrators, or even Arab citizens who write posts that are not to the police’s liking, they prefer using the tried-and-true methods they know from the days of the military government. These include raids in the middle of the night, threats against family members, administrative detention and threat to revoke citizenship.

Moreover, human and civil rights activists repeatedly point out that the methods used for monitoring and dominating people under military occupation in the territories will eventually be applied to the lives of Jewish citizens. That’s true, but opposition to such practices should not stem from concerns that such wrongdoing would be applied against Jews within Israel’s borders but should stem from the malfeasance itself. Yes, Palestinians are also human beings who don’t like their privacy invaded.

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