NY Times: Facebook “Inspires Rise in Violence” in Palestine

Totally unproven, very dangerous but common idea. Hillary Clinton believed the Internet could inspire “regime change” and the U.S. State Department spent millions supporting dissidents in Egypt, Iran and China. Angela Merkel has personally demanded Facebook heavily censor anti-immigrant comments in Germany. Now the New York Times reports “Israeli and Palestinian security services had arrested hundreds of online instigators in recent months,” but “it had done little good because ‘ideas are becoming immortal — you can take down pages but it will multiply itself.'” http://bit.ly/NoFaceb 

It’s too easy to blame the Internet and the above is probably overstated. There were few Internet connections in Palestine during the First and Second Intifadas but thousands chose to risk their life. It’s certainly true the Internet makes everything easier, from arranging a bowling date to fomenting a revolution. Lenin needed couriers at great risk to smuggle his papers into pre revolutionary Russia. 

There are no easy answers here.

Personally, I’m close to a free speech absolutist. I also recognize that a strong majority in most countries believe in censorship to maintain an harmonious society. Many Israelis believe blasphemy should be censored although I hope they are not a majority. The U.S. is demanding prison terms for advertising counterfeit handbags.

Certainly, shutting down the Internet is not going to bring peace between Arabs and Israelis. Putting hundreds in jail for speech rather than actions doesn’t seem to be working either. The Times figure of “hundreds” arrested in more than any other Internet censorship I know. (I suspect the total in China is higher but I have no good source.)

Everyone knows that censorship can follow a slippery slope. For example, I could say “millions are cheering the martyrs who fought the Israelis,” a true statement. Please don’t misread me; I am not saying they are right.  I could go further and say, “How else could Palestinians respond to Israelis tearing off a woman’s clothes and shooting her?” Again, a plausible statement that I don’t agree with. “It is time for every brave Palestinian to fight for human rights and dignity!” I do agree with that, although I don’t believe the fight should use violence. 

If “hundreds” have been arrested, I’m sure many of them made statements no more threatening than the above. They need not be an incitement to violence. That’s a strong argument against censorship; there is no easy way to draw the line. In Germany, I believe circulating a copy of Mein Kampf is illegal. My grandfather Abraham, an orthodox rabbi, had a copy on his bookshelf. As a little boy, I asked him why. He replied, “We have to understand.” That’s my inclination as well.

I’m not objective here. I’m Jewish. My uncle Sammy Burstein was one of the first pilots in the Israeli Army in 1948. My father Joel, then 17, worked to smuggle guns on the Brooklyn docks. I’ve long been an advocate of Israelis doing whatever it takes to find an honorable peace. That’s easy to say from 6,000 miles away in New York. The reality in Jerusalem is far worse than most people know. Recently, as I tried to walk to the Church of the Holy Sepulchre to show it to Jennie, I had an assault rifle pointed at me by a very young Israeli soldier. He was using it to point the crowd in the direction he wanted us to go and I’m sure did not intend to shoot. (Jennie and I were walking through the Old City as Friday services let out. I had no idea what we would see. It was an angry crowd of many thousands, directed by soldiers every few meters. That war is ongoing was obvious and frightening.)

I have no special wisdom on what it will take to bring peace. As a technologist, I do know this: Every decade, small, inexpensive weapons are becoming more powerful. I have friends who today could probably create something horrifying in a good high school laboratory. There will be many more with that skill in coming years.

For the record: The Times reported the Israeli authorities claimed the woman being stripped had just stabbed someone and the crowd was looking for weapons. Here, even a true report showing the pictures could be called incitement. 


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Palestinian Attacks Leave 3 Israelis Dead as Violence Escalates

CreditSebastian Scheiner/Associated Press


JERUSALEM — The morning of the attack, Subhe Abu Khalifa did not get up for work, telling his mother he was too tired and his feet hurt. He had spent the night watching and rewatching footage of a Palestinian woman, who the Israeli police say stabbed a Jewish man in the back in Jerusalem’s Old City, being harassed and shot.

Instead of going to his job as an apprentice electrician, Mr. Khalifa, 19, sharpened a knife he bought the day before, according to an account friends later gave his brother, then plunged it into an Israeli near Police Headquarters. With that, he joined a cadre of youngPalestinians who, spurred on by social media, have independently decided to attack Israelis, killing seven and wounding scores in two dozen episodes since Oct. 1, authorities said.

“What we see now is like an octopus with many hands but no brain,” said Orit Perlov, an expert on Arab social media at the Institute for National Security Studies in Tel Aviv. “You don’t need something sophisticated. We’re talking about 15-year-old boys. You just write the word ‘it’an,’ stab in Arabic, and then whoever has a knife in his house and wants to go, that’s it.”

The current violent uprising has a very different character than the second Palestinian intifada, whose suicide bombings were orchestrated by well-organized armed groups. It consists of spontaneous outbursts by individual young people unaffiliated with any formal political movement. Their weapons are mainly small knives, but also screwdrivers and even a potato peeler. And their inspiration seems to come from their ubiquitous smartphones, which provide an endless stream of videos like the one Mr. Khalifa viewed over and over before he struck.

,,, the Facebook scroll of so-called martyrs.

Ms. Perlov, the Arab social media expert, said Israeli and Palestinian security services had arrested hundreds of online instigators in recent months, but that it had done little good because “ideas are becoming immortal — you can take down pages but it will multiply itself.”

The next morning, before sharpening his knife and hunting for an Israeli, Mohammed added, Subhe “put on Facebook that he’s planning on following the footsteps of all the martyrs.”

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