Iyab Shalabi has only been allowed to visit his father, Omar, in prison once since December, when he and eight other Palestinians from occupied East Jerusalem were arrested by Israel for posts they wrote on Facebook and other social media outlets.
“Several months went by before they actually gave me a permit to visit my dad,” Iyab, 22, told Al Jazeera. “My mother has been completely banned from visiting him till now.”
Earlier this month, Omar, 44, was sentenced to nine months in an Israeli prison for charges related to incitement and “supporting terror” against Israelis. He is the former secretary-general of Jerusalem’s branch of Fatah, the Palestinian political party that dominates the West Bank-based Palestinian Authority.
“It was very clear from the beginning that my father was targeted because he is still an influential activist and has a lot of support and respect in the community,” Iyab continued.
The courted cited several of Shalabi’s Facebook postings about Muhammad Abu Khudair, a 17-year-old Palestinian kidnapped and burned alive by Israeli settlers in Jerusalem last July, as well as “statuses” he wrote supporting Palestinian attacks against Israeli soldiers and civilians in the city.
Iyab rejects the assertion that his father’s Facebook postings posed any threat to Israel’s security. “They don’t have any real evidence that he presented any danger to anyone’s safety,” he argued. “Of course, this is oppression and discrimination. Everyone writes their opinion on Facebook.”
Explaining that conditions are difficult for Palestinians imprisoned by Israel, Iyab and his family are worried about his father’s well-being.
On May 19, just a week and a half after Shalabi was sentenced, an Israeli magistrate’s court in Jerusalem ruled that Sami Deis will spend eight months in jail. The court deemed a number of his Facebook postings as “incitement”.
A Facebook page Deis created and administered – titled “Death to Israel” – included a number of postings calling for violence against Israelis, including soldiers and Jewish settlers. The page had few followers and the violent postings rarely received “likes”, according to Israeli media reports.
Deis, a 27-year-old resident of the Shuafatneighbourhood in East Jerusalem, pled guilty as part of a plea bargain. Yet, the ruling judge handed down a harsh nine-month sentence. “The defendant calls for murder and killing, and praises those who would carry out such acts,” said Judge ShmuelHerbst in his ruling. “There is no doubt as to his intentions, and among his statements are none that can be interpreted in other ways.”
Tensions have soared in recent months in Jerusalem, home to more than 815,000 Jewish Israelis and upwards of 300,000 Palestinians. From the 5,820 Palestinians in lockup, at least 460 are residents of East Jerusalem, according to the Ramallah-based prisoner rights group Addameer.
Israeli police spokesperson Micky Rosenfeld defended the crackdown on Palestinian social media users, claiming that online anti-Israeli incitement has been on the steady rise in recent months. “We’ve seen a lot of incitement, not just on the street level but on the government level by the Palestinian Authority,” Rosenfeld told Al Jazeera.
“Unfortunately, as police, when we see that on social networks, and when we see all types of extremist comments and anti-Israeli calls for violence, we have to get involved.”

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