Omar Shalabi, leader of the Fatah political party in East Jerusalem, was sentenced to nine months in prison Tuesday after being convicted of incitement and support of a terrorist organisation through his Facebook postings. This is the first time that a person has been sentenced to jail for social media posts under Israeli law.
Shalabi, age 44 and the father of six children, was arrested in December and charged over ten postings on his Facebook page, which at the time had some 5,000 friends.
Judge Eitan Kornhauser ruled that Shalabi published “harsh and serious incitement, including praise for despicable murders, and words of encouragement for committing similar acts all within a period of several months.” He further determined that the nature of the writings and the inclusion of photos immediately following attacks against Israeli soldiers and civilians “testify to the seriousness of the incitement”.
Kornhauser emphasised the “sensitive security situation” in which the postings were made, and accepted Israel’s contentions concerning the extensive dissemination possibilities via social media “There exists the necessity of determining clear and sharp borders of punishment which will provide a warning light for those using a keyboard,” Kornhauser noted.
Shalabi’s lawyer, Tareq Bargouthi, contended that he should not be given prison time as this is a new topic “for which exists the obligation to warn Facebook users before it is determined that they are not within the framework of freedom of expression”.
Speaking to the Israeli news portal Ynet, Barghouti notes that this is a case of selective enforcement by Israeli law officials. “There are numerous Jewish people who upload posts that include real incitement and calls for violence and terror and they are not put on trial and are not even called for interrogation”, he stated. “The punishment is exaggerated as this is the first time a person is put in jail for Facebook postings, such that a policy of gradual punishment should have been adopted.”