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How messed up is Israel's gov. Check out the nation's press!

In Israel, it's now frequently illegal for Arabs to protest against the government's invasion of Gaza. That's right you can be arrested and thrown in the slammer for peacefully protesting against the war crimes you're government is committing.

Then your government continues to throw Palestinians out of their homes in the West Bank without proper due process.

This doesn't mean that Israelis are bad. It simply means their government has become rotten.

Israel's Democratic Decline Hasn't Stopped During the Gaza War. In Many Ways, It's Gotten Worse

More surveillance, more guns, less freedom of speech: Netanyahu's coalition halted its plan to weaken the judiciary after the October 7 attack, but the war is allowing it to reach many of its goals without it

Chen MaanitNoa ShpigelJosh BreinerJack KhouryJonathan LisBar PelegHagar ShezafShira Kadari-Ovadia, Haaretz Media

Jan 16, 2024 11:58 am IST

A year after the opening shot in the judicial coup, almost nothing remains of the plan pursued by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's coalition. Within just three days, the Supreme Court struck down the only two parts of it that were successfully passed by Netanyahu, Justice Minister Yariv Levin, and Knesset Constitution, Law, and Justice Committee Chairman Simcha Rothman.

With the two laws, the coalition managed to bar judges from declaring government decisions and effectively blocking the possibility of a prime minister being removed over inability to fulfill their duties. These accomplishments came at an unprecedented cost: a national schism, nine months of demonstrations, and a threat to the cohesion of the military. Many partly attribute Hamas' decision to launch the October 7 attack to the divisions in Israeli society that were fully revealed in the first nine months of the current coalition's term.

Although the war that began on Simchat Torah halted the coup officially, it has continued in many ways, and some of its goals have been realized. Many of the goals the cabinet set in its month of intoxicated power have been realized, even without actively weakening the judiciary or getting rid of the nonpartisan "gatekeepers of democracy," particularly Attorney General Gali Baharav-Miara. During the past three months of war, Israeli democracy has taken blow after blow without Levin having to do a thing – and without the judiciary and its protectors doing enough to rescue it. Unfortunately, this time, no one is protesting to defend it.

Guns for everyone

Ben-Gvir has flooded the streets with guns

National Security Minister Itamar Ben-Gvir was sidelined at the start of the war. His voice almost disappeared completely after October 7, and he has been blocked from making decisions related to the war. His most notable action involving the war with Hamas was voting against the deal to swap Israeli hostages for Palestinian prisoners. That doesn't mean he's been idle, however. As public attention has been drawn to border areas, he has pushed his flagship initiative: arming Israelis. About 30,000 weapons have been distributed to anyone classified as members of community security guards – not just in border communities but in cities in the center of the country, too.

While the security guards are supposed to undergo police screening, the process of approving civilian applications for guns has become much easier. Ben-Gvir's office is welcoming the surge in applications, so much so that his associates have established a "war room" to meet demand. These associates have approved thousands of applications with no authority or training.

How firearms became Israel's must-have fashion trend

Citing potential violence, Israel police nixes Jewish-Arab peace protest in Tel Aviv

UN report deplores 'rapid deterioration' of rights in West Bank

Hebron residents face restrictions like never before, unable to even leave their homes

Israel's insatiable Big Brother wants more

Ben-Gvir has meanwhile also asked for and obtained a public and cabinet debate on changing the regulations for opening fire, in part because of his comments that Israel was facing a repeat of the rioting in mixed Jewish and Arab cities in 2021. In the first days of the war, several cases were recorded of shootings that violated regulations – but in the shadow of the trauma of October 7, no one bothered to open an investigation. Many more cases of the new weapons policy being abused have been recorded since then, including a man suspected of sexual assault at gunpoint using a pistol whose license he obtained last month.

Like many other times in the past year, Netanyahu has stood by Ben-Gvir, expressing his support for the new gun policy. Even when the prime minister was forced to respond to the shooting of Yuval Doron Kestelman by a reservist, which was unrelated to the minister's policy change, he merely said, "That's life."

'Go protest in Gaza'

The Supreme Court hasn't stopped restrictions on the freedom to demonstrate

Demonstrators against the judicial overhaul warned during the nine months of protests that if the coalition's initiative succeeded, they would be the last demonstrations that could be held legally. The police tried to stop the demonstrations, often violently; when they failed to do so to Ben-Gvir's satisfaction, the Tel Aviv District commander was dismissed. However, the demonstrations ultimately continued and largely blocked most of the planned legislative measures.

On October 7, the demonstrations were halted, and the protest organizers switched to fulfilling the government's responsibility to help the victims and evacuees. Anti-war demonstrations began in their place but were on a much smaller scale – and the police had already shown how they act when they're determined to prevent citizens from exercising one of their basic democratic rights. Demonstrations against Netanyahu have been growing in recent weeks and have seen a mixed reaction by police.

Restrictions on the freedom to protest over the past three months mainly targeted the Arab community. Fear of a repeat of the events of the 2021 unrest passed no muster whatsoever, but there were many who wanted to express their criticism of Israel's response to Hamas' October 7 attack. Police Commissioner Kobi Shabtai sent a clear signal when he said, "Anyone who want to identify with Gaza is invited to take a bus there."

The police repeatedly prevented demonstrations in Arab towns, citing laws on incitement and disturbing the public order. In one case, four former lawmakers planning a demonstration in Nazareth were detained, including Higher Arab Monitoring Committee Chairman Mohammed Barakeh. In another case, five demonstrators were arrested in Haifa, while in another, 17 people were arrested at a demonstration outside the Tel Aviv District Police headquarters.

The demonstrators were disappointed by the Supreme Court when petitions against the ban on demonstrations in Sakhnin and Umm al-Fahm were denied unanimously by a mostly liberal panel.

The Facebook Brigade

The battle against online incitement has turned into a hunt for posts by Arabs

The silencing of the Arab community doesn't end with banning public demonstrations. The authorities also target freedom of speech by monitoring almost all comments on social media that could be perceived as incitement of terrorism. Under the policy on internet incitement announced by the Justice Ministry, more than 130 indictments have been filed since the start of the war – the vast majority against Arabs – for identifying with terrorist organizations and inciting terrorism. By comparison, 88 such indictments were filed between 2018 and 2022. The hardline policy has led to fears, especially in the Arab community, that a chilling effect has already begun, restricting freedom of speech for Arab citizens of Israel.

In an attempt to prevent expressions of support for Hamas or incitement to terrorism, State Prosecutor Amit Aisman has removed the requirement for prior approval from the State Attorney's Office to investigate suspected incitement. He has also ordered expedited proceedings against anyone suspected of posting comments in support of terrorism, even if it is a first or isolated comment. Meanwhile, the Knesset has expanded, by emergency order, the range of acts interpreted as expressing identification with a terrorist organization or incitement to terrorism to include "ongoing consumption of Hamas and ISIS content under circumstances indicating identification with the organization."

The silencing has also spread to academia, where top institutions that exhort freedom of speech have taken extreme measures against students who have praised Hamas or opposed the war. In many cases, universities and colleges have outflanked law enforcement authorities from the right, demonstrating an enthusiastic approach to disciplinary proceedings and assuming investigative, prosecutorial, and judicial powers.

In the first weeks of the war, several institutions went into overdrive: 30 of them opened 120 proceedings against students. Most of them were based on complaints by students reporting peers' comments without the most basic examination of the content or the context of the remarks. In some cases, the complaints in question have been totally unrelated to the massacres in Gaza border communities.

Official hackers

The Shin Bet got more access to more private information -- and is set to get more

Last month, the Knesset passed a law allowing the IDF and Shin Bet security service to hack computers that have footage from private security cameras, even without their owners' knowledge and without it being considered wiretapping. The law allows this to occur only in a case that might jeopardize "state security or the continuity of the operational functioning of the IDF with respect to military operations carried out as part of the war," when it's urgently necessary, and when it's impossible to obtain access "another way that infringes rights to a lesser degree." Once a month, the IDF chief of staff and Shin Bet director – or a representative – has to send a report to the Intelligence and Secret Services Subcommittee of the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee.

Soon after the new law was passed, the cabinet began pushing another bill to expand the powers of the Shin Bet, which would allow it to covertly search computers and cell phones, also without the owners' knowledge. Under the bill, the Shin Bet would – with the authorization of the prime minister and after obtaining an opinion from the attorney general – get access to the databases of authorities, including government ministries, the police, and the National Insurance Institute. The prime minister would also be able to authorize the Shin Bet to use spyware like the kind Israel sold to foreign governments in order to search computers and phones under minimal Knesset oversight and without judicial involvement.

Forced relocation

In the West Bank, more and more Palestinians are being forced to leave their homes

The desire to remove legal obstacles to the expansion of the settlements is considered a key reason for the far-right parties' unreserved support for the judicial overhaul plan. Beyond Netanyahu's personal needs, they perceive the judiciary, with the Supreme Court at its head, as an obstacle to tightening the settlers' grip on the West Bank until the annexation they seek. Weakening the judiciary and bending its power to the government and Knesset would serve their objective.

Even before the war, 2023 was seen as a banner year for the settlement enterprise, particularly because of the broad powers granted to Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich in his capacity as a minister at the Defense Ministry. According to data from the B'Tselem rights NGO, in the last three months of the year, 16 Palestinian communities in Area C – the 60 percent of the West Bank under full Israeli control – were forced to flee – four times the number in the preceding nine months.

These were long-standing communities, but the residents were forced to leave following growing threats from settlers, which have only grown since the start of the war. In some cases, Palestinians have described armed, uniformed soldiers being involved in these threats. Meanwhile, the government has called up and armed a large number of settlers into the IDF reserves to serve in regional defense battalions in the settlements.

The increasing violence, some of which is resulting in the dispossession of land, is being recorded by the UN. According to the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, last year saw the highest number of settlers attacking Palestinians since record-keeping began in 2006.

There were 1,225 incidents recorded in the West Bank and East Jerusalem, with 163 people wounded. Since October 7, the average number of violent incidents per week has risen 50 percent, from 21 to 32. The highest rate of incidents was recorded in the first week after the Hamas attack, after which it slowly declined somew

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