I have just filled out the form of appeal to the Facebook and Instagram Oversight Board, which describes itself as “Ensuring respect for free expression, through independent judgment.” The form provides space just for 2000 characters, so I was not able to present my case fully. And the fact that the drop-down menu that asks which countries are “mentioned or depicted in the content of your appeal” had no designation for either the Occupied Palestinian Territories (OPT) or Palestine does not bode well. I hope that this body is not simply there to help Facebook and Instagram evade regulation.
Following is the full text of my appeal, as I had prepared it, most of which I could not fit into the form:
September 2, 2022
From: Rima Najjar
Reference number: FB-YAZB742V
To: Oversight Board
As a writer who supports human rights and liberation for Palestinians, I am very familiar with how Facebook’s community standards operate to censor and suppress protest and political expression in ways that directly threaten Palestinian solidarity work. This is especially true when it comes to the topic of Palestinians who engage in armed resistance.
Although international law guarantees Palestinians the right to such resistance, Facebook’s criminalization of this resistance — which it does not extend, to take just one example, to Ukraine — justifies Israel’s violations of international law and its engagement in war crimes. Instead, Facebook promotes the idea that armed resistance in the face of crimes of apartheid, occupation, and settler colonialism are acts of terror. This foments anti-Palestinian racism.
During and after the latest Israeli violence in Gaza, Jenin and Nablus, when Israel executed several leaders of the Palestinian armed resistance extrajudicially and “pre-emptively,” a crime under international law, Facebook’s policy has been to take down all posts eulogizing the deaths of these men on the basis that the posts violate its community standard related to “dangerous and terrorist individuals and organizations.”
The apparent rationale for this is that Israel’s crimes against Palestinians are “legitimate” for “security” reasons, whereas Palestinian armed struggle for liberation from this violence is terrorism. Israel considers violent repression of Palestinians under occupation a legitimate tool to control Palestinians, yet defines both armed resistance and non-violent civil activity exercised by Palestinians as terrorism. Facebook’s policies toward Palestinian speech support Israel’s strategy of control.
Facebook’s policy has been applied systematically, according to 7amleh — Arab Center for Social Media Advancement, which received hundreds of reports, especially from Palestinian journalists and others communicating in Arabic (I post in Arabic and English). It is yet another unfair standard that Facebook exercises against Palestinians, myself included, who post anti-Zionist content. This standard falsely equates anti-Zionism with antisemitism.
In the aftermath of Israel’s latest attacks in Gaza and the West Bank, the posts Facebook has found in violation of its “community standards,” expressed outrage, grief, solidarity with the Palestinian cause and a recommitment to the Palestinian struggle. Many of our censored posts have portrayed the slain individuals as martyrs to that Palestinian cause. This viewpoint grows out of our understanding of the mendacity of the Zionist project, especially as revealed by Thomas Suarez in State of Terror: How Terrorism Created Modern Israel. Suarez is an independent scholar “who spent years mining the British National archives at Kew,” and who presented his findings to the British Parliament. His book emphasizes “the comprehensiveness of Zionist planning for appropriating Palestine without Palestinians.” The Zionist project is ongoing. It is meant to subjugate and ethnically cleanse Palestinians. In the face of this ethnic cleansing, to understand that those killed by the Israeli Army are martyrs is not terroristic. It is to take a stand for human freedom and an end to colonial violence.
The irony is that Facebook says it has these standards in place “to keep everyone safe.” Well, Palestinians under occupation and siege are not safe. Censoring our narratives, especially the narratives that empower us, that give us dignity and hope for the future and that affirm our existence in the face of oppression only adds to our oppression and the violation of our most basic rights.
In the face of horrific colonial violence, why can I not respond by amplifying, through the posting of a meme in a Group, of an action by Masar Badil — the Alternative Palestinian Revolutionary Path (Statement on the 125th anniversary of the first Zionist Congress in Basel)? And why is it that I cannot meditate publicly about the heroic but tragic young life of Ibrahim Nabulsi? That post was removed from my Page, One km to Palestine, which is now “at risk of being unpublished, and has reduced distribution and other restrictions, due to continued Community Standards violations.” Posts on that Page and on my profile have been “moved lower in feed for 86 days [starting Aug 29].” The Page has a record of hundreds of trolls I had to block, most of whom operate with fake accounts and are organized to attack and report on pro-Palestine speech. Moderators regularly act on malicious reports by trolls and it takes a long time and effort to convince the reviewers of the blatant unfairness of the decision. Only after involving 7amleh did I once get a concession as follows:
My memes and posts on the latest Palestinian martyrs have been removed, but I included the post on Ibrahim Nabulsi in a Medium blog titled ‘Palestinian armed struggle: the resistance that dare not speak its name.’ It’s also been published on Countercurrents. Meta stands out, in other words, for its violations of free speech.
Facebook also regularly slaps a restriction related to a post from months or years ago (there is no statute of limitations) for that post’s violation of an unspecified “community standard.” Such censorship leaves members of the Facebook “community” guessing and self-censoring in the present time on a wide range of issues for fear of being restricted again. Then Facebook goes on to find other such dated posts in order to label individuals as having “multiple violations” and in order to put them at risk of being blocked for a progressively lengthier period of time. These violations remain on one’s record for good.
As someone who has experienced and appealed such blocking, I have found the appeal process to be cursory at best. For example, on August 24, I received a notification stating that I am in violation for a post of two weeks earlier. I was found to be supporting “dangerous and terrorist individuals and organizations.” My punishment was a 24-hour block and I was given no process of appeal. When that block ended, I received another notification for a post from the same period with the same charge and I was restricted access to posting and commenting for three days. I appealed from a drop-down menu that included “Facebook misunderstood the context and intent of the post.” Shortly after that restriction was lifted, and as soon as I started posting again, I got a 7-day block for a violation, also from the same period of time and for the same issue. The previous “review” was closed without my being notified and my second request for review is not likely to fare any better. I am expecting now that as soon as this 7-day restriction passes, I will get a longer restriction for having “multiple violations” on my account [See images in the appendix]. This form of harassment chills free speech, and it does further violence to a people already under occupation.
The Palestinian struggle is not just to achieve rights within our stolen homeland: It’s fundamentally about liberation, return and self-determination in our homeland. It is also about the rights of diasporic — or exiled — Palestinians to be able to speak freely, and not to be criminalized or censored when we stand for liberation. In criminalizing Palestinians and allies for opposing a violent colonial regime through its “community standards,” and in associating Palestinians who stand for freedom with terrorism and antisemitism, Facebook actively supports Israel’s violations of international law and its flagrant abuses of power.
It’s not the place of Meta to aid Israel in its Zionist cause. Conversely, it doesn’t have to support the Palestinian people’s struggle and armed resistance to confront the Zionist threat to the Palestinian people or those standing in support of this struggle for liberation and armed resistance. As a platform that claims to protect freedom of speech, it simply must not suppress acts of free speech because they run counter to Meta’s or its supporters’ vested interests.
Caption: “Why Was your activity restricted?”
Note: First published on Medium.
Rima Najjar is a Palestinian whose father’s side of the family comes from the forcibly depopulated village of Lifta on the western outskirts of Jerusalem and whose mother’s side of the family is from Ijzim, south of Haifa. She is an activist, researcher and retired professor of English literature, Al-Quds University, occupied West Bank.