As Rockets Rain on Gaza, Facebook Does Nothing to Stop Hate Speech Against Palestinians

Banner of Lehaselmehabel Facebook page.

Banner of Lehaselmehabel Facebook page.

Written by Dalia Othman. Ellery Roberts Biddle, Jillian C. York and Ivan Sigal contributed reporting to this post.

After three Israeli teenagers, who were later killed, were first reported missing, a page called, “Until our boys are returned – we will kill a terrorist every hour” appeared on Facebook. The page has been active for over three weeks, featuring multiple posts in Hebrew calling for violence against Palestinians and Arabs. Despite many formal abuse reports made by Facebook users, the page has not been taken down. Global Voices spoke with Facebook and they say they are reviewing the page.

The June kidnappings led to a revenge attack on 16-year-old Palestinian Mohammed Abu Khdeir, who was burned to death, and set off a massive Israeli military operation across the West Bank and Gaza, leading to the arrest of hundreds and deaths of dozens of Palestinians. The conflict has escalated further in recent days, with the massive “Operation Defensive Edge” declared against Gaza, which has killed 90 Palestinians so far, many of them women and children. From Gaza, Hamas, a group that has ruled the strip since 2007, has fired hundreds of missiles into Israel. As of July 9, Israeli officials reported that no Israelis had been killed as a result.

Conversations on social media have mirrored the rapidly rising tensions on the ground. The About section of the “Until our boys are returned – we will kill a terrorist every hour” Facebook page says:

We must use a strong hand to fight violent and life-threatening terror. The weakness shown by the Israeli Government, which released thousands of murderers has only increased their drive and led to the kidnapping of the teens. The only way to bring the teens back is to instill fear in our enemies and make them understand that they will suffer. We support executing a terrorist every hour until the teens are released.

Among some Israelis, the word “terrorist” is commonly used as a stand-in for “Palestinian”. For any person familiar with local terminology, it is difficult to see this as anything but a call to execute all Palestinians. One post on the page urges readers to “kill them while they are still in their mother’s [womb].” Violent language dominates the page and messages clearly target Arabs, specifically Palestinians. For those who do not read Hebrew, even a machine translation reveals the explosive nature of the page’s content.

blurred.Comment about death to arabs

This comment was reported to Facebook, but had not been removed as of July 9.

blurred.Comment calling for price tag

This comment was reported to Facebook, but had not been removed as of July 9.

The comment above was reported to Facebook and was deemed not a violation of the community standards. This comment both calls for “price tag” actions (defined as acts of terrorism by the US Department of State in 2013) and the transfer of Palestinians, a clear attack against a people and a call for violence.

Does the page violate Facebook’s Community Standards?

The first section of Facebook’s Community Standards reads:

Safety is Facebook's top priority. We remove content and may escalate to law enforcement when we perceive a genuine risk of physical harm, or a direct threat to public safety. You may not credibly threaten others, or organize acts of real-world violence.

A later section on hate speech is also relevant to the page:

Facebook does not permit hate speech….we do not permit individuals or groups to attack others based on their race, ethnicity, national origin, religion, sex, gender, sexual orientation, disability or medical condition.

Since the page first appeared, concerned citizens (among them multiple trusted sources and friends of Global Voices) have used Facebook’s process for reporting abuse to call the company's attention to the page and ask for its removal. Some have taken to Twitter, urging others to do the same. But more than three weeks since it went live, the page remains active on the site.

This page is not an anomaly. After news that the three kidnapped Israeli teenagers had been killed, similar pages have sprung up with explosive racist and violent language. These pages have also attracted mainstream media’s attention. Facebook users once again tried to report the pages calling for revenge against the Palestinian population. Nevertheless, Facebook responded with similar claims (see screenshot below) that the page is not a violation of their community standards.

Facebook response to abuse report , sent July 3 2014.

Facebook response to abuse report , sent July 3 2014.

The Third Intifada page
Back in 2011, there was a similar situation, in which a group of young Palestinians started a Facebook page calling for a third intifada or uprising that would build on the two historic intifadas that took place to end Israeli occupation in Palestinian territories.

Although the group's administrators set out to promote non-violent civic action in support of a free and independent Palestine, page members began posting messages that promoted violence and hatred towards Israel and Israeli people. CNN later reported that the page was taken down from the site after Facebook received a removal request from the Israeli government.

Online rights experts later suggested that the company could have suspended the accounts or pages of commenters promoting violence, rather than taking the page down altogether. In the social media ecosystem, these details matter – free expression is better preserved when harmful speech can be targeted at the level of the individual, rather than an entire page or platform. But it was understood that Facebook removed the page in an effort to extinguish violent and hateful language, and the potential real-life consequences that it could have triggered. It is troubling to see now that Facebook is not following the same standards when it comes to the recent pages.

Facebook's response
In an interview, Global Voices asked Monika Bickert, Facebook Head of Global Policy Management, to explain why this page isn’t a violation of community standards. She responded: “We clearly list the characteristics that we consider to be hate speech, and if it doesn’t come under one of those categories, we don’t consider it hate speech under our policies.”

Bickert spoke generally about their policies and not this specific case:

Facebook sets policies that can be implemented by a global, 24-hour staff of content reviewers. They seek to make decisions quickly and consistently[…] One of the toughest areas for Facebook is the area of hate speech. Here, Facebook is looking for characteristics that specifically target either an individual or a defined group [..] Because Pages change, unlike posts, they can be reviewed more than once. Decisions about individual pieces of content tend to be final, although can be reviewed for error.

Facebook should not serve as a platform for promoting violence against anyone
As defenders of free expression, we do not want Facebook to become a more controlled, more heavily censored platform. But we also cannot stand by and watch as this and other pages gain hundreds of followers by the day. It is not only hateful and discriminatory towards Palestinians and Arabs, it is a plain, unequivocal threat of violence towards human beings. With full recognition of the complex and delicate political context of this situation, we ask that Facebook reconsider this case and engage with us in a conversation about their decision-making process on this and other similar pages.

This story was updated at 17:10 GMT on July 11 to clarify that Mohamed Abu Khdeir was killed in a revenge attack.


  • MissCostello

    Facebook is filth personified. No honour, no ethics, no principles, no loyalty to those who use it.
    Screw it.

    • Jake Terpstra

      Hate? Reminds me of Truman’s comment, that republicans accuse him of giving them hell, but he doesn’t give them hell he just tells the truth and to them that seems like hell.

  • 1day1tweet

    We should boycott facebook…

  • GreenEagle

    You are outraged by some facebook posts. You mention nothing about the 13,000 rockets which have been launched from Gaza into Israel, nor the fact that the Hamas charter calls for the extermination of Jews worldwide. You ignore the systematic teaching of Palestinian children to hate Jews, nor the endless hate propaganda produced in Gaza to justify their violence.

    Only the Jews are cast as criminals and monsters for building a wall or some houses, or because a few of them posted some horrible facebook messages. Meanwhile, their neighbors in the Middle East engage in mass ethnic slaughter in numerous countries at once, and you don’t care at all. This is clear evidence of antisemitism, although you are as likely to look at yourselves and see it, as Ted Cruz or Sarah Palin are to admit they are racists.

    • peaceseeker67

      GreenEagle – Let’s get real here.
      “According to B’Tselem’s initial figures, 114 Palestinians have been
      killed in the Gaza Strip in the time between early Tuesday, 8 July 2014,
      when Operation Protective Edge airstrikes on Gaza began until 12 July
      at noon. The fatalities include: 26 minors, 13 women (under age 60), 5
      senior citizens, Initial findings indicate that 27 of the people killed
      were involved in combat.”
      I seriously doubt you will even look at any of the links I have provided – as you seem to have already made up your mind about who is “right” and who is “in the wrong” but I thought I would post this information for those whose minds are still open.

      • GreenEagle

        The third one of your links is not about an Israeli at all but about an American living in Israel. This is a fact not very well known, but a very large part of the settlers and hyper-orthodox Jews in Israel are actually from the United States, and seem to have taken a good deal of the belligerence around religion with them.

        Now, as for the others, if you would have had 13,000 rockets shot at you, you too might be pretty happy that someone was finally fighting back.

        • peaceseeker67

          I respected your first comments regarding the settlers.
          You are indeed correct that most settlers are either American Jews or Jews from other countries – Russia etc.
          A few links about the settlement issue

          I do love the groups B’tselem and Rabbis for Human Rights. Visited with these lovely folks when I was in Israel and the West Bank. Along with a wonderful Jewish man who lost his 11 year old daughter in a suicide bombing of a bus Rami Elhanan and a Palestinian man Ghazi Briegeith – whose brother was killed by the IDF. “If Ghazi and I can talk and stand together after paying the highest price possible, then anyone can.”
          The human side of this equation. Thank God for such Wonderfully Loving Forgiving people on this earth.

          • peaceseeker67

            Ghazi’s words “My own brother was killed in 2000 at the beginning of the Intifada.
            I’d been with him just minutes before he died. As I was walking home I
            heard a shot. I found out later he’d been stopped and searched at the
            checkpoint. When he protested, the soldier shouted, “Shut your mouth, or
            I’ll shoot you, you son of a bitch,” to which my brother replied: “YOU
            son of a bitch!” So the soldier shot him. It was a machine gun in a
            kid’s hand. Sometimes the power makes them mad.

            At first I was completely out of my mind – crazy with grief. There
            should be no forgiveness for the killers of innocents, and yet even then
            I saw the soldier as a victim of the occupation just as my brother was,
            just as I am still. But forgiveness is a very personal thing. Even if I
            choose to forgive the person who killed my brother, I can’t force my
            brother’s kids to forgive. But I can show them that far more valuable
            than a violent response, is opening your heart to reconciliation and
            peace. I can show them that opening a new page is their only hope of
            living a better life than ours.”

            Rami’s words ”

            I was on my way to the airport when my wife called and told me Smadar
            was missing. When something like this happens a cold hand grabs your
            heart. You rush between friends’ houses and hospitals, then eventually
            you find yourself in the morgue and you see a sight you’ll never forget
            for the rest of your life. From that moment you are a new person.
            Everything is different.

            At first I was tormented with anger and grief; I wanted revenge, to
            get even. But we are people – not animals! I asked myself, “Will killing
            someone else release my pain?” Of course not. It was clear to my wife
            and I that the blame rests with the occupation. The suicide bomber was a
            victim just like my daughter, grown crazy out of anger and shame.”

    • MissCostello

      “13.000 rockets”
      Over what period and named source? Please provide links to corroborate your claim. The following link should prove helpful.

      • GreenEagle

        Miss Costello, I am not your personal Wikipedia. You know damned well what 13,000 rockets I am talking about, 800 or so having been fired in the last week or so. The problem is that you have swallowed the Muslim propaganda hook line and sinker, and refuse to accept the difference between colonial oppression and a people returning to their homeland. It is not colonialism when you started out there, and were kept out for a millenium by the ancestors of the people who are now in a murderous rage because you’ve come back.

        • peaceseeker67

          GreenEagle – if you cannot produce your source for your claim then it is most likely not FACT.
          To attack someone who has simply asked a question. Asked you to provide proof – proves your comment is not valid.

  • Stuart Reed

    I agree with the premise of this article but I do not understand why it only refers to hate speech on Facebook directed towards Palestinians. Lucky for us that people cannot use weapons on Facebook, with so many people around the world wishing death and bloodshed on people on both sides. Its not limited to this dispute, but wishing death and misfortune turns up just about anytime and anywhere people express their opinions. You may be interested in finding an intelligent discussion somewhere, but people just want to debate and insult one another, calling each other ignorant, dishonest and dangerous, as if demeaning someone has any value in proving your own point. It seems like people just like to feel offended, vent about it, and offend other people. Hate is a disease that has sickened too many people’s minds, and its passed along like a virus. The problems between the Israelis and the Palestinians will continue until they’re able to stop hateful, violent incitement and Hamas’ cult of death worship. Its about time for the Palestinians and Israelis to accept the fact that they are neighbors, that hate begets hate, that their children suffer from their hate, and that the only way forward is to cure themselves of their hate. Nations around the world have ended long standing hateful wars and stopped fighting. There’s nothing inherent in the people, land or history that makes them violent or hateful – it’s their ideologies, disguised as nationalism or religions. If you love God, you’ve got to love God’s creations. God created your enemies just as you were created. If someone thinks that they know better than God to say that a person should not have been created, and that the person should suffer and die, then I don’t think that person can truly love God, rather quite the opposite. Hateful ideologies are the peoples’ main enemy. I’m glad this article raised this important topic, but if its only going to focus on one group’s hate speech it gives the wrong impression and impact, and seems to be slanted journalism.

  • peaceseeker67

    I wonder – has the tipping point been reached?
    Have Palestinians and other Arab peoples finally had enough?
    Like the Jews in the Warsaw Ghetto of Poland – have the Palestinians in Gaza and the West Bank decided that death in fighting for your existence is preferable to a “life” of uncertainty, starvation, domination and probable death?
    Has Hamas managed to enlist the support of the majority of Gaza Palestinians?
    Have Hamas and Hezbollah come together as ZOB and ZZW did in Warsaw?
    While the Jews of Warsaw did not “WIN” – I often look at their struggle as the beginning of the end for the plan to “liquidate” the Jews of Europe.
    We are often told that “History repeats itself”. But must it repeat itself mainly with the horrors of the past? Can we not repeat the goodness of the past instead?

  • peaceseeker67

    This morning – while doing my daily Bible reading – I was drawn to the book of Matthew – chapter 7.
    God is indeed amazing! And still speaking.
    I thought I share this chapter with everyone here so I have posted a link on my favorite online Bible source.

    “22 Many will say to me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name and in your name drive out demons and in your name perform many miracles?’ 23 Then I will tell them plainly, ‘I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!’”

  • peaceseeker67

    A great video by Jewish Voices for Peace.

  • […] Among some Israelis, the word “terrorist” is commonly used as a stand-in for “Palestinian.” For any person familiar with local (i.e., is Israeli) terminology, it is difficult to see this group as anything but a call to execute Palestinians. One post on the page urges readers to “kill them while they are still in their mother’s [womb].” Violent language dominates the page and messages clearly target Arabs, specifically Palestinians. For those who do not read Hebrew, even a machine translation reveals the explosive nature of the page’s content. More examples of this hate speech, including racist tweets and disturbing selfies, can be found here. Global Voices protested to Facebook about the Israeli page and got this response: […]

  • Lin Alb

    The islam terrorists use is the same islam in the islam books in the quran
    There is only one islam
    all muslims practice, the everyday muslim , the next door muslim
    and teach children such

  • […] على الأرض، يشن بعض مستخدمي الإنترنت حملات تحريضية. ففي تقرير لاذع نشرته داليا عثمان على الأصوات العالمية، الشريك في […]

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