Israel Security Agency uses Facebook to reach out to young Palestinians – report

Israeli West Bank barrier

AN ARTICLE PUBLISHED LAST month in one of Israel’s leading newspapers, Haaretz, shed light on how the Israel Security Agency (ISA) is using Facebook to combat militant groups in the Palestinian occupied territories, namely the West Bank and the Gaza Strip. According to the article’s author, Amira Hess, the ISA operates about 35 Arabic-language profile pages on Facebook, which are accessible in the various Palestinian areas under Israeli occupation.

ISA case officers (agent handlers) with Arabic monikers are in charge of various regions. For example, the officer in charge of the Hebron area is known as “Captain Eid”, the officer in charge of the Al-Amari refugee camp is known as “Captain Zaker”, and so on. Every Facebook profile page has a telephone number for users to send messages using WhatsApp. In addition, a general Facebook page of the ISA was opened under the heading in Arabic, “Badna Naish” (“Want to Live” in Arabic).

The transition to using Facebook pages is in the spirit of the times, and reflects the fact that many younger Palestinians receive their daily news through social networks, and not through traditional media, such as radio or television. The purpose of the ISA’s open-referral method using Facebook is to talk to the Palestinian population directly, and especially to the younger generation, who is very active on social networks. This also allows social media users to pass on security information to thwart terrorist attacks without disclosing their identity. The Facebook pages also serve the ISA as a tool for recruiting Palestinians who are willing to help Israel.

Additionally, the ISA uses Facebook’s pages to warn Palestinians who plan terrorist acts before they go into action. Here are some examples of the use of Facebook’s pages: In March of this year, an ISA case officer using the moniker “Captain Eid” wrote on his Facebook page covering the Hebron area that he called several masked men who fired shots in the air while welcoming the released terrorist Mahmoud Hushia, and warned them that their identities were known. “In their deeds, they will be punished. Please stay away from unnecessary problems”, wrote Captain Eid.

Another example is that the ISA recently located on Facebook the intention of a young Palestinian to carry out a stabbing attack; the ISA case officer called the young man’s father and warned him of the consequences of the attack planned by his son, thus preventing the attack. One of the common Arabic-language messages used by ISA case officers on Facebook, and addressed to the Palestinian population, is: “If you did anything against the State of Israel, you will be sure that the GSS [another name for the ISA] is on its way to you”.

The ISA also combines the increased use of social networks with telephone warnings, especially in the Gaza Strip, where its activities are more limited due to the tight control of the Hamas movement. Residents of the Gaza Strip receive phone calls from Israeli ISA officers warning them not to allow terrorist operatives to hide rockets near their homes, or participate in demonstrations on the border fence with Israel. According to sources in the Gaza Strip, during the “Return March” project, the ISA issued warnings on social media to the younger Palestinian population about participating in demonstrations on the border fence, or in attempts to infiltrate Israeli territory.

The ISA reportedly believes that this innovative activity of keeping an interactive connection with the Palestinian population, especially with the younger generation, is effective. The agency views it as helpful in counter-terrorist efforts and also in receiving early-warning information.

Author: Avner Barnea | Date: 07 December 2021 | Permalink

Dr. Avner Barnea is research fellow at the National Security Studies Center of the University of Haifa in Israel. He served as a senior officer in the Israel Security Agency (ISA).

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