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Israeli-Americans Sue Facebook for $1 Billion over West Bank Violence

posted on: Jul 13, 2016

Israeli-Americans Sue Facebook for $1 Billion over West Bank Violence

BY: Nisreen Eadeh/Staff Writer

On Monday, the relatives of four Israeli-Americans killed by Palestinians in the occupied West Bank and Jerusalem between 2014 and 2016 filed a lawsuit against Facebook, suing for $1 billion. The families are accusing the social media company of facilitating the attacks carried out by Hamas militants.

The plaintiffs filed the lawsuit in U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York, despite the fact that the attacks took place in occupied Palestinian territories, not the U.S. They argued that Facebook “knowingly provided material support and resources to Hamas… to communicate, recruit members, plan and carry out attacks, and strike fear in its enemies.”

The Lawsuit

The plaintiffs were able to file the case under the 1992 Anti-Terrorism Act, which prohibits American businesses from providing any material support to groups defined as terrorists by the U.S. State Department. Hamas was designated a terrorist organization in 1997 by the U.S., and claimed responsibility for one of the four attacks brought forth in the case. The plaintiff’s Israeli lawyer claims that there are “expert assessments” connecting Hamas to the other three attacks.

Sami Abu Zuhri, a Hamas spokesman, responded to the lawsuit, calling it an attempt to blackmail Facebook and use the social networking website to spy on Palestinians. Abu Zuhri argued that Israeli politicians and citizens use Facebook to express pride and advocacy in the killing of Palestinians, constituting a double standard in how censorship laws are applied to people in the region.

Israeli-Americans Sue Facebook for $1 Billion over West Bank Violence
The Facebook group “The People of Israel demand revenge” took off at the start of the 2014 Gaza war, with over 35,000 people joining in 2 days. Members in the group called for the revenge and murder of Palestinians. Photo from haaretz.com

Facebook indirectly responded to the latest lawsuit, saying, “We work regularly with safety organizations and policymakers around the world, including Israel, to ensure that people know how to make safe use of Facebook. There is no room for content that promotes violence, direct threats, terrorist or hate speeches on our platform.”

Israel’s Public Security Minister, Gilad Erdan, called Facebook and its owner, Mark Zuckerburg, a “monster” that hinders security.

Although some Israelis and Israeli-Americans are looking for anyone but themselves to blame for Palestinian anger and violence, this case is perhaps too far-stretched.

Debate Over ‘Material Support’

The plaintiffs argue that Facebook knowingly provided “material support” to Hamas, but this claim is lacking evidence. According to the U.S. State Department, the definition of material support includes weapons, cash, bomb-making skills, personnel, expert advice, and training. Facebook has never provided such support to Hamas and probably never will, seeing as it violates long-standing company policies and has a penalty of 15 years in prison.

The U.S. Supreme Court debated the definition of material support in 2010 and found that even if an individual is advocating for peace, if it is done on behalf of a terrorist organization, it is in violation of U.S. law. The justices made it clear that anyone can say whatever they want on social media, but the crime is committed when Facebook provides a real service to a terrorist group posting on the site, such as offering advice on how to attract users to their pages, using company money to fund the group, or even advocating for peaceful resolution on behalf of the group.

Facebook has never spoken on behalf of Hamas or provided them with any tangible goods.

So who is to blame?

By the plaintiff’s logic, Facebook’s sheer existence makes the company guilty because terrorists are able to get onto the site, even though there is constant tracking and disabling of terrorist activity on all social media platforms.

This is not the first lawsuit against Facebook that Israelis have brought forward. In October 2015, Darshan-Leitner of the Shurat HaDin-Israel Law Center filed the same case against Facebook, claiming the website carries messages of anti-Israel incitement. This lawsuit is still underway.

American companies, such as Facebook, should not be manipulated into taking responsibility for acts of violence. With over 60 years of an illegal occupation, displacement, lack of resources, and many more human rights violations carried out by Israel, it is time the country took responsibility for some of the violence in the region, instead of harassing its protector – America and its companies – into cleaning up the mess.