Israel has arrested a Syrian Druze man who documented contact between Israel and al-Nusra Front.
Bethlehem, occupied West Bank – As uniformed men burst through her front gate last month, Nidal Atwan first thought they had come to her Bethlehem-area home to arrest her 16-year-old son, Mohammed.
“It was two o’clock in the morning. If you saw the number of military jeeps, you’d think Osama bin Laden was in the neighbourhood,” recalled Nidal’s husband, Yousef.
To their surprise, soldiers pulled Nidal aside and asked after the whereabouts of her 22-year-old daughter, Majd, a makeup artist with a passion for bold hair colours and crystal-enhanced manicures.
In disbelief, Nidal asked the commander to show her the warrant, which stated that Majd was wanted on incitement charges over posts made on social media. “I was shocked and furious,” Nidal told Al Jazeera.
“It struck me immediately, once they said they wanted Majd, that it was probably over Facebook,” Yousef added.
On Monday, an Israeli military court sentenced Majd to 45 days in prison and a fine of 3,000 shekels ($800) for praising a recent bus bombing in Jerusalem. “The news of 20 settlers injured is nice,” wrote Majd in her Facebook comment for which she was charged with incitement.
“Your occupation to our land does not need “incitement” for our People to revolt.. I am part of an occupied People…so don’t expect me to greet you with flowers instead of anger,” said Majd in response to the charges during her trial in Ofer military court.
Before Majd’s arrest, Yousef and Nidal said they were aware of – but not alarmed by – their daughter’s online presence. They expressed surprise that her post led to a series of interrogations at Jerusalem’s Russian Compound, a police facility whose name evokes fear among many Palestinians.
Did she write stuff online? Yeah, like all other Palestinians. I really don't understand why they chose to arrest her.
“My daughter is not politically active; rather, her involvements are in beauty,” Yousef said. “Did she write stuff online? Yeah, like all other Palestinians. I really don’t understand why they chose to arrest her.”
Since her arrest, Majd has been shepherded to and from court on six occasions as her case has moved through the system. The process has been hard on her, her parents told Al Jazeera, as Majd suffers from a number of health issues, including anaemia.
Majd’s lawyer, Tareq Barghouti, told Al Jazeera that the Israeli military had monitored his client for two months before arriving at her house to make the arrest. One year ago, such charges would have been unheard of, he said, but “it has become a common thing these days, and there has been a wave of arrests on these Facebook posts”.
Majd is one of nearly 150 Palestinians detained by Israeli forces over Facebook-related “incitement” since a wave of violence erupted in the region last October, according to prisoners’ rights group Addameer. The numbers are a sharp increase from the 13 cases they documented in 2014.
Of those jailed in the past year, most were held in administrative detention without charge for three months. The maximum sentence for incitement is 10 years.
A spokesperson for the Israeli army confirmed to Al Jazeera that 59 Palestinians had been found guilty of provocative statements made online since last autumn. Some Palestinian attackers, including Muhannad Halabi, have written threatening statements on social media before launching attacks against Israelis.
The Israeli military is now monitoring Palestinian internet pages, searching for expressions of intent or approval of harming Israelis. “We have been studying very closely those patterns of incitement in Palestinian society,” Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs spokesperson Emmanuel Nahshon told Al Jazeera.
To those who know Majd, however, she does not fit the profile of someone who would incite others to violence.
“Since she was a baby, she has loved nails,” Nidal said, flipping through her smartphone among photographs of Majd in a range of daring styles; in one, she sports blonde hair with purple streaks, while in another, it flows long and red.
After she graduated high school, Majd began working as a stylist while earning two certificates in cosmetology, her parents said. When she is not applying makeup to clients or painting manicures, she spends her time with her mother, who works at a nearby gym. Majd enjoys swimming while her mother is busy with customers.
“We are not just mother and daughter; we are like sisters, like best friends,” Nidal said.
The morning before Majd was arrested, mother and daughter perfected their makeup before driving to a grassy field near an Israeli settlement, Nidal said. They spent the afternoon taking pictures of each other enjoying nature, posing next to trees and brush.