She immediately searched for Jewish friends in southern Israel, she said. At the request of her social media team in Cairo, she searched for words to express her feelings – that nothing good would come from the Hamas attacks or the war in Gaza that would surely follow.
“God is the only winner” seems safe, she said. It reflected her beliefs as a mystic and a follower of Sufism, a mystical branch of Islam. Her team put it in Arabic: “La gha-leb il-la lah.” Without telling her, she said, they also added a Palestinian flag to the message, as they usually did on posts about her music.
When she saw the post the next day and saw the flag, her heart sank. “I feel sick to my stomach,” she wrote in an instant text to the team that she later showed to police. “This makes the sentence look biased.”
The death threats began soon after – on social media and in threatening phone calls and, finally, in wild protests on her doorstep. Fellow Israeli citizens threatened to rape her, burn her house down and kill her two children, in order to get her husband fired from his position as deputy director of the local hospital. When the couple went to the police station to ask for protection, it was Abu Amneh who was handcuffed and imprisoned for three days.
Police said the Facebook post, her only public comment about the horrific events, was illegal incitement. Abu Amneh took down the post after it went viral, but has not apologized. She stands by the message, she said, which she intended to be a way of showing her faith. Almost four months later, her life is still turned upside down as she finds herself hanging on to the tightrope that Palestinian citizens of Israel say they have been able to walk since October 7.
Under emergency laws giving police unprecedented arrest powers, hundreds have been arrested, fired, or banned from colleges for social media posts, protest slogans and even cooking videos allegedly considered to be unstable. Questionable statements have been enough to trigger criminal charges; harassment campaigns continue even when charges are dropped.
Israel’s crackdown on free speech: ‘War within a war’
As the war in Gaza continues, the speech attacks have not decreased, according to rights activists. A parliamentary committee voted on Monday for a member of Knesset to submit a petition in support of sending South Africa’s genocide case against Israel to the International Court of Justice.
“The binary approach of being with us or against is becoming institutionalized in the public sphere and in Israel’s approach to its Palestinian citizens,” said Ari Remez of Adalah, a civil rights group based in in Haifa with Jewish and Arab staff. lawyers. The group is pursuing more than 270 cases of arrests, interrogations and “warnings” related to speech, he said.
Arab citizens of Israel make up more than 20 percent of the country’s population. They have long struggled to reconcile their Palestinian identity and Israeli citizenship, and say the ban is just another example of how they can never satisfy either camp . Alongside the anger of her Jewish critics, Abu Amneh said, is anger from some hard-line Arabs at the “neutrality” of her role.
“We know the language of both sides; we are connected to both sides,” said Abu Amneh, 40, who is fluent in Arabic and Hebrew and grew up with Jews, Christians and Muslims in Nazareth. “It’s easier to be black or white, but we are gray.”
Although his case was quickly thrown out by two judges a few months ago, Abu Amneh remains under siege in her family’s elegant stone house overlooking the Jezreel Valley. Crowds of protesters gather outside most nights, blasting music through concert speakers and shouting obscenities through bullhorns.
Their water is cut off for hours several times a week. The city moved their household waste bin and parked a leaky construction dumpster in front of their gate, inviting neighbors to drop off their rubbish. The family’s security cameras caught a city worker throwing a dead cat into the empty dumpster.
One crew mounted a large lighted Star of David on a pole outside Abu Amneh’s front door. “Entry for lovers of Israel only,” read a sign posted on the fence across the street, amid a row of Israeli flags and pictures of Hamas’ enemies in Gaza. Last week, the city changed its street name to “IDF Street,” after the Israel Defense Forces.
The mayor of Afula, Avi Elkabetz, is leading the charges against Abu Amneh. With municipal elections scheduled for the end of this month, the controversial incumbent has made Abu Amneh a campaign issue, urging other candidates to join the protests at her home. The city’s website has posted information about scheduled performances there and at her husband’s hospital.
Elkabetz has been at the center of other efforts to preserve Afula’s “Jewish character” in recent years, as more Palestinians have moved to the city. He has opposed the sale of property to Palestinian citizens in Israel and tried to prevent them from using a city park.
The mayor, through a spokesman, declined to be interviewed or answer questions.
“It is our government,” said Anan Abbasi, Abu Amneh’s husband. “We pay taxes for services and protection, not to be attacked every day. “
The husband and wife grew up in mixed Palestinian-Jewish communities. Abu Amneh’s father was a restaurant owner in Nazareth, where she was a star science student and young singer. She nursed both sufferings in the years it took to complete a doctorate in neurobiology at Israel’s oldest university, the Technion.
But as folk music and singing became more central to her life, she said, her Palestinian identity grew. In 2021, she launched a full-time singing course and quickly found an audience. She had toured the world, released three albums and amassed more than a million followers on Facebook and Instagram before her team in Cairo asked her to weigh in on October 7.
“God is the only winner.”
She said she was surprised by the strength of the recovery. One person suggested that she had borrowed it the phrase from the Islamic conquest of Spain in the 8th century. Others compared it to a jihadist battle cry. The threats began around October 11, after the protests caught fire on Israeli social media.
On October 16, the couple went to the police station in Nazareth to ask for help. While they were there, a group of officers from Afula arrived, carrying Abu Amneh by the hand and took her to a holding cell.
The charges quickly mounted, according to her attorney and court documents: threatening public peace (the Facebook post), resisting arrest (demanding to know why she was being held ) and threatening an officer (telling him, “God will give you what you deserve. ,” a phrase she said she often uses on her children).
The three days in dirty cells, often in restraints, were among the worst of her life, she said. But the courts denied the police’s request to keep her longer, throwing out all three charges and ordering the police to keep her in handcuffs.
The night after she returned home, the first car drove up to the house, blasting one of her songs and shouting at her to “go to Gaza.” The next night, there were three activists, then twelve. Now, up to 30 people gather around 7 o’clock most nights.
The police told her that the gatherings were considered “prayer services” for the soldiers in Gaza. When they sent a car, the officers often joined the demonstrators, said Abu Amneh. So she and her children, 13 and 15, lower the blinds and return to a back room. Even with their headphones on, they can hear cries of “whore.”
In a statement, the district police office said that they could not stop the defensive gatherings and that they did not receive any complaint about threatening behavior. Amu Amneh’s lawyer, Amir Bakr, said that the state prosecutor for the region has not responded to repeated requests to announce the complaints of illegal harassment. The prosecutor, Amit Aiman, declined to comment.
Her husband is often away when the complaints start, working at one of his evening ophthalmology clinics. He has diplomas from medical school, the Technion and Harvard on his office wall; during the pandemic he appeared in a video with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to promote vaccinations.
That doesn’t seem to matter to those who want him to resign or be fired. A neighbor who was once kissed to save her son’s life now joins those who shouted, “Go sing for Hamas!” he said.
“Nothing is enough for the extremists,” said Abbasi, who, at the request of his boss, wrote two public statements denouncing Hamas.
Abu Amneh said that she is disgusted by the killing of innocents on October 7, which goes against everything she believes in as a Muslim and as a Sufi. She recognizes the pain of her fellow Israelis, she said, and she expects them to also condemn the killing of thousands of innocents in Gaza.
“Palestinians also have pain,” she said, looking out of her house on a recent night, waiting for her tormentors to return.
“Nothing that I am going through can compare to those who have lost loved ones, in Israel or in Gaza. Yes, I do not feel safe in my home. But I am a proud Palestinian, and they cannot silence my voice.”
Sudilovsky reported from Jerusalem.