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New York Times

Mob violence against Israeli Palestinians is fueled by a group of WhatsApp

On May 12th, a message was displayed on a new WhatsApp channel called “Death to the Arabs”. The message urged the Israelis to participate in a large-scale street brawl against Israeli Palestinian citizens. Within hours, dozens of other new WhatsApp groups popped up with the same name and message variation. The group soon organized a 6 pm start time for a clash in the Israeli coastal town of Bat Yam. “We organize and act together,” read the message in one of the WhatsApp groups. “I know how to protect the Jewish honor here, so tell your friends to join the group.” Sign up for the morning newsletter from The New York Times. That night, a live scene was aired of an Israeli dressed in black breaking a car window and roaming the streets of Bat Yam. The mob pulled a man they presumed to be Arab from his car and unknowingly beat him. He was hospitalized in a serious condition. This episode was one of dozens of episodes across Israel that authorities linked to a surge in activity by Jewish militants on Facebook-owned encrypted messaging service WhatsApp. An analysis by the New York Times and Fake Reporter, an Israeli surveillance group that has been studying false information since the violence between Israelis and Palestinians escalated last week, has a clear purpose of committing violence against Palestinians. Therefore, at least 100 new WhatsApp groups have been formed. According to The Times analysis, WhatsApp groups with names such as “The Jewish Guard” and “The Revenge Troops” have added hundreds of members a day in the past week. Hebrew groups are also featured in email lists and online bulletin boards used by Israeli far-right militants. Social media and messaging apps have been used to spread hate speech and stimulate violence in the past, but researchers say these WhatsApp groups are going even further. This is because the group clearly plans and implements violence against Israeli Palestinian citizens, who make up about 20% of the population and live a life that is nearly integrated with their Jewish neighbors. This is far more specific than past WhatsApp mob attacks in India, where the call for violence is vague and generally not targeted at individuals or businesses, the researchers said. Even the US Stop the Steal group, which organized a January 6 protest in Washington, did not openly direct attacks using social media or messaging apps, they said. The proliferation of these WhatsApp groups has surprised Israeli security officials and disinformation researchers. According to Times reviews, the group has carefully documented attacks and members often moan about participating in violence. Some say they are taking revenge on rockets launched into Israel by radicals in the Gaza Strip, while others are complaining. Many solicited names of Arab-owned companies that they can then target. Achiya Schatz, director of Fake Reporter, said: He said his organization reported many of the new WhatsApp groups to the Israeli police. The Israeli police initially took no action, but “now they are taking action and trying to prevent violence.” Israeli police did not respond to requests for comment, but Israeli security officials said law enforcement officials began monitoring WhatsApp groups after being warned by Fake Reporter. Police believed that the attacks by Jewish militants were inflamed and organized by the WhatsApp group, according to Schatz. One official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, added that police had never seen a similar WhatsApp group formed among Palestinians. The Islamic movement, including Hamas, a Palestinian extremist organization that controls the Gaza Strip, has long organized and recruited followers on social media, but plans to attack services for fear of being discovered. not. A spokeswoman for WhatsApp said the messaging service is concerned about the activities of Israeli militants. She said the company deleted some accounts of people who joined the group. She added that WhatsApp couldn’t read the messages darkened by the service, but acted when the account was reported to be in breach of its terms of service. “We will take steps to ban accounts that may cause imminent harm,” she said. In Israel, WhatsApp has long been used to form groups, allowing people to communicate, share interests and plan school activities. WhatsApp was also one of the platforms for disseminating false information about the conflict as violence surged between Israeli forces and Palestinian militants in Gaza last week. Tensions in the region have grown so high that new groups seeking revenge on Palestinians have begun to appear on other messaging services such as WhatsApp and Telegram. The first WhatsApp group appeared on May 11th, Schatz said. By May 12, his organization had found dozens of groups. People can join groups via links, many of which are shared within existing WhatsApp groups. Joining one group will advertise the other groups. Since then, the size of the group has grown steadily, Schatz said. Some became very large and branched into local branches dedicated to specific cities and towns. To avoid detection by WhatsApp, the group organizers are urging people to scrutinize new members, he said. According to FakeReporter, Telegram has formed about 20 channels for Israelis to commit and plan violence against Palestinians. Much of the content and messaging in these groups mimics the content of the WhatsApp channel. In one new WhatsApp group, The Revenge Troops, reviewed by The Times, people recently shared instructions on how to make Morotov cocktails and makeshift explosives. The group also asked 400 members to provide the addresses of potential Arab-owned businesses. Another group of just under 100 members shared photos of guns, knives, and other weapons when discussing participating in street combat in a mixed Jewish and Arab city. Another new WhatsApp group was named “Right-wing group without apology”. After participating in the attack, members of the group posted pictures of exploits and encouraged others to imitate them. “We destroyed them and left them apart,” said one of the “Revenge Forces” WhatsApp groups, along with a photo showing a broken car window. Another group uploaded a video of a young Jewish man in black, stopping his car on an unnamed street and asking the driver if he was Jewish or Arab. We defeated the enemy “car by car,” the comment posted below the video said in abusive language. Over the weekend, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu visited Road, a mixed Jewish and Arab city in central Israel, the site of a recent clash. “Currently, there is no greater threat than these riots. Restoring law and order is essential,” Netanyahu said. Within some WhatsApp groups, Netanyahu’s call for peace was ridiculed. “Our government is too weak to do what we need, so we put it in our hands,” wrote one of the WhatsApp groups specializing in the city of Ramuru in central Israel. .. “Now that we have organized, they can’t stop us.” This article was originally published in The New York Times. © 2021 The New York Times Company