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Israeli and American victims of Palestinian attacks sued Facebook Monday, claiming that the internet giant enables the militant Hamas group to use its platform and demanding $1 billion in damages.
The civil action was filed in New York by Israeli legal NGO Shurat Hadin in the name of family members of four Israeli-Americans and one US citizen killed since June 2014.
The plaintiffs say Facebook has knowingly provided its “social media platform and communication services” to Hamas in violation of the US Anti-Terrorism Act which prohibits US businesses from “providing any material support, including services, to designated terrorist groups and their leaders”.
“Hamas has used and relied on Facebook’s online social network platform and communications services as among its most important tools to facilitate and carry out its terrorist activity,” reads a press release from the plaintiffs.
Nitsana Darshan-Leitner, head of Shurat Hadin and one of the lawyers representing the families, said Hamas members had either perpetrated or endorsed the attacks against the victims at hand.
She said the lawsuit’s goal was to force Facebook to tighten its regulation of Palestinian “incitement”.
Facebook did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Israel’s internal security minister Gilad Erdan recently said Facebook bore “some responsibility” for the wave of violence, and said he would advance legislation making it illegal to publish “offensive content” that encourages attacks.
Facebook dismissed Erdan’s claim earlier this month, saying in a Hebrew-language statement, that the company asserted that it works “on a regular basis with security organizations and policy makers throughout the world, including in Israel, in order to ensure that people know how to use Facebook safely.
But Darshan-Leitner said such a measure as Erdan proposed, which would necessitate reporting offensive posts that would eventually be removed, would be ineffective because of the sheer volume of Facebook activity.
The only efficient way to deal with Palestinian “incitement” on Facebook is if the measures “come from Facebook itself”, she said.
“They have to be convinced that it is not in their interest to act otherwise,” she said of the internet giant.
“No amount of money can bring a dead person back, but an organisation barricaded in its Palo Alto ivory tower while people are murdered here and cares only about its money, will awaken only if it’s hit back through its money,” she said.
Her group had in October filed a lawsuit against Facebook, demanding that it remove more than 1,000 inflammatory pages and improve its monitoring mechanisms, but did not seek monetary damages. Darshan-Leitner said that case was still ongoing.
The plaintiffs involved in the suit include Stuart and Robbi Force, the parents of Taylor Force who was killed when a Palestinian went on a stabbing spree in Jaffa on March 8, and the parents of Naftali Frenkel, who along with Eyal Yifrach and Gilad Shaer was abducted on June 12, 2014 in the West Bank and later killed.
A wave of violence that began in October last year has killed at least 214 Palestinians, 34 Israelis, two Americans, an Eritrean and a Sudanese national.
Most of the Palestinians killed were carrying out knife, gun or car-ramming attacks, according to Israeli authorities.
Others were shot dead during protests and clashes, while some were killed by Israeli air strikes in the Gaza Strip.
Most of the attackers are believed to have acted on their own, without the organisation of any group.