BEIRUT, Lebanon — Armed clashes between sectarian militias transformed Beirut neighborhoods into a deadly war zone on Thursday, raising fears that violence could fill the void left by the near-collapse of the Lebanese state.
Rival gunmen, chanting in support of their leaders, hid behind cars and dumpsters to fire automatic weapons and rocket-propelled grenades at their rivals. At least six people were killed and 30 wounded. Residents cowered in their homes, and teachers herded children into the hallways and basements of schools to protect them from the shooting.
It was some of the worst violence in years to convulse Beirut, aggravating the sense of instability in a small country already buffeted by devastating political and economic crises and inviting recollections of its civil war that ended more than three decades ago.
Since the fall of 2019, Lebanon’s currency has plummeted more than 90 percent in value, battering the economy and reducing Lebanese who were comfortably middle class to poverty. The World Bank has said Lebanon’s economic collapse could rank among the three worst in the world since the mid-1800s.
Grave fuel shortages in recent months have left all but the wealthiest Lebanese struggling with prolonged power blackouts and long lines at gas stations. The country’s once vaunted banking, medical and education sectors have all suffered profound losses, as professionals have fled to seek livelihoods abroad.
A huge explosion in the port of Beirut last year killed more than 200 people and exposed the results of what many Lebanese see as decades of poor governance and corruption. The Covid-19 pandemic has only aggravated the economic distress and sense of despair.
The fighting on Thursday was part of the continuing fallout from the port explosion.
Two Shiite Muslim parties — Hezbollah, an Iran-backed militant group, and the Amal Movement — had organized a protest calling for the removal of the judge charged with investigating the blast and determining who was responsible.
As the protesters gathered, gunshots rang out, apparently fired by snipers in nearby high buildings, according to witnesses and Lebanese officials, and protesters scattered to side streets, where they retrieved weapons and rejoined the fray.
posts on Twitter, saying that the clashes had been caused by “uncontrolled and widespread weapons that threaten citizens in every time and place,” a reference to Hezbollah’s vast arsenal.
His group accused Hezbollah of exploiting sectarian tensions to derail the port investigation over fears it could be implicated.
Hassan Diab, who, along with his cabinet, resigned after the port explosion.
There had been hope that Mr. Mikati would bring some stability as his new government took shape. But at the same time, tensions over the port investigation grew deeper.
The blast at the port was caused by the sudden combustion of some 2,750 tons of volatile chemicals that had been unloaded into the port years before, but more than a year later no one has been held accountable.
The judge investigating the explosion, Tarek Bitar, has moved to summon a range of powerful politicians and security officials for questioning, which could result in criminal charges against them.
Hezbollah has grown increasingly vocal in its criticism of Judge Bitar, and his inquiry was suspended this week after two former ministers facing charges lodged a legal complaint against him.
Families of the victims condemned the move, with critics saying that the country’s political leadership was trying to shield itself from accountability for the largest explosion in the turbulent country’s history.
On Monday, the judge had issued an arrest warrant for Ali Hussein Khalil, a prominent Shiite member of Parliament and a close adviser to the leader of the Amal party. The warrant leveled serious accusations against Mr. Khalil.
“The nature of the offense,” the document read, is “killing, harming, arson and vandalism linked to probable intent.”
On Tuesday, the Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah issued some of his most scathing criticism of Judge Bitar, accusing him of “politically targeting” officials in his investigation and calling for a protest on Thursday.
When Hezbollah followers joined the protests to call for the judge’s removal, witnesses said, the sniper shots rang out.
Ben Hubbard reported from Beirut, and Marc Santora from London. Reporting was contributed by Hwaida Saad and Asmaa al-Omar from Beirut, and Vivian Yee and Mona el-Naggar from Cairo.
GAZA CITY — King Abdullah II of Jordan came under heightened scrutiny on Sunday after an alliance of international news organizations reported that he was among several world leaders to use secret offshore accounts to amass overseas properties and hide their wealth.
The king was accused of using shell companies registered in the Caribbean to buy 15 properties, collectively worth more than $100 million, in southeast England, Washington, D.C., and Malibu, Calif. The purchases were not illegal, but their exposure prompted accusations of double standards: The Jordanian prime minister, who was appointed by the king, announced in 2020 a crackdown on corruption that included targeting citizens who used shell companies to disguise their overseas investments.
The Jordanian royal court declined to provide a comment to The New York Times, but lawyers for King Abdullah told the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists, which published the report, that his foreign properties were bought exclusively with his personal fortune and not public funds.
The claims against King Abdullah were part of a major investigation, known as the Pandora Papers, that was conducted by the ICIJ in partnership with more than a dozen international news outlets, including The Washington Post and The Guardian. Based on leaks of nearly 12 million files from 14 offshore companies, the investigation found that King Abdullah was among 35 current and former leaders, as well as more than 300 public officials, who have used offshore shell companies to disguise their wealth, and to hide the transfer of that wealth overseas.
accusing the prince of conspiring against him. The king forgave the prince, who previously embarrassed the king by speaking out against government corruption, but a court later jailed two of the prince’s alleged accomplices.
In recent months, King Abdullah attempted to shore up his standing by underscoring his reliability as a Western ally and a major player in Middle Eastern diplomacy; he met recently with President Biden and with Prime Minister Naftali Bennett of Israel, following several years of fraught relations with their predecessors.
But just as King Abdullah appeared to have turned a corner, the new revelations “might be a trigger for people to go back to the streets,” said Mr. Al Sabaileh.
King Abdullah is among dozens of current and former leaders whose overseas investments were exposed. Other leaders included President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia, whose alleged former lover was found to have purchased an apartment in Monaco; Prime Minister Andrej Babis of the Czech Republic, who is said to have bought property in the south of France using a complicated offshore structure; President Ilham Aliyev of Azerbaijan, who sold a London mansion to the Crown Estate, a property trust formally owned by Queen Elizabeth II; and Tony Blair, the former British prime minister, who avoided paying taxes worth more than $400,000 when he and his wife Cherie obtained a London property by purchasing the offshore company that owned it.
The mechanism was legal and Mrs. Blair, who used the property as an office for her legal consultancy, told the BBC that the Blairs had only bought the building through the offshore company at the request of the sellers.
If Israel was going to kill a top Iranian official, an act that had the potential to start a war, it needed the assent and protection of the United States. That meant acting before Mr. Biden could take office. In Mr. Netanyahu’s best-case scenario, the assassination would derail any chance of resurrecting the nuclear agreement even if Mr. Biden won.
Mohsen Fakhrizadeh grew up in a conservative family in the holy city of Qom, the theological heart of Shia Islam. He was 18 when the Islamic revolution toppled Iran’s monarchy, a historical reckoning that fired his imagination.
He set out to achieve two dreams: to become a nuclear scientist and to take part in the military wing of the new government. As a symbol of his devotion to the revolution, he wore a silver ring with a large, oval red agate, the same type worn by Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, and by General Suleimani.
He joined the Revolutionary Guards and climbed the ranks to general. He earned a Ph.D. in nuclear physics from Isfahan University of Technology with a dissertation on “identifying neutrons,” according to Ali Akbar Salehi, the former head of Iran’s Atomic Energy Agency and a longtime friend and colleague.
He led the missile development program for the Guards and pioneered the country’s nuclear program. As research director for the Defense Ministry, he played a key role in developing homegrown drones and, according to two Iranian officials, traveled to North Korea to join forces on missile development. At the time of his death, he was deputy defense minister.
“In the field of nuclear and nanotechnology and biochemical war, Mr. Fakhrizadeh was a character on par with Qassim Suleimani but in a totally covert way,” Gheish Ghoreishi, who has advised Iran’s Foreign Ministry on Arab affairs, said in an interview.
When Iran needed sensitive equipment or technology that was prohibited under international sanctions, Mr. Fakhrizadeh found ways to obtain them.
The consortium did not disclose how it had obtained the list, and it was unclear whether the list was aspirational or whether the people had actually been targeted with NSO spyware.
Let Us Help You Protect Your Digital Life
Among those listed were Azam Ahmed, who had been the Mexico City bureau chief for The Times and who has reported widely on corruption, violence and surveillance in Latin America, including on NSO itself; and Ben Hubbard, The Times’s bureau chief in Beirut, Lebanon, who has investigated rights abuses and corruption in Saudi Arabia and wrote a recent biography of the Saudi crown prince, Mohammed bin Salman.
It also included 14 heads of state, including President Emmanuel Macron of France, President Cyril Ramaphosa of South Africa, Prime Minister Mostafa Madbouly of Egypt, Prime Minister Imran Khan of Pakistan, Saad-Eddine El Othmani, who until recently was the prime minister of Morocco, and Charles Michel, the head of the European Council.
Shalev Hulio, a co-founder of NSO Group, vehemently denied the list’s accuracy, telling The Times, “This is like opening up the white pages, choosing 50,000 numbers and drawing some conclusion from it.”
This year marks a record for the discovery of so-called zero days, secret software flaws like the one that NSO used to install its spyware. This year, Chinese hackers were caught using zero days in Microsoft Exchange to steal emails and plant ransomware. In July, ransomware criminals used a zero day in software sold by the tech company Kaseya to bring down the networks of some 1,000 companies.
For years, the spyware industry has been a black box. Sales of spyware are locked up in nondisclosure agreements and are frequently rolled into classified programs, with limited, if any, oversight.
NSO’s clients previously infected their targets using text messages that cajoled victims into clicking on links. Those links made it possible for journalists and researchers at organizations like Citizen Lab to investigate the possible presence of spyware. But NSO’s new zero-click method makes the discovery of spyware by journalists and cybersecurity researchers much harder.
ATHENS — Firefighters continued to battle blazes across Greece on Saturday after another difficult night that saw thousands more people fleeing their homes and hundreds being evacuated by sea, as southern Europe grapples with one of its worst heat waves in decades.
Wildfires are also still raging in Turkey, which is in its 11th day of trying to extinguish flames that are ravaging its southern coastline and that have killed at least eight people and destroyed hundreds of acres of land.
High winds in Greece hampered nighttime firefighting efforts on Friday as wildfires tore through swaths of forestland north of Athens, the capital, and through mountains and farmland on the island of Evia and on the southern Peloponnese peninsula.
As flames ravaged Evia’s coastline, hundreds of residents and tourists were evacuated by ferry, dramatic scenes of which were captured on video by the National Observatory of Athens’s online weather service, Meteo.
North of the capital, police officers went door to door to urge people to abandon their homes, and they evacuated a detention facility for migrants, a day after moving asylum seekers out of another camp in the area.
At first light on Saturday, firefighters and aircraft from several countries — including Croatia, Cyprus, France, Israel, Sweden and Ukraine — joined their Greek counterparts in battling blazes dotting the mainland and islands. Romania and Switzerland were also sending help, followed by the Czech Republic, Egypt, Germany and Spain.
Fifty-five fires were active around the country, the largest of which were north of Athens, on the island of Evia and in Fokida, in central Greece, according to Nikos Hardalias, the deputy civil protection minister, speaking at a briefing early Saturday afternoon. He added that the situation had improved slightly since Friday, but that fires were constantly rekindling as winds strengthened.
Dozens of firefighting aircraft and thousands of firefighters have been working to control the wildfires, but overnight, TV reports said, flames moved north, reaching a new town and forcing six neighborhoods to evacuate.
Earlier Saturday in Greece, Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis said his government’s priority was protecting human lives, and then, as possible, people’s properties.
A 38-year-old volunteer firefighter from Ippokrateios Politeia, a settlement north of Athens affected by the fires, died on Thursday of head injuries after being hit by a falling electricity pylon.
More than 20 people have suffered burns, including four firefighters, two of whom were critically injured. President Katerina Sakellaropoulou visited those firefighters on Saturday at a hospital in Athens.
The fires have razed tens of thousands of acres of forestland, but the number of homes that have been destroyed remains unclear.
Officials have said that at least three people have been arrested and are facing arson charges in connection with blazes in Kryoneri, north of Athens; in Fthiotida, in central Greece; and in Kalamata, in southern Greece.
Mr. Sweetat is prepared to make compromises in a land where few are ready to do so. He believes cooperation in pursuit of shared prosperity, however difficult, is the only way forward. “If we don’t like it,” he said, “we can pack our bags and go to Switzerland.”
I asked him if he felt like an equal citizen in Israel.
“Of course, I don’t feel equal,” he said, “but I can achieve everything I want.”
Still, he said, “I don’t see new Arab villages being built. I don’t have enough space in my own village. I wanted to buy a piece of land near Tarshiha, but I couldn’t. I want my son, who is 2, to grow up here. Ask the country why I can’t find land here.”
“So, you can’t achieve everything you want?” I asked.
“There are things you can’t change, but we can improve them. The change can start from people.”
Overcoming Mutual Incomprehension
When Tal Becker, the legal adviser to the Israeli Foreign Ministry, drafted the preamble to the normalization treaty between Israel and the United Arab Emirates last year, he expected pushback on this clause:
“Recognizing that the Arab and Jewish peoples are descendants of a common ancestor, Abraham, and inspired,in that spirit, to foster in the Middle East a reality in which Muslims, Jews, Christians and peoples of all faiths, denominations, beliefs and nationalities live in, and are committed to, a spirit of coexistence.”
There was no dissent, despite the fact that the wording made clear that both Jews and Arabs belong in the Middle East.
A widespread view among Palestinians and throughout the Arab world has long been, on the contrary, that Israel and its Jewish population represent an illicit colonial projection into the Middle East that will one day end.
When I came to Nagorno-Karabakh after the war last year, the sight of a hillside Armenian military cemetery brought to my mind the layers of tragedy embedded in this land.
After returning in June, I left wondering just how much heartbreak a patch of earth can bear.
In Shusha last October, I stepped into the concrete basement of an apartment block, where Armenian women were sheltering on flattened cardboard boxes. They thought they had known what war was like, one said, recalling the 1990s conflict. But the enormous firepower of modern weapons was different, “a horror, a horror.”
Back then, as Communism collapsed, the former Soviet republics of Armenia and Azerbaijan went to war over Nagorno-Karabakh — an area mostly populated by Armenians within the internationally recognized borders of Azerbaijan. Armenia won that war, leaving about one-seventh of Azerbaijan’s territory under Armenian control.
As international efforts to mediate the conflict failed, and Azerbaijan’s oil and gas riches boomed, the country invested in modern drones from Israel and Turkey. By the time Azerbaijan attacked last September, its military, supported by Turkey, was overpowering compared with that of poorer and smaller Armenia.
When I returned last month to the Shusha apartment block, it was gone, razed to bare, brown ground. The area will become part of a new “streetscape,” the British architect, Adrian Griffiths, told me.
Rather than allow the Azerbaijanis to simply return to their homes, President Ilham Aliyev, the country’s authoritarian ruler, wants to rebuild Shusha as Azerbaijan’s cultural capital. About 15,000 people, mainly Azerbaijanis, lived there before the 1990s war; until last fall, there were roughly 5,000 Armenian residents.
The striking hilltop city was a cradle of Azerbaijani music and poetry in the 19th century, though Armenians also see it as core to their historical identity.
JERUSALEM — The rabbi stood before the grave of the imam, weeping as he gave his eulogy. In life, Rabbi Michael Melchior said, Sheikh Abdullah Nimr Darwish had promised him that he would never leave his side. In death, the sheikh had left him feeling as bereft as an orphan.
Sheikh Abdullah died in 2017, four years before the Islamist party he helped found, Raam, became the first independent Arab faction to join an Israeli government coalition. But the sheikh’s funeral and his unlikely friendship with Rabbi Melchior, as well as their below-the-radar attempts at religious-based peacemaking between Israelis and Palestinians, were all part of an unexpected, decades-long back story of an effort by some Islamists to find a place within Israeli politics.
For Mansour Abbas, a politician standing in tears to the rabbi’s right that day, the sheikh’s death was one of several pivotal way stations in his journey to lead Raam into Israel’s government.
“At Sheikh Abdullah’s funeral and Rabbi Melchior’s speech, it hit me — that I need to be committed to Sheikh Abdullah and Rabbi Melchior’s joint approach,” said Mr. Abbas, who became Raam’s leader in 2018 and entered Parliament two years ago. The speech and the funeral “made me go from being a supporter and minor contributor to it to someone wishing to strengthen it and push it forward,” he said.
violent clashes in May. And Israel had just ended a brief war with Hamas, the militant group that holds sway in the Gaza Strip.
Both Raam and Hamas have roots in the same Islamist movement. And Raam’s leading influence, Sheikh Abdullah, was convicted and imprisoned in the 1980s for links to a militant Islamist group.
To those in and around Raam, its new role makes more sense in the context of Sheikh Abdullah’s spiritual journey since he left jail, when he had an ideological about-face and sought to use Islamic teachings to justify a more peaceful approach.
helped legitimize the idea of Arab participation in government by pursuing Raam’s support.
are fighting to restore momentum to a formal peace process that petered out in 2014. To them, Mr. Abbas’s political maneuver was a natural outgrowth of a long-term project of religious-based peace building begun by Sheikh Abdullah.
“My sheikh went through several stations in his life,” said Sheikh Raed, citing Sheikh Abdullah’s break with militance after leaving prison in the 1980s.
“The whole religious dialogue,” Sheikh Raed said, “started from that point.”
Born in 1948 in an Arab town in what became Israel, Sheikh Abdullah flirted briefly with Communism as a young man before turning more seriously to Islam.
In the 1970s, he founded the Islamic Movement, a group based in Israel that aimed to encourage the Muslim minority to deepen its faith and, ultimately, to create a society governed by Islamic law. The group also had a militant wing that carried out arson attacks on Israeli property.
But in the 1980s, he surprised his followers by pushing to establish better relations between Arabs and Israelis, within both Israel and the occupied territories.
participation of the Islamic Movement’s political wing, later known as Raam, in Israeli parliamentary elections. That caused a split in the movement, with some members forming a now banned splinter group that rejected participation in the Israeli parliamentary process.
But Sheikh Abdullah continued on a path of moderation, writing a book that rejected any religious justification for suicide attacks. He also began to work on several peace-building projects with Rabbi Melchior, then a deputy foreign minister in the Israeli government.
communal violence in the city of Acre, in northern Israel.
Understand Developments in Israeli Politics
Key Figures.The main players in the latest twist in Israeli politics have very different agendas, but one common goal. Naftali Bennett, who leads a small right-wing party, and Yair Lapid, the centrist leader of the Israeli opposition, have joined forces to form a diverse coalition to unseat Benjamin Netanyahu, Israel’s longest-serving prime minister.
Range of Ideals. Spanning Israel’s fractious political spectrum from left to right, and relying on the support of a small Arab, Islamist party, the coalition, dubbed the “change government” by supporters, will likely mark a profound shift for Israel.
A Common Goal. After grinding deadlock that led to four inconclusive elections in two years, and an even longer period of polarizing politics and government paralysis, the architects of the coalition have pledged to get Israel back on track.
An Unclear Future. Parliament still has to ratify the fragile agreement in a confidence vote in the coming days. But even if it does, it remains unclear how much change the “change government” could bring to Israel because some of the parties involved have little in common besides animosity for Mr. Netanyahu.
In 2014, they coordinated to avoid religious violence in mixed Arab-Jewish cities when the Jewish day of atonement, Yom Kippur, fell on the same day as the Islamic celebration of Eid al-Adha, and tried to taper conflict during a low-level intifada the next year.
Mr. Abbas became involved in the initiatives and later developed a close relationship with Rabbi Melchior, speaking with him several times a month.
To the rabbi, these religious-based peace initiatives offered a way to move on from the secular-led diplomatic efforts of the 1990s and 2000s, which he said failed in part because they did not sufficiently include religious elements from the two populations.
“The traditional and religious population felt that the peace was part of the uprooting of what they felt was their sense of belonging, of their DNA, of their identity, of their narrative,” Rabbi Melchior said.
After Sheikh Abdullah’s death, Sheikh Raed took up his mantle. He worked with Rabbi Melchior to defuse another crisis in 2017, when the installation of metal detectors at the entrance to the Aqsa Mosque compound in Jerusalem almost set off another uprising.
In 2020, Sheikh Raed released a lengthy religious tract that provided a theological justification for Raam’s joining an Israeli government. Several months later, Mr. Abbas joined the current governing coalition.
During the coalition negotiations, Mr. Abbas gave a televised speech in Hebrew, largely pitched at Israeli Jews, in which he called for coexistence and presented himself as a citizen of Israel. Analysts later said it played a pivotal role in positioning him as an acceptable partner for Jewish-led parties. The speech was his own, but he spoke beforehand with Rabbi Melchior about its content, both men said.
To some Palestinian citizens of Israel, Mr. Abbas is a sellout for helping put right-wing Jewish politicians in power in exchange for what critics perceive as only token victories.
Ayman Odeh, the leader of the left-wing party Hadash, said Mr. Abbas’s approach was transactional, positioning Palestinian citizens of Israel as servants and subjects instead of as true citizens with collective rights.
“I don’t want to work as a politician under a Jewish supremacy,” said Mr. Odeh, whose party includes a mix of Arabs and Jews. “I fight for deep equality on both a civil and national level between the two peoples.”
But to advocates like Sheikh Raed and Rabbi Melchior, Mr. Abbas’s decision was a hopeful byproduct of a long process of religious peace-building that seeks to place Palestinians and Israelis on a more equal footing, and which political leaders would do well to amplify.
“If the religious element is not inside the peace camp, and not included fully, it just won’t happen,” Rabbi Melchior said. “I, for one, do not want to exclude the secular — not from our society and not from the peacemaking,” he added. “I just want to expand that sense of peace.”
KIBBUTZ NIR DAVID, Israel — A whimsical chain of inflatable rafts tethered together by a flimsy rope floated along the Asi, a gentle stream that runs for a mile through a sunbaked plain in northern Israel.
The boats were packed with residents of the area, their children and day trippers from farther afield, but this was no picnic, even though it was a holiday. The goal of this unarmed armada was nothing less than reclaiming the small river.
“This is a strategic takeover!” the leader of the ragtag crew, Nati Vaknin, shouted through a bullhorn as he waded ahead of the group.
The flotilla’s destination was a forbidden paradise: an exquisite, aquamarine stretch of the stream that runs through, and that has effectively been monopolized by, Kibbutz Nir David, a communal farm founded by early Zionist pioneers, Ashkenazi Jews from Europe who historically formed the core of the Israeli elite.
Free the Asi campaign, a group fighting for public access to a cherished beauty spot and against perceived privilege. On the other is a kibbutz eager to maintain its hard-earned assets and tranquil lifestyle. The dispute has landed in court, awaiting resolution; in late May, the state of Israel weighed in, backing the public’s right to access the stream through the kibbutz.
But underlying the battle are much greater tensions that extend across Israel.
The Asi dispute pits advantaged scions of the country’s socialist founders against a younger generation from a traditionally marginalized group. And it has resonated across Israel as a distillation of the identity politics and divisions that deepened under the long prime ministership of Benjamin Netanyahu.
Israel’s fourth in two years, 93.5 percent of the vote in Beit Shean, with a population of about 18,000, went to right-wing or religious parties mostly aligned with Mr. Netanyahu, then the prime minister. Three miles away in Nir David, a community of about 650 people, over 90 percent of the votes went to centrist or left-wing parties that belong to the new governing coalition that ousted him.
Free the Asi campaign has attracted a variety of supporters, including left-wing social justice advocates and environmentalists. But left-wing political parties have mostly stayed mum to avoid alienating the kibbutz movement, their traditional base of support.
Some on the right have enthusiastically taken up the cause, like Yair Netanyahu, the former prime minister’s elder son, who has called to liberate the Asi on Twitter. It was a lawmaker from Shas, the ultra-Orthodox, Mizrahi party, who brought the court case against the kibbutz.
“It’s worth it for them to fan the ethnic narrative,” said Lavi Meiri, the kibbutz’s chief administrator. “It gets them votes.”
Nir David denies any discrimination, asserting that 40 percent of its population is now Mizrahi.
To end the standoff, Nir David has backed developing a new leisure area outside the kibbutz or extending the Asi’s flow toward Beit Shean. But the Free the Asi leaders said that could set a precedent for the privatization of natural resources.
Perah Hadad, 36, a campaign leader from Beit Shean, said the relationship with Nir David had always been one of “us on the outside and them inside.”
Ms. Hadad, a political science student, argues that part of the kibbutz could be opened to the public with fixed hours and prohibitions on barbecues and loud music.
“After all,” she said, “there are not that many streams like this in Israel.”
The flotilla led by Mr. Vaknin took place on Mimouna, a North African Jewish holiday marking the end of Passover.
Mr. Vaknin, 30, an information systems analyst, had organized a noisy and festive demonstration that began outside the kibbutz gate, complete with a D.J. and piles of mufletot, Mimouna pancakes dripping with honey.
“Open your gates and open your hearts!” Mr. Vaknin shouted, inviting kibbutz residents to join the party.
An eclectic mix of about two dozen people turned up to protest.
While the kibbutz offers the most practical entry into the Asi, it is possible to reach the water where the stream meets the irrigation channel. But that way involves several hazards, including clambering down a steep incline off a busy road and the possibility that sharp rocks in this untamed part of the stream would tear a raft.
Despite those obstacles, the protesters moved from the kibbutz down the road to launch their flotilla from that unblocked spot and later disembarked near the kibbutz cemetery. Children swam and chased ducks as grim-faced security guards looked on, filming on their cellphones.
The wet interlopers then sauntered off into the heart of the kibbutz. Nobody stopped them, and they posed for victory photos on the manicured bank of the Asi.
SAN FRANCISCO — When India’s government ordered Facebook and other tech companies to take down posts critical of its handling of the coronavirus pandemic in April, the social network complied on some posts.
But once it did, its employees flocked to online chat rooms to ask why Facebook had helped Prime Minister Narendra Modi of India stifle dissent. In one internal post, which was reviewed by The New York Times, an employee with family in India accused Facebook of “being afraid” that Mr. Modi would ban the company from doing business in the country. “We can’t act or make decisions out of fear,” he wrote.
Weeks later, when clashes broke out in Israel between Israelis and Palestinians, Facebook removed posts from prominent Palestinian activists and briefly banned hashtags related to the violence. Facebook employees again took to the message boards to ask why their company now appeared to be censoring pro-Palestinian content.
“It just feels like, once again, we are erring on the side of a populist government and making decisions due to politics, not policies,” one worker wrote in an internal message that was reviewed by The Times.
inflammatory posts from former President Donald J. Trump. But since Mr. Trump left office in January, attention has shifted to Facebook’s global policies and what employees said was the company’s acquiescence to governments so that it could continue profiting in those countries.
“There’s a feeling among people at Facebook that this is a systematic approach, one which favors strong government leaders over the principles of doing what is right and correct,” said Ashraf Zeitoon, Facebook’s former head of policy for the Middle East and North Africa region, who left in 2017.
Facebook is increasingly caught in a vise. In India, Russia and elsewhere, governments are pressuring it to remove content as they try to corral the platform’s power over online speech. But when Facebook complies with the takedown orders, it has upset its own employees, who say the social network has helped authoritarian leaders and repressive regimes quash activists and silence marginalized communities.
BuzzFeed News and the Financial Times earlier reported on some of the employee dissatisfaction at Facebook over Israeli and Palestinian content.
A divide between Facebook’s employees and the global policy team, which is composed of roughly 1,000 employees, has existed for years, current and former workers said. The policy team reports to Sheryl Sandberg, the chief operating officer.
many tricky international situations over the years, including in Russia, Vietnam and Myanmar, where it has had to consider whether it would be shut down if it did not work with governments. That has led to the employee dissent, which has begun spilling into public view.
That became evident with India. In April, as Covid-19 cases soared in the country, Mr. Modi’s government called for roughly 100 social media posts on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter to be pulled down. Many of the posts included critiques of the government from opposition politicians and calls for Mr. Modi’s resignation.
Facebook removed some of the posts and briefly blocked a hashtag, #ResignModi. The company later said the hashtag had been banned by mistake and was not part of a government request.
But internally, the damage was done. In online chat rooms dedicated to human rights issues and global policy, employees described how disappointed they were with Facebook’s actions. Some shared stories of family members in India who were worried they were being censored.
Last month, when violence broke out between Israelis and Palestinians, reports surfaced that Facebook had erased content from Palestinian activists. Facebook’s Instagram app also briefly banned the #AlAqsa hashtag, a reference to Al Aqsa Mosque, one of Islam’s holiest sites. Facebook later explained that it had confused the #AlAqsa hashtag with a Palestinian militant group called Al Aqsa Martyrs Brigade.
Understand the Covid Crisis in India
Employees bristled. “We are responding to people’s protests about censoring with more censoring?” one wrote in an internal message, which was reviewed by The Times.
Nick Clegg, who leads public affairs, to explain the company’s role in removing content tied to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, according to attendees. The employee called the situation in Israel “fraught” and asked how Facebook was going “to get it right” with content moderation.
Mr. Clegg ran through a list of policy rules and plans going forward, and assured staff that moderation would be treated with fairness and responsibility, two people familiar with the meeting said. The discussion was cordial, one of the people said, and comments in the chat box beside Mr. Clegg’s response were largely positive.
But some employees were dissatisfied, the people said. As Mr. Clegg spoke, they broke off into private chats and workplace groups, known as Tribes, to discuss what to do.
Dozens of employees later formed a group to flag the Palestinian content that they said had been suppressed to internal content moderation teams, said two employees. The goal was to have the posts reinstated online, they said.
Members of Facebook’s policy team have tried calming the tensions. In an internal memo in mid-May, which was reviewed by The Times, two policy team members wrote to other employees that they hoped “that Facebook’s internal community will resist succumbing to the division and demonization of the other side that is so brutally playing itself out offline and online.”
One of them was Muslim, and the other was Jewish, they said.
“We don’t always agree,” they wrote. “However, we do some of our best work when we assume good intent and recognize that we are on the same side trying to serve our community in the best possible way.”