A group of Israelis and Americans have sued Facebook Inc. for $1 billion in damages, claiming that the social media site allowed the Palestinian group Hamas to use the platform to plot attacks that killed four Americans and wounded one in Israel, the West Bank and Jerusalem between 2014 and 2016.
The lawsuit, filed in US District Court for the Southern District of New York on Monday by Israeli NGO Shurat Hadin in the name of Israeli and American victims of Palestinian attacks, said that Facebook "knowingly provided material support and resources to Hamas," which allegedly allowed the group to communicate effectively and spread violence.
Sami Abu Zuhri, a Hamas spokesman in Gaza, called the lawsuit an Israeli attempt to blackmail Facebook and accused Israel of trying to turn the social network into a spy tool against Palestinians.
He said that some Israeli politicians and soldiers had "expressed pride at the killing of Palestinians" on Facebook and other social media.
"The real test for the owners of Facebook is to reject this [Israeli] pressure," Abu Zuhri said.
The lawsuit was brought under the 1992 US Anti-Terrorism Act which prohibits American businesses from providing any material support, including services, to designated terrorist groups and their leaders.
Hamas is recognised as a terrorist organisation by the United States, despite the fact that it is one of two major political parties in Palestine and cam to power in a fair and free election in 2006.
The social media giant did not respond directly to the lawsuit but a statement from the company said it stood by its regulations for preventing abusive content while a company representative in Israel said they wanted "people to feel safe" when using Facebook.
"There is no place for content encouraging violence, direct threats, terrorism or hate speech on Facebook. We have a set of Community Standards ... and we urge people to use our reporting tools if they find content that they believe violates our standards so we can investigate and take swift action."
Meanwhile, a senior Hamas leader, Mushir al-Masri, told Bloomberg by phone "Suing Facebook clearly shows the American policy of fighting freedom of the press and expression," also adding that it was evidence of US prejudice against the group and "its just cause."
The private lawsuit follows censure from Israel's security minister over what he deemed Facebook's reluctance to help track potential Palestinian militants and curb incitement to violence. In response, Facebook defended its regulations against online abuse.
Darshan-Leitner, of the Shurat HaDin-Israel Law Center, filed a class action suit in October for an injunction against Facebook to stop carrying alleged Palestinian incitement. The proceedings are still under way in that case.
Israel's internal security minister said Facebook bore "some responsibility" for the wave of violence while the Palestinians see it as the result of frustrations over nearly 50 years of Israeli occupation and a lack of hope for their own state.
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.
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 orders of any group.