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Israel’s Surveillance Technology to Monitor Palestinians

Israel’s Surveillance Technology to Monitor Palestinians

The world has recently learned much more about Israel’s use of surveillance technology to monitor Palestinians in the occupied territories. When George Orwell wrote his thrilling classic novel “1984”, he warned of a future which Palestinians began experiencing years ago.

On November 11, the Palestinian Foreign Ministry accused the Israeli-American company NSO Group of spying on three senior Palestinian officials by secretly installing military-grade Pegasus software on their mobile phones. A few days earlier, there was detection of this spyware on the mobile devices of Palestinian human rights activists in the West Bank.

Some of these individuals worked for the NGOs which on October 19 the Israeli Defense Ministry controversially announced it would designate as “terrorist” organizations. The targeted human rights and civil society organizations include Addameer, Al-Haq, Bisan Center for Research and Development, Defence for Children International – Palestine, the Union of Agricultural Committees, and the Union of Palestinian Women’s Committees. These NGOS, which Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch have worked with over the years, have received funds from international donors. All of them deny these accusations of being guilty of terrorism.

Also, earlier this month the Washington Post published Elizabeth Dwoskin’s article about “Blue Wolf”, which is smart phone technology that Israel uses to monitor Palestinians in the West Bank. It relies on sophisticated facial recognition technology. Dwoskin’s findings came from interviews with six members of Breaking the Silence, a group of Israeli veterans who have taken a moral stance against the occupation. According to Breaking the Silence, units within Israel’s military have “competed” with each other in their quest to obtain photographs of Palestinians of literally all ages for an enormous database. Reportedly there have been prizes for the units which collect the most photographs.  

This technology “captures photos of Palestinians’ faces and matches them to a database of images so extensive that one former soldier described it as the army’s secret ‘Facebook for Palestinians,’” wrote Dwoskin. “The phone app flashes in different colors to alert soldiers if a person is to be detained, arrested or left alone.”

“Over the past two years, Israeli soldiers photographed Palestinians, including women, the elderly, and children – sometimes against their will – using Blue Wolf, with the number of photos taken reportedly running into the thousands,” explained the journalist Mustafa Abu Sneineh in a recent Middle East Eye publication. One of the veterans interviewed by Dwoskin said, “I wouldn’t feel comfortable if they used it in the mall in [my hometown], let’s put it that way.” She went on to assert that this system of surveillance constituted a “total violation of privacy of an entire people.”

Access Now, a New York-based non-profit organization committed to defending digital civil rights, called this surveillance and use of facial recognition as one of the “most elaborate deployments of such technology by a country seeking to control a subject population.”

To be sure, the Israeli occupation forces in the West Bank have never respected any rights to privacy on the part of Palestinians. Yet “Blue Wolf” brings this violation of privacy rights to a “whole new level” as Breaking the Silence put it. There is no denying that such practices constitute a form of digital oppression on a draconian scale. Organizations and individuals around the world who care about civil liberties must sound the alarm. Not doing so will have repercussions for all people, not just Palestinians living in the occupied territories. Palestine is merely a laboratory for such disturbing use of advanced technology which make “1984” a scary reality.

At this juncture, policymakers in western governments that support Israel must make decisions about whether the country will face any consequences for such abusive practices. Perhaps the Biden administration’s decision to blacklist NSO provides a glimmer of hope. But what else will the US do to show the Israelis that they must face accountability for this digital authoritarianism which they attempt to justify under the banner of pursuing necessary “counter-terrorism” practices to protect their “security”? Will officials in Washington and other western capitals believe that the Palestinians’ right to live with security must be considered along with this right for the Israelis? Now we don’t know. Yet regardless of the answers to these open questions, one point is clear: The West can no longer plead ignorance. More By The Author

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of Newslooks.com

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