December 4 2022 1:42 AM E-paper Subscribe Sign in My Account Sign out

Pressure mounts on Israel as it increases surveillance of Palestinians

A Palestinian woman stands at the fence of her house in Al-Shuhada Street, which is largely closed to Palestinians, in the Palestinian city of Hebron on November 9, 2021. (Photo: AFP)
OCCUPIED JERUSALEM — Israel is stepping up its monitoring of Palestinians by installing a massive network of cameras throughout the occupied West Bank and East Jerusalem. It’s believed to be using facial recognition technology to track some people’s movements. This comes on the heels of revelations that Palestinian activists’ and diplomats’ phones were hacked using Pegasus spyware.اضافة اعلان

In an explosive report by the Washington Post, Israeli forces are accused of conducting a massive surveillance operation in the occupied West Bank, allegedly using advanced facial recognition technology and a complex network of cameras and smart devices to monitor Palestinians.

Nadim Nashif, the director of 7amleh, a non-profit civil rights organization, told Jordan News that this a “big violation of the Palestinians privacy and digital rights”.

Nashif added that Israel, for the past few decades, has been treating Palestinian territory as a “big laboratory to expand on and test its surveillance industry”.

He said that Israel has also increased both its overt security presence and covert monitoring in occupied East Jerusalem.

“Palestinians are ... suffering from surveillance in various ways, including facial recognition, tapping, and wiring the whole mobile phone system.”
One way it does this, he said, is through the use of the Blue Wolf initiative, which sees the use of facial recognition technology by Israeli forces at checkpoints.

“Basically (they process) the pictures using a mix between security classification and facial recognition systems,” Nashif said. The photos are matched to those in a database and “matched with certain security classifications”.

But the surveillance of Palestinians isn't limited to soldiers and CCTV cameras.

In recent weeks, reports of Israel spying on at least six activists using the NSO Group’s Pegasus spyware drew widespread international criticism.

Rights activist Issa Amro told Jordan News he was alarmed by the prevalence of these monitoring devices, and said he and his neighbors in the Tel Rumeida neighborhood in Hebron feel exposed and violated.

“I don’t feel safe in my house, in the streets, because they follow me, and they violate my privacy.”

Amro, who has been detained by Israeli forces several times, said these surveillance methods are not installed to benefit Palestinians living in the area.
“The cameras are not to protect me. The cameras are to follow me, know my location, and attack me sometimes.”

“Usually, you want to feel a little secure and safe in your neighborhood, in your yard. That’s not the case, always we feel everything is filmed, everything is observed by the Israeli settlers and Israeli soldiers. They don’t care about your privacy,” Amro said, adding that relatives are reluctant to visit them.

Hamed Abu Eisheh, whose family has lived in Tel Rumeida for generations, told Jordan News that Israeli forces installed two cameras on his house without permission.

“They can watch us in our homes; they watch when we come and go, what we take with us.” And they’re not alone.

Palestinians say numerous cameras have been set up to cover just this small area. It is part of the Israeli military's growing surveillance network targeting Palestinians in their homes.

Yaser Abu Markhyah, a father of four, says his 80-year-old mother who lives with him doesn’t feel at ease sitting on their front porch anymore.

“Of course these cameras affect us, we don’t move around as much. We’re not comfortable socializing because someone is always filming us.”
Amro, meanwhile, says Israel’s motive is clear.

“The Israeli occupation is working to make the lives of the Palestinians in this area harder, in order to force them from their homes. They don’t evict you, but they make it impossible for you to stay,” he said.

“Palestinians are being dehumanized by the Israeli occupation and this is just another step of that,” said Nashif, whose organization has been monitoring these surveillance activities for years, says Israel’s methods violate Palestinians basic human rights.

Pressure is mounting on Israel. The US government blacklisted NSO earlier this month, restricting exports from US firms, forcing the tech company’s newly appointed chief executive to resign. Activists hope their ongoing campaign against the surveillance of Palestinians will force Israel to stand down.

Read more Region and World