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Report: Israeli army accelerating extensive surveillance network across West Bank

June 19, 2017 11:54 P.M. (Updated: June 20, 2017 4:01 P.M.)
BETHLEHEM (Ma’an) -- Israeli news daily Haaretz published a report Sunday night, detailing the extensive network of surveillance cameras and “other monitoring devices” that the Israeli army has set up across the occupied Palestinian territory, boasting of the network’s effectiveness in “deterring attacks” on Israeli citizens and Israeli forces.

According to Haaretz, the army accelerated the program over the past year, with more than 1,700 surveillance cameras already installed on roads, intersections, and in illegal settlements across the West Bank.

“The army believes more cameras deter terror attacks and can aid in gathering intelligence that can help to capture perpetrators,” Haaretz said, adding that “the improved signals intelligence capabilities of the Shin Bet security service and Military Intelligence were an important component in Israel’s response to attacks by terror cells affiliated with Hamas, Fatah, and Islamic Jihad,” during the Second Intifada.

“Today’s challenges, however, are different. Most terror attacks are carried out by 'lone wolves,' acting without the backing of an organization, or by small, independent local cells. This development has made visual intelligence technology a more significant part of the Israeli defense program,” Haaretz -- generally considered Israel's most left-leaning newspaper -- said.

The narrative of “lone wolf” assailants under the influence of online incitement, which has been perpetuated by the current right-wing Israeli government, has been dismissed by analysts as overly simplistic.

Palestinians have instead pointed chiefly to the frustration and despair brought on by Israel's 50-year military occupation of the Palestinian territory and the absence of a political horizon as reasons for the outbreak of violence that started in October 2015 and has largely been characterized by small-scale stabbing attacks against uniformed Israeli security forces.

At sites where several attacks have occurred, like the Gush Etzion junction in the southern West Bank district of Bethlehem, cameras have been installed that provide 360-degree coverage.

Along Route 443 from Jerusalem to the central Israeli city of Modiin, “an operations room has been set up that collects data from many cameras in an effort to reduce the number of stone-throwing and firebomb attacks on this major artery,” Haaretz said, adding that the army has boasted a drop in the number of “attacks” along the road in recent months.

“There has also been increased use of drones, helmet-mounted cameras, and cameras installed on military patrol vehicles but also in the vehicles of civilian security personnel in the settlements.”

According to Haaretz, the army’s goal is to “expand the system until there is a camera at every intersection and in as many Israeli vehicles in the territories as possible.”

Haaretz described the extensive surveillance efforts as “supplements” to Israeli authorities’ crackdown on Palestinian social media activity, which has seen at least 800 Palestinians detained, by both Israeli and Palestinian authorities, in less than a year over social media activity, according to an April report from Haaretz.

By contrast, a February report released by the Arab Center for Social Media Advancement 7amleh documented that slanderous, provocative, and threatening posts made by Israelis against Arabs and Palestinians more than doubled in 2016, reaching 675,000 posts made by 60,000 Hebrew-speaking Facebook users -- “while almost not a single case of incitement has been opened against Israeli instigators.”

A more recent report by Haaretz revealed how Israel has been monitoring Palestinians’ social media profiles and subsequently making arrests when “the kid doesn’t know that he is a terrorist yet,” as one Israeli army officer put it.

Suppression of Palestinian freedom of expression in recent months has also seen bookstores shuttered, while activists, journalists, novelists, and poets have been detained.

At the end of Sunday’s report, Haaretz raised the question about how “how far” such a use of technology and surveillance inside the West Bank and East Jerusalem, which have been illegally occupied by Israel for 50 years, would invade into the privacy of Palestinians.

“These issues have never been publicly debated, nor is it clear whether Israel’s security services have given much thought to the possible long-term ramifications of these developments,” Haaretz concluded.

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