Every Single Phone Call – Newsletter By Executive Director Stefanie Fox
I started this newsletter as a regular place to share our analysis and updates, workshop organizing strategy, and lift up what is happening throughout our organization and the broader movement for Palestinian rights. Would love to hear your thoughts, now and always: firstname.lastname@example.org.
3 Actions You Can Take Now:
- Tell your members of Congress to support Congresswoman Betty McCollum’s resolution denouncing Israel’s attack on human rights organizations and demanding that the State Department take action. It is absolutely essential that we force Congress to take a stand against this blatant authoritarian repression.
- Sign onto our No Tech for Apartheid campaign – back the brave Amazon and Google workers standing up to the Nimbus contract with the Israeli government.
- Read our Deadly Exchange report – learn in-depth about U.S.-Israel police exchanges.
Every Single Phone Call: What Israeli Spyware Reveals about the U.S.-Israel Alliance
The last several weeks have contained an onslaught of horrifying news about the Israeli government’s authoritarian tactics and the lengths it will go to maintain its violent apartheid regime over Palestinians.
Right after the Israeli Defense Ministry criminalized six of the leading Palestinian human rights and civil society groups based on “secret evidence” by designating them “terrorist organizations,” news broke that the phones of multiple Palestinian human rights defenders were infected with Pegasus, the military-grade spyware created by the Israeli company NSO Group. Disturbingly but unsurprisingly, several of the victims of the hacks were employees of the targeted human rights groups.
On the very same day, another investigation revealed what one former Israeli soldier called the Israeli army’s secret “Facebook for Palestinians.” The Blue Wolf and White Wolf Initiatives are an extensive network of technology used by both Israeli soldiers and settlers to collect and record photos of Palestinians that are fed into a massive facial recognition database that is used by soldiers and settlers in stopping and detaining Palestinians.
And then, just one week later, another article revealed that all phones imported into besieged Gaza are implanted with an Israeli military software bug, and that the Israeli military can monitor anyone using the only two cell networks available in the Palestinian occupied territories. This means that Israel’s entire security apparatus can listen to every single phone call Palestinians are making in the occupied West Bank and Gaza.
None of this is news to Palestinians, who face a totalizing regime of surveillance, control, criminalization and repression, regardless of the various actors colluding to enforce it. At the same time – and this is really key – these documented unfolding stories expose the way that Israeli private industry, military forces, police and settler organizations are working together in an entirely entwined system.
Completely Entwined: Private Tech – Settlers – Israeli Military
The Israeli government is openly attacking leading Palestinian human rights organizations and threatening human rights defenders with mass arrest. Why? Because these organizations – Addameer, al-Haq, Defense for Children Palestine, the Union of Agricultural Work Committees, Bisan Center for Research and Development and the Union of Palestinian Women Committee – are meticulously and effectively defending against and documenting Israel’s systemic oppression of Palestinians and the impact of its apartheid rule over Palestinians.
I can’t stress this enough: Israeli impunity relies on the government’s ability to silence those voices that track, push back, document and present its human rights abuses to the world. So it’s no surprise that Israeli security has been monitoring every move of these critical human rights organizations via illegal spyware on phones and computers.
And in spite of years of constant surveillance and harassment, these groups have continued their vital work, making significant headway in efforts for accountability in international arenas like the United Nations and European Union, and in the U.S. Congress. Many of them have been directly involved in presenting evidence to the International Criminal Court for its investigation into possible war crimes by the Israeli government. And so the Israeli government has escalated its campaign: designating them as “terrorist” in order to delegitimize their findings, cut off their funding, and drive them off of the international stage.
In both Israel and the U.S., the accusation of terrorism is used to stoke fear, dehumanize whole communities, and violently repress, incarcerate, bomb, deport, spy on, invade and occupy those communities and their homelands. Decades of this Islamophobic “war-on-terror” rhetoric in the U.S. mirrors Israel’s decades of demonizing Palestinians. Security language is a cloak for surveillance and control. As we say in our Deadly Exchange report:
Israel is regarded as a global leader in the technologies and tactics of surveillance, and the Israeli government claims its expertise has proven effective in thwarting threats to its security. But by treating entire populations as a security threat, what Israel has in fact perfected is a system of invasive monitoring of all Palestinians in all places, with the goal of controlling the entire Palestinian population.
This is obvious when looking at NSO group, an Israeli spyware firm, where we see the deep enmeshment between private industry and the Israeli government and military – from their presumed use by the government, to the leaders of the company emerging from the Israeli army’s notorious surveillance Unit 8200. As this report details, “According to a study cited by Haaretz in 2018, 80 percent of the 2,300 people who founded the 700 Israeli cybersecurity companies at the time came from IDF intelligence units.” And further detailing:
Israeli spyware companies like Archimedes, Black Cube, Candiru, Carbyne, Cellebrite, Cyberbit, Elbit Systems, NSO Group, Psy-Group, Quadream, Toka, Verint, White Knight, Wikistrat, among many others, have been selling surveillance technologies around the world for years. What these companies have in common is that they are trained by the Israeli military and sanctioned by the Israeli state.
The private company behind Blue Wolf worked with the army to collect photos of Palestinians. The army worked with settlers through a second app, White Wolf. And in turn, private Israeli tech companies built apps for both soldiers and settlers alike.
“Battle-tested” and brought to market
This is all key to why we launched our Deadly Exchange campaign in 2017 to end U.S.-Israel police exchanges, and why we’re helping lead the No Tech for Apartheid campaign, backing brave Google and Amazon workers who are challenging their companies’ $1.2 billion dollar contract with the Israeli government.
Both of these campaigns challenge the status quo of the U.S.-Israel alliance – whether it’s through stopping big tech companies from building the infrastructure used by the Israeli government to surveil, control and repress Palestinians, or challenging the police exchange programs that market those very tactics and technologies – “field-tested” on Palestinians – to cops back in the U.S.
The Nimbus Contract, announced by Google and Amazon just days after the Israeli military’s deadly assault on Gaza ended in June, provides cloud services for the Israeli government and military that enable Israeli oppression and suppression of the Palestinian people. It’s no surprise that workers of conscience are outraged that their labor is being used to provide further infrastructure for Israel’s high-tech apartheid regime.
Project Nimbus will have a material impact on people’s lives. Palestinians are already being harmed by Israeli military surveillance and repression. In equipping the Israeli military with advanced technology, Google and Amazon are enabling further oppression and are complicit in that harm. That’s where we come in: This campaign is a concrete opportunity to fight against militarized technology and its use by the Israeli government and military on Palestinians.
The same is true of law enforcement trips to Israel, where high-ranking officers meet with Israeli military, police and intelligence agencies to train in these all-encompassing surveillance tactics and technologies. These trips showcase the Israeli regime of surveillance and control as a global gold standard. For instance, American police officers on tour regularly visit the network of 400 cameras which blankets the Old City of Jerusalem and monitors Palestinian movement.
Following visits to Israel by the Atlanta Police, the department created a Video Integration Center, collecting and monitoring footage from Atlanta’s thousands of public and private 24-hour surveillance cameras. Unsurprisingly, the Atlanta Police Department reported that the center is modeled after the command and control center in the Old City of Jerusalem and mimics Israeli methods to proactively monitor crime.
What’s more, American law enforcement delegations regularly meet with the Israeli military and Shin Bet on their trips to discuss human intelligence methods such as the use of informants and infiltrating protests with undercover officials. These tactics were evident in the recent news about cell phone taping – where Israeli officials were recorded spying with the express purpose of finding and exploiting personal information like sexual orientation and relationship status, which is then used to blackmail Palestinians into collaborating with the Israeli military.
After extensive training with Israeli forces, the NYPD developed a similar program through its “Demographics Unit” to spy on daily life in Muslim communities in New York City. From 2003 until it was shut down by community activists in 2014, informants known as “mosque crawlers” were deployed to visit mosques, bodegas, and student organizations, and kept extensive dossiers on Muslim communities. And again, the founders of this program admitted that they were inspired by Israeli practices in the Occupied Palestinian Territories.
Palestinian-American legal scholar Noura Erakat points to the crux of the exchange:
Perhaps of greatest significance is the fact that Israeli officers are training U.S. law enforcement officers … in methods that Israel applies to Palestinians, whom it considers a foreign and enemy population. This irony was not lost on Black activists who have borne the brunt of militarized law enforcement and have been explicitly called ‘terrorists’ by President Trump. Trump’s pronouncements, however, are not novel. They are the most recent iteration casting Black protest as a national insurgency and justifying state violence to quell – and prevent – them.
The systemic racism in the U.S. is rooted in its militarized, racist and settler-colonial foundation, from the genocide against Native American nations to the enslavement of millions of Africans. It is also organically connected to the crimes perpetrated by U.S. imperialism against peoples of color worldwide. This includes, of course, the unconditional diplomatic, legal, and financial support – to the tune of $3.8 billion a year – that the U.S. government invests in Israeli Apartheid.
It is a well-worn path in America that the technology, practices and weapons the U.S. uses – or invests in – against Black and Brown people abroad come back to American streets, and are imported into other countries. Money lands back in American corporations, and those weapons and tactics land back on U.S. streets. So it’s down to us to campaign in a way that challenges and ultimately ends that cycle.
Fighting to Win
As always, our work is a balance of immediate defense work and longer-term offensive fights. That’s why I’m hoping you’ll take two minutes now to #StandWithThe6 – insist your members of Congress support Congresswoman Betty McCollum’s resolution denouncing Israel’s blatant authoritarian repression of Palestinian human rights defenders.
And now is a critical time to mobilize on the No Tech for Apartheid and Deadly Exchange campaigns that we’ve been discussing. Sign (or, if you’ve already signed, share) the No Tech for Apartheid petition, and read the Deadly Exchange report. If you want to launch a campaign to end the Deadly Exchange in your town, let us know!