It was revealed late last month that the Israeli government has installed an AI-controlled gun at a military checkpoint on the busy Al-Shuhada street in the Palestinian city of Hebron. Marwa Fatafta, who is Palestinian, tweeted in response “Believe us when we say we are a surveillance testing lab in every sense of the word.”
Fatafta is the Middle East-North Africa policy manager at the digital rights group Access Now and a policy analyst at the think tank Al-Shabaka which seeks to “educate and foster public debate on Palestinian human rights and self-determination.” Coda Story spoke with her to learn more about Israel’s use of surveillance technology in Palestine. This conversation has been edited for length and clarity.
You wrote on Twitter recently that Palestine is a surveillance testing laboratory. Could you elaborate on what you meant by that?
Most, if not all, of the surveillance technologies that are developed and exported by the Israeli authorities stem from the occupied territories. It’s either the Israeli army that has been prototyping and testing these technologies or private companies that are set up by former Israeli intelligence and military forces. Israel doesn’t acknowledge that its obligations to protect human rights under international law extend to the territories they occupy. And at the same time, they see in the occupied territories a lucrative opportunity to prototype, deploy, test and enhance all sorts of weapons and surveillance technologies.
In the last few weeks we’ve seen internet shutdowns in response to widespread protests in Iran. Despite the state of their diplomatic relations, how much do Israel and Iran learn from each other in terms of building a surveillance state?
I think regardless of where you sit on the political spectrum, authoritarian governments and oppressive regimes use the same tactics. They all have the same oppressive handbook. They know that flow of information is important. It’s important for organizing. It’s important for documentation, it’s important for accountability. And that’s why the Internet becomes an enemy of the state. For them, the moment there are protests or dissent on the ground, the number one rule is to stop the information from flowing, whether it be reporting to Meta to take down content as the Israeli government does, or shutting down the Internet or throttling the services like the Iranian regime does.
What can people do to resist?
For one, documentation. I think the bigger point here, though, is that it is not up to ordinary citizens. It is actually up to the international community to hold the Israeli government accountable for all of these violations. Often governments, especially the European governments and the U.S., when it comes to surveillance technologies, they don’t see the supply chain. They don’t understand that when technology is being used on an oppressed, occupied community it will soon be deployed somewhere else. And I think it’s important for people not only in Palestine but elsewhere, to understand how surveillance supply chains work, especially in the Palestinian context. Of course, Palestinians on the ground can protest. But we need to understand what’s driving this economy. It’s the demand from abroad and there are of course happy suppliers.