‘Battletested’ on Palestinians, blacklisted by White House, NSO group is closely tied to Israeli security establishment – Mondoweiss


This month’s Media Watch focus is on the NSO group and Pegasus spyware, its support from the Israeli government, targeted attacks against activists, dissidents, and journalists, and extreme surveillance of Palestinians as well as Israeli civil society.

Meanwhile the brutal Israeli siege and occupation continue, with escalating Jewish settler violence, war trauma and rising poverty in Gaza, prisoners fighting administrative detention. In Israel, Bedouins were attacked opposing JNF plans to plant trees in the Naqab and there is a renewed understanding of the 1948 Nakba and the massacre at Tantura. 

Please read and share widely.

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Of note:  With the Israeli attacks on Palestinian human rights organizations, such as the Union of Agricultural Work Committees, and the attacks on Palestinian civilian infrastructure, such as the teargassing of the hydroponic rooftop garden at Lajee Center in Aida Camp, Bethlehem, the Israeli Army reveals its fear of Palestinian resilience and truth-telling about the occupation.  

Welcome to the Health and Human Rights Media Watch. During the Coronavirus pandemic, we are curating a weekly timeline/update on the impact of the virus on Israel/Palestine and all related submissions to Media Watch will be folded into that report.  Please follow at https://www.jvphealth.com/covid-19. Health and human rights news unrelated to the pandemic is included here. If you want to be involved in this JVP Health Advisory Council Media Watch project, contact us: https://www.jvphealth.org/contact

We are trying a new format, trying to corral and curate an enormous amount of
troubling information.

MONTHLY HUMAN RIGHTS HERO AND VIOLATION

HERO:


The Union of Agricultural Work Committees

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Demonized by Israel, the Union of Agricultural Work Committees helps people in Gaza grow their own food.  (photo: Ashraf Amra, APA images)

Ibrahim Abu Ghoula’s Gaza farm, near the border with Israel, has seen recurring damage from IDF tanks during its incursions. Aid from the Union of Agricultural Work Committees (UAWC), including seeds and fertilizer, has helped him recover. “They have been helping our family for 10 years now,” he said. “Without their support, we would not have been able to take proper care of this land.” Similarly, Yasir al-Jbour is among the many farmers in Gaza who have benefited from an irrigation project implemented by the UAWC in 2020. “This area now has a constant water supply,” said al-Jbour. “Before this project, farmers only had water once or twice a week through a service run by the local municipality.” UAWC has also organized campaigns on women’s rights to own and inherit land and provided advocacy training to many women. Other UAWC activities in Gaza include repairing fishing vessels, equipping poultry farms with solar panels, organizing a cow census, and developing a seed bank. But last October, UAWC was one of six Palestinian human rights and social service organizations designated as “terrorist” by Israel.

VIOLATION:

Israeli army tear gasses refugee camp, ruining youth center’s hydroponic rooftop garden

TEAR GAS KILLS CROPS Community Hydroponic Garden Damaged: Ifor3.org

Majd Kwawaja, one of the volunteers at the Lajee Center, inspects the damage done to the Center’s rooftop hydroponic garden after an Israeli tear gas attack on the Aida Refugee Camp, Bethlehem, January 2022 (photo: Lajee Center)

At 7:00pm local time on January 18, after dark and unprovoked, the Israeli military launched a tear gas attack on Aida Refugee Camp in Bethlehem, Palestine, impacting the Lajee Center, a youth and community organization that houses a kindergarten, a library, and more. The hydroponics vegetable farm on the roof of the building was damaged, with 1,000 seedlings destroyed. The children’s playground adjoining the newly opened kindergarten was also damaged. The rooftop farm, established in 2021, provides fruit and vegetables to about 800 people in 120 families, and provides an opportunity for the older generation to teach younger generations their organic, chemical-free technique that uses 70% less water than traditional methods. Both the kindergarten and the hydroponics garden are supported by 1for3.org, a Boston-based organization working to advocate and build toward health, environment, and educational opportunities for Palestinian refugees. The next morning, staff and volunteers collected over 150 spent canisters in and around the building. No motive for the attack was discernable. 

video report: https://vimeo.com/668648549

Israel’s NSO Group Technologies: Impact and Implications

·       This month’s theme is the intrusion into Palestinian life and international marketing of cybersecurity by Israel’s NSO Group Technologies, (NSO standing for Niv, Shalev, and Omri, the names of the company’s founders). NSO is primarily known for its proprietary spyware Pegasus, which is capable of remote zero-click surveillance of both Android and iOS/Apple smartphones. (In such interactionless attacks, victims don’t need to click a link or grant permission for the hack to execute.) NSO’s ForcedEntry software has been deployed recently in a number of targeted attacks against activists, dissidents, and journalists. The company’s products have been so abused by its customers around the world that NSO Group now faces sanctions, high-profile lawsuits, and an uncertain future. 

Wired article

New York Times article

New York Times article

·       Contrary to Israeli claims, NSO is closely connected to, licensed, regulated, and supported by the Israeli government. The government, as reported in the Israeli media, “considers NSO’s software a crucial component of its foreign policy and national security.” An Apple lawsuit accuses Israel of “sponsoring” and enabling NSO. The firm’s customers have included despotic and autocratic regimes, from Saudi Arabia, Morocco, and the United Arab Emirates to India, Hungary, Mexico, and beyond. 

Pegasus is but one example of Israeli military, intelligence, and security products and doctrines that get “battle-tested” on the millions of captive Palestinians living under military occupation in Gaza and the West Bank, including East Jerusalem. Israel used Pegasus to spy on staff members of the six globally respected Palestinian human rights and civil rights organizations that it falsely smeared and outlawed. Palestinians continue to call for an international ban on all spyware, including Pegasus—keeping in mind Edward Snowden’s important observation: “Their only products are infection vectors. They’re not security products.… They don’t make vaccines—the only thing they sell is the virus.”
The Biden administration’s decision earlier in January to “blacklist” NSO and another Israeli company, Candiru, which targets computers, may have been influenced by the growing outrage from US-based tech giants about how NSO’s spyware is undermining their own systems’ security, and thus threatening their markets.

The Nation

·       The coronavirus pandemic has been extremely profitable for the Israeli spyware industry. Around half of global cybersecurity investment in the past few years has been in Israel. As more work is done remotely, Prime Minister Bennett said, companies will be increasingly vulnerable to cyberattacks. “I believe roughly half or almost half of the global investments in cyber companies over the past few years has been in Israel. So Israel has become a powerhouse in cyber defense. I see a bunch of opportunities, and we intend to seize them.”

Haaretz

·       The European Union funds at least 10 projects involving Israel’s police despite admitting that the research may be used for spying purposes. In one example, a project named Roxanne has been examining how criminals can be identified with the aid of speech recognition technology and visual analysis.

Electronic Intifada

·       In one example of NSO Pegasus spyware being used globally, an Internet watchdog group at the University of Toronto reported that dozens of journalists and human rights defenders in El Salvador had their cellphones repeatedly hacked with sophisticated spyware over the past year and a half. The researchers say it is ‘very likely’ that the government was behind the wave of infections with the Israeli company’s cyberware. The phones of two activists for women’s rights in Jordan and Bahrain were found to have been infected by Pegasus spyware, as revealed in a report that highlighted the gendered aspect of hacking and underscored the unique threat such spyware poses to female targets. Israeli TV footage showed that NSO struck a deal with the Ghanaian government, which allegedly planned to use Pegasus to snoop on opposition figures ahead of a 2017 election.

Haaretz

Haaretz

Haaretz

Haaretz

·       The Israeli government closely monitors the communications and movements of millions of Palestinians in the occupied territories (West Bank, East Jerusalem, Gaza), who have lived under Israeli military rule since 1967, and inside Israel, making Palestinians one of the most surveilled people in the world. The following fact sheet provides an overview of Israel’s methods of surveillance and physical control over Palestinians in the occupied territories.

IMEU

Jewish Voice for Peace

·       A top Israeli defense official admitted that Israel exports arms endangering human rights because it serves the national interest. At a closed conference the official said, “We should have defended NSO rather than caving to the Americans.”

Haaretz

·       Having turned a blind eye to NSO aiding and profiting from autocrats abroad or spying on Palestinians in the West Bank being targeted by Shin Bet, many Israelis were more upset to discover the security apparatus was using NSO software to spy on them at home. On January 18, a report in an Israeli financial daily revealed that Pegasus spyware has been used by Israeli police to surveil civil society activists and protestors against former Prime Minister Benjamin Neyanyahu, as well as Israeli mayors, politicians, and others. This was the first indication that the tools were being used to spy on Israeli citizens, Jews and Arabs alike. Israeli police deny the allegations and claim that each bugging case was approved by a judge. 

Haaretz article

Haaretz article

Haaretz article

Haaretz article

·       Israeli Attorney General Avichai Mendelblit sent a letter to Israel’s police chief, demanding answers over the force’s alleged use of NSO spyware to target Israeli citizens and activists, following the report that revealed police have been using Pegasus spyware against Israeli civilians for years. Mendelblit asked Police Commissioner Kobi Shabtai for answers to allegations that the police hacked into the cell phones of activists who organized demonstrations against the former prime minister and opposition chairman Benjamin Netanyahu.

Haaretz

·       As the NSO story turned into a major scandal, Israel Police vehemently denied tapping into phones without a warrant. Judges who sign warrants for police wiretaps don’t know what tools police intend to use to carry them out, senior police officers said, responding to a report that Israeli police were using NSO’s controversial Pegasus spyware without a warrant to hack into Israelis’ cellphones, including Israelis who aren’t criminals or even suspected criminals.

Haaretz

·       On January 25, Asher Levy said he had quit as Chairman of Israeli spyware firm, NSO Group, but denied that his departure was linked to lawsuits or media coverage of the international furor that has erupted over the company’s Pegasus hacking software. In November, in a big blow to the firm’s export prospects, the US Commerce Department blacklisted NSO, saying it sold spyware to foreign governments which then used the equipment to target government officials, journalists, and others. NSO is facing either legal action or criticism from Apple; Microsoft Corp; Facebook parent, Meta Platforms Inc; Google parent, Alphabet Inc; and Cisco Systems Inc. Last week, Israel’s Attorney General ordered an investigation into police surveillance tactics amid reports that Pegasus had been improperly used domestically.

Middle East Monitor
Haaretz

SAY THEIR NAMES

The year 2021 was the deadliest year to be a Palestinian child since 2014. As many as 86 children were killed, and Defense for Children International Palestine (DCIP) documented each of them. One of them was  17 y.o. Obaida Jawabra.
Aljazeera

Detailed summary of Palestinian civilians killed between December 21, 2021 and January 10, 2022. Names are not given.
Relief Web

The UN Office for Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) continuously tallies the number of Palestinians and Israelis killed or injured since 2008 in the occupied Palestinian territory (oPt) and Israel in the context of the occupation and conflict. By clicking, tapping, or hovering over the charts, it is possible to apply filters by time, area, context, and affiliation of the casualties. In the “Say Their Names” section of this monthly update, we report the names and ages of Palestinians who have been killed and links to additional information.

OCHA

Amir Ataf Rayyan (36)

Haaretz

Middle East Monitor

Aljazeera

Al-Haq

Addameer

Middle East Monitor

Bakir Mohammed Hashash (21)

Haaretz

Aljazeera

Mustafa Falaneh (25)

Mondoweiss

Suleiman al-Hathalin (75)

Middle East Eye

Omar Abdalmajeed As’ad (80)

Haaretz

Mondoweiss

The Guardian

AJP Action

New York Times

Haaretz

Aljazeera

Washington Post

New York Times

Salim Mohammed al-Nawati (16)

Alaraby
Al Mezan

Haj Suleiman al-Hathaleen (73/75)

Haaretz

Haaretz

Mondoweiss

Haaretz

Aljazeera

Falah Musa Jaradat (age unknown)

Haaretz
Aljazeera

Muhammad Issa Abbas (26)

Middle East Eye

There are many other pressing issues from this past month, and will briefly mention some of them.

·       Please see our statement condemning the October 2021 Israeli designation of six human rights groups as “terrorist organizations.”

Jewish Voice for Peace Health Advisory Council

·       Escalating acts of Israeli settler violence appear to form a pattern that is sometimes condemned by the government, but without consequences for the perpetrators as home demolitions and official violence continue.

On January 10, undercover Israeli Special Forces supported by Israeli occupation soldiers stormed the Eastern Gate of Birzeit University shooting live ammunition at Palestinian students, wounding one and arresting five students. 

In the East Jerusalem neighborhood of Sheikh Jarrah, Israeli police demolished the home of the Salhiya family at around 3:30 a.m. They forcibly removed the family (including five children) and activists who were supporting them, using stun grenades and arresting more than a dozen people before razing the house to the ground. The Israeli army previously destroyed the family’s business, a plant nursery. The Salhiya family originates from Ein Karem, a village west of Jerusalem. They were expelled from their homes during the Nakba in 1948, and they lived in the home in Sheikh Jarrah for decades. 

On January 21, over a dozen masked assailants violently attacked a group of Israeli human rights activists in the West Bank near the Palestinian village of Burin. Seven of the activists, many of them older persons, were wounded as they returned from helping Palestinian farmers plant trees in areas that had been vandalized in the past. The human rights workers were from Rabbis for Human Rights, Alive Harvest Coalition, Machsom Watch, and the Bekaa Coalition.

Israeli Public Security Minister Omer Bar-Lev decried the attack as the “actions of a terror organization” after over a dozen masked assailants violently assaulted the group near the Palestinian village of Burin. When questioned on the lack of arrests, Bar-Lev said “it took time” for the police to arrive. Two days later, police said Palestinian cars were vandalized in the town of Qira in the northern West Bank, with perpetrators spray-painting Stars of David on the vehicles and puncturing their tires. 

Seven prominent American-Jewish organizations urged Israeli officials to condemn “the ongoing terrorism and political violence committed by Jewish Israeli extremists in the West Bank against Palestinians, Israeli civilians, and IDF soldiers.” In a letter organized by Israel Policy Forum and signed by the Anti-Defamation League, Central Conference of American Rabbis, National Council of Jewish Women, Rabbinical Assembly, Union for Reform Judaism, and United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism, the groups urged Prime Minister Naftali Bennett, Foreign Minister Yair Lapid, and Defense Minister Benny Gantz to address the “disturbing trend” through “unequivocal action.”

Addameer

Al-Haq

Electronic Intifada

Mondoweiss

Haaretz

Middle East Monitor

Haaretz

Haaretz

Haaretz

Haaretz

·       Gaza continues to have enormous war trauma, unemployment and poverty, which has a major impact on young people trying to establish their own families.

The Gaza Strip has one of the highest unemployment rates in the world – more than 50% – and a very young population. Young couples living under the blockade are turning to loan agencies to get married, and falling into crippling debt in the process. In addition, young women in Gaza report frequent miscarriages and pregnancy complications, as well as difficulty caring for infants while grieving the loss of previous children and pregnancies.

Mondoweiss

Electronic Intifada

·       Palestinian prisoners continue to struggle with administrative detention in Israeli jails, hunger strikes, the lack of medical care, and the denial of medical permits for those living in Gaza in the “open air prison” that is everyday life.

The Israeli military command renewed 18-year-old Amal Nakhleh’s administrative detention order on January 13 for an additional four months, representing the third renewal and fourth term of his administrative detention order since his arrest on 21 January 2021. During the confirmation hearing on January 18, both Amal and his legal counsel were not present due to Amal’s participation in the collective boycott of Palestinian administrative detainees against Israeli military courts. Amal suffers from myasthenia gravis, a rare neuromuscular disorder causing weakness in the skeletal muscles, which requires specialized medical care, regular medication, and constant monitoring of symptoms to avoid further health complications.

Addameer

Alarabiya

UNRWA

Palestinian Centre for Human Rights

Haaretz

Mondoweiss

Al Mezan 

·       In the wake of a new documentary film, Tantura, and the revelation of mass grave sites, there are calls to investigate the massacre by Israeli troops in 1948 that resulted in several hundred Palestinians brutally killed in the village of Tantura.

The Palestinian Authority (PA) has called for the formation of an international commission to investigate the massacres committed by Israel in the Palestinian village of Tantura in 1948. Haaretz reported on Thursday the discovery of a mass grave in Tantura village of Palestinians killed by Zionist gangs in 1948

Aljazeera

·       In the Naqab (Negev), Bedouins and human rights activists were attacked by Israeli police while protesting the JNF and Israel Lands Authority program to plant trees and displace the Bedouins.  
Israeli police violently dispersed demonstrations by Palestinian Bedouins and Human rights activists over the Jewish National Fund’s afforestation work in the Naqab.  The police exceeded its authority and endangered the lives of the demonstrators by using rubber bullets, rubber-coated steel bullets and drones that dropped tear gas grenades.  The press releases emphasized that the use of drones dropping tear gas grenades, “which was not used previously against citizens of Israel, is extremely dangerous, disproportionate, and unlawful.”
Adalah

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