‘Harsh invasion of privacy’ provides Israeli Security Agency with a system of control over the Palestinians
A woman uses her phone in a courtroom in Nablus, occupied West Bank in February 2021 (AFP)
Israel can listen to every telephone conversation taking place in the West Bank and Gaza, a former member of the Israeli Army’s elite signals intelligence unit 8200 has told Middle East Eye.
Every mobile or phone imported into Gaza through the Kerem Shalom crossing – in Gaza’s south – is implanted with an Israeli bug, and anyone using the only two mobile networks serving the occupied territories – Jawwal and Wataniya – is being monitored as well, the former signals intelligence member said.
‘Sometimes these are private conversations, maybe even intimate conversations… Soldiers save the conversations and send them to their friends’
– Former member of the Israeli Army’s elite signals intelligence unit 8200
At any given time, hundreds of soldiers are listening to the conversations being conducted. The audio monitoring falls into two groups. The first is Palestinians who are politically active or who represent a security threat in Israel’s view. The second level of monitoring is used by Shin Bet, the domestic security service to find “pressure points” in Palestinian society.
“It might be finding gays who can be pressured to report on their relatives, or finding some man who is cheating on his wife. Finding someone who owes money to someone, let’s say, means that he can be contacted and offered money to pay his debt in exchange for his collaboration,” the army veteran said.
“This is an entire world in which the Shin Bet can acquire power over Palestinians that ultimately forces them to collaborate or reveal things about other people, and it is all part of the system of control,” he said.
Living without privacy
The army veteran was speaking in the wake of the Washington Post’s revelations about Blue Wolf, facial recognition technology that alerts soldiers at checkpoints to detain suspects.
The “grunt work” of this system of mass surveillance is done by Jewish Israeli soldiers who studied Arabic as part of their military service. They are monitored by Druze soldiers or Jewish soldiers of Syrian descent for whom Arabic is their mother tongue. They transcribe the conversations, whose texts are translated and sent to the army’s intelligence units and to Shin Bet.
He said there were no limits to Israel’s ability to invade Palestinians’ private and public lives. And there appear to be no limits as to what soldiers do with the conversations they have intercepted.
“Sometimes these are private conversations, maybe even intimate conversations. People who are soldiers in the army would laugh when they heard sex talk. Soldiers save the conversations and send them to their friends. This is a very harsh invasion of the privacy of every Palestinian living there,” he said.
The soldiers who do this do not regard their surveillance as a moral or ethical problem.
“The people around them, and their families, tell them that this is proper; everyone supports them. Their commander, their parents, the state, their friends… There is no reason that soldiers should think that what they are doing is not okay,” he said.
The recent revelations about Pegasus and Blue Wolf are nothing new to Palestinians who have grown up under constant surveillance.