The Watchers and the Watched

Last year, there was outrage in the Jewish community about a website, the Mapping Project, that sought to link Jewish agencies, synagogues, organizations, etc. by means of Google Maps. It was a one-stop go to website for tracking down Jews.

Using a series of dots and lines in different colors, it not only connects pro-Israel groups but other Jewish institutions, including a high school, a center for people with disabilities, student groups, synagogues, newspapers, Jewish-run charities, and even a center for Jewish arts. -- American Jewish Committee

Of course, the Pro-Palestinian site explained that they wanted to track those groups who supported Zionism.

Welcome to the Mapping Project. We are a multi-generational collective of activists and organizers… who wanted to develop a deeper understanding of local institutional support for the colonization of Palestine and harms that we see as linked, such as policing, US imperialism, and displacement/ethnic cleansing.  -- The Mapping Project

It harkens back to World War II. With a few clicks of a mouse, one could track down potential targets. Naturally and understandably, Jews were upset and worried.

Ironically, however, Amnesty International -- far from unbiased -- has just released a documentary about the surveillance system that Israeli applies to the contested areas of Judea and Samaria (what the world calls the West Bank), particularly the city of Hebron.

Amnesty International calls this surveillance “Automated Apartheid,” and the spin they put on the system is one-sided.

The Israelis themselves call their system by variations on the name of “wolf.”

One of the main revelations in the report is about a new, highly invasive surveillance system known as “Red Wolf,” which we at Breaking the Silence have recently heard about in testimonies we’ve received from soldiers who have used this technology. -- Daily Beast

Israel is starting to build a database of every Palestinian in Judea and Samaria. Palestinians can be stopped and be required to have their picture taken by IDF soldiers. These pictures are then entered into a database, where they are processed by Israeli-operated facial recognition software.

The movements, habits, and whereabouts of every Palestinian -- including children -- in the contested areas is now followed and tracked automatically.

Now, I do not have a problem with Jewish sovereignty in the area, though Amnesty International does. Nor do I consider the area “occupied,” as they do. I know enough history to consider the area part of the Jewish patrimony.

However, even if one supports the Israelis -- as I do -- this technology is still truly frightening and thoroughly totalitarian. Make no mistake about it. It may be necessary, but it is totalitarian.

The Israelis, who are masters of such technology, are in the process of using every Palestinian’s photograph to track and map every aspect of their daily lives through facial recognition algorithms. The Israelis know who the Palestinians are, where they are, when they are, whom they met, where they eat, and probably when they go to sleep.

Of course, the Israelis say that they are doing it to stop terrorism, and save Jewish lives -- and I have no doubt that such motives are behind this technology. Amnesty International leaves that part out. Israel also claims it helps the Palestinians, as well, since, by automating the surveillance, regular Palestinians can be cleared faster through checkpoints. The system streamlines the search and inspection procedures.

Israeli officials say the proliferation of surveillance tech helps “improve movement, access, and daily life” for Palestinians across the West Bank and East Jerusalem by, in the words of Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett, “[shrinking] the conflict.” -- Foreign Policy

I seriously doubt that Palestinians see it that way, though. They probably object to the whole intrusion.

Anti-Israel activists claim that such technology is exported to the rest of the world. They call it, “Exporting the Occupation,” or claim “We are all Palestinians.”

But this technology was never unique to the contested areas of Israel. Los Angeles and New York City have been brimming with cameras for decades. Big Brother has been watching you for some time.

What distinguishes the Israelis is how thoroughly they have this surveillance down to a science.

Even so, while Americans and Westerners are not being forcibly stopped on the street for photographs… yet, just wait until you renew your driver’s license. A lot of this surveillance is already here, and the rest will soon follow.

Israel’s tracking system is being compared to China’s surveillance state, but what everyone forgets is that American Tech Giants sold China the technology.


Is Google any less spooky when it displays an ad for an item you are looking to buy… before you type it in the search engine? That has happened to me, more than once.

In defense of the Jewish state, Pro-Israel advocates shoot back:

Arsen Ostrovksy, human rights lawyer and executive director of the International Legal Forum, says that facial recognition software is a fully legal counter-terrorism tool commonly used by liberal democracies. However, Amnesty applies a standard for all and a differential standard for Israel as part of its relentless campaign to delegitimize the Jewish state. -- Compsmag

Mr. Ostrovksy makes a good point, but such technology, even in the service of a good cause, is still worrisome. Social Security numbers were originally promised to track only retirement payments. Now, they are all but a national ID. These things have mission creep.

Israel will certainly not yield on this point. If such surveillance saves Jewish lives, they don’t care what the critics say. And, yes, Israel does sell its “improved” versions of this technology to some rather questionable regimes, if only to defray costs of monitoring the Palestinians.

Despite Ban, Bangladesh Bought Spyware Worth at Least $12 Million From Israeli Firms: Report -- The Wire

How Israel’s Pegasus Spyware Stoked the Surveillance Debate -- CFR

However, whatever “damage” Israel has done pales in comparison to the U.S. Tech Giants that built China’s surveillance state.

The surveillance regimen that Israel uses in the contested areas is, at best, a year or two ahead of everybody else, with the exception of China. In America, the state does not have to coerce a photo out of you. People post their photos willingly on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, etc. And the government does take note. Google AI algorithms know you better than you know yourself.

Which brings us back to the pro-Palestinian mapping project which recently caused a scandal. Ironically, American Jews are worried about the very same sort of surveillance that the Palestinians are going through right now. The mapping of Jews terrifies them… as it should. I myself find that mapping website unnerving, and I am Christian.

Sadly, technology can work both ways. I suppose a Palestinian would laugh at Jewish-American fears as ironic, given how much more thoroughly the Palestinians are tracked -- at this time.

I may not like how the Israelis are tracking everyone in the Palestinian areas of Judea and Samaria, but what other choice do they have? There are no happy solutions.

What I fear is that such technology may soon be used against Jews.

But as awful as all of this is… the Jews did not invent this technology.

What is truly scary is how ubiquitous this technology has become. Laptops today are more powerful than the monster desktops of just a few years ago. There are freeware face recognition search engines on the internet. A few determined Arabs could build their own anti-Jewish databases rather quickly -- if they haven’t already. And given the Jewish tendency to be open about things… on the internet… and to post their images… on Facebook, on Twitter, on YouTube, etc.

It would not take long to map every Jew in Western Civilization.

It is not enough to track the Palestinians, Jews have to make sure they are not being tracked by the Palestinians.

Things are not looking good.

Image: Free SVG

If you experience technical problems, please write to