On Sunday October 29, Ahmed Azza was allowed to leave his neighborhood for the first time in three days. He passed the surveillance camera trained on his front door and the group of Israeli soldiers stationed on the hill above and walked eight minutes to the checkpoint at the end of his street. He placed his belongings on a table to search them, made obligatory eye contact with the facial recognition camera and walked through the rotating metal barriers to enter Hebron. Ten hours later, he was given a one-hour window to return home before the checkpoint closed and was locked out – or inside – for the next two days.
Azza lives in Tel Rumeida, Hebron, the most tightly controlled neighborhood in the West Bank. Since 1997, Tel Rumeida has been part of H2, a section of Hebron controlled by the Israeli government. Around 35,000 Palestinians and 850 Israeli settlers live in this area, where Israeli soldiers impose a system of segregation that severely restricts Palestinian movement. It is applied thanks to a surveillance network which includes at least 21 monitored checkpoints, on-site searches and watchtowers, as well as a vast array of video surveillance cameras dubbed “Hebron Smart City.” Critics say the aim of this system is to make life as difficult as possible for Palestinians, slowly forcing them out of their homes and making way for Israeli settlers.
The West Bank has long been seen as a testing ground for Israeli surveillance technology and tactics. Its defense exports have doubled in the last decade, partly thanks to the success of companies producing surveillance systems, such as Elbit, Candiru and Rafael, as well as the NSO group, which produces the Pegasus spyware. But on October 7, on the other side of Israel, the country’s famous surveillance network apparently failed. Hamas gunmen breached the technological border separating Gaza from Israel and murdered 1,400 people, take more than 200 hostages. Since then, a growing sense of paranoia has prompted the Israeli government to step up restrictions and surveillance in the West Bank, according to analysts and activists working in the region.
“We are rats in a laboratory,” Azza says over a cup of tea at his workplace in Hebron. “I want to go to the beach, I want to see the sea, I want to taste the water. Here we don’t have that freedom.
The flagship of the West Bank’s surveillance infrastructure is known as theWolf Pack.” According to Amnesty International, its goal is to create a database featuring the profiles of every Palestinian in the region. One component of this software, known as Red Wolf, uses facial recognition cameras placed at checkpoints to inform Israeli soldiers via a color-coded system whether they should stop, detain or let pass Palestinians who cross the border. are approaching. If the system does not recognize an individual, it will automatically save their biometric data into Red Wolf, without their knowledge.
Another installment, known as Blue Wolf, has been described as “Facebook for Palestinians.” It requires Israeli soldiers to photograph individual Palestinians via a smartphone app in order to register them in the database. According to Breaking the Silence, an NGO made up of former Israeli soldiers who oppose the Israeli military occupation of Palestinian territories, prizes were offered to different units based on the number of Palestinians they could photograph in a week.