Saturday, September 26, 2020

How cameras monitor every aspect of life in East Jerusalem

By Annelies Verbeek - June 11, 2018
Section: [Main News] [Features]
Tags: [Jerusalem]

Worshippers, shoppers and tourists walked up and down the steps of Damascus Gate in occupied East Jerusalem, as cameras peer down to watch every move, unnoticed by most tourists. 

The cameras appear innocuous, as they are often installed on street lighting poles.
But Palestinians emphasise that as nobody has information on the cameras, it is very possible that they might be recording every intimate aspect of Palestinian life in East Jerusalem.
“The building across the street, it has a camera installed on it too,” Ahmad Souleiman, a local activist, said. He pointed towards a almost unnoticeable webcam peering down the steps of Damascus Gate.
“You see how the cable attached to it leads to the roof?,” Souleiman asked. “There is a police station on top of that roof.”
“At least we think so, because the police publishes images from that webcam on the internet, and they watch us from there during demonstrations.”
Souleiman had asked the owner of the building, who claimed to know nothing about it.
“They even live stream those images,” Souleiman explained. “Because people comment on them, and that is a new way for them to collect information.”
There are little to no statistics available on the amount of cameras installed throughout East Jerusalem, but Palestinians say they have seen a clear increase in the amount of cameras throughout the last years.
Hijazi Rishq, 65, who owns a shop on Salahuddin Street, informed Palestine Monitor that the cameras in front of his shop were installed at night, two months ago.
“They did not ask for our permission, and did not give us any information on what the cameras can record,” Rishq told Palestine Monitor.
According to Rishq, there are now six cameras in Salahuddin Street alone. “Maybe 600 in the Old City,” he said.
But Souleiman mentioned that the cameras in the Old City are old ones. “The ones installed on Salahuddin street are new - and they are the smart cameras.”
The new “smart cameras” are easily distinguishable, as they consist of a classical camera shape apparatus, with a webcam-like device above it, and an appliance under it that has the shape of a black box.
“We know they have face recognition and voice recording. The voice recorder has different entrances, which means it can distinguish between different voices in the street,” Souleiman explained.
According to Rishq, the Israelis claim that the cameras are for the security of Salahuddin Street. “They say they installed it to protect us against theft and problems in the street,” Rishq said.
“But if there is a theft here, if a Palestinian does something to a Palestinian, or a Palestinian does something to a settler, and we demand images from the police. They almost always refuse to give them.”
“If a Palestinian would harm a settler here. That settler would not even have to call the police. In five minutes, the street will look like a military camp,” he continued.
Rishq emphasised that he believes the cameras are not for the security of the Palestinians, but the security of the occupation.
“A while ago, the Israeli media was reporting on new cameras that can record the feelings of people,” Souleiman told Palestine Monitor.
“I think it’s that big one up there,” he pointed towards a big rectangular apparatus installed on a camera pole in front of Damascus Gate.
Opgal is an Israeli security company based in Karmiel, in northern Israel. They manufacture thermal cameras for security use. These cameras can detect changes in body temperature to detect nervousness.
Other Israeli companies manufacturing high-tech security cameras are NICE Systems andVerint.
Jeff Halper, author of the book “War Against the People: Israel, the Palestinians and Global Pacification” emphasised that Israel dominates the global market of security and surveillance technology.
“It is because they have an edge. They have a whole [Palestinian] population of guinea pigs here, with no limits as to how they can be used for Israel’s benefit,” Halper told Palestine Monitor.
Souleiman equally emphasized that many Israeli security companies explicitly state on their website that their equipment is “tested in the Middle East” or “tested in Israel.”
“People have no idea what these seemingly innocuous cameras are capable of,” Halper said. “They can build a composite portrait of your behaviour, only using algorithms.”
According to Halper, the cameras are capable of predicting behaviour, this way detecting abnormalities.
“These cameras know where you will go tomorrow before you know,” he joked.
According to Halper, these processes often happen automatically, without any human involved.
Databases are automatically scanned for “high risk” persons, with certain characteristics. “Man, between the ages of 15 and 30, from a refugee camp, who likes to hang out at Damascus Gate.”
The system can search for these characteristics automatically, this way identifying potential terrorists, without any human actor involved.
“The system does not only know that you like to hang out at Damascus Gate, but also the people you like to hang out with.”
The subject of security cameras in Jerusalem made international media last year, when Israel decided to install metal detector gates and “smart cameras” inside the Al Aqsa Compound last July.
After weeks of Palestinian protests, the electronic gates and cameras inside the compound were removed.
Israel’s decision to remove the cameras was generally celebrated by Palestinians as a victory over the occupation authorities.
However, Zakaria Odeh, director of the Civic Coalition for Jerusalem, told Palestine Monitor that since then, the Israelis have installed many more cameras on the wall of the Al Aqsa Compound.
“The Israelis just changed tactics, deciding that cameras inside the compound were too visible. But they are still collecting the same information,” Odeh said.
Odeh equally emphasised that it is very difficult to find any information on the cameras. “Even if we did know what the cameras record, there is little we can do about it.”
“I don’t really know about human rights, international law, and these cameras,” Rishq said. “But it makes us feel like we are under control.”
“The moment I leave my house, until I come back, I am constantly monitored,” Souleiman said. “What can be do, hide our faces every time we go out?”

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