“The danger now is not just in Palestine for Palestinians. It’s gone well beyond that now. It’s exported, the idea that you can export occupation, you can export the tools of occupation, the tools of apartheid. That is where we currently are in the early 2020s,” says The Palestine Laboratory author Antony Loewenstein. In this episode of “Movement Memos,” host Kelly Hayes talks with Loewenstein about how Israel has used Palestine as a laboratory for surveillance and war-making technologies. Loewenstein argues that Israel is aligning itself with far right leaders, promoting an ethno-nationalist and authoritarian worldview, and making despotism “shareable with compact technology.” In this episode, Hayes also speaks with Ahmad Abuznaid, the executive director of the U.S. Campaign for Palestinian Rights, about the current situation in Gaza.
Music by Son Monarcas and Curved Mirror
Note: This a rush transcript and has been lightly edited for clarity. Copy may not be in its final form.
Kelly Hayes: Welcome to “Movement Memos,” a Truthout podcast about organizing, solidarity and the work of making change. I’m your host, writer and organizer Kelly Hayes. Today, we are talking about Israel’s military-techno complex, and how the country has used Palestine as a laboratory for its tools of occupation, and exported its oppressive technologies around the world. When we began working on this episode, we had no idea it would air in the wake of Hamas launching an unprecedented attack on Israel, and unthinkable acts of collective punishment waged by the Israeli military. These are grievous and heartbreaking times, so before we move forward with our discussion of the book The Palestine Laboratory, and the export of oppressive Israeli technology and ideology, we are going to take a moment to hear from Ahmad Abuznaid, the executive director of the US Campaign for Palestinian Rights about what’s been happening on the ground in Gaza.
Ahmad Abuznaid: My name is Ahmad Abuznaid, and I’m the executive director of the U.S. Campaign for Palestinian Rights. Our mission at USCPR is to end all U.S. complicity in the Israeli occupation and apartheid system. So we’d like to eliminate all of the financial, and military, and diplomatic support that we offer to protect Israel and allow for it to continue to act with impunity.
And I think what we’ve seen over the last few days is, first of all, tragic. Anytime that human lives are lost, particularly innocent lives, it’s a tragedy. But I think that those of us who value human lives and dignity and justice for all have to look at the root cause of this violence. And we know, time and time again, that violence begets violence. And the only true solution here is to end the occupation, end the apartheid system, finally give the Palestinian people their right to return and self-determination. And I think there’s a better future possible.
Folks in Gaza have been blockaded for 16 years. And for the rest of the world, what that means is, on one side, you need Egyptian permission to exit or enter, and on the other side, you need Israeli permission to exit or enter. Land, air, and sea are controlled by Israel. So this is a beach-side town and the fishermen aren’t allowed to go past a certain point in the water. There is no vast tourism that you could expect from beach-side towns in other places, because land, air, and sea are blockaded by the Israelis. The water is not drinkable. There is only a few hours of electricity per day. Unemployment is ridiculously high for a population of over 2 million, with half of that population being children.
When you think about a population behind a blockade, that’s imprisonment. And that’s why folks talk about Gaza as the largest open air prison in the world. Imagine being a student with dreams of going to Harvard or Georgetown or you name it, but seeing a blockade eliminating any possibility for these dreams. And so, that’s what life looks like for many in Gaza, being cut off from families, being cut off from loved ones, being cut off from medical supplies, schools, dreams, and et cetera, et cetera.
Every so often, maybe every year or two, the Israeli army does what they call “mow the lawn.” And what that means for the rest of us and for human beings who support justice is they start bombing, and shelling, and destroying, and dismantling entire neighborhoods, entire families, entire residential buildings, and media buildings, and hospitals. And hundreds of Palestinians have been murdered. And this has happened routinely.
And so, again, when we value the dignity of all human lives, of all innocent lives, we have to get at the root cause. Because if Hamas did not conduct the attacks that they conducted, there would still be a blockade on Gaza. The Palestinian people of Gaza would still be living under a military blockade, a military occupation for the West Bank. They would still be in an apartheid system. This is an apartheid system. This isn’t just something Palestinians are calling it. We’ve seen this in human rights reports, and as we know, time and time again, folks who are under oppression will do anything possible to get that boot off their necks. And so, the responsibility for all of this is, of course, the Israeli government and its policies of supremacy over the Palestinian people. It is the U.S. government for supporting these supremacist policies of ethnic cleansing and colonization, and they bear the brunt of the responsibility here.
The Israeli military, again, has had a blockade on Gaza for over 16 years. It’s been bad and folks have known it was unlivable for years. But in the escalation and the collective punishment and the attacks of all Palestinian peoples living in Gaza, the Israeli military decided to eliminate the ability for food, fuel, water, and electricity to get to Gaza. So what does that do again, as a form of collective punishment for the people of Gaza? What are they to think of life, of the value and dignity of their lives, vis-a-vis this Israeli-Palestinian dynamic, vis-a-vis this current moment? I think Palestinians are looking, above all, for dignity and to be valued and offer the same respects of self-determination and freedom that we expect for any other people.
KH: How can people get involved right now, if they want to support Palestinian survival and self determination?
AA: You can visit uscpr.org. You can sign up on our mailing list. You can join our call to action. We have calls to action where you can, right now, write a letter to your representative, telling them that you do not want U.S. funds and arms being a part of this ethnic cleansing project. You can join other organizations, like Jewish Voice for Peace and Adalah Justice Project, the American Muslims for Palestine. There is a whole network of tens of thousands and millions of people across this country that are a part of this Palestine solidarity movement, and there’s room for you in this movement too.
KH: I am so grateful to Ahmad for offering those insights during this difficult time, and my heart is with the Palestinian people right now, including my friends and co-strugglers.
One under-discussed aspect of the occupation of Gaza is the technology that has been routinely deployed against Palestinians, over the years, and how the evolution and export of that technology impacts the rest of the world. Our conversations about the tech world this season have primarily focused on the United States, and the evolution and impacts of Silicon Valley. But Israel has its own version of Silicon Valley, and by way of apartheid and occupation, Israeli tech companies have the ability to test their wares, in partnership with the Israeli military, on a captive population in Gaza. In our current political climate, the marriage of authoritarian ethno-nationalism and oppressive technology must be understood as a global threat, because if we’re not careful, Israel’s techno-apartheid and militarism could wind up being emulated around the world.
Today’s guest is Antony Loewenstein. Antony is an independent journalist, best-selling author, filmmaker and co-founder of Declassified Australia. His books include Pills, Powder, and Smoke, Disaster Capitalism and My Israel Question. In his latest book, The Palestine Laboratory, Antony describes how Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has crafted a model for ethnonationalist, authoritarian governance in our time. Antony writes:
Netanyahuism aims to crush Palestinian aspirations. During President Barack Obama’s term, he argued that it was “unsustainable” to indefinitely occupy another people because racism and colonialism were relics from a different era. Netanyahu vehemently disagreed. According to Netanyahu, Jewish writer Peter Beinart explained, “the future belonged not to liberalism as Obama defined it—tolerance, equal rights, and the rule of law—but to authoritarian capitalism: governments that combined aggressive and often racist nationalism with economic and technological might. The future, Netanyahu implied, would produce leaders who resembled not Obama, but him.
While many of us have critiques of Obama, Netanyahuism envisions a world that should frighten us all, and in the next hour, we are going to dig into that vision, the history that shaped it, and how Israel is, as Antony writes, making despotism “shareable with compact technology.” I want to note that the commentary you’re about to hear from Antony was recorded prior to the violence that is presently unfolding in Israel and Palestine. Sadly, these escalations have only made our conversation more urgent and relevant.
Antony Loewenstein: My name is Antony Loewenstein. I’m an independent journalist, author, and filmmaker, and I’ve been a journalist for about 20 years. I was born in Melbourne, Australia, and I’ve worked over the last years, really across the world, Australia, and lived in Africa and South Sudan and Palestine between 2016 and 2020. I’ve written for lots of outlets, New York Times, the Guardian, the New York Review of Books. And I’ve written a number of books. My latest one is called The Palestine Laboratory, and it’s basically about how Israel’s occupation is being exported around the world after the tools and technologies that Israel uses to repress Palestinians, is battle-tested on Palestinians first.
One of the reasons I wrote the book is to talk about what Israel’s ethnonationalism has become. And Netanyahu of course has been prime minister for Israel now seemingly forever. He’s the longest serving prime minister in that country’s history. And these issues in some ways started long before he became leader, and they’ll continue long after he’s gone one day. But essentially, what Netanyahu has accelerated, and which has provided so much inspiration, I argue in the book, to many other nations, which I’ll get to in a minute, is essentially a proud Jewish supremacy nation. Yes, there are non-Jews that live in Israel and in Palestine, of course Palestine is principally Palestinian unless you’re a Jewish settler. But in Israel itself, if you are non-Jewish, yes, you can vote, but you’re not given the same rights. You are a second-class citizen, essentially. That’s a practical reality that is everything from education, funding, health funding, et cetera.
And to the point where a number of years ago, about five years ago now, Israel put into place a so-called Jewish nation law, which basically says that unless you are Jewish, you will not be treated the same way. I mean, they’re making it very explicit. And that really has been pushed by Netanyahu and his allies. But again, it’s a view that’s shared, I show in the book, and I’ve said this elsewhere in many places for years, by many Israeli Jews, though not all, and many in the Jewish diaspora, though of course not all. And the danger of that, to me, is that not just what’s happening to Palestinians, which is bad enough under a brutal occupation, the longest occupation in modern times, 56 years and counting since 1967, since the Six-Day War. And I argue and many others do that really the occupation of sorts began in 1948, when Israel was founded soon after the end of the second World War and the Holocaust.
But it’s the idea somehow that Israel serves as an inspiration to many other nations, many other nations that view themselves not obviously as Jewish states, but as proud supremacist states in other religions. So the most obvious example these days, which I talk a lot about in the book is India. India is now the world’s biggest country, the world’s biggest population, the world’s biggest self-described democracy, although I would question that description. It is run by Prime Minister [Narendra] Modi, who essentially is a Hindu fundamentalist whose vision and his party’s vision and many Indians’ vision, though of course not all, is a Hindu fundamentalist state. Now India is doing what it’s doing for its own reasons. But the reason I mentioned this is that Israel and India are incredibly close and they’re getting far closer and they inspire each other. It’s almost like an ideological alignment really, of sorts.
And you have a lot of Indian officials in the last years who openly admire what Israel’s doing in the West Bank, with the occupation of Palestinians, and wanting to do something very similar in Kashmir, which is a Muslim majority part of that country, and the desire which they’re already doing, of bringing huge amounts of Hindus to settle that territory and essentially dilute the Muslim population demographically. So I see that as a real danger that again, India is doing its own thing for its own reasons, but Israel being an inspiration is clearly a major factor, I would argue in what India is doing.
And finally, the disturbing aspect of what Netanyahu, I think, has pushed very successfully from his perspective, although I think it’s deeply damaging for global democracy and human rights, is a greater and growing alliance with the global far right. So the Israeli government, not just Israeli citizens, but the Israeli government, increasingly partners and allies with far right, often antisemitic groups and parties, traditionally. So I’m talking about Austria, Hungary, Italy, Romania. It’s remarkable that a Jewish state in the 21st century is openly partnering with parties and political entities that historically were associated with the Nazis. So that’s the kind of danger to me that Netanyahu and his regime presents.
KH: I appreciate Antony’s analysis of the ideological alignment between Benjamin Netanyahu and Narendra Modi. The inspiration that Modi takes from Netanyahu and Israel is particularly evident when one examines claims of “Hinduphobia” that Modi and his supporters have leveraged against their critics. While antisemitism is real and a tremendously dangerous force in the world, false accusations of antisemitism are regularly leveled at critics of Israeli apartheid. Such arguments have been used to propel efforts to criminalize the BDS movement in the United States. As if taking a page from Israel’s playbook in such matters, supporters of Hindu nationalism in Canada are seeking to introduce and legislate “Hinduphobia” in Canada’s human rights laws. In a recent piece co-authored by Harsha Walia entitled Oppose The Indian Hindu Nationalist Rhetoric Of “Hinduphobia”, the motives of such efforts are laid bare. Walia and her coauthors write:
If successful, this petition will embolden Hindu nationalists by fending off criticism of India’s government and its genocide against Muslims, violence against minority communities, the colonial occupation of Kashmir, and caste violence.
Netanyahu’s alignment with the far right was also on display quite recently in the United States, when Elon Musk sought to wash away accusations of antisemitism by meeting with Netanyahu, after Musk had indulged in anti-semtic rhetoric during a feud with the Anti-Defamation League. As Shane Burley recently wrote in a post on his Patreon:
Like many people before him, the accusations of antisemitism Musk faced led him to meet with certain high profile Jewish figures, but only ones who are likely to agree with his right-ward shift.
Rather than addressing the issue directly with American Jewish leaders, Musk opted to meet with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in September, who has done little to condemn the antisemitic rhetoric of many of the far-right leaders he has made his global collaborators.
Elon Musk is a natural ally for Netanyahu, whose regime relies on unethical, rightwing tech leaders and companies to advance his agenda in Israel and Palestine, and around the world. But to fully understand how Israel’s tech industry has evolved, we must examine Israel’s evolution as one of the world’s most successful arms dealers.
AL: So, the Israeli arms industry really started pretty much from the beginning. Israel, of course, was founded in 1948, and Israel initially wasn’t selling huge amounts of weapons to other countries, but a lot of the arms that the early Zionists used were actually from the British, they stole them from the British or they were making their own weapons. But by the late fifties, and very much into the sixties, Israel had realized that the way often to make friends is to sell weapons. Now, of course, Israel’s not unique in that, many other nations sell weapons around the world. But by the late sixties, after the Six-Day War, after Israel took control of Gaza, the West Bank, east Jerusalem, and the Golan Heights, and the occupation almost in its second phase took root within a number of years, and I have lots of evidence for the book of this, both new stories and personal anecdotes and just hard data and evidence, that Israel really saw itself as being able to export not just the tools and technologies that they were using to repress Palestinians, although that was clearly part of it, but also how they were doing it. So you have in the late sixties, very much into the seventies and eighties, fanning out across the world, Latin and South America, particularly during the U.S. led dirty wars in that part of the world, so Colombia, Guatemala, Honduras, all those nations that suffered so very much during that period, mostly from U.S. backing of essentially fascism. But what is less known, far less known is Israeli support, Israeli backing and arming and training of some of these death squads from Pinochet, Chile to a range of other nations, Guatemala.
And these nations weren’t just interested in being the weapons that Israel was selling, which was of course part of it, but also they really admired what Israel was doing to Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza particularly, and wanted to copy it, wanted to get advice. So you had huge amounts of Israeli trainers fanning out around the world, doing this kind of training, teaching often far right groups, some of whom in fact had ties to literal Nazis. I mean, one of the most egregious examples of this was Argentina, which some listeners will be aware, after the second World War, was very happy to take in and shelter actual Nazis who were fleeing Europe at the end of the second World War. And Israel had no issue partnering with Argentina at various times, both in terms of supporting that regime and giving them various other elements of backing.
So the arms industry surged. This has continued pretty much for the last decade. And obviously lots happened in those 50 odd years since the seventies. But two things happened briefly, that accelerated. One was 9/11. 9/11 obviously happened on U.S. soil, but Israel very much, and Israeli defense industry, saw very much from the beginning, literally within a matter of days after that horrific event in Washington and New York – Netanyahu, in fact, it’s the day after 9/11 is being interviewed on American TV, and I have this quote in the book, he was not prime minister then, but he was a well-known. He’d spent a lot of his time in the U.S. growing up, and he spoke English very well, and he was often in the American media. And he’s asked about the events of 9/11, what did he think and what were his feelings?
And he responded, and I’m paraphrasing here, rather than direct-quoting, something like, “Oh, it’s very good.” And the interviewer said, “Oh, what do you mean?” He goes, “Oh, what I mean is that,” and again, I’m paraphrasing, “the world will finally understand what Israel’s been doing for decades.” In other words, we’ve been fighting a war on terror. We’ve been fighting a war against Palestinian terrorism and against those who hate us. And now America will essentially follow our lead. And as I say in the book, a lot of what America did post 9/11, the Bush administration and frankly to this day, was not straight out of the Israeli playbook, but it was a massive factor in that, both in terms of the actions, but also much of the language the U.S. has been using for pretty much over 20 years now. Collateral damage – these terms existed before 9/11, of course, but they massively accelerated after that.
And the so-called Israeli homeland security business hugely expanded. I mean to the point where Israel is now the 10th biggest arms dealer in the world. As I show in the book, it’s sold weapons to over 130 countries in the world. So, the majority of nations on the planet, democracy, dictatorships, there’s very few regimes it won’t sell weapons to. There are a handful that we know of that we don’t think they sell to these days — Iran, Syria, North Korea — but many other nations, they do. And these days, there are many states around the world that both publicly and privately, and I show this a lot in the book, talk about how they in some ways want to copy Israel. Sometimes they’re embarrassed by that. Sometimes they’re proud of it because they view, in my view, well not really incorrectly, but certainly a very narrow interpretation that Israel, [quote unquote] has been successful in its war against Palestinians in a war against terror. And I would question that narrative, but many other nations view it that way and they want to get some Israeli know-how.
KH: Israeli know-how, in matters of oppression, policing, and occupation has been honed in much the same way that U.S. expertise in such matters has been refined: by using captive, marginalized and occupied populations as test subjects. We have discussed previously on the show how the professionalization of U.S. policing was largely based on tactics established in the Philippines, where the U.S. military developed technologies and frameworks to prevent uprisings after the Spanish-American War. The U.S. has also infamously used countries in South and Central America as laboratories, in the sense that Antony describes. Human Rights attorney Azadeh Shahshahani recently addressed these dynamics in a piece entitled “Cop Cities in a Militarized World.” In her piece, Shahshahani describes how tactics deployed against Stop Cop City protesters in Atlanta, including the murder of Tortuguita, mirror strategies deployed in South and Central American nations where the U.S. has trained soldiers and police, and shaped law enforcement policies. She writes, “The training of security forces in South and Central America is a pillar of U.S. geopolitical strategy in the region: it ensures that those in power remain friendly to U.S. business interests.”
Many people will be familiar with the impacts of U.S. interference in South and Central America due to the many atrocities the U.S. has caused and supported in the region. What fewer people may be aware of is what Antony refers to as Israel’s “wingman” status in such matters.
AL: The whole idea of Israel being America’s wingman is something that I think has sort of shocked some people. My book came out a few months ago, and a lot of people who I’ve been speaking to were not aware of this, that, as I was saying earlier on, there is a real understanding, at least in parts of the left and certainly in parts of the American right, that post 1945, the U.S. essentially is the world’s leading hegemon, and it runs an empire around the world. And running an empire is frankly ugly and dirty and bloody. And that history is relatively well known – Latin and South America, Africa, Asia, et cetera. What’s sort of less known is the Israeli part in that. Now America is number one, America remains number one in terms of an imperial power around the world.
But the Israeli influence is really accelerated in the seventies and eighties and particularly around the dirty wars of the U.S. was backing in Latin and South America. And I have lots of evidence in the book, both quotes from the historical record, declassified documents and other methods of gathering information as a journalist, essentially showing how many Israeli officials recognized pretty early on that they could in some ways show their support for America as their main benefactor by supporting elements of U.S. foreign policy around the world, which particularly was its war against Communism, or so that was framed against Communism anyway, during the Cold War, Latin and South America particularly, but also parts of Africa.
And to the point where in some countries, where even the U.S., through the Congress, was not able to support certain states because the human rights abuses were so egregious, Israel filled the breach. I mean, as I talk about in the book of Chile after the 1973, 9/11 overthrow of Allende, and of course we just had the 50th anniversary of that coup, U.S.-backed coup. And the U.S.’s role there was much bigger than Israel in terms of the 1973 coup. But what was a massive role, which again is much less known, was that there comes a point in the late seventies and early eighties, and I have these declassified CIA documents in the book that show this, that at various points, the majority of weapons that the Pinochet dictatorship was getting was coming from Israel, not from the U.S., from Israel. The U.S. itself acknowledges that. Again, it was done covertly at the time, and now it’s known publicly, it’s in the public record.
So why were they doing that? They wanted friends, they wanted to support the U.S. And I think also one reason which was true then, and it’s still true now in 2023, is that Israel recognizes, at least some within Israel anyway, recognizes that a lot of the world does not like the occupation, doesn’t like what’s happening in Palestine, doesn’t like what Israel’s doing to Palestinians. So they need to essentially find friends to support them in the UN forums or international forums, [that are] not the UN as well. And often over the years, you’ve found Israel supporting arming training, backing, funding various governments in the hope, and often successfully, that they will vote in a certain way at the UN, when certain votes come up. And this has been the case both 50 years ago and literally this year where there’s been a lot of people have been pretty shocked, the ones who know about it, that, for example, the current far-right Israeli government is partnering with far right political groups in Romania who have ties in history to the Nazis.
And why is Israel partnering with these far-right groups? Because they support the occupation, because they back what Israel’s doing in Palestine. It is incredibly transactional and ugly. And I think for a lot of people, and I say this as someone who’s Jewish, I mean I’m Jewish atheist, but I’m Jewish, nonetheless, the idea that this is the Jewish legacy in the 21st century, now obviously not all Jewish identities to do with Israel, far from it, but a key Jewish identity in the 21st century for many people is Israel. That’s to me an uncontroversial thing to say. And the idea that the legacy 75 years on also after the Holocaust is a Jewish supremacist state that proudly backs, in some parts of the world, far-right groups that traditionally hate and loathe Jews, either because they used to partner with Nazis or because they are racist or antisemitic, it’s just deeply, deeply shameful.
KH: Another parallel between the United States and Israel is the role of each country’s military in propping up their tech sectors. In the 1950’s and 60’s, long before venture capitalists funded the futures of Silicon Valley startups, Cold War spending fueled the industry’s growth. As Yale Professor Paul Bracken has noted, in Silicon Valley and in Washington D.C., the U.S. Department of Defense is often referred to as the “mother of all venture capital firms.”
In Israel, the monied partnership between the tech sector and the Israeli military often finds its expression in the form of experimentation, with Palestinians serving as test subjects. As Antony writes in The Palestine Laboratory:
Killing or injuring Palestinians should be as easy as ordering pizza. That was the logic behind an Israeli military-designed app in 2020 that allowed a commander in the field to send details about a target on an electronic device to troops who would then quickly neutralize that Palestinian. The colonel working on the project, Oren Matzliach, told the Israel Defense website that the strike would be “like ordering a book on Amazon or a pizza in a pizzeria using your smartphone.”
AL: There’s no doubt that Israel has its own version of Silicon Valley, not as well known to be sure as the American version in California, but still very influential. And what’s important for people to understand there is that Israel has, of course, a large army. The majority of Israeli Jews serve in that army. Not all. There are some exceptions. Ultra-Orthodox Jews don’t serve. Palestinians never serve, but the vast majority of Israeli Jews do serve. And for many of them, they go into the so-called intelligence services. And what that means, really is two things.
One, it’s monitoring Palestinians 24/7 through, in the modern era, a variety of digital tools to monitor all forms of communication, emails, phone calls, et cetera. And there’s one particular unit called Unit 8200, which is essentially the equivalent of the U.S. NSA. The NSA I think remains still the world’s biggest intelligence gathering unit, which obviously Edward Snowden, 10 years ago, released huge amounts of documents and leaks about. And Unit 8200, much less well known, but equally powerful, certainly within Israel and the Middle East, and is regarded as one the top two or three experienced intelligence gathering units in the world.
But what it does mostly day to day is monitor, surveil Palestinians. But one of the things that that unit does is encourage people who are in there to, once they’ve left the service, to develop private companies and use the experience that they’ve gained by monitoring occupied Palestinians and taking that into the private sector. So what I mean by that is huge numbers of the surveillance architecture that Israel uses to monitor and abuse and attack Palestinians is then taken into the private sector. And I’m talking about spyware or drones, facial recognition technology, biometric tools. All these tools that have been developed and tested on Palestinians in Palestine are then often sold by private Israeli interests around the world. And then they’re claimed to be battle tested. And although, as I’ve said, Israel is the 10th biggest arms dealer in the world in terms of sales, the U.S. remains number one, and in the top 10 there’s nations, other nations, often it varies every year, but France, Germany, Russia, et cetera, U.K.
But in terms of spyware, spyware such as Pegasus hacking into people’s phones, Israel is world leader. It’s number one or two, it varies every year, of course, in terms of sales, but they are world leaders in spyware. And spyware in some ways really is the new Wild West because it’s unregulated. And so much of the companies that exist now in Israel promoting this work, often secretive, often doing it in the shadows, often selling these equipments to some of the most repressive regimes in the world, whether it’s Saudi Arabia or India or Rwanda or others. They’ve got their experience in, not so much the Silicon Valley per se of Israel, but in the Israeli military. It’s almost like the Israeli military is the training. And then that is taken into the private sector. And of course the danger with that is maybe self-evident, but it is that there is a constant ready-made, occupied Palestinian population of roughly 5 million Palestinians who are guinea pigs who are being tested on day-in, day-out for decades with all these tools and technologies.
And that’s very attractive to many other nations that want to do something similar to their own dissidents, human rights activists, journalists, critics, et cetera. So that’s to some extent the Israeli Silicon Valley. And just finally, there’s a great connection between what the U.S. is doing both in Silicon Valley and Israeli Military is a large presence of, say, Google and Amazon and many other, the huge big tech firms from the U.S. in Israel, often working alongside and helping the Israeli military. There’s something called Project Nimbus, which people can Google for more information, which essentially is a massive cloud service that Google has worked with the Israeli military on, which essentially collects massive amounts of information and data for the Israeli military. And it’s those kinds of connections which are not as well known as they should be because inevitably both within the U.S. and Israel is a massive desire to export these tools, I would argue, of repression to further markets beyond their own borders.
KH: Border security is a major source of income for Israel’s tech industry. Technologies that aid European countries in surveilling and repelling refugees are just one example of how Israel’s repressive technology exports the worldview of an ethnostate and the means to repel and surveil marginalized populations.
AL: There’s so many examples of Israeli repressive technology that’s been tested on Palestinians, which is then sold around the world. But one of the best or worst examples I think is Israeli drones. Israeli drones have been for years now, some of the most popular in the world. They’re regularly tested and used over particularly Gaza, which Israel has used for at least 15 years now when in its seemingly never ending wars against Gaza with huge numbers of civilians are killed, infrastructure is destroyed. And these drones have turned up in huge amounts of countries around the world. One of the most egregious examples, to me, is used by the European Union. Now, these drones that the EU uses are not armed, but they’re unarmed drones that the EU uses to monitor the Mediterranean. Listeners will be aware, of course, in the last 10 or so years, there’s been a huge influx, at least there was in the past of migrants coming from mostly the Middle East or Africa.
And after 2015, the EU wanted to try to stop that essentially. And they’ve built a fortress type Europe. And one of the things they’ve done to do that is to use Israeli drones to monitor the Mediterranean 24/7 at a time where the EU has made a decision, although they don’t admit this publicly, but this is the reality of essentially allowing people to drown. I mean, that’s the policy because they have very few rescue boats and they don’t allow many NGOs with rescue boats. So, the impact of that, of course, is thousands of thousands of people are dying. And Israeli surveillance drones are part of that infrastructure in my view of utter immorality. I mean, huge amounts of other examples. I mean the most, I guess infamous examples of Israeli repressive tech is spyware.
People will know about Pegasus, which is the most infamous, where Pegasus is a tool that can appear on your phone, iPhone or Android. You have no knowledge it’s there. There’s no way to know unless your phone is forensically checked. And it essentially controls your phone, it takes your emails, photos, all your personal details, even if your phone is switched off, it can still turn on your phone, your microphone and camera. So essentially it can be used as a weapon against you. And I interview in the book huge amounts of people in places like Togo and Africa, India, Mexico and elsewhere, who have had their phones basically hacked by those regimes that have bought it off the Israeli company. NSO Group is the name of that company, although essentially it’s an arm of the Israeli government because they use it as a diplomatic weapon to try to make more friends.
And if you’re a human rights activist or journalist in, say Mexico, which has some of the highest rates of murders in the world for people in those professions, that’s a petrifying thought. And weirdly enough, Mexico, for a range of reasons, is the biggest user, they’re obsessed with Israeli spyware. This is both in former right-wing governments, and even now the nominally left-wing government. I would question how left the Mexican government is, but putting that argument aside, they are obsessed with Israeli spyware, and that’s having a really detrimental effect on what is already a quite devastating human rights environment there. So there are so many examples of Israeli weapons and repressive technology ending up in so many nations around the world. And I think a lot of people are starting to, not just because of my book, but other reasons too, wake up to that threat that the occupation of Palestine is not staying there. It’s being exported now around the world at a time where far right populism and far right politics has, arguably, never been as popular before, certainly in the last half century, anyway.
KH: Antony’s observation about how the use of drones allows European countries to claim they are monitoring the Mediterranean for migrant boats that are in distress, while either ignoring or slow jamming their response to any emergencies the drones might reveal, reminded me of something Cory Doctorow said in our last episode. Cory was talking about how, in high stakes, human contexts, such as evaluating medical results, AI is only profitable if it produces results faster and in too great a volume for human beings to double check it — meaning that the technology is only beneficial to those who wield it if it is deployed unethically. In the case of Israeli drones, the greatest benefit European countries seem to enjoy is that they can claim to be monitoring the Mediterranean, and then simply fail to adequately respond to whatever information they receive. The resulting mass death at sea is part of the western process of bordering. As Harsha wrote in Border & Rule, “The doctrine of deterrence requires mass border deaths to instill fear and prevent migration.”
Another section of The Palestine Laboratory that I found particularly disturbing detailed the work of Unit 8200, the intelligence unit of the IDF. As Antony explains in his book, “Its primary goal is mass monitoring of Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza, detailing all their personal and political information, and listening to communications from allies and foes across the world.”
AL: Unit 8200 is an Israeli intelligence arm in the military, it’s equivalent really is the NSA in the U.S. Massive amounts of intelligence gathering — its main job, and it has a huge number of people who are working day-in, day-out, is to monitor Palestinians, monitor their lives, monitor who they’re talking to, monitor their emails, messages, et cetera. Every Palestinian knows whether they’re in the West Bank or Gaza or East Jerusalem or beyond, that little of what they say or do is private. And that unit is a central part of that architecture. It’s been around for many years. And there’s a funnel often from that unit to the private sector where people are encouraged within that unit once they’ve left to take that experience and develop the world’s best slash worst surveillance technology, surveillance weapons, various other kinds of defense equipment. So it’s a really insidious kind of reality because often the individuals who are part of these companies that then go on to promote it around the world proudly say, I’m a veteran of this unit.
And of course, what people often don’t ask is the second part, what were you doing in that unit? I mean, their job is to monitor, surveil and occupy Palestinians. That’s a job. And in fact, I have some examples in the book of its, I mean, that’s bad enough, but it’s often worse than that where, for example, blackmail is a very common use, tactic used by these Israelis. So there’s lots of examples. I have some in the book of, let’s say for example, a gay Palestinian man, he might be married to a woman, Israel discovers that he’s gay or he is having an affair with a man or something like that. And they have access to his phone calls or messages or emails, and they go to him and they essentially say, well, You’re a married man. You’re married to a woman, you have kids, you wouldn’t want that information to get out, would you? And they essentially blackmail him by saying, if you don’t spy for us, we will release this information to your family.
I mean, that is the minutiae of what occupation means, that brutal, ugly blackmailing darkness, that is part and parcel of what you have to do as a state, Israel, if you occupy another population for over half a century. There’s a moral collapse, unavoidably, when you need to, in your diluted worldview, continue to maintain this kind of brutal occupation for over half a century.
KH: In the conclusion of The Palestine Laboratory, Antony writes:
This book is written as a warning of the frightening world that could be born if Israeli-style ethnonationalism continues its ascent in a century already dominated by unaccountable state power from Russia and Israel to China and the United States.
I hope we are ready to hear that warning, because the world is changing. The right, including Netanyahu, is attempting to leverage concerns about mass migration – which is fueled by climate chaos and the violence of war and capitalism – to shift the Overton Window to the right, making authoritarian, ethno-nationalist solutions more palatable to people in western Europe and the United States. The recent Palestinian uprising will also be leveraged towards those ends, with Netanyahu exploiting fears of “terrorism,” just as he and George W. Bush exploited such fears in the wake of 9/11. As Fascism Today author Shane Burley stated this week, “Netanyahu will use [the recent attacks] to initiate a full scale genocide in Gaza while consolidating power, normalizing the far-right through a coalition ‘unity’ government, and likely killing the movement against the right-wing attack on the judiciary [in Israel].”
Now, more than ever, we must understand the threat that Netanyahuism poses, and understand the connection between his politics and what is happening in the tech world, both in Israel and the United States.
AL: One of the reasons I wrote the book, apart from wanting to do an in-depth investigation in this issue, was to say what Israel is doing and has been doing for years but is accelerating, is a deeply disturbing reality of what our future would be. Now when I say, our future, I’m not just talking about Western states. You are in America, I’m in Australia, our countries are different, but in some ways quite similar. I’m talking about across the globe. And what I mean by that is that apart from the fact that Israel is deeply inspiring nations like India in their ethnonationalism, there’s also a sense that Israel is hailed by many on the right and the far right as the ideal ethno-nationalist estate. There’s a reason as I have this quote in the book that Richard Spencer, some listeners will remember that odious man from the alt-right years ago, he still pops up now and then online, based in the U.S., who years ago said, I’m a proud white Zionist.
Now, what he meant by that was his vision for America is obviously a dark Christian ethnonationalist abomination. For him though, and he’s far, far from alone, he sees Israel as a model. He doesn’t like Jews, let’s be clear. But what he does admire is the fact that Israel is a Jewish supremacist state. What he wants to create is a Christian supremacist state. And before, if any listeners might say, Oh, but he’s only one fringe figure. I would say regularly, if one goes to far right rallies these days, and I sometimes go there for work purposes, you’d often see the Israeli flag. It’s not uncommon anymore, U.S., U.K., Australia, Europe. And there’s a reason for that. These groups traditionally did not like Jews. In fact, often they’re deeply antisemitic then, in the past, and now, and that Israel’s proud chauvinism, its allergies against human rights, its complete disgust with true multiculturalism, all those kinds of values is something that many on the far right deeply admire and want to copy. They see it as a model. And the reason it’s a warning and a danger is that more and more countries around the world, not just at the state level or the leadership level, but also at the citizen level, in some ways, although I think public opinion is shifting against Israel and many Western states, and that’s reflected in U.S., U.K., Australia, and Europe. However, on the right, which is in some ways in the ascendancy in various parts of Europe and certainly parts of the U.S., Israel is undeniably a very popular place. How it arranges itself, how it prioritizes Jews to the point where Israel is openly partnering, and many of the Jewish global right, openly partnering with far right groups and individuals who are known to be antisemitic.
In other words, it’s somehow seen as less important to be maybe against actual antisemites than to partner with people who admire the occupation of Palestine. That’s the moral collapse I’m talking about. And that’s the warning that I’ve written about in this book because I think a lot of people maybe think what’s happening in Palestine is horrific and should be opposed and ended. And of course, I 110% agree with that. I spent a lot of my last 20 years writing about lots of issues, Israel, Palestine, the war in Afghanistan, many other issues. And obviously what’s happening in Palestine is horrible and needs to end, but the danger now is not just in Palestine for Palestinians. It’s gone well beyond that now. It’s exported, the idea that you can export occupation, you can export the tools of occupation, the tools of apartheid. That is where we currently are at in the early 2020s. And I think unless there’s not just greater awareness, but a growth of Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions and public opinion, and a public movement against what’s happening, this will only grow and worsen.
KH: I am so grateful for this conversation, and for Antony’s book, The Palestine Laboratory, which is without question one of the most important books I’ve read this year. Everyone should get their hands on a copy and read it. It is essential that we raise awareness about what Israel is exporting, both in terms of technology and ideology, and that we support Palestinian organizing against that tech and those ideas. The BDS movement has been under attack globally for years, and it is absolutely crucial that we support that movement, and other organizing for Palestinian liberation. It’s also deeply important that we listen to and uplift the voices of Palestinians who are living in struggle. Toward that end, I want to take a moment, as we close today, to revisit the words of Jalal Abukhater, who was a guest on the show in May of this year, in an episode called “Palestinian Organizers: We Honor Our Grief by Practicing Hope.”
Jalal Abukhater: Our energies, for grief, are transformed into energies that seek action, seek meaningful action and are very optimistic and hopeful. They are driven by optimism in a way that we do imagine a liberated Palestine. We do imagine our free people. We always speak about it. We encourage each other.
Whenever there is grief, there is unity, and in unity, there is strength, and we feel it. Shireen Abu Akleh’s funeral was one of the most incredible events I’ve attended in my entire life. It happened right there in Jerusalem. It was an incredible moment. Those moments are not stopping. They keep continuing.
Every person grieves when there is a martyr. In Jenin, in Nablus, the martyr, Ibrahim Nabulsi, for example, he was unknown to people perhaps a few months before he was killed by the Israeli occupation forces, but his charisma and his character and the fact that he sent out a few messages and the fact that he left a will where he called on people to keep going, don’t stop resisting. He sent a love message to his mother. The fact that he spoke to his friends in such a friendly and lovely and charming way.
Those people are doing all they are doing because of their love for their communities and their families. They are choosing this path to become resistance fighters because of the love they owe to the people around them and the love they show. This energy is reflected. When this person becomes an icon, Israel goes in once and twice and three times in attempting to assassinate him. They wanted to kill Ibrahim Nabulsi. Three times, they failed to assassinate him. On the fourth time, they unfortunately succeeded in killing Ibrahim. But Ibrahim’s face is not missing. It’s probably on a keychain or the necklace of almost every kid you’ll see in Nablus today, same in Jerusalem and elsewhere in the West Bank.
With those people who choose to speak for us and choose to connect with the people and in such a beautiful way, when we lose those people, the Israelis know that those people are… They want to kill them. That’s the only solution they know. They kill those people. But when we lose them, the grief that we feel, we transform into energy that seeks change. We want to become more active and we want to become more inspirational. We want to do something that will lead to hopefully the liberation of our lands one day.
On a personal level, everyone feels differently when they grieve, but they feel something collective. As for us Palestinians, we grieve a lot, a lot. I can’t even begin to tell you. There’s a lot to grieve about. In the morning, and at noon, in the evening, it’s very hard being Palestinian sometimes, but at the same time, we all know that holding onto hope does allow us to survive those stages. And honestly, over the past two years, I’ve seen this on the ground. I’ve seen that hope does bring people together and it does bring power, especially here on the street where it’s most meaningful. And the waves we create here in Jerusalem or elsewhere in Palestine, they’re felt and they spread across the globe.
I do feel that there is an intense chemistry between grief and hope. It’s a sad situation, but it’s good to be hopeful. It’s what we all need. Despair is the enemy. We cannot fall for this trap at all. Despair and desperation. That’s what they want us to live through. We want to be hopeful, we want to give love and we want to do all we can to our people and to our communities. That’s what drives most of us here in Palestine.
KH: If you would like to spend more time listening to the voices of Palestinians who are living in struggle, I recommend checking out that episode, which will be linked in the show notes of this episode on our website. We will also be linking to resources that can help you learn more about the history of the struggle in Palestine, and how you can support Palestinian organizing from wherever you live, including the BDS movement. I want to thank Ahmad and Antony Loewenstein for joining me today. I am deeply grateful for these conversations, and for Antony’s book, The Palestine Laboratory, which I consider essential reading in these times. I also want to thank our listeners for joining us today, and remember, our best defense against cynicism is to do good, and to remember that the good we do matters. Until next time, I’ll see you in the streets.
- Don’t forget to check out The Palestine Laboratory: How Israel Exports the Technology of Occupation Around the World by Antony Loewenstein
- You may also want to check out our previous episodes about the struggle in Palestine, What the Mainstream Media Never Told You About Palestine and Palestinian Organizers: We Honor Our Grief by Practicing Hope.
- The US Campaign for Palestinian Rights works to end U.S. complicity in Israel’s massive violence against the Palestinian people.
- Jewish Voice for Peace envisions a world where all people — from the U.S. to Palestine — live in freedom, justice, equality, and dignity. You can learn more about their work here.
- The American Muslims for Palestine works to educate the American public and media about issues related to Palestine and its rich cultural and historical heritage.
- Adalah Justice Project is a Palestinian-led advocacy organization based in the U.S. that builds cross-movement coalitions to achieve collective liberation. You can learn more and support their work.
- Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions (BDS) is a Palestinian-led movement for freedom, justice and equality. BDS upholds the simple principle that Palestinians are entitled to the same rights as the rest of humanity.
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- Cop Cities in a Militarized World by Azadeh Shahshahani
- Israelis demand state open up past ties to Argentine junta by Michael Salisbury-Corech
- How Has the Pentagon Shaped Innovation? By Paul Bracken
- Richard Spencer Touts Himself As ‘White Zionist’ In Israeli Interview by Sam Kestenbaum
- Benjamin Netanyahu, Father of our Illiberal Age by Peter Beinart
- You Cannot Divorce Murder From Policing by Kelly Hayes
- To Fight Big Tech, We Must Seize the Means of Computation by Kelly Hayes
- What Preceded the Killings in Israel and Gaza Was Not “Peace” — It Was Apartheid by Kelly Hayes and Mariame Kaba
- Decolonize Palestine: Palestine 101
- 5 Things You Need to Know About the Latest Violence in Palestine/Israel
- Israel’s Permanent Siege of Gaza by Ron Smith
- Haymarket books has made several ebooks on the struggle for justice in Palestine available for free on their website. You can download them here.
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