Psychological warfareFriday, July 18, 2014
Roof-knocking, an ‘Orwellian’ warning method
The Washington Post (*)
Before the IDF target a specific home, they often call the occupants. “Get out. You have five minutes before the rockets come,” is how one Gaza resident described her phone call to The Post. These warnings are often followed by a “roof knock” — a small missile to let the occupants know they are serious.
The use of telecommunications to warn civilians appear to be legitimate attempts to limit the loss of life in a conflict where Palestinians remain far, far more likely to die than Israelis, and the IDF is very open about the practice, releasing videos of the practice in action.
How could the IDF so easily access telecommunications in the Gaza Strip, knowing exactly who to call at each residence? While the telecommunication companies that operate in Gaza, such as the Palestinian Telecommunication Group (PalTel), are owned and operated by Palestinians, they are routed through servers based in Israel.
This set up goes back to the Oslo Accords almost 20 years, to when Israel recognized “the right of the Palestinian side to establish telecommunications links to connect the West Bank and the Gaza Strip through Israel” (in Article 36 of Oslo II, 1995). At the time, this was viewed optimistically by those in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip. While some Israeli-administered telecommunications structures existed in the Palestinian territories, few Palestinians actually had access.
However, the creation of PalTel and the Palestinian telecommunications industry faced an unusual problem: much of the infrastructure it was using remained linked to Israel. For example, the Palestinian territories didn’t have their own international gateway, and even now, two decades later, when the Palestinian territories have their own international dialling code, all international calls and the vast majority of domestic calls require routing through Israel.
Critics say that Israel exploits the Oslo Accords by refusing to allow Palestinian companies to buy the equipment that would grant it independence from the Israeli networks. The way the system is set up now allows easy access to Palestinian telecommunications for Israeli intelligence, Michael Dahan, an Israeli-US political scientist and technology researcher at Sapir College says.
“The ability to take over the networks was either embedded in the systems prior to Palestinian control, and/or achieved via Unit 8200 (a miniature version of the NSA), a signals intelligent unit of the IDF,” Dahan writes in an email. In the past, the IDF has been accused of shutting down the Internet at times of conflict or using cellphone signals to target Hamas members. And Dahan argues that Israel’s reach over the Palestinian telecommunication has even wider consequences, helping to “advance a form of psychological warfare.
Of course, even if Israel’s telecommunications system was not intertwined with that of the Palestinian territories, it would likely be able to access much of this anyway: the Israeli intelligence community are hardly known as Luddites. If they can hack Iran, as they are so often said to be able to, hacking into the Gaza Strip shouldn’t be too difficult. But Sam Bahour, a Palestinian American business consultant based in Ramallah and who emigrated to the West Bank to help set up PalTel in 1994 argues that, for all the talk of a “tech boom” in Palestinian territories, in fact Israel’s grip on the telecommunications industry is so strong that Palestinian cell networks can’t even provide 3G networks.
More infuriating still, Bahour says, is that many Palestinians end up buying SIM cards for the Israeli networks that operate in the Gaza Strip in a bid to get a better technological service. In 2012 the World Bank estimated that this practice was costing the Palestinian Authority US$100 million a year.