Top News from Israel & Palestine: July 21, 2021

What We’re Reading

NSO Group

Israel forms damage control team after NSO Pegasus spyware reports,

“The Israeli government is forming a special team to manage the fallout from reports that software developed by Israeli firm NSO was used by governments around the world to spy on journalists, human rights activists and possibly world leaders, two Israeli officials tell me…So far, this is primarily a media crisis for Israel. But senior Israeli officials are concerned it could morph into a diplomatic crisis.”


Also See

Amazon Shuts Down NSO Group Infrastructure,

“Amazon Web Services (AWS) has shut down infrastructure and accounts linked to Israeli surveillance vendor NSO Group, Amazon said in a statement. The move comes as a group of media outlets and activist organizations published new research into NSO’s malware and phone numbers potentially selected for targeting by NSO’s government clients. “When we learned of this activity, we acted quickly to shut down the relevant infrastructure and accounts,” an AWS spokesperson told Motherboard in an email.”

After NSO bombshell, Gantz asserts that Israel complies with international law,

“Responding to an in-depth investigation that revealed that Israel’s NSO Group has been selling spyware used by foreign governments to target journalists and activists, Defense Minister Benny Gantz asserted Tuesday that Israel operates fully within international law. “We are aware of recent publications regarding the use of systems developed in certain Israeli cyber companies,” said Gantz in a speech to Cyber Week at Tel Aviv University, without mentioning NSO Group by name. “Israel, as a liberal Western democracy, controls exports of cyber products in accordance with its defense export control law, complying with international export control regimes.””

More on attempts at damage control:

U.S. and E.U. security officials wary of NSO links to Israeli intelligence,

“In interviews, several current and former officials said they presumed that the company, which was founded by former Israeli intelligence officers, provides at least some information to the government in Jerusalem about who is using its spying products and what information they’re collecting. “It’s crazy to think that NSO wouldn’t share sensitive national security information with the government of Israel,” said one former senior U.S. national security official who has worked closely with the Israeli security services and, like others, spoke on the condition of anonymity to candidly describe intelligence operations. “That doesn’t mean they’re a front for the Israeli security agencies, but governments around the world assume that NSO is working with Israel.””

French prosecutors open probe into alleged media spying using Israeli software,

“The investigation will examine 10 charges, including whether there was a breach of personal privacy, fraudulent access to personal electronic devices, and criminal association. Investigative website Mediapart filed a legal complaint on Monday, and investigative newspaper Le Canard Enchaine is set to follow suit, over the spying claims, which Morocco has denied…Other journalists working for French media companies were allegedly targeted by Moroccan security services, including employees of Le Monde and Agence France-Presse. Morocco denied the claims, saying it “never acquired computer software to infiltrate communication devices.” Israel’s Defense Ministry said Monday that if it finds that the NSO Group violated the terms of its export licenses, it will “take appropriate action.””


More on the French-Morrocco-NSO Story:

Opinion | Israel's NSO and Pegasus Are a Clear and Present Danger to Democracy Around the World,

“”The violation of Israeli settlers’ right to ice cream”: The Ben & Jerry’s “outrage” is what most of Israel’s media, government and the Israeli public have been obsessing over for the last 24 hours, while in the rest of the world, newspapers headlines have been publicizing Israeli surveillance company NSO’s complicity in the political persecution of journalists, lawyers, politicians and human rights activists… And in Israel, there was, and is, general indifference, both in the public square and in the political sphere. A charitable explanation of that indifference in Israel would be based as stemming from the (mistaken) belief that these were isolated, exceptional cases, or that the publications that exposed the misdoings were inherently “anti-Israel.” But even now, when the trickle of information about NSO has become a tsunami, in particular its Pegasus spyware (believed to have been acquired by numerous authoritarian governments as a spyware weapon to target political opponents, journalists and human rights activists), Ben & Jerry’s decision to stop selling its products in the occupied territories is still the most discussed issue in Israel – and the trigger for the loudest outrage.”

Israel under fire after allegations against NSO cybersurveillance group,

“After the recent publications on NSO, Health Minister and Meretz leader Nitzan Horowitz said his party would ask the Defense Ministry for clarifications about the affair, and that he intends to meet with Defense Minister Benny Gantz on July 22 to discuss the matter with him. Meretz lawmaker Mossi Raz tweeted, “Shocked by the findings of the investigation into the Israeli company NSO. I intend to contact Defense Minister Benny Gantz, demanding to examine the issuance of export permits to the company and to conduct a full and comprehensive investigation of the company’s activities and its connections to the persecution of journalists and human rights activists around the world.” Interviewed later on TV, Raz called on his party to demand that Israel halt NSO exports, likening it to “exporting weaponry, which is forbidden to nondemocratic countries.””

Takeaways from the Pegasus Project,

  1. “Phones identified from a sprawling list…
  2. Politicians, journalists, activists found on list…
  3. Company says it polices its clients for abuses…
  4. Apple iPhone shown to be vulnerable…
  5. New details of hacking carry worldwide implications”

Ben & Jerry's

US State Department vows to oppose BDS after Ben & Jerry’s settlement pullout,

“The US State Department on Tuesday reiterated the Biden administration’s opposition to the boycott Israel movement after Ben & Jerry’s announced it will stop selling ice cream in West Bank settlements, but refused to specifically address the Vermont-based firm’s decision. “I don’t have a reaction to offer regarding the actions of a private company. More broadly what I would say is that we firmly reject the BDS movement, which unfairly singles out Israel,” spokesman Ned Price said during the daily briefing, using the initials for boycotts, divestment and sanctions. He added: “While the Biden-Harris administration will fully and always respect the First Amendment rights of our citizens, of the American people, the United States will be a strong partner in fighting efforts around the world that potentially seek to delegitimize Israel.” He added that the US “will be a strong partner in fighting efforts around the world that potentially seek to delegitimize Israel,” in a way that is “consistent with the First Amendment rights of the American people.””

How US laws against Israel boycotts could hit Ben & Jerry’s,

“As a result of a campaign since the mid-2010s led by center-right and Christian pro-Israel groups, 33 states have passed laws or issued executive orders targeting the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement against Israel, according to a database maintained by Lara Friedman on behalf of the Foundation for Middle East Peace and Americans for Peace Now, groups that oppose the anti-boycott legislation. (In addition, at least one state, Connecticut, has an anti-boycott law that predates the movement popularly known as BDS.)…It’s unclear whether Ben & Jerry’s pullout from what it considers to be “occupied” territory will fall under the jurisdiction of these laws, but some experts say there is a good chance it could.”

Israel moves to counter Ben & Jerry's amid wider fears,

“Israel’s ambassador to the UN Gilad Erdan appealed to the governors of the 35 states with legislation outlawing boycotts of Israel, recalling the successful overturning of a boycott of the West Bank announced by Airbnb in November 2018, with the aid of the governor of Florida, Ron DeSantis, who forbad employees of the Florida administration to use Airbnb’s services on work trips. Other state governors joined the move, including threats to withdraw investment, and Airbnb backtracked…Federal pressure will add to other pressure on Ben & Jerry’s. Its move has led to calls for a boycott on the company within the US, and supermarket chains with Jewish owners have announced that they will stop selling the Vermont ice cream company’s products.”

Settlement council opens meeting with a pint of Ben & Jerry's,

“At the opening of the meeting, Hendel, Yesha Council chief David Elhayani, and municipal leaders from Judea and Samaria enjoyed a pint of Ben & Jerry’s ice cream, to show support for the Israeli franchisee, who has refused to comply with the parent company’s call to boycott Israeli towns in Judea and Samaria. Earlier on Wednesday, Interior Minister Ayelet Shaked (Yamina) visited the Ben & Jerry’s ice cream factory in central Israel Wednesday morning, in a public show of support for the Israeli franchisee of the popular ice cream brand.”

Israel Goes to War Again, This Time Against Ben & Jerry’s,

“Israel’s legal measures would largely focus on the way Ben & Jerry’s might be violating U.S. laws with its announcement. Some three dozen U.S. states have passed anti-BDS laws in recent years. Israeli officials said they would pressure those states to hold Ben & Jerry’s accountable…“The effort here is to impose the greatest possible reputational harm and business costs on Ben & Jerry’s and Unilever,” both to reverse the policy and send a chilling message to other companies, Lara Friedman, president of the Washington-based Foundation for Middle East Peace, told Foreign Policy. “But this was the point of these anti-BDS laws: redefining support for Israel as support for Israel and its permanent control over the West Bank and East Jerusalem.” Friedman cautioned it was too early to view the Ben & Jerry’s decision as a “turning point” in the overall debate. But she said it was already helping shape the public narrative—forcing both Israelis and Israel’s supporters (and detractors) to debate the fate of the occupation, settlements, and what exactly constitutes “Israel.” “Look at the amount of press this has generated,” Friedman added. All over ice cream.”

Yes, take away our ice cream,

“In addition to the transfer in Humsa, an investigative report published last week by Local Call, +972 Magazine, and The Intercept revealed how soldier-settler militias teamed up to kill four Palestinians in May. The same month, the Israeli army seized dozens of Palestinian structures, and settlers destroyed olive groves in three various locations across the West Bank. Yet none of these events made headlines in Israel. For years, the occupation, the daily reality in which the basic rights of millions of Palestinians are routinely violated, simply hasn’t interested Israeli media or public. Instead, the decision of an American ice cream company is making headlines. And that is precisely why Ben & Jerry’s move is so important — it has forced us Israelis to once again look at Israel’s military regime in its face.”

To Eat More or Less Ben & Jerry’s? Israelis Conflicted Over Response to Settlement Boycott,

“Israelis are still figuring out how they should respond to the change in policy announced by one of their favorite ice cream brands. Those who appreciate Ben & Jerry’s taking a stand against the occupation (probably only a minority, with not even one representative of this group among the customers at the scoop shop Tuesday afternoon) will have less of a problem: They can continue to purchase the brand, perhaps with even fewer pangs of guilt. By contrast, those who take issue with the new policy face a dilemma – or will face one when the new policy takes effect…Levy, who describes himself as an “absolute leftist” and a strong supporter of Palestinians rights, says he is nonetheless opposed to the new Ben & Jerry’s policy. “It’s bad and mean,” he says. “My initial reaction was that we should boycott them back. But then I began thinking about this guy here who owns the franchise and I said to myself it’s not his fault. We should be supporting him.” When asked how he proposes ending the occupation, which he says he opposes, Levy responds: “Not through violence, and that includes economic violence – which is what this is.””

Occupation: Settlements, Human Rights, West Bank, East Jerusalem

Sources: Settlement activity under de facto freeze due to US pressure,

“Prime Minister Naftali Bennett has apparently slowed the approval process for construction projects in Judea and Samaria because of American pressure, Israel Hayom has learned. According to Israel Hayom’s reporting, Bennett has refused to let the Civil Administration Zoning Committee schedule a routine meeting for the approval of construction plans. This has gone on for over a month, the sources said. The sources, which are affiliated with the Jewish communities in Judea and Samaria, alleged that this amounts to a de facto construction moratorium because no new plans can go forward without the committee’s go-ahead. “This is tantamount to complete capitulation to US dictates,” the sources claimed.”

Over 150 Palestinian organizations, village councils call to defund Israeli settler organizations,

“A movement of over 150 Palestinian organizations, village councils, and activists have launched the Campaign to Defund Racism. The campaign calls on US supporters to pressure New York Attorney General Letitia James, the state’s chief legal officer, to revoke the charitable licenses of New York-based organizations that fund Israeli settlement. The campaign takes aim at the charities funding Elad, Israel Land Fund, and Ateret Cohanim – the main settler organizations at work in Silwan and Sheikh Jarrah, communities which are currently at risk of eviction. “

Far-right settler youth clash with border police at West Bank outpost,

“Border Police clashed with extremist settler “hilltop” youths near a West Bank settlement late Tuesday, with two people reportedly lightly hurt. Police said that they were attempting to stop several youths going to a hilltop near the Kumi Ori outpost, which has been declared a closed military zone following several violent clashes at the site. Officers said one of the youths started to attack them so they were forced to physically remove him. Several other youths then surrounded the officers, leading one officer to throw a stun grenade.”

More settler violence:

Bedouin Shepherds Used Palestinian Land With Permission. Israel Seized Their Tents Anyway,

“Inspectors of the Civil Administration and police last week seized shelters and equipment from Bedouin Palestinian shepherds at Ras al-Tin, northeast of Ramallah, though they had been using the land there with permission. The land is registered and privately owned by Palestinians living in the nearby town of Kafr Malik, who entered into a contract with the shepherding community, allowing them to spend the summer months there with their flocks. The shepherds have been using the site as their summer domicile for 21 years. But last Wednesday, inspectors from Israel’s Civil Administration in the West Bank accompanied by border police officers confiscated all 13 residential tents, the sheepfolds, seven water storage tanks, two wagons, a tractor, and solar panels that were the community’s only source of electricity. Community members said this is the first time they have had their belongings seized.”

Opinion - No one told this young soldier to protect Palestinians from settlers,

“I am one of 100 former IDF soldiers who served in the West Bank and who sent a letter to Defense Minister Benny Gantz and Interior Security Minister Omer Barlev last week, calling for the state to stop the rampant rise in settler violence against Palestinians, which has become completely out of control…In some cases, the problem is a lack of military presence. As long as the IDF fails to understand its role in protecting the Palestinians and their dignity and property, nothing will change. But no one tells soldiers that they have a duty to stop settler violence. It is hard to explain this to anyone who has not been there. You are deployed to the territories and are told that the goal is to “protect the settlers.” These are your people; they speak your language and sometimes they bring you pizza or coffee and sometimes you just know them simply because you have been there for long enough. Then those same people or their children come out armed and masked. You cannot stop them, especially when no one has explained to you that it is within your authority to do so.”

What Israeli soldiers don’t demolish by day, settlers burn by night,

“On June 1, Israeli settlers attacked the village of Tuba in the occupied West Bank and burned all the hay my family had bought to feed our sheep. Food that was supposed to last a whole year was burned in just two hours. Settler violence is only part of the occupation’s colonial strategy to take over our land. The Israeli military demolishes our homes during the day, and the settlers destroy our livelihood during the night. The army and the settlers seem to be working in tandem to steal our resources. Soldiers take our land under the guise of security, only to then give it to settlers to establish agricultural outposts. This is no accident. Settler expansion and violence take place under the protection of the army and with legal support. Whether it is a firing zone, or by using the outdated Ottoman laws to seize control of huge swaths of land that are then declared state land, there is full cooperation between the settlers and the military.”

Palestinians Fear Eviction From Their Jerusalem Neighborhood To Make Way For A Park,

“The families of al-Bustan have lived for more than a decade with anxiety about displacement. The plan to replace their homes with a park first emerged in 2005. Then came demolition orders from the municipality. “Currently, there are 78 demolition orders outstanding,” says Daniel Seidemann, an Israeli attorney specializing in Israeli-Palestinian relations in Jerusalem and a frequent critic of government policies. “Sixty have been stayed by the court until August.” A total of 130 Palestinian households are affected. “They don’t want us,” says Abu Diab, referring to Israeli settler groups who support the Old Testament-inspired park, which is to be built on part of al-Bustan land. “They want to make a garden for Jewish.””


War's trauma apparent in portraits of Gazan children,

“SUZY ISKHONTANA, 7…More than two months have passed since rescue workers pulled the 7-year-old from the ruins, her hair matted and dusty, her face bruised and swollen. The sole survivors of the family, she and her father heard the fading cries of her siblings buried nearby…Before the war, Suzy was an independent child, walking to school down the street with Dana, and picking up fruits and vegetables from a corner store for her mom. Now, she struggles to speak with relatives or detach from the mobile phone, spending hours playing games, stopping to look at web pages related to the attack. “It’s almost like in losing her mom, she lost her life and her ability to deal with life and people,” Ishkontana says. When Ishkontana leaves to go on any errand, Suzy weeps and insists on going along — she fears losing him, too. He took her to her mother’s grave; she brought along a hand-written note. “Mama,” she wrote, “I want to see you.””

There’s Something New About Hamas’ Leader in Gaza Since the War – and Israel Is Concerned,

“There’s a new, or like new, leader in the Gaza Strip, Israeli defense officials believe. His name is still Yahya Sinwar, but his behavior in the past few months has changed. His former pragmatism has been replaced by hasty decisions, his willingness to compromise with adherence to principle, regardless of practicalities. And he has exchanged his relative humility for messianism. According to the latest update of his Military Intelligence personality profile, Sinwar is now unpredictable. “If up till now the defense establishment considered [military wing commander] Mohammed Deif to be the more dangerous of the two, this is no longer unambiguous,” a senior defense official says.”

News from the Region

Israel shells Lebanon after rockets fired over border,

“The Israeli military said its artillery shelled southern Lebanon early Tuesday after two rockets were fired from Lebanon into Israeli territory. Israel’s army said in a statement that aerial defenses intercepted one of the rockets, and the second fell in an open area. No injuries or damage were reported.”

Syria reports Israeli airstrikes in northern Aleppo province,

“Israel carried out an aerial attack southeast of Syria’s northern Aleppo province late Monday, a Syrian military official said. The unidentified military official, quoted by the state news agency SANA, said Syrian air defenses shot down most of the missiles in the attack that occurred just before midnight. The targets are still being identified, the official said.”

Iran spokesman says powerful body rejects nuclear deal with US ,

“Rabiei said the decision was made despite an “agreement in principle” that has already been reached between Iran and American negotiators, who have been indirectly discussing their return to the JCPOA during six rounds of talks in Vienna. The other JCPOA parties present in the negotiations have been China, Russia, the UK, France and Germany. The spokesman said the committee within Iran’s Supreme National Security Council dismissed the new deal on the grounds of “noncompliance” with a contentious parliamentary bill.”

Abdullah seeks to revive two-state solution, bury 'Jordan is Palestine',

“Jordan is hoping that King Abdullah’s meeting with US President Joe Biden will pave the way for the kingdom to return to center stage in regional developments, particularly the Israeli-Arab conflict. Jordan is also hoping that the meeting will put an end to the talk about transforming the kingdom into a Palestinian state.”