Top News from Israel & Palestine: July 22, 2021

What We’re Reading

NSO Group

‘Somebody has to do the dirty work’: NSO founders defend the spyware they built,

CEO Shalev Hulio said he would ‘shut Pegasus down’ if there were a better alternative. In lengthy interviews, Hulio and co-founder Omri Lavie traced a journey launched from an Israeli kibbutz and said the company’s technology had saved lives….In the first weeks after founding the company, in 2010, “before we’d even written a line of code,” [NSO CEO Shalev] Hulio said he and Lavie established three guiding principles that remain in place today. First, they would license only to certain government entities, recognizing that the technology could be abused in private hands. Second, they would have no visibility into the individuals targeted by customers after selling them a software license. The third, which Hulio said was the most important, was to seek approval from the export controls unit of Israel’s Ministry of Defense, an unusual decision because at the time the unit only regulated overseas weapons sales (Israel enacted a cyber law in 2017).”

Pegasus scandal turns spotlight on Israel’s controversial military tech sector,

NSO is a typical product of the Israeli military’s advanced technology sector. Israel is a world leader in the research and development of cyber tools and warfare. As with the sales of arms, which Israel is also among the top 10 globally, the hi-tech industry is traced to the military and its renowned intelligence community. As a small country with a siege mentality, Israel developed this sector as a necessity, to maintain a technological edge over its enemies. For that purpose, Israel established highly skilful technological and intelligence units in the Mossad, the Shin Bet domestic security service, the military and the defence ministry’s research and development unit. The most famous among them is Unit 8200, which is the largest and most important body in Israeli Military Intelligence (MI)….The founders of NSO, Shalev Hulio and Omri Lavie, emerged from the ranks of one such unit. And what they have in common with many graduates of units such as 8200 is the drive to utilise their military technological experience and knowhow, and apply it to the civil market.”


See also from Middle East Eye:

Morocco threatens legal action over claims it used Israeli spyware,

“Morocco’s government on Wednesday threatened legal action against anyone accusing it of using the Israeli spyware program Pegasus, and deplored what it called a “false, massive, malicious media campaign.” A government statement “categorically denied the false and unfounded allegations” that the North African country’s intelligence services had used the software. The authorities said a judicial inquiry to identify those behind the accusations was being opened.”

Hungary launch investigation into Pegasus spyware reports,

Hungarian prosecutors on Thursday said they had launched an investigation into suspected unlawful surveillance following multiple complaints in the wake of allegations of misuse of Israeli-made spying software…The investigative website Direkt36, part of a media consortium that published the expose, said a list of more than 300 Hungarian phone numbers suspected to have been targeted using the software included those of journalists, business people, lawyers and people critical of Prime Minister Viktor Orban’s government.”

Report: Israel appoints task force to assess NSO spyware allegations,

“Israel has set up a senior inter-ministerial team to assess growing allegations that spyware sold by an Israeli cyber firm has been abused on a global scale, Israeli sources said on Wednesday. One source said the team is headed by Israel’s National Security Council, which answers to Prime Minister Naftali Bennett and has broader areas of expertise than the Defense Ministry, which oversees exports of NSO Group’s Pegasus software. Another source said the National Security Council is not involved and that the assessment is being carried out by senior defense, intelligence, and diplomatic officials.” 


See also:  

Reporters Without Borders demands Israel stop exporting spyware,

““Enabling governments to install spyware that is used in practice to monitor hundreds of journalists and their sources throughout the world poses a major democratic problem,” RSF secretary-general Christophe Deloire said in a statement on the Paris-based group’s website on Wednesday. “We call on Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett to impose an immediate moratorium on surveillance technology exports until a protective regulatory framework has been established,”  Deloire said.”

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

Since 2017, when NSO‘s involvement in political persecution in Mexico was exposed, there has been a steady flow of investigations around the world into its other human rights violations, and every few months more findings have been published. And in Israel, there was, and is, general indifference, both in the public square and in the political sphere….Perhaps there was never any reason to expect otherwise from a state that defines itself as democratic but, for 54 years, has been holding millions of Palestinians hostage to its whims.”

Ben & Jerry's Continued

Unilever chief says company ‘fully committed’ to Israel,

“The chief executive of Unilever on Thursday said the global consumer goods giant remains “fully committed” to doing business in Israel, distancing himself from this week’s announcement by the company’s Ben & Jerry’s ice cream brand to stop serving Israeli settlements in the occupied West Bank and contested east Jerusalem. But CEO Alan Jope gave no indication that Unilever would force Ben & Jerry’s to roll back its controversial decision.”

‘No-go topics’ don’t exist for Ben and Jerry’s, says CEO,

It’s not the first time the company has faced criticism, but as an “aspiring social justice company,” Ben & Jerry’s is used to controversy, McCarthy said Tuesday, adding there was no issue he wishes he hadn’t stepped into….When it comes to stances on social issues, the company centers its actions around its values….When Ben & Jerry’s acts consistently with those values, McCarthy said, it doesn’t matter that they alienate some people. “A business or a brand that tries to be all things to all people—we know what happens to those folks, you usually tend to be not a whole lot to anybody,” McCarthy said….A key distinction for McCarthy, though, is that the ice cream company’s actions are not “cause marketing,” but rather business activism. “We don’t do the things we do to sell more ice cream,” McCarthy said.”

Israel's President: Ben & Jerry's Boycott Is Part of 'A New Form of Terrorism',

“The boycott of Israel is a new sort of terrorism, economic terrorism,” Herzog said at a ceremony commemorating prime ministers and presidents of Israel who have passed away. “Terrorism tries to harm the citizens of Israel and the economy of Israel. We must oppose this boycott and terrorism in any form.””

Bennett: US consumers don’t think taking Hamas’s side is ‘cool’,

“Prime Minister Naftali Bennett said Thursday that boycotting Israel is a terrible business move, and implied that US-based ice cream maker Ben & Jerry’s was siding with Hamas by banning sales in Israeli settlements….“Consumers, certainly in Israel but also in the US and other countries, don’t think that taking Hamas’s side is cool,” he continued. “We will use all measures at our disposal, including legislative.”” See also: Kosher grocery stores drop Ben & Jerry’s after its decision to stop selling ice cream in Palestinian territories” (CNN) and What you need to know about the Ben & Jerry’s Israel Debate” (J Street)

US states’ fully baked anti-BDS laws could put the freeze on Ben & Jerry’s,

“According to Bloomberg investment data, Florida, Texas, New Jersey, Arizona, Illinois and Mississippi all have pension funds currently invested in Unilever, the parent company of Ben & Jerry’s. They are also six of the 12 states that have passed legislation requiring them to divest their pension funds from companies that participate in a boycott of Israel….Lara Friedman, who tracks anti-BDS legislation as president of the Foundation of Middle East Peace, said she expected states to act swiftly….Targeting pension investments appears to be a more surefire way of exacting revenge on Ben & Jerry’s than blacklisting the company from contracts with states.


Following a series of First Amendment challenges to the laws, many states now set a minimum amount of $100,000 in trade before anti-BDS measures can be triggered against a contractor. That would mean that smaller Ben & Jerry’s contracts would remain unaffected, even in states with anti-BDS laws. But Friedman and Goldberg still said that future contracts with Ben & Jerry’s could be in jeopardy.” 


See also:

Double Scoops and Double Standards Courtesy of Ben & Jerry’s ,

“Twelve state laws require their public pension funds to divest from businesses that boycott Israel and/or forbid the state to contract with boycotters. States like New Jersey (where Unilever is headquartered in the United States), Illinois, Florida and Texas may soon divest their public pension funds from Unilever and warn fund managers against holding Unilever positions within broader index funds. Likewise, state governments in Florida, Georgia, Michigan, Texas and elsewhere may soon find that they are prohibited from contracting with Unilever for soap, shampoo, tea and, yes, ice cream. That could receive support from environmentalists, as Unilever was listed in 2019 as one of the world’s top ten plastic polluters. As the parent company of Ben & Jerry’s, Unilever’s involvement with the Ben & Jerry’s decision could also constitute a breach of fiduciary duty to the company’s shareholders. To avoid harming their shareholders, Unilever executives will need to work quickly to reverse the Ben & Jerry’s decision.”

Not Just Ben & Jerry’s: BDS Efforts to Get Companies to Boycott Israel,

“Below are some of the most prominent cases of companies that had been targeted by BDS and wholly or partially divested from Israel or the West Bank.” The article discusses SodaStream International, Orange, G4S, Airbnb, Veolia and Alstom. 

What Ben & Jerry’s can learn from Airbnb about boycotting the West Bank ,

Diala Shamas, a staff attorney at the Center for Constitutional Rights, said the backlash against Ben & Jerry’s mirrored what she called a false narrative that critics of Airbnb promoted after it agreed to remove listings in Israeli settlements. “The Israeli government and the settler movement engage in what is essentially gaslighting, claiming victimhood when they are the ones perpetuating these unlawful international acts,” said Shamas, who intervened in the lawsuit against Airbnb on behalf of Palestinian-Americans who claimed ownership of land in the settlements.”

West Bank & Jerusalem

Israel’s security forces are ‘complicit’ in drastic surge in settler violence, report finds,

Israel’s security forces are complicit in a “drastic surge” in violence committed by Israeli settlers against Palestinians in the occupied West Bank, according to a new report that includes dozens of testimonies from former soldiers. Breaking the Silence, an Israeli charity staffed by veterans, said its new publication shows that the Israeli military are increasingly part of sustaining an “ecosystem of violence” in the Palestinian occupied territories because they provide a “cloak of protection” for the settlers who are becoming more aggressive…“This is part of a very well-planned strategic mission of the settlers to take over more and more of Palestinian land,” [Ori Givati, Advocacy Director of Breaking the Silence] said.


Data from the United Nations and, separately, data collated by Israeli rights group B’Tselem, shows a marked increase in violent incidents committed by Israeli settlers compared with previous years. According to B’Tselem, they have logged a 33 percent increase in attacks during the first six months of 2021 compared with the same period last year. The group said this was “enacted with an increasingly open cooperation by Israel’s security forces and with the full backing of Israeli authorities”. Statistics shared by the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) meanwhile shows that more Palestinians were injured either by settlers or members of the Israeli security forces in attacks in the first six months of this year than in the whole of 2020. This was almost on par with the yearly total in 2019. The surge in violence also tallies with a spike in settlement expansion in the West Bank – in particular, soaring numbers of outposts, which are illegal both under international and Israeli law, according to Israeli monitoring group Peace Now.” 


Also see “On Duty: Settler Violence in the West Bank, Soldiers’ Testimonies 2012-2020” (Breaking the Silence)

Israeli prison service accused of beating Palestinian who died in detention,

The family of a Palestinian who died on Wednesday evening in an Israeli detention centre has accused authorities of electrocuting and beating him while in prison. Abdo Yousef al-Khatib, 43, a resident of the Shuafat refugee camp in East Jerusalem, was arrested on Sunday for a traffic violation, according to his family, and detained in the Israeli Moscovia Detention Centre, also known as al-Maskobia. The family has accused Israeli interrogators at Maskobia of beating and electrocuting Khatib, saying that he was not suffering from any health issues before he was detained.” See alsoPalestinian groups accuse Israel of torturning detainee to death” (Al Anadolu) and  “Detainees’ institutions hold Israeli authorities fully responsible for death of Palestinian while in custody” (WAFA)

Israelis Suspected of Torching Palestinian Factory Say They Were Attacked,

“Three Jewish youths are suspected of torching a Palestinian factory in the West Bank before dawn on Thursday, police said.  Police are investigating a claim by two of the suspects that they were attacked by Palestinians near the factory, but suspect that they were injured as they fled the scene.”

Israel PM freezes settlement construction at the behest of US,

Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett has refused to allow the Supreme Planning Council to meet, essentially freezing settlement construction following pressure from the US. According to Israel Hayom said Bennett’s decision means a “complete freeze on future construction” of settlements in the West Bank as long as the Supreme Council is prevented from meeting. It added that the move was a “demand” by US President Joe Biden’s administration….Bennett denies putting a de facto freeze on settlement construction, highlighting that the body had not met for months under the previous government headed by Benjamin Netanyahu.”

Gantz stops accessibility work at Cave of the Patriarchs,

“The Defense Ministry, led by Minister Benny Gantz, has ordered that the work to make the Cave of the Patriarchs in Hebron accessible to the disabled which was supposed to begin this Sunday not be carried out, Arutz Sheva has learned. Despite the approvals the project has received from the Civil Administration, the government, and the Supreme Court, and despite the many agreements reached between all parties for the start of the work on Sunday, July 25, the Defense Ministry has decided to postpone the project again. The military source who provided the details added that it was not yet clear whether the work would be postponed for only a week or for a longer period. The same source emphasized that this was a directive that came directly from the Defense Minister’s office.” For background, see: Petition by Emek Shaveh and Palestinians against plan to build lift at Tomb of the Patriarchs in Hebron has been Rejected” (Emek Shaveh)

Palestinian, his child injured by Israeli settlers in West Bank ,

Ghassan Daghlas, a Palestinian official who monitors settlement activities in the northern West Bank, told Anadolu Agency that settlers from the Shilo settlement, located on the road between the cities of Nablus and Ramallah, threw stones at a Palestinian vehicle, injuring its occupant.”

Inside the Green Line

The Order Expired, but Israel Still Refuses to Process Palestinian Requests for Family Unification,

“Israel’s Interior Ministry refuses to process requests for family unification of Palestinians married to Israeli citizens – although the temporary ban on such family unification expired over two weeks ago. Haaretz has learned that Interior Minister Ayelet Shaked ordered the ministry’s Population and Immigration Authority, which handles requests of this type, not to discuss them as long as the ministry has not formulated a policy on the subject, after the amendment to the Citizenship and Entry Into Israel Law, which bans such unification, failed to pass in the Knesset.”

A Rap Song Lays Bare Israel’s Jewish-Arab Fracture — and Goes Viral,

“Facing each other in a garage over a small plastic table, the two hurl ethnic insults and clichés at each other, tearing away the veneer of civility overlaying the seething resentments between the Jewish state and its Palestinian minority in a rap video that has gone viral in Israel. The video, “Let’s Talk Straight,” which has garnered more than four million views on social media since May, couldn’t have landed at a more apt time, after the eruption two months ago of Jewish-Arab violence that turned many mixed Israeli cities like Lod and Ramla into Jewish-Arab battlegrounds.By shouting each side’s prejudices at each other, at times seemingly on the verge of violence, Mr. Rosenman and Mr. Zakout have produced a work that dares listeners to move past stereotypes and discover their shared humanity.”


Explosion in Gaza market kills one; cause unknown,

“An explosion in a marketplace has rocked Gaza City, killing at least one person and wounding 10 others, according to Palestinian officials. Some of the wounded were in critical condition and were taken to the main Shifa Hospital following the explosion on Thursday in Zawiya market. It was not immediately clear what had caused the explosion.”


Syrian air defences intercept Israeli attack over Homs: Report,

“Syria’s air defences have intercepted an Israeli attack on the al-Qusayr area in Homs, Syrian state media reported. A Syrian military source said in a statement on Thursday there was some material damage from the raid but no casualties.”  See alsoSyria accuses Israel of carrying out strike causing damage, second this week” (Al Arabiya)

Erdan urges UN Security Council to condemn Hezbollah,

Israeli Ambassador to the UN Gilad Erdan sends a letter to UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres — and to all members of the UN Security Council — urging them to condemn Hezbollah. In the letter, Erdan cites rockets fired from Israel into Lebanon both during the 11-day conflict with Hamas in May and again earlier this week.”

After hours-long search, troops nab two migrants who entered Israel from Lebanon,

“Israeli soldiers arrested two suspects who crossed into northern Israel from Lebanon on Thursday morning, following an hours-long manhunt, the army said, amid rising tensions along the restive northern frontier. The two men appeared to be migrants from Lebanon who entered Israel with the hope of finding work. They were being questioned by Israeli security forces, the military said.”

Palestinian Scene

Palestinian Securitization vs Liberation with Alaa Tartir,

“Alaa Tartir joins host Yara Hawari to discuss the internationally-funded Palestinian security forces. Together, they assess the forces’ authoritarian role in sustaining Israel’s settler-colonial project and criminalizing Palestinian resistance, shedding light on the recent killing of critic and activist Nizar Banat.”

US Scene

How Thomas Barrack’s alleged illegal lobbying shaped Trump’s policies in the Gulf,

“Charged with failing to register as a foreign agent and lying to the FBI, Barrack allegedly used his close relationship with Trump to push UAE-sought actions on both the campaign and during the first two years of the administration.”

Scoop: U.S. won't reopen consulate in Jerusalem until Bennett passes budget,

The Biden administration has decided to hold off on reopening the U.S. consulate in Jerusalem until after Israel’s new government passes a budget, likely in early November, Israeli, U.S. and Palestinian sources say. Why it matters: The decision shows how invested the Biden administration is in helping to stabilize the new Israeli government. The Prime Minister’s Office and Foreign Ministry had requested the delay.”

The Takeaway: Biden-Abdullah White House summit key to Israel-Jordan reset,

King Abdullah is the first Arab leader to meet with Biden. The signal to the region, and to Israel, is that Jordan is back as a full partner in US regional strategy, including on the Palestinian issue…Israel-Jordan ties are as much about policies as personalities. The absence of Netanyahu removes some, but not all, of the potential friction. Bennett’s approach on a two-state solution and settlements tracks with Bibi. As Al Sharif writes, there is a perception in Jordan that Israel ties could again spiral to crisis at any moment, such as over a confrontation in East Jerusalem or the Al-Aqsa Mosque. The Israel-Jordan Peace Agreement of 1994, as Caspit writes, can’t be overstated as a pillar for Israeli and regional security. That view is back, and back big, in Washington, and has renewed traction again in Jerusalem.” See alsoNew Israeli government on mission to rehabilitate ties with Jordan” (Al Monitor) 

Opinion: It’s time for the U.S. to stop selling weapons to human rights abusers,

To put it bluntly, the Biden administration is selling weapons to at least three human rights abusers — the Philippines, Egypt and Israel— despite a pledge to make human rights central to its foreign policy.”