Blue Wolf: A Sinister Surveillance
By Susan Nchubiri, Ecumenical Accompanier in Jerusalem
In November 2021, Breaking the Silence, an Israeli organization of army veterans against the occupation, gave testimonies about a very sinister method of surveillance. They call it Blue Wolf. Blue Wolf is a facial recognition app used to surveil, monitor, and control Palestinians in the oPt. See Israel Surveils. To give you an example, one morning, as we were doing a school run (walking around the Old City monitoring if the Israeli soldiers were denying children to go to school or if they were searching and harassing school children), we saw a young Palestinian man aged around 17 or 18 years old, detained and surrounded by several Israeli border police. The officers constantly talked on the phone while one officer body-searched the young man. Six other Israeli officers arrived at the scene a few minutes later, including one who had stopped us earlier and checked our documents. The youth was clearly in distress. I invite you to take a moment and see yourself surrounded by more than a dozen heavily armed police officers talking to you in a language you do not understand. After a while, the young man was escorted by three Israeli police officers to stand facing the surveillance cameras at the corner of the street. They asked him to speak loudly on the phone, with one of the officers listening in. Although we did not understand what he was saying or hear anyone speaking back to him, we gathered that they were trying to verify his identity.
Another example is the story of Brahim (not his real name), a 14-year-old Palestinian boy from Sheikh Jarrah who has been arrested and brutally beaten four times in one year. His troubles began when the state authorities evicted Brahim’s Palestinian neighbors, and an Israeli settler family moved into that house. The Israeli settlers installed several cameras, including one that faces Brahim’s house door. The first time he was arrested, he had been playing with friends on the street near his home. The family was not told why he was arrested. The second time he was arrested, he was walking home. The third and fourth times, the police raided his home at 3 am and took him away. Each time the family is not given a reason for their child’s arrest. The family believes it is a way of intimidating and increasing pressure on them so that they move out of the house to have another settler move in. Brahim’s family home has an eviction order, but they took the case to court. The trauma from beatings and arrests has left Brahim with high anxiety, which he relieves by chain-smoking. He has developed sight and hearing issues, and his parents report that he wakes up several times a night screaming for help.
One might think that the Israeli authorities will have accurate identification with this high-tech surveillance app (Blue Wolf). However, last week (May 27, 2022), we visited a family in the Old City of Jerusalem and met Nadhim (not his real name), an 18-year-old Palestinian young man. He shared that six months ago, while walking with his friends in the Old City, he was brutally assaulted by a group of more than a dozen Israeli border police who descended on him with blows and kicks even when he was on the ground. The assault resulted in 3 broken ribs, head hematoma, chest contusion, and numerous bruises. He said, “I thought I was going to die that day, and I did not know why they were trying to kill me.” The next day the Israeli soldiers told the family that it was a mistaken identity. But was that kind of brutality warranted even if they had caught the person they were looking for? Why does the Israeli police force use such power?
Nadhim and his family have faced unprecedented hostility from the Israeli police and harassment from the settlers who moved next door to them. Like many other Palestinian families who are unfortunate to have a settler neighbor, they live in fear. This young man was first arrested when he was 15 and on his way to school. He was in Israeli police custody for one week and two weeks under house arrest. While in custody, he was beaten badly by the police. He has since been arrested nine more times, and the reasons are never given. His three brothers have also been arrested multiple times. He dropped out of school at 15 because he could not concentrate in classes after the first assault and arrest. He got depressed and did not want to leave his house. His mother, who is from Gaza, has applied for a resident permit for 25 years and has not received one to date. As a result, she cannot leave the Old City of Jerusalem to visit relatives in the West Bank. Family separation or disintegration is one more tool the Israeli occupation authorities use to control the Palestinians in the oPt.
If this sort of injustice happened in other democratic countries, it and all other incidents would have warranted an investigation and probably a prosecution, but every Palestinian in oPt that we have talked with about filing a complaint has said something along the lines of, “we will be wasting our time to report to the Israeli authorities because nothing will be done. Even when we are being attacked by settlers and call for help, the police come and just watch over us as the perpetrators beat us, vandalize, and destroy our property. If we dare protect ourselves, we get beaten and arrested by those who should be protecting us. It is only in this country where a thief comes to your home, and when you call the police for help, the police come to beat you up and arrest you while the perpetrator walks off happy.” To whom do these people turn for help? How on earth can this type of inhumanity happen and continue to occur in myriad ways?
Recently, a former Israeli soldier told us that their orders in the oPt are to protect the Israeli settlers even when Israelis have started the clashes. What would you call this kind of discrimination? Why criminalize one person and vindicate another just because of their race?
I teared up the other day when we went to Sheikh Jarrah, and the Palestinian young men there said it is normal for the police to attack and arrest them when they call for help. Two young Palestinian men who were not involved in the Jerusalem Day clashes were arrested. Fadhil (not his real name) started running home when he saw the Israeli settlers descend into his neighborhood. He wanted to be with his family, but the Israeli police stopped him and arrested him. The Israeli officers then walked to Fadhil’s parent’s house and asked his young brother Nashir (not his real name) to come outside with them for questioning. When they got to the street, Nashir was handcuffed too and taken to the Israeli police station. We went the following day to check on the family. The parents were not home; they had gone to the police station to seek release for their sons. Their younger son (19 years) has been in jail for four months and hasn’t been brought to court yet.
We spoke to Rahima (not her real name), who told us that when the Israeli police saw her crying as they beat a young boy, they asked her, “why are you crying? Beating terrorists is normal.” She told us the boy the Israeli police officer was assaulting was only ten years old. She told the officer that it was not normal for an adult to hit a child and that the child was not a terrorist. The little boy had not committed any crime except stepping into the street to see what the commotion was all about. Rahima also told us that her parents, especially her dad, have taught them never to hate anyone, including the people who continue to harass them in Sheikh Jarrah. She said, “we have learned that hate destroys you, not the person you hate.”
Every day, when I walk in the Old City of Jerusalem or stand at the Checkpoints and witness how young Palestinian boys and young men are roughly handled by the Israeli police officers, I can’t but conclude that Palestinian youth is criminalized. When a Palestinian man attacks an Israeli, the reports on media are usually “a terrorist attack.” Still, when the Israeli settlers raid homes, attack Palestinians and vandalize Palestinian places of worship, nobody reports these incidents as terror attacks. Is terrorism racialized? Only one kind of people can be terrorists and not the other? What would happen if the media reports were balanced and honest?
If the Blue Wolf was meant for security purposes and not surveilling Palestinians, why are we having medical reports of people attacked by settlers in Sheikh Jarrah indicating that unknown assailants assaulted them? Furthermore, there were video clips on social media and the neighbors of the settlers who carried out the incursions and the assaults. Again, Israel is misusing the term security as a cover to surveil, intimidate, harass, and continue the occupation of Palestinian territories. No country has the right to hide oppression under the guise of security.
Dear God of love and compassion,
we humbly come to you crying from the depths of our hearts.
God, may you be attentive to the voice of our supplication.
We pray that you transform us, especially those who
inflict pain and injustice on others.
We pray for the restoration of dignity for all.
Susan Nchubiri is a Maryknoll Sister and a Master of Global Affairs student at the University of Notre Dame in Indiana, specializing in International Peace Studies. She is currently serving as an Ecumenical Accompanier with the World Council of Churches’ EAPPI program. She previously worked as a community organizer in Haiti where she founded 2 self-help women’s groups, a micro-credit co-operative, a community garden, and a goat-raising project for a youth group. Before that, she worked as a campus minister and pastoral caregiver to students, migrant workers, and prisoners in Hong Kong. Susan had also worked in campus ministry in Chicago and volunteered weekly at the Cook County Juvenile Detention Center. She was program director at Euphrasia Women Refuge Center and at Maria House Imani Projects in Nairobi Kenya where she worked hand in hand with the social workers and instructors to support vulnerable women and children.
Any views or opinions contained herein are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of Churches for Middle East Peace (CMEP).