Israel Speeds Up Camera Placements in West Bank in Effort to Deter Terrorism

The army says that the goal is to expand the system until there is a camera at every intersection and in as many Israeli vehicles in the territories as possible

Security cameras in Jerusalem's City of David
Olivier Fitoussi

In the past year, the army has accelerated its program to install a comprehensive network of surveillance cameras and other monitoring devices throughout the West Bank. More than 1,700 cameras have already been put in place on roads, intersections and in settlements.

The army believes more cameras deter terror attacks and can aid in gathering intelligence that can help to capture perpetrators.

During the second intifada, the improved signals intelligence capabilities of the Shin Bet security service and Military Intelligence were an important component in Israel’s response to attacks by terror cells affiliated with Hamas, Fatah and Islamic Jihad. Today’s challenges, however, are different. Most terror attacks are carried out by “lone wolves,” acting without the backing of an organization, or by small, independent local cells. This development has made visual intelligence technology a more significant part of the Israeli defense program.

The need for this was demonstrated by the kidnapping of the three teenagers from the Gush Etzion junction in June 2014. At the time there were very few cameras at road intersections, but even the few cameras then deployed along the main road made it possible to identify the route taken by the cell that abducted and murdered them, from the Alon Shvut junction, where they got into the terrorists’ car; to the area of Dura, in the South Hebron Hills, where the car was torched; to the field west of Hebron where the teens’ bodies were buried. The installation of additional cameras began in earnest during the terror wave that began in October 2015 and was further accelerated this past year.

The system comprises both cameras clearly visible from a distance and hidden cameras. The information they gather is collected in the operations rooms of the district brigades of the Judea and Samaria Division as well as by the Shin Bet. The cameras have been installed on roads, at junctions and around the perimeter fences of settlements. In other places considered at risk for attacks or have been the site of several attacks, like at the Gush Etzion junction, cameras have been installed that provide 360-degree coverage. Along Route 443 from Jerusalem to Modi’in, an operations room has been set up that collects data from many cameras in an effort to reduce the number of stone-throwing and firebomb attacks on this major artery. The army claims that there has indeed been a drop in the number of attacks along the road in recent months.

There has also been increased use of drones, helmet-mounted cameras and cameras installed on military patrol vehicles but also in the vehicles of civilian security personnel in the settlements. Some of the road cameras can be moved from place to place as needed.

The army says that the goal is to expand the system until there is a camera at every intersection and in as many Israeli vehicles in the territories as possible. The army also plans to equip every army company in the West Bank with its own drone. A week-long course in operating camera-bearing drones is given at the combat intelligence school. The information collected from the cameras is used to analyze the modus operandi of terrorists, to improve defenses against attacks and in the event a terror attack does take place, to expedite the identification of the perpetrators. The army also photographs demonstrations and stone-throwing incidents to identify those involved and arrest them later.

The increased use of visual technology supplements the efforts by the army and the Shin Bet to monitor Palestinian activity on social networks, which has also been markedly expanded to identify young people planning an attack who signal their intentions online. By this past April, after less than a year, some 2,200 Palestinians were identified as being in various stages of planning an attack, and more than 400 of them were arrested, with some sent to administrative detention. The names of 400 others were given to the Palestinian Authority and its security services, which called them in and warned them.

Both uses of technology to head off attacks or to solve them after the fact raise questions about how far they invade Palestinians’ privacy and about the harsh measures sometimes taken against those who are thinking about attacks but have yet to carry them out. One can also assume that the Israeli security companies developing these technologies for the army will export them to other countries, where regimes could use them against opponents. These issues have never been publicly debated, nor is it clear whether Israel’s security services have given much thought to the possible long-term ramifications of these developments.