Palestinians Targeted With Israeli Spyware Decry 'State Terrorism'

One of the heads of the Palestinian NGOs targeted by Israeli firm NSO's cyberware slammed the hacking as a bid to 'control civil Palestinian society'

Amira Hass
Amira Hass
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Shawan Jabarin, right, director of the al-Haq human rights group, speaks during a rare meeting of solidarity between leaders from Israeli human rights organizations and representatives from six Palestinian human rights groups outlawed by Israel, in the West Bank city of Ramallah, Oct. 27, 2021
Shawan Jabarin, right, director of the al-Haq human rights group, speaks during a rare meeting of solidarity between leaders from Israeli human rights organizations and representatives from six PalesCredit: AP Photo/Majdi Mohammed
Amira Hass
Amira Hass

"It's difficult to describe the feeling of invasion and intrusion into privacy," Ubai Al-Aboudi, one of six Palestinian activists whose cellphones was found to be infected by Pegasus spyware said on Monday.

The Bisan Center for Research and Development, where he is the executive director, held a press conference in Ramallah on Monday along with two other Palestinian groups whose activists' cellphones were infected and hacked – Al-Haq and Addameer. The groups presented details at the news conference regarding the investigation of the hacking of the phones by Israeli cybersecurity company NSO.

"For the three days after the attack was discovered, my wife couldn’t sleep," Aboudi said. "Everyone's been thinking about the personal things that they've talked about. Planting spyware is organized state terrorism designed to control civil Palestinian society," he said.

Earlier on Monday, Haaretz reported that international organizations found that the company's Pegasus software was used to monitor the cellphones of six Palestinian activists and human rights workers.

>> NSO spyware used against Palestinian activists from NGOs Israel outlawed, report says

Sahar Francis, director of Palestinian NGO Addameer, speaks at Al-Haq's offices in the West BankCredit: Abbas Momani/AFP

According to their report, three of the people whose phones were hacked with the software were members of social welfare organizations that were blacklisted for alleged terrorist ties by Defense Minister Benny Gantz last month. The phones were examined by Citizen Lab, Amnesty International and Front Line Defenders, the latter of which led the investigation.

Aboudi and Addameer's director, Sahar Francis, told the press conference that their organizations would continue to serve the Palestinian people. Referring to the order issued Sunday by the commander of the Israeli army's Central Command that declared Al-Haq and Addameer and three other Palestinian groups in the West Bank as terrorist organizations, Francis said members of the group have felt genuinely threatened. "So the initial task is therefore to physically protect us so that we are not harmed," she said.

"The second request is to carry out a full international investigation of all of the offensive cyber companies connected to the Israeli occupation. Use has been made of this software and others like it in other countries too," she said. Francis asked that the United Nations add the companies to its spyware blacklist of firms operating in occupied West Bank territory.

Asked whether the information obtained in the hack by the spyware was what led Israel to outlaw the organizations, Al-Haq's Tahseen Elayyan said the organizations and the owners of the individual cellphones don't know what information was obtained from the devices. "We don't even know who is behind this spy operation," he said, "and we don't know why we were declared unauthorized associations."

Addameer's Francis alleged that a secret report from Israel's Shin Bet security agency about the groups was based on unclassified remarks by two Palestinians whom the Shin Bet had questioned. "Actually since the information that Israel has is not sufficient to incriminate us, it has declared the organizations terrorist organizations," she said.

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