For the first time, eavesdropping on activists and human rights defenders using Pegasus spyware is documented in the Palestinian territories. Computer security researchers revealed on Monday (November 8) that they had detected traces of the use of this software in the phones of six people, sold by the Israeli company NSO Group to states, as a tool in the fight against crime. and terrorism.
The targets are employees of Palestinian NGOs, whom Israel designated as “terrorists” on October 19, three days after the traces were discovered, without publicly providing any evidence. Among those targeted is Franco-Palestinian lawyer Salah Hamouri, who works for the Addameer prisoners’ defense organization. On October 18, Mr. Hamouri was informed by the Interior Ministry that his right to reside in East Jerusalem had been revoked.
Their phones have been reviewed by Front Line Defenders, the University of Toronto’s Citizen Lab, which specializes in malware analysis, and Amnesty International. The targets were infected, according to their data, between July 2020 and April 2021. They also include employees of the Bisan Center for Research and Development and Al-Haq, a veteran of human rights organizations in the United States. Middle East. The latter helped fuel the investigation opened in March by the International Criminal Court in the occupied Palestinian territories, which targets in particular crimes allegedly linked to colonization and is causing concern in Israel.
US sanctions on NSO
Israeli Defense Minister Benny Gantz blacklisted these NGOs on the grounds that they would serve as a front for the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP), a movement born out of Arab nationalism and Marxism, considered terrorist by Israel and the European Union. This accusation endangers the financial contributions made to them, in particular by European states.
Their designation as “terrorist” organizations had elicited little criticism in Israel; those issued by the left wing of the government had been strongly dismissed by Mr. Gantz. The NGOs targeted denounce an attempt to muzzle Palestinian civil society. On Monday, NSO simply recalled that it “Does not operate the product itself; the company grants licenses to government agencies authorized to do so and we are not informed of the details of individuals [surveillés] ».
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Palestinian human rights defenders spied on by Pegasus