Palestinian civil society demands: end EU complicity in illegal and repressive Israeli surveillance
After years of civil society pressure, the European Parliament had to set up a special committee to investigate the use of Israel’s Pegasus and similar surveillance spyware, called PEGA.
In its final report, published in May 2023, PEGA admitted Israel’s crucial role in the development and marketing of cyber weapons, “in some cases [...] designed purposefully to serve as a tool for political power and control”. Yet, it failed to demand accountability from Israel and those European actors that have made the EU today the main host, user and exporter of Israeli spyware.
The report, adopted with a large majority, acknowledges that the source of commercially available spyware are Israeli companies, which all receive Israeli government support and encouragement to sell spyware to the highest bidder. It further admits that Israeli spyware companies are founded by former Israeli intelligence officers and test their technology on Palestinians in the course of brutal violations of privacy and basic human rights.
The report further states that the Israeli government has used the sale of spyware to authoritarian regimes as a bargaining chip to strengthen diplomatic relations. PEGA recognizes that at least 14 EU member-states have been affected by spyware scandals. Harmful technology which is used against Palestinians does not stay in Palestine – it spreads its harm across the Global South and the Global North.
The report’s clarity on Israel’s harmful role and the use of spyware to violate Palestinian rights would not have been possible without the support of European MPs who uphold human rights principles and the hard work of the European Coordination of Committees and Associations for Palestine (ECCP) in engaging with the PEGA special committee.
Nevertheless, as important as this report is as a first step in the right direction, it is not sufficient to hold apartheid Israel to account, let alone stop its companies from hacking into phones and planting malicious programs into them. Our challenge is to mobilize pressure to completely ban Israeli and other spyware because it enables the persecution and repression of human rights activists, journalists, lawyers, opposition politicians, and others, undermining privacy, democracy and human rights and sowing discord and fear throughout the world.
PEGA must demand accountability from two main culprits: first, Israeli officials who authorize the development and use of spyware on Palestinians as a tool of repression in order to perpetuate apartheid and sell spyware globally, and second, European officials who buy Israeli spyware to use it for intimidating and silencing critical voices in Europe and who allow Israeli spyware companies to operate in and export from the EU. Spyware criminals who have broken numerous European laws remain free and continue to make large profits.
PEGA has corroborated the facts Palestinian and international human rights organizations and media outlets have been exposing for years, yet the European Parliament has completely failed to take any practical measures to overturn, or even suspend, the ongoing EU policy of granting Israeli apartheid and those complicit with it full impunity.
Even as PEGA issued its harsh report, the EU Directorate of Trade is poised to regulate - instead of banning - the export of spyware, pandering to the needs of the two major Israeli spyware companies that have moved their headquarters to the EU: NSO Group in Luxembourg and Intellexa in Cyprus.
The European Parliament has never been ready to seriously address the dangers of spyware. The PEGA committee, stripped of authority to make binding decisions and not even provided with a single Hebrew-speaking researcher, chose to make the most of its limited mandate.
As Palestinians we demand meaningful accountability, including a full EU ban on spyware, in order to protect our rights and the rights of people across the world against illegitimate surveillance and repression. We demand an immediate end of EU complicity and profiteering from Israeli cyber weapons that are “field-tested” on us, on our human rights activists and civil society organizations.
Instead of stockpiling Israeli weapons at a never before seen rate, EU member states should end all military and security relations with Israel, including joint research, until it ends its regime of apartheid, settler-colonialism and military occupation.