Occupied Palestine: AI and indiscriminate targeting

Occupied Palestine: AI and indiscriminate targeting
The Gaza Strip: Now split into zones, supposedly pertaining to ‘safety’ despite continued and widespread attacks by the Israeli state

The orchestrated genocide of the indigenous Palestinian population by the Israeli government is rapidly worsening. The broad, unrestricted, and largely unchecked bombing of non-military targets, the easing of international constraints on civilian casualties, and the implementation of AI for target generation have collaboratively led to the extensive destruction of the Gaza Strip. Found in an investigation conducted by +972 Magazine and Local Call, this has resulted in one of the most catastrophic military campaigns against the Palestinian people since the Nakbah (‘The Catastrophe’) of 1948. 

 

Furthermore, it is crucial to acknowledge the significant role played by major technological and defence corporations in the relentless bombing of the Gaza Strip, one of the most densely populated places on Earth. Specifically, companies such as Elbit systems, Amazon, and Google are complicit in Israel’s war crimes against Palestinians. Their provision of advanced technology, particularly AI, to the Israeli government has accelerated the pace of destruction. Over 20 000 Palestinians have now been killed by the Israeli military, and their highly advanced technological weapons, in just over two months. 

 

A common theme of this latest, highly accelerated, manifestation of ethnic cleansing in Gaza has been the consistent, desperately under challenged and under analysed, targeting of non-military sites. The targeting of Shifa hospital and the murder of it’s staff and patients is a clear representation of this. Despite assurances from Israeli sources that the site was a ‘hub’ for ‘terror activity’, evidence has been largely non-existent, certainly falling well short of justification, and accountability from the international community has been woeful. Calls to provide sufficient evidence were short-lived and have largely gone forgotten since the assault on the Hospital in mid-November. 

 

Israeli sources consistently cite the use of sophisticated AI systems to “select targets for air strikes and organise wartime logistics” with tools like “Fire Factory”. With local media reporting from the IDF that the software is used to produce new targets on a “large scale”, AI is discussed as the operational backbone of Israel’s latest assault. However, the realities on the ground in Gaza do not resemble the same highly technical operational efficiencies. With, now 1.8 million, of just over 2 million residents displaced, and over 220 000 buildings either partially or completely damaged, 266 schools destroyed, along with 124 health facilities, evidence points towards an indiscriminate targeting of Palestinian people and their vital infrastructure. With +972’s investigation into what has been called ‘A mass assassination factory’ in Gaza, we at impACT question whether, if AI tools are as pervasive as implied, Palestinians are counted as civilians or legitimate targets?

 

Psychological Warfare

 

The continual dehumanisation of indigenous Palestinians extends beyond the mass assassinations in their homeland; it is a pervasive attitude that extends into the language used to describe Palestinian people, the destruction of civil society, and their torture. What remains consistently evident is a disregard for the lives of Palestinians. Reflecting on Israel’s “power targets”, it is evident that the Israeli military is entirely aware of not only the civilian casualties resulting from each attack, but the impact of the losses on wider community. As outlined in the +972 report, there is a disturbing instance where Israeli military command knowingly sanctioned the killing of hundreds of Palestinians civilians to target a single top Hamas military commander. Whilst incidental killing of civilians can be seen as an unwanted aspect of warfare, seeking to minimise the effects, destruction and carnage of military operations is enshrined in The Hague Conventions of 1899, 1907 and the Geneva Conventions of 1949 and their Additional Protocols 1977. Knowingly killing hundreds of people for a single target (or ‘area bombardment’), or deploying illegal munitions such as white phosphorous over civilian populations; a consistent aspect of Israeli operations, is a clear war crime. 

 

“The numbers increased from dozens of civilian deaths [permitted] as collateral damage as part of an attack on a senior official in previous operations, to hundreds of civilian deaths as collateral damage,” said one of their sources. The term "collateral damage," when applied to innocent civilians, underscores a perilous perspective, revealing a subordinate view of the Palestinian population and a blatant disregard for the value of their lives. It provides the linguistic and moral basis for further targeting. 

 

More recently, the arbitrary arrest and degrading treatment of at least 100 Palestinian men by the IDF, further exemplifies a pattern of torture and humiliation. Euro-Med Human Rights Monitor said the men were “arbitrarily arrested” in the northern Gaza Strip after the IDF surrounded shelters in Beit Lahiya. Civilian men were stripped, blindfolded, and made to kneel. Such forms of torture, as outlined by Ahmed Bedier, president of the United Voices for America, a civic engagement group, “is a way to humiliate. This is a psychological warfare, designed to break the  Palestinian people and tell them no place is safe, including shelters.”

 

Israeli officials have flagrantly publicised a disregard for the rights of Palestinians. Yoav Gallant, defence minister, bluntly describing Palestinians as “human animals” early in October is illustrative of an alarming insight into a de-humanising, racist, genocidal, mentality that has formed the ideological basis for such actions. Considering these public statements of animalisation, it is not difficult to view instances like the arrest and stripping of reportedly civilian men, as part of a wider disregard for Palestinian lives.

 

Power Targets.

 

Since October 7th, there has been a deliberate attempt to destroy civil society in Palestine. The targeting of private residences, public buildings (like hospitals and schools), high-rise apartment and business buildings, as well as, critical infrastructure has been pervasive. These structures are classified, according to leaks, “power targets” by the Israeli army. 

 

The Israeli government is fully aware of the devastation, as Gaza stands as one of the most heavily surveyed areas globally. +972 Magazine's report disclosed that the IDF maintains files on the majority of potential targets in Gaza, enabling them to predict the number of likely civilian casualties in attacks on specific targets, information known in advance to the army's intelligence units. This is a reality that largely discounts attempts to justify civilian deaths through ‘incidental’ means. High levels of surveillance, intelligence information and technological analysis mean that the Israeli state is likely acutely aware of the situation within Gaza. The military has suggested that the killing and targeting of civilians, asserting to the local and international community, that such actions will exert increased pressure on Hamas to surrender, is collective punishment and a highly illegal position. 

 

Use of Technology and AI - Elbit, Amazon & Google’s complicity

 

The technology deployed by the IDF in the destruction of Gaza serves to illuminate the highly informed position that Israel is acting from. As illustrated in our report in October regarding Israel’s ethnic cleansing of Gaza, private companies and those providing technologies to the occupation are vital to maintaining asymmetric positions of power. The likes of Elbit Systems and the US Department of Defence (DoD), and their integrated partnerships with Israel make them instrumental, providing advanced weaponry, for use in its occupation of Palestine and, therefore, are complicit in war crimes.

 

Highly technological goods, like the Hermes 450 drone, a hugely profitable item for Elbit, are meticulously designed and consistently used in Occupied Palestine. Missiles, equipped with tracking cameras and thermal imagery, are able to view targets until the moment of impact. The walls surrounding the Gaza Strip are equipped with “hundreds of cameras and radars … all positioned on the fortification built” around the Strip. The wall has a “remotely controlled weapons system and a sea barrier with monitoring equipment that can detect incursions via maritime routes”. Elbit and various other companies were vital in providing the equipment that enabled the wall to be built. 

 

This level of technological sophistication raises ethical concerns about the precision and selectivity of the destructive actions carried out in Gaza, and their annihilation of “power targets”, civilians, homes, and key infrastructure.

 

“Nothing happens by accident,” said a source. “When a 3-year-old girl is killed in a home in Gaza, it’s because someone in the army decided it wasn’t a big deal for her to be killed — that it was a price worth paying in order to hit [another] target. We are not Hamas. These are not random rockets. Everything is intentional. We know exactly how much collateral damage there is in every home.”

 

The involvement of AI in the Israeli military's operations is not unfamiliar, as major tech giants like Google and Amazon play pivotal roles as key providers of advanced AI technology to the IDF. Under the umbrella of "Project Nimbus," a substantial $1.2 billion contract, Google Cloud and Amazon Web Services have committed to delivering cloud computing services, encompassing AI and machine learning, to the Israeli government and military.

 

This extensive agreement poses a heightened threat to the fundamental rights of indigenous Palestinians, subjecting them to increased risk and stricter measures of control. The implications are far-reaching. Asymmetric degrees of surveillance provide foundation for policies and treatment that will further entrench apartheid practice in Occupied Territories. Training documents for Israeli officials indicate that Google, in particular, is claiming that their software can “recognise people, gauge emotional states from facial expression, and track objects in video footage” in order to better police Palestinians. Certainly a concerning realisation, allowing for a occupying power to analyse even the emotional expression of Palestinians suggests it’s use to further justify arbitrary killings and murder, reflecting a burgeoning reality for Palestinians where all facets of existence are policed. Employees at Google have regularly cited, through public protestation, their concerns regarding the deal. In August this year, protests concerned with “Google’s systematic silencing of Palestinian, Jewish, Arab and Muslim voices concerned about Google’s complicity in violations of Palestinian human rights” erupted at their Cloud conference in San Francisco.

 

+972’s report warns of the dangers associated with the use of AI, particularly referring to Israel’s large-scale use of an AI system called “Habsora”. The advanced capabilities of this system enable the occupying state to almost automatically "generate" targets at a rate surpassing previous possibilities. This, in turn, facilitates what a former intelligence officer describes as a disturbing "mass assassination factory."

 

The testimony from a +972 source reveals alarming directives within the Israeli army, indicating a prioritisation of quantity over quality in targeting operations. Following the October 7th incident, a senior intelligence officer reportedly emphasised the goal of "killing as many Hamas operatives as possible," with a significant relaxation of criteria around avoiding harm to Palestinian civilians. This has led to indiscriminate shelling based on broad cellular pinpointing of targets, sacrificing accuracy to expedite attacks.

 

This approach has resulted in a devastating toll, with over 300 families in Gaza losing 10 or more members in the last two months alone. Shockingly, the death toll has surpassed 20 000 Palestinians in the ongoing war. A bewildering figure. 

 

These revelations underscore the urgent need for accountability for the Israeli government's actions. impACT, therefore, must call on international bodies, such as the ICJ and ICC, to investigate all cases of human rights abuses, war crimes, and general breaking of international law by the Israeli state. 

 

Conclusion

 

In light of the harrowing revelations surrounding the Israeli government's actions in Gaza, urgent and decisive measures are imperative to mitigate further human suffering and address the root causes of this crisis. Most importantly, and urgently, there must be an immediate ceasefire to halt the loss of more innocent lives. 

 

Secondly, the Israeli state must withdraw military operations in order to allow for proper humanitarian assistance to enter the Gaza Strip, alongside independent investigators to properly analyse accusations of war crimes and human rights abuses. 

 

Furthermore, it is crucial to hold accountable the companies complicit in providing advanced surveillance and defence technologies to the occupying state. Amazon and Google, as contributors to "Project Nimbus," and Elbit Systems bear a responsibility for their role in perpetuating the ongoing tragedy. The revocation of all agreements with these entities is paramount, aiming to curtail the surveillance and targeting capacities that have contributed to the loss of over 20 000 lives since October. This step is integral not only for ethical considerations but also for sending a clear message that profiting from human suffering is unacceptable.

 

Addressing these issues promptly is essential to safeguard the fundamental rights of the indigenous Palestinian population. A just and peaceful resolution to the conflict necessitates international cooperation, diplomatic initiatives, and adherence to principles of human rights. The international community must act decisively to bring about accountability, justice, and a comprehensive resolution that respects the dignity and rights of all those affected by this protracted and devastating conflict. 

 

Increasingly, it is becoming clear that the a significant portion global population are not confident in the UN’s ability to cogently regulate international relations and warfare. The institutions, created to establish accountability for human rights abuses and war crimes, increasingly look unable to properly deal with criminal action. Dichotomies of those tried and those allowed to carry out abuses are becoming difficult to ignore. They must act now to retain any legitimacy. The proper application of international law over Israeli officials is the only way in which faith in international legal institutions can be re-instated.

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