The Israeli military has deployed an artificial intelligence-powered shooting system over a gate that Palestinians use to enter the Old City of Hebron at a busy crossing in the West Bank. The system is positioned over a checkpoint on al-Shuhada Street (or Martyrs’ Street), which has frequently been the epicenter of protests and conflicts between Palestinians and Israeli soldiers.
The weapon system is intended to shoot non-lethal projectiles such as fire stun grenades, tear gas, and sponge-tipped bullets to dissipate crowds, according to the Israeli military. The intention of the hostility directed against Palestinians living in the Old City of Hebron by illegal settlers and occupation troops is to drive them from their houses so that the territory may be used to build illegal Jewish-only settlements.
According to a military spokeswoman, the army is evaluating the prospect of utilizing remotely operated equipment for the deployment of authorized means of crowd dispersion as part of the army’s strengthened preparations for addressing persons breaking order in the region.
The official clarified the AI shooter system does not involve remote control of live ammunition. However, there have been several instances in recent years where Palestinians have suffered severe injuries with sponge-tipped bullets, which are thought to be non-lethal.
The company that created the shooting technology, Smart Shooter, specializes in systems that track and lock in on targets using artificial intelligence-based image processing. Despite Smart Shooter’s well-known slogan, “one shot, one hit,” many Palestinians continue to be skeptical of the manufacturer’s claim that its weapons offer improved firing accuracy.
Earlier, using Smart Shooter’s “SMASH Dragon” armed drone technology, drones have also been deployed to shoot live ammo and spray tear gas at protesters from a distance.
Role of AI in Guardian of the Walls
Israel has a history of using Palestinians as test subjects for early AI technologies before enhancing and distributing them overseas. Israel launched its first artificial intelligence battle on Gaza during the “Guardian of the Walls” operation last year. The Israel Defense Forces (IDF) prominently used cutting-edge technology and machine learning in this historic initiative. The IDF targeted Hamas targets deep within Gaza with targeted bombings during the 11-day conflict between the two rival groups, killing at least a hundred of their top leaders.
According to a senior officer in the IDF Intelligence Corps, they leveraged technical advancements as a force multiplier for the whole IDF and introduced new operational procedures. During the years preceding the conflict, the IDF created an advanced AI technical platform that consolidated all data on terrorist groups in the Gaza Strip into one system that facilitated the analysis and extraction of intelligence. This contrasted with the military’s sole reliance on what was already available on the civilian market and its adaptation for military purposes.
Soldiers in the Intelligence Corps’ elite Unit 8200 invented the algorithms that became the “Alchemist” and “Gospel” combat drone programs. To compile target recommendations for soldiers and military leaders and to locate hit targets, these programs relied on data from signal intelligence (SIGINT), visual intelligence (VISINT), human intelligence (HUMINT), geographical intelligence (GEOINT), and other sources.
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Over 210,000 Palestinians live in Hebron, which is divided between regions under the sovereignty of Israel and the Palestinian Authority. A small number of Israeli settlers also reside there, largely in enclaves close to the ancient city.
Former Israeli soldiers confessed in November 2020 that they had taken hundreds of pictures of Palestinians to create a database for a massive face recognition surveillance program called “Blue Wolf” in the southern West Bank city.
According to a Washington Post investigation based on six former Israeli soldiers’ testimony, Blue Wolf is a smartphone application that takes pictures of Palestinians in the occupied West Bank and compares them to a database maintained by the Israeli military and intelligence.
Prizes were allegedly given out to units that collected the most images of Palestinians to add to the database, which one former soldier referred to as the army’s “Facebook for Palestinians,” in order to motivate soldiers to participate.
A similar program called “White Wolf” is employed in the West Bank to scan the identity cards of Palestinians before they enter settlements to work and to store their data.
Project Nimbus and #NoTechForApartheid
This announcement comes after it was discovered that Google, under its problematic “Project Nimbus” agreement, was offering superior AI and machine-learning capabilities to the Israeli government.
Project Nimbus, a US$1.2 billion cloud computing project funded by the government of Israel, was developed in joint collaboration with Amazon. A statement from Israel’s Finance Ministry last year stated that the two companies triumphed against a proposed alliance between Microsoft and Oracle. According to the ministry’s announcement, the initiative aims to offer a comprehensive cloud solution to the government, the defense establishment, and others. Many opposed the project, claiming that the Israeli military and security agencies already rely on a sophisticated computerized surveillance system, and that the efficiency of Google’s data analysis capabilities could exacerbate the growing data-driven military rule.
Hundreds of employees at the companies have voiced concerns about Project Nimbus after it was reported in mid-2021 that they would be aiding in and advancing Israel’s apartheid project. According to documents provided to Intercept, Google will offer the Israeli government cutting-edge artificial intelligence and machine learning capabilities as part of the initiative. The documents mention the new Cloud Vision API, which would offer Israel access technologies for facial detection, automated image categorization, object tracking, and even sentiment analysis, though they don’t explain how Nimbus will be used.
Ariel Noren, a well-known critic of Project Nimbus and a Google marketing manager, announced his resignation from the internet company on August 30 after alleging that Google made a fortune from the ongoing oppression of Palestinians. In order to oppose the initiative and eventually compel them to cease it, Noren also launched the #NoTechForApartheid movement, which was recently held in San Francisco.
While this is going on, Project Nimbus proponents—among them Google—claim that the program focuses solely on improving cloud computing services for government departments, including finance, healthcare, transportation, and education, with the goal of creating over 3,000 employment opportunities for both Israeli Jews and Arabs.
The controversy surrounding Google’s collaboration with security and military departments is not the company’s first internal uprising. In 2018, tens of thousands of Google staff members petitioned the company to terminate Project Maven, a drone surveillance contract with the Pentagon.
It is possible that Google might be trying to bring positive development in Israel by offering them access to its cloud-supported platforms. But, considering the role tech behemoths play in blindsiding their employees while carrying out their nefarious motives, it is likely that history keeps repeating. Sure, these companies and the government might give in to the demands of protestors and withdraw their surveillance plans on the common public, however, the bigger question is when will these parties take accountability for their actions? If not, who would ensure that they are penalized for the same?
The Israeli-occupied West Bank has seen an increase in tensions since 2007. The deployment of disruptive technology like AI and cloud will now grant Israel’s military permission to commit even worse crimes.