Coinciding with the commencement of the annual olive harvest, September has seen the launch of ‘Counter-Surveillance: H2’, a community-based project by Artists + Allies x Hebron (AAH) in the city of Hebron in the Occupied Palestinian Territories (OPT) that will repurpose technology originally employed by the Israeli Military to oppress and subdue the local population, to instead protect the land and heritage of the Palestinian people.
The olive harvest in Palestine takes place each autumn, making this a crucial time in the lives of the many Palestinian families who rely on it for their income – and a key target for those determined to expand illegal Israeli settlement. Between August 2020 and 2021, more than 9,300 olive trees were destroyed in the West Bank – and since 1967, a total of 800,000 olive trees have been uprooted by Israeli authorities and settlers.
A statement released by the project explains further:
Every aspect of a Palestinian’s life in the OPT is intensely surveilled and this is no less true in the old city of Hebron (H2), where cameras appear every 300 feet, intrusively observing and recording the day-to-day lives of the people that live here under apartheid and occupation, violating their basic human right of privacy. These cameras are correctly viewed as instruments of oppression and subjugation, with the express intention of undermining any resistance.
“The cameras only have one eye — to see Palestinians”, says Issa Amro, a United Nations formally recognised human rights defender and new member of ‘Artists + Allies x Hebron’. “From the moment you leave your house to the moment you get home, you are on camera”.
Over the past two years in Hebron, the Israeli Military has been integrating facial recognition into a growing network of cameras and smartphones using, in part, a smartphone technology called ‘Blue Wolf’, that allows the military to capture photographs of Palestinians and match them to an image database that can be accessed via an app on their phone and is so extensive that one soldier described it as the Israeli Force’s secret “Facebook for Palestinians”. The app, once identifying the individual, will then flash a different colour -red, yellow or green – designating whether they are to be arrested, detained or left alone.
Despite having every aspect of their life captured by camera and scrutinised, the Palestinian community, as a consequence of the failure of any meaningful action by the International Community to intervene and hold Israel to account, continues to feel that it is not seen. Adam Broomberg, an internationally renowned Jewish South African artist and former South African apartheid activist, who is the Curator and Director of ‘Artists + Allies x Hebron’ stated:
“‘Counter-Surveillance’ seeks through its installation of custom-made surveillance cameras throughout Palestinian-owned olive groves, to co-opt this same technology but with a radically different purpose – by live broadcasting the images to various sites across the world, the electronic gaze does not seek to control, punish, or instill fear.
Rather, it is an attempt at a community-building strategy that spans the globe, where individuals and organisations of conscience across the planet can keep a vigilant eye on these precious trees, some of which are
over 900 years old. It is an opportunity to demonstrate solidarity by ensuring that these courageous residents and their heroic acts are not only surveilled but also seen.”
Counter-Surveillance: H2 is supported by Bonniers Konsthall (Stockholm, Sweden) and SI Fest
(Savignano, Italy). Other art institutions broadcasting the project include: Nitja (LillestrØm,
Norway) and FOAM (Amsterdam, Netherlands).
The project’s live stream can be watched here.
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