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August 6, 2020 9:17 am

Another Anti-Israel Lie Pushed by Palestinian Activist

avatar by Dexter Van Zile

Opinion

The House of Representatives Building and the East Portico of the US Capitol. Photo: Flickr.

When people say or write things, they should try to avoid contradicting themselves on a factual or logical basis. This is the essence of the “Liar’s Paradox.”

This lesson was lost on the folks at Foreign Policy (FP), who published a piece by Palestinian activist Zena Agha titled “Israel Can’t Hide Evidence of Its Occupation Anymore.” The piece, which appeared on FP’s website on August 3, 2020, contradicts itself in a pretty obvious way.

The gist of the article is that a US law passed by Congress in 1996 has made it impossible for human rights activists to get high-definition satellite images of the Gaza Strip and the West Bank, making them unable to document Israeli actions in those areas.

The article then reports breathlessly that this law was recently amended, giving human rights activists the information they need to document the evil acts against the Palestinians.

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But when read closely, the article (a) reveals that the law only applied to US companies, and that (b) high-definition images of Israel and the Gaza Strip and West Bank have been available on the global market for most of the past decade, rendering the law in question meaningless.

The result is that the entire premise of the article — which accuses the United States of denying human rights activists access to satellite images they can use to document alleged Israeli misdeeds against the Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza — is destroyed.

They’ve had access to the images since 2012.

Here’s the background: Agha’s article purports to detail a change in US law regarding the sale of high-definition satellite imagery by American companies. The law in question was written by US Senators Jeff Bingaman and Jon Kyl in 1996. Their intention was to regulate a newly established market of satellite images that had been created by Executive Order 12951, issued by the Clinton administration in 1995. The executive order allowed for the sale and distribution of satellite imagery collected by the US government.

The fear was that allowing the sale of high-definition images of Israel and the disputed territories would give terrorists information they could use to engage in attacks against the Jewish state. “Enemies of Israel could use the photos released under Executive Order 12951 to target Israel for long-range attacks or assaults by terrorists,” Senator Kyl said when he introduced the legislation.

The law, which was passed in 1996, stated that high-definition US satellite imagery of Israel and the surrounding territories cannot be released to the general public “unless such imagery is no more detailed or precise than satellite imagery of the country or geographic area concerned than is routinely available from commercial sources.” This means that the US government would not license or facilitate the sale of higher definition satellite imagery than what people could get elsewhere.

As it turns out, the issue of satellite imagery and terrorism was not a moot point. Pakistani terrorists used satellite imagery from Google Maps to plan and perpetrate their attacks on Mumbai in 2008, as reported by The Washington Post. Praveen Swami, a terrorism expert and media commentator, said, “Most of their rehearsals to familiarize themselves with Mumbai were done on high-resolution satellite maps, so they would have a good feel for the city’s streets and buildings where they were going.”

The subhead of Agha’s article declares that an “obscure US law concealed satellite imagery of Israel’s activities in the occupied territories” and “because of an abrupt reversal satellite technology can now be used to defend Palestinians’ human rights.”

The main text of the article then states that, as a result of this obscure law, known as the Kyl-Bingaman Amendment (KBA), “publicly available imagery on platforms such as Google Earth has been deliberately coarse and blurred.” Because of the lack of granulated imagery, “the legislation obfuscated the damaging effects of the Israeli occupation by literally hiding them from view.”

Things get weird when Agha reports that the KBA “only applied to US companies,” which means that non-US companies providing satellite imagery were not bound by the law. To demonstrate the censorious impact of the law, Agha writes, “Even as foreign companies began producing high-resolution imagery during the 2010s, US dominance meant that, in reality, the KBA was applied on a de facto global scale.”

Agha’s implication is that by prohibiting American companies from providing high-definition satellite imagery to their customers, the KBA affected the behavior of countries outside the United States.

But this simply isn’t true, because Agha herself writes that “a number of non-US companies — beginning with French-owned Airbus in 2011 — began producing and retailing high-resolution satellite imagery of Israel and the occupied territories.”

She further adds that “Israel itself provides free high-resolution aerial imagery of the territories it controls, simultaneously rendering the KBA pointless and belying the claim that it serves Israeli national security interests.”

And an article linked to by Agha herself declares, “Since 2012, the KBA has become increasingly anachronistic as non-US satellite firms, utilizing increasingly sophisticated satellite technologies, have begun retailing high-resolution imagery of Israel and Palestine.”

So in the same article, Agha told us that US law made it impossible for human rights activists to use high-definition satellite imagery to determine and report what is going on in the Levant, and then she told us that the same law, which does not apply to non-US companies, has been rendered pointless because non-US companies have been selling the so-called censored images for almost 10 years.

So what was the point of the article again?

Dexter Van Zile is the Shillman Research Fellow for the Committee for Accuracy in Middle East Reporting and Analysis (CAMERA).

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