Eye in the sky or pie in the sky?
Hebrew media review

Eye in the sky or pie in the sky?

A look at Monday’s papers raises the question of whether cameras and Facebook messages can keep people safer, or attacks are just fated to be

Security forces at the Damascus Gate in Jerusalem's Old City after a stabbing attack in which three people were injured and the assailant was shot dead by police, on April 1, 2017. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
Security forces at the Damascus Gate in Jerusalem's Old City after a stabbing attack in which three people were injured and the assailant was shot dead by police, on April 1, 2017. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

The challenge of finding the right balance between security and liberty, between keeping citizens safe from both foreign threats and power-hungry technocrats, is one that has vexed policy makers since Og put his first cordon around his cave to keep it safe from the dastardly Rog in the cave next door.

While peacetime favors the liberty side of the spectrum, the immediate aftermath of wars and attacks give lawmakers and others a chance to shift policies toward the security side, taking advantage of fears and public clamoring for bad things to never happen again.

True to script, the conversation in Israel, as expressed by the news agenda, shifts from mourning and retribution to preventative security measures on Monday, days after a deadly attack at Jerusalem’s Damascus Gate, which has seen more than its fair share of violent incidents.

Both Haaretz and Israel Hayom lead off with reports on new efforts ostensibly designed to keep people safe, though the papers play them quite differently.

Haaretz’s top story details an army effort to put up security cameras all around the West Bank, and its placement alongside a picture of two Muslim women being searched by police next to Damascus Gate sets the tone for the coverage.

The paper reports that 1,700 cameras have thus far been placed in the West Bank, on roads, at intersections and in settlements, which the army thinks can deter attacks and help find perpetrators. The network is only getting off the ground, Haaretz reports, with plans for every intersection and every Israeli car to be equipped with cameras, along with every army unit having its own drone-mounted camera.

But between that and increased monitoring of Palestinians on social media, the paper notes not everything is clear-cut.

“Both raise questions about how far they invade Palestinians’ privacy and about the harsh measures sometimes taken against those who are thinking about attacks but have yet to carry them out,” the broadsheet reports. “One can also assume that the Israeli security companies developing these technologies for the army will export them to other countries, where regimes could use them against opponents. These issues have never been publicly debated, nor is it clear whether Israel’s security services have given much thought to the possible long-term ramifications of these developments.”

Those types of questions are not included in Israel Hayom’s own report on new technologies being utilized by police — not only because of the tabloid’s rah-rah reportage, but also because the technology is not exactly something to write home about.

The amazing development that the paper exclusively hawks in its lead story as the police’s big plan is … wait for it …. targeted Facebook messages. That’s right. The paper reports that police are looking into using a Facebook platform that tracks a phone’s location to send messages to people about “closed roads, suspicious objects, roadblocks being set up, traffic arrangements for sporting events, parades, protests and even warnings about pickpockets on the beach.”


Unmentioned in the story is the fact that such a technology will obviate the need for middleman transcription services like Israel Hayom, or that there might be some people who don’t want the police to track their phone’s location without a warrant, or the fact that there is a lawsuit taking shape against the Interior Ministry for having the gumption to send a text message to every phone in the country about a new biometric ID card.

The paper also doesn’t directly link the new initiative to the Damascus Gate attack, but its placement of a picture of a single cop standing guard there next to the story telegraphs clearly that at least an editor is connecting the two.

Yedioth Ahronoth leaves no question about connections it is soldering, with a front page photo of the fathers of Hadar Cohen and Hadas Malka meeting under the headline “One fate.” Both lost their border cop daughters in attacks near the Damascus Gate about a year apart.

“During the meeting David [Malka] and Ofer [Cohen] sat side by side, close to each other, and spoke like two old buddies,” the paper reports. “The two didn’t know each other before and neither did their daughters. But when they met it seemed like they had known each other for years, and a long hug begot a warm connection, one created by a shared fate.”

The fact of the two attacks in the same place about a year apart belies the idea that any technology, whether it be cameras, social media tracking or Facebook messages, can stop all bad things from happening. Reporting that the spot that has seen so many attacks has already returned to some semblance of normal, Yedioth speaks to a Muslim man who blames the PA for sending attackers, a yeshiva student who lives in the Muslim Quarter of the Old City and who doesn’t plan on changing anything in the wake of the attack, and a border cop who says he’s seen seven attacks in eight months of guarding there.

“We are like a family. There’s a feeling of closeness between everyone. If we have to see a therapist after every attack, we would never leave their office. So instead we just support each other. I was near the attack. I heard the shots and ran over. When I got there, there was already nothing to do. I stayed and finished my shift until 5 a.m., 12 hours on my feet,” the border cop says, making it seem like Friday was just another day at the office.

As the story illustrates, what people think and how they act can be just as important as policy decisions, or at least can play a major role in making them, a fact apparently not lost on Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who according to a Haaretz report on Monday’s front page, ran secret polls before deciding on government moves and a campaign opposing US president Barack Obama and his secretary of state, John Kerry, on the Iran nuclear deal.

“Likud conducted a total of 18 polls on the eve of the 2015 Knesset election – ranging from the popularity of the prime minister to the number of times the public visited the Ynet website. But the most explosive questions concerned the Israeli public’s attitude to Obama and Kerry,” the paper reports, adding that the polls found both Obama and Kerry to be practically personae non grata in Israeli eyes.

It’s possible that Netanyahu commissioned the same kind of polls to give him backing for his outward support for current US President Donald Trump, but the paper doesn’t say so. In Israel Hayom, though, which has also backed Trump, columnist Amnon Lord calls the Damascus Gate attack the “Palestinian Authority’s response” to US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson saying Ramallah would stop paying terrorists salaries. But who really knows what is flying, as the columnist draws a linkage between the attack, unrest on the Temple Mount and the confusing whirlpool the US, Israel and the Middle East find themselves in.

“When the large Sunni countries organize a NATO-style body against the Shiite power Iran, with the support of Israel; one should expect some sort of response; when Qatar, the global bank for terror, is under pressure, someone from their side will try to carry out an attack. Who do we really mean? Hamas? Islamic State? Is there any Sunni terror group not funded by Qatar?” he writes. “All these things go to show how much policy plans in the Middle East are inscribed upon shifting sands. It’s so easy for anyone to wreak instability.”

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