Israeli soldiers not allowed off shift until 50 Palestinians are added to database

A man points at surveillance cameras in the flashpoint Palestinian city of Hebron-Al-Khalil (AFP)

Mustafa Abu Sneineh

Middle East Eye  /  March 24, 2022

Any soldier who fails to upload 50 photos of Palestinians on the Blue Wolf tracking system will be asked to remain on duty until they hit the target.

Israeli commanders have instructed soldiers to take photos of at least 50 Palestinians in the occupied West Bank and East Jerusalem during the course of a shift, before uploading them to a tracking database. 

According to Haaretz, any soldier who fails to take and upload the photos on the Blue Wolf tracking system will be asked to remain on duty until they hit the target.

The Blue Wolf, which has been used by Israeli forces for over two years now, is a smartphone technology that captures images of Palestinians in the West Bank and then matches them with a database run by the Israeli military and intelligence agencies. 

To encourage soldiers to complete the task, prizes were said to have been offered for the units that gather the greatest number of photos of Palestinians and add them to the database, which was described by a former soldier as the army’s “Facebook for Palestinians”.

But this time, a penalty was introduced by Israeli commanders to push soldiers to capture photos of Palestinians, including women, the elderly, and children.

In November, The Washington Post reported that the number of photos taken reportedly ran into the thousands.

Other data on Palestinians stored on the cloud by Blue Wolf includes ID number, age, gender, address, vehicle registration, contacts, and whether they have a permit to work inside Israel.

According to Haaretz, some Israeli soldiers have posted this instruction on social media and protested the quota. One complained that “the requirement turns the expansion of the database into the soldiers’ main mission.”

However, commanders have stuck to the task. Another soldier told Haaretz that the directive is part of a fierce competition between military units to show their strength to the top echelons of the army’s Central Command.

The Blue Wolf is believed to be part of a broader surveillance policy, initiated by the Israeli army in 2016, that deployed facial recognition technology, sensors, and cameras to monitor Palestinians in the occupied East Jerusalem and the West Bank.

What appears to be new is that, instead of taking photos from stationary cameras, Blue Wolf gives Israeli soldiers the ability to capture images from smartphones and then use an app to search databases.

The app then has a colour-coded system that indicates whether the person photographed should be arrested or allowed to pass.

Mustafa Abu Sneineh – journalist, poet and staff writer at Middle East Eye