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Will Open-Source Intelligence Liberate Palestine From Digital Occupation?

Israeli analysts have transformed a tool of objectivity to one of distortion.

By , a U.S. policy fellow at Al-Shabaka, the Palestinian Policy Network.
A reporter wearing a flak jacket with the hashtag in Arabic, "#Shireen Abu Akleh"  takes a picture in the West Bank city of Jenin, on May 13.
A reporter wearing a flak jacket with the hashtag in Arabic, "#Shireen Abu Akleh" takes a picture in the West Bank city of Jenin, on May 13.
A reporter wearing a flak jacket with the hashtag in Arabic, "#Shireen Abu Akleh" takes a picture in the West Bank city of Jenin, on May 13. JAAFAR ASHTIYEH/AFP via Getty Images

From Syria to Ukraine, open-source intelligence (often referred to as OSINT) has not-so-quietly revolutionized the global flow of information during times of conflict. By piecing together publicly available content, like satellite images, cellphone videos, and social media posts, open-source analysts cut through the fog of war, exposing and publicizing critical intelligence once monopolized by state authorities.

As trust in media and government institutions broadly declines, open-source intelligence is especially potent because it is seen and often trusted by audiences as an objective source of information. However, despite the inherently democratized nature of these technologies, the benefits of OSINT are not impacting everyone equally. For Palestinians in particular, open-source intelligence is a double-edged sword.

On one hand, OSINT offers Palestinians low-cost, relatively accessible tools to collect and disseminate valuable information about conflict in their region, potentially exposing war crimes or human rights violations that would otherwise go unreported or silenced by international outlets. On the other hand, Palestinians have found themselves unable to fully participate in the OSINT revolution, restricted by Israel’s tightening digital occupation and drowned out by Israeli open-source analysts who have proved neither impartial nor transparent.

From Syria to Ukraine, open-source intelligence (often referred to as OSINT) has not-so-quietly revolutionized the global flow of information during times of conflict. By piecing together publicly available content, like satellite images, cellphone videos, and social media posts, open-source analysts cut through the fog of war, exposing and publicizing critical intelligence once monopolized by state authorities.

As trust in media and government institutions broadly declines, open-source intelligence is especially potent because it is seen and often trusted by audiences as an objective source of information. However, despite the inherently democratized nature of these technologies, the benefits of OSINT are not impacting everyone equally. For Palestinians in particular, open-source intelligence is a double-edged sword.

On one hand, OSINT offers Palestinians low-cost, relatively accessible tools to collect and disseminate valuable information about conflict in their region, potentially exposing war crimes or human rights violations that would otherwise go unreported or silenced by international outlets. On the other hand, Palestinians have found themselves unable to fully participate in the OSINT revolution, restricted by Israel’s tightening digital occupation and drowned out by Israeli open-source analysts who have proved neither impartial nor transparent.

By obscuring Israeli war crimes and fueling narratives that misrepresent the reality of Israel’s occupation, Israel has transformed OSINT from a tool of objectivity to one of distortion.


In recent years, anonymous OSINT accounts such as Aurora Intel and Israel Radar have cultivated growing followings with their gritty, rapid coverage of security developments across the Palestinian territories and the broader Middle East—a resource for journalists, analysts, and policymakers alike. As Israel launched its most recent assault on Gaza this summer, killing at least 49 Palestinians, Aurora Intel churned out updates on operational developments to over 225,000 Twitter followers in nearly real time.

One of Aurora Intel’s most consistently cited sources is Emanuel Fabian, once an open-source analyst himself and now a journalist at the Times of Israel. On Aug. 6, Aurora Intel and Fabian concurrently reported that an airstrike in the Jabaliya neighborhood of Gaza killed four children. As news spread and public outcry grew, the Israeli military announced an investigation and attempted to deflect blame. In support of the Israeli narrative, Fabian and Aurora Intel shared videos and infographics provided by the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) purportedly showing failed rocket launches by Palestinian Islamic Jihad as evidence that Israel was not responsible for the civilian casualties.

Days later, in a separate incident, Israeli military officials acknowledged responsibility for another airstrike near Jabaliya that killed five Palestinian children. However, neither Aurora Intel nor Fabian reported on the story, despite having unequivocally shared unconfirmed Israeli military intelligence that blamed Palestinian Islamic Jihad for errant missile fire that caused civilian casualties just days earlier. When asked why a potential war crime conducted by Israeli forces and acknowledged by Israeli military officials did not warrant mention, Fabian demurred, insisting that he could not share the news because the case was “still under investigation.”

Israeli or pro-Israel OSINT analysts are serving as uncritical conduits of Israeli military talking points—and whitewashing Israeli war crimes.

This sort of omission—amplifying certain unverified stories while ignoring certain verified ones—is indicative of a wider trend among Israeli or pro-Israel OSINT analysts of serving as uncritical conduits of Israeli military talking points—in effect, whitewashing Israeli war crimes. By circulating IDF statements without further verification and ignoring developments that reflect poorly on the IDF, these analysts function as conduits of the Israeli military establishment—a far cry from the objectivity audiences expect from open-source practitioners.

Additionally, the anonymous status of many open-source accounts makes it impossible for their followers to verify their technical expertise or identify underlying biases. It should thus come as no surprise that these ostensibly objective sources of information also fail to contribute to a wider understanding of the systemic issue that constitutes the root cause of violence in the Palestinian territories and Israel—the occupation.


In theory, Israeli open-source malpractice should be counterbalanced by Palestinian open-source analysts. With over 3.6 million internet users in 2021—over 70 percent of their population—Palestinians are indeed among the most digitally connected people in the Middle East. One may therefore expect them to be uniquely positioned to participate in the burgeoning OSINT field.

However, with Israel’s near-total control over the physical backbone of Palestinian digital infrastructure, which includes routine restrictions on internet access across the West Bank and Gaza, Palestinians often find themselves disconnected. Israel took complete control of Palestinian information and communications technology infrastructure in 1967. Since then, Israeli authorities have prevented Palestinians from establishing independent networks by limiting access to new frequency technologies, denying import requests for new telecommunications equipment, and closely surveilling online activity.

When Palestinians do get online, connections are excruciatingly slow—Palestinian telecom networks in the West Bank have been running on 3G since 2018, while Gaza stills depends on an even less reliable 2G network. As OSINT is dependent on internet access and the free flow of information, this digital occupation has prevented Palestinians from fully participating in the field—and thus left them unable to expose misinformation or contest biased reporting.

Palestinian open-source analysts effectively operate at the will of their occupier—and are thus poorly positioned to expose its crimes.

Palestinians are also closely surveilled by Israeli intelligence services. Israeli authorities regularly target Palestinian open-source analysts for sharing information that may implicate Israeli forces in war crimes or human rights violations. Last year alone, Israeli forces arrested at least 390 Palestinians for alleged “incitement of violence” on social media, according to the Palestinian Prisoners Center for Studies. Many have reported being detained and interrogated for innocuous posts such as sharing photos of Palestinians killed by Israeli forces on Facebook. This precarity, combined with their reliance on Israel for internet access, means Palestinian open-source analysts effectively operate at the will of their occupier—and are thus poorly positioned to expose its crimes.

Palestinian-led OSINT initiatives are also being threatened by Israel’s intensifying physical crackdown on Palestinian civil society and human rights organizations. Over the summer of 2021, Al-Haq, a Palestinian human rights organization, announced the establishment of a Forensic Architecture Investigation Unit that leverages open-source techniques to monitor Israeli human rights violations.

In October 2021, Israeli Defense Minister Benny Gantz designated Al-Haq, along with five other Palestinian human rights organizations, as terrorist organizations. The fact that European Union member states, United Nations experts, and dozens of human rights organizations outright rejected or failed to corroborate supposed evidence Israel cited as justification for the designation did not deter Israeli forces from raiding Al-Haq’s offices and threatening its staff. The more effective Palestinians become in exposing Israel’s human rights violations, the more they are targeted.

Israeli authorities are not alone in censoring Palestinian online activity. Last week, an independent investigation found that Facebook and Instagram blocked or restricted posts and accounts that shared footage of Israeli airstrikes in Gaza and attacks on Palestinians in the West Bank during Israel’s onslaught in May 2021.

While the social media companies blamed the mass censorship on glitches in artificial intelligence software, activists have pointed to Facebook’s practice of moderating content at the behest of governments as cause for concern. Israel’s official cyber unit, which operates out of its State Attorney’s Office, flags and submits censorship requests to social media companies. Its own data shows that 90 percent of these requests are granted across all social media platforms. Gantz has even personally urged Facebook and TikTok executives to moderate and censor content critical of Israel on social media. As a result, Palestinian open-source analysts find themselves up against not only the Israeli government but also foreign social media giants.


The turn of the century brought with it hope that the internet would tear down barriers to knowledge, give voice to the voiceless, and serve as a force for liberation around the world. While the internet has done a great deal to expose state-led violence, the digital age has also seen authoritarian states co-opt technologies that many hoped would render oppression and control more difficult. The expanding field of open-source intelligence brings with it a similar conundrum.

OSINT has shown its potential as a tool for objectivity, transparency, and justice. Indeed, its decentralized and ostensibly egalitarian nature offers a unique mechanism for the powerless to combine expertise around the globe and challenge narratives shaped by traditional arbiters of legitimacy. Despite the obstacles Israel has created, open-source intelligence has in some cases proved to be an instrumental tool for Palestinians to hold Israel accountable.

On May 11, Israeli forces shot and killed renowned Al Jazeera journalist Shireen Abu Akleh while she was reporting on their raid in the occupied Palestinian city of Jenin. News of Abu Akleh’s killing, along with footage of the moment Israeli forces opened fire, spread rapidly across social media, shocking a region that recognized Abu Akleh as a household name. Israeli occupation authorities immediately denied responsibility, attempting to pin the blame on “armed Palestinians, who fired wildly.”

Despite the obstacles Israel has created, open-source intelligence has in some cases proved to be an instrumental tool for Palestinians to hold Israel accountable.

As footage of the shooting circulated online, Palestinian open-source analysts sifted through an accumulating torrent of evidence in an effort to hold Abu Akleh’s killers accountable. Using geolocation and forensic analysis, they determined that the bullet that killed her was fired by an Israeli soldier—a conclusion that has since been corroborated by the U.N., Al Jazeera, the New York Times, the OSINT group Bellingcat, and to some degree the Israeli military itself.

Last week, Al-Haq and Forensic Architecture took the investigation further by drawing on spatial analysis to demonstrate that Abu Akleh was directly targeted by Israeli forces. Their joint investigation was a remarkable feat considering the massive obstacles created by the digital occupation and Israel’s ongoing crackdown on human rights groups. While these collective investigations into potential Israeli war crimes and human rights violations are a testament to OSINT’s potential, Palestinians should not have to depend on experts based abroad in order to advocate for their own rights.

Restrained by a suffocating Israeli surveillance apparatus and digital occupation, Palestinians are being denied access to a tool that could play a key role in their struggle for liberation and push back against efforts to obscure truth and perpetuate oppressive systems of control. Without equal access, OSINT joins the ranks of digital tools co-opted by the powerful and turned against the very people they were meant to serve.

Tariq Kenney-Shawa is a U.S. policy fellow at Al-Shabaka, the Palestinian Policy Network. He holds a master’s in international affairs from Columbia University and has previously worked at the Middle East Institute and MSA Security, a consulting firm. Twitter: @tksshawa Twitter: @tksshawa

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