Digital Occupation: Gaza’s High-Tech Enclosure

VOL. 41


No. 2
P. 27
Digital Occupation: Gaza’s High-Tech Enclosure


Digital Occupation: Gaza's High-Tech Enclosure   Israel did not end the occupation but technologized it


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By Helga Tawil-Souri
In disengaging from the Gaza Strip in 2005, Israel did not end the occupation but technologized it through purportedly “frictionless” high-technology mechanisms. The telecommunications sector was turned over to the Palestinian Authority under Oslo II and subcontracted to Palestine Telecommunications Company (PALTEL), furthering a neoliberal economic agenda that privately “enclosed” digital space. Coming on top of Israel’s ongoing limitations on Palestinian land-lines, cellular, and Internet infrastructures, the result is a “digital occupation” of Gaza characterized by increasing privatization, surveillance, and control. While deepening Palestinian economic reliance on Israel and making Palestinian high-tech firms into dependent agents, digital occupation also enhances Israel’s territorial containment of the Strip.

AS ISRAEL was preparing to disengage from the Gaza Strip in summer 2005, the Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs claimed that “the relocation from the Gaza Strip . . . will reduce friction with the Palestinian population,” further contending that the unilateral move would “serve to dispel claims regarding Israel’s responsibility for the Palestinians in the Gaza Strip.”[1] Yet the shift to less military manpower, less direct contact with civilians, and subsequently less negative publicity has gone hand in hand with a tighter seal around Gaza. Gaza has since become an “airborne-occupied enclave,”[2] an open-air prison, and a testing-ground for the latest military technologies.[3] Disengagement has not meant the end of Israeli occupation. Rather, Israel’s balancing act “of maximum control and minimum responsibility”[4] has meant that the occupation of Gaza has become increasingly technologized.[5] Unmanned aerial reconnaissance and attack drones, remote-controlled machine guns, closed-circuit television, sonic imagery, gamma-radiation detectors, remote- controlled bulldozers and boats, electrified fences, among many other examples, are increasingly used for control and surveillance.[6] One way to conceptualize disengagement, then, is to recognize it as a moment marking Israel’s move from a traditional military occupation toward a high-tech one.

Rooted in Israel’s increasingly globalized security-military-high-tech industry, the technological sealing of Gaza is part of the transformation of the mechanics of Israeli occupation toward “frictionless” control that began with the first intifada and the ensuing “peace process,” which marked the shift toward the segregation of Gaza.[7] “Frictionless” is, of course, metaphoric and purposefully ambiguous, evoking a sense of abstraction and lack of responsibility. It also highlights the increased role of high technology (as opposed to manpower) in surveillance and control.

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HELGA TAWIL-SOURI is an assistant professor in the Department of Media, Culture, and Communication at New York University. Her scholarship is on the intersections of globalization, spatiality, and media technologies in the Arab world and the Palestinian Territories.



1 Israel Ministry of Foreign Affairs, The Disengagement Plan—General Outline, 18 April 2004, p. 1,
2 Sari Hanafi, “Spacio-cide: Colonial Politics, Invisibility and Rezoning in Palestinian Territory,” Contemporary Arab Affairs 2, no.1 (2009), p. 118.
3 Gaza has been enclosed in various and increasing ways since the 1950s. For example, it was during the first intifada that the fence around the Strip and the closure and pass system first emerged. After Oslo, Israel intensified spatial controls through checkpoints and stricter policies on movement within and outside of Gaza. One must equally consider others’ roles, such as the Mubarak regime’s closing the Rafah border crossing and building an underground wall on its border with the Strip, the compliance of Western governments to largely let Israel do whatever it wants with Gaza, and the PA’s political marginalization of Hamas and Gaza.
4 Darryl Li, “The Gaza Strip as Laboratory: Notes in the Wake of Disengagement,” Journal of Palestine Studies 35, no. 2 (2006), p. 39.
5 PA president Mahmud Abbas himself recognized the changed, high-tech nature of the occupation in 2005, when he stated: “The Israeli occupation . . . reaches the earth and the sky, through 40 Journal of Palestine Studies the occupation and control over frequencies in Palestine, the imposing of obstacles on the development and growth of [the technology] sector, and deprivation of our people of live transmission in telecommunications and information technologies.” Mahmud Abbas, World Summit on the Information Society, Tunis, Tunisia, 7 November 2005 (author’s translation).
6 On high-tech surveillance and control mechanisms, see “The Israeli Arsenal Deployed against Gaza during Operation Cast Lead,” Journal of Palestine Studies 38, no. 3 (2009), pp. 175–91; Yaakov Katz, “IDF Unveils Upgrades to Gaza Fence,“ Jerusalem Post, 3 March 2010,; Israel Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Agreed Documents on Movement and Access from and to Gaza, 15 November 2005, Attention is often focused on times of heightened violence (such as Operation Cast Lead) and what Israel calls its “smart border.” As I suggest, these are neither unique to military operations nor to the “border” around Gaza. Furthermore, “the military and police technologies developed and deployed by Israel carry in them the logics of colonialism, apartheid and occupation that guided their development.” Jimmy Johnson, “Fragments of the Pacification Industry: Exporting the Tools of Inequality Management from Israel/Palestine” (Jerusalem: Alternative Information Center, February 2011).
7 See Neve Gordon, Israel’s Occupation (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2008); and Adi Ophir, Michal Givoni, and Sari Hanafi, eds. The Power of Inclusive Exclusion: Anatomy of Israeli Rule in the Occupied Palestinian Territories.