A European human rights group alleged on Monday that Israel-made Pegasus spyware was used to hack the phones of staff members of six Palestinian civil society groups that Israel’s Defense Ministry has designated as terrorist organizations.
Dublin-based Front Line Defenders said the allegation was independently confirmed by researchers from Amnesty International and the University of Toronto’s Citizen Lab.
Front line defenders refrained from blaming the Israeli government for installing spyware on the phones of Palestinian human rights activists. But it condemned Israel’s designation of its organizations as the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, or PFLP, a Marxist group labeled as a terrorist organization by many Western countries, including the United States.
Last month, Israeli Defense Minister Benny Gantz designated six Palestinian civil society sector groups in the occupied West Bank regions as “terrorist organizations”. The groups are Admir, Al-Haq, Defense for Children – Palestine, Federation of Agricultural Action Committees, Bisan Center for Research and Development, and Federation of Palestinian Women’s Committees.
Israel on Monday declined to comment on allegations that Pegasus was used against staff members of the groups, but pushed back against international criticism of its designation of terrorism against the organizations, saying it had There was an “excellent file” of evidence linking the groups to the PFLP.
Front-line defenders said the use of Pegasus spyware created by NSO Group turned cell phones into pocket-espionage devices, allowing attackers to access “phone messages, emails, media, microphones, cameras, passwords, voice calls over messaging apps”. , full access to location data, calls and contacts.”
The US Commerce Department last week put the NSO Group on a blacklist that prevents the company from acquiring US technologies. US officials took action after determining that NSO Group’s phone-hacking tools had been used by foreign governments to “maliciously target” government officials, journalists and activists around the world.
When asked about the new allegations, NSO Group said, “As we said earlier, NSO Group itself does not operate the products … and we are not aware of the details of the individuals monitored. ” The company said it only sells to law enforcement and intelligence agencies and takes steps to prevent abuse.
Front-line defenders said it examined 75 iPhones and found six of them to be contaminated with spyware, including phones used by Ghassan Haleika, a field researcher and human rights defender working for al-Haq; Ubai al-Aboudi, an American executive director of the Joe Bison Center for Research and Development; and French citizen Salah Hammouri, a lawyer and field researcher at the Jerusalem-based Addameer Prisoner Support and Human Rights Association.
Three other Palestinians whose phones were hacked declined to be identified.
Front-line defenders stated that the use of Pegasus spyware meant that, in addition to targeting Palestinians, including dual citizens, non-Palestinians (including foreign nationals and diplomats) with whom these victims were in contact, including Israeli citizens. were also involved. is also subject to this surveillance, which, in the case of its citizens, would amount to a violation of Israeli law.”
In a statement, Front Line Defenders said it “strongly condemns the terrorism verdicts and allegations brought against these Palestinian human rights organizations in response to their peaceful human rights actions. Human rights defenders are not terrorists.”
Some of the material in this report was supplied by the agencies France-Presse and Reuters.