Book Review: Antony Loewenstein, “The Palestine Laboratory” 

It has been reported that the Israeli Defense Forces’ use of artificial intelligence has aided in the current brutal war against Palestinians. Israel testing out new technologies to surveil and kill Palestinians is unfortunately nothing new, as described by Antony Loewenstein in his book, “The Palestine Laboratory: How Israel Exports the Technology of Occupation Around the World.”

Loewenstein is an Australian/German independent investigative journalist, author, and the co-founder of Declassified Australia.

“The Palestine Laboratory,” which was published in May 2023, details how Israel sells its technology and weapons all over the world (about 130 countries in 2021) in order to support its economy and curry favor from other nations that will help it continue to deflect criticism from its treatment of Palestinians. Israel benefits from having a captive population on whom to constantly test its weapons and surveillance technology.

While Israel weapons and surveillance development is boosted by its use on Palestinians, it is also far from the only country using or developing such capabilities. There exists the possibility that Israel is just ahead of the curve in its widespread deployment of occupation technology, but the authoritarian capitalism it practices is spreading along with the technologies it uses to advance such a system. Reading Loewenstein’s account of the proliferation of such tech left me wondering what’s to prevent Gaza and the West Bank’s present becoming the future for many societies. The neoliberal economics underpinning Israel’s embrace of such weapons of war and surveillance would suggest the incentive is certainly there.

Economic Benefits of Genocide?

It might seem counterintuitive as the war is currently damaging the Israeli economy, but if you view the current war through the “The Palestine Laboratory” lens it appears entirely possible that the Israeli calculus could be that genocide in Gaza will in the long run outweigh any nearterm economic downsides.

The logic behind such a tradeoff would be that Israel could soon recoup and exceed the losses by selling the tech, weapons, and whatever else they could market (a new and improved ethnic cleansing blueprint?) from its operation. It would not be the first time Israel benefited from a brutal, but failed military campaign. As Loewenstein writes:

In 1982, Israel was involved in its own military misadventure and massacres in neighboring Lebanon, which served as a warning on the limits of Israeli power. However, these campaigns were an effective marketing tool for its equipment…Israel’s defense innovations were noted by the CIA in a partially declassified document from 1986. The US noted the advanced Israeli use of drones, or “remotely piloted vehicles,” alongside manned aircraft and the destruction of Syrian assets in the Bekaa Valley…

Not only is daily surveillance of Palestinians used to test and “improve” products, but live-fire conflicts give Israel defense companies the opportunity to tinker with and showcase their latest. Loewenstein also lays out evidence that weapons of war and surveillance are now the lifeblood of the Israeli economy and how it needs operations like the current one in Gaza in order to maintain a leg up on the competition. “The Palestine Laboratory” is packed with details on this point, but here are just a few that span the last 35 years of occupation:

  • Courtesy of Thomas Friedman, who was the New York Times Jerusalem bureau chief from 1984-88 and wrote flatteringly of Israeli defense companies, comes the 1986 statement from the director general of the Israeli Ministry of Defense that the country’s arms and security industry was so successful because its technology was “tested in battle by the Israeli army.”
  • “Sales are booming, with defense exports reaching an all-time high in 2021 of US$11.3 billion, having risen 55 percent in two years. Israel’s cybersecurity firms are also soaring, with $US$8.8 billion raised in one hundred deals in 2021. In the same year, Israeli cyber companies took in 40 percent of the world’s funding in the sector.”

In recent decades, Israel has embraced a privatized state, including its defense companies. Any pretense that occupation was part of national defense long ago gave way to the monetization of occupation and the marketing of the experience controlling a captive population to other countries.  And after 9/11, that monetization went into overdrive. Loewenstein points to Scottish sociologist and expert on surveillance studies David Lyon who argues that it was the beginning of “a wholesale reimagining of what societies would look like in the twenty-first century.”

Israel at the Forefront of the New Societal Model?

 According to Netanyahu, Jewish writer Peter Beinhart explained, “the future belonged…to authoritarian capitalism: governments that combined aggressive and often racist nationalism with economic and technological might.”

Neve Gordon, who teaches international law and human rights at Queen Mary University in London, tells Loewenstein that the Israeli model is based on describing itself as a democracy, effectively surveilling and killing “terrorists,” and simultaneously advancing neoliberal economic objectives. From Gordon:

This attraction stems from the sense (real or perceived) that fighting terrorism through methods of homeland security, that include suspending due process in many areas of the criminal justice system, including torture, the right to a speedy trial, the freedom from arbitrary police searches, and the prohibition against indefinite incarceration and incognito detentions (to mention a few methods) does not conflict with democratic values. Thus, the ultimate attractiveness towards the Israeli experience in fighting terrorism is to its ability to link a militaristic worldview with a neoliberal economic agenda.

Of course, the idea that apartheid Israel is a democracy is laughable, just as it is that any state that engages in mass surveillance of its citizenry is democratic. But whether a state is classified as a neoliberal surveillance state, ethnonationalist authoritarianism, multicultural authoritarian capitalism, or something else, they are becoming more like Israel as they use the same population control technologies, according to Loewenstein.

Who are the “Gazans” in these various cases? That question is probably best answered by who Israel deals and partners with:

Neither anti-Semitism nor extremism have been an impediment to collaboration with states that plunder assets or people.

This helps explain why the technology Israel uses against Palestinians is spreading to every corner of the globe. Now, Loewenstein in that passage is referring specifically to countries in the Global South, but would the plunder of assets and people not also describe the US, for example?

Whether it’s racist or multicultural plunder or crackdowns on religious minorities, dissidents, migrants, or a permanent underclass, it is anyone the ruling class of a particular country deems in need of being controlled or eradicated. As Loewenstein points out, “the Global North, including the US, European Union, Australia, and Israel, ruthlessly enforce their power, controlling four-fifths of the world’s income, because there’s no interest in sharing their wealth.”

While that is no doubt true, there are also the vast income disparities within those countries and blocs where there is also no interest in sharing and thus the technology is being used domestically as well – as it is increasingly in the US.

One example is how Israeli surveillance company Cellebrite sells its phone-hacking tools to countless police departments across the US. Loewenstein also points out how Israelis complain that any Washington criticism of Israeli policies ignores how much the US has benefitted from its “combat laboratory” for US weapon development. And another example:

Some Americans are keen to learn on the ground in the Jewish state itself before taking it back to their home countries. In 2004, the US-based pro-Israel Anti-Defamation League (ADL), a self-described civil rights organization, began sending US police delegations to Israel…The US police who went “come back and they are Zionists. They understand Israel and its security needs in ways a lot of audiences don’t.”

There is much detail in “The Palestine Laboratory” of how this plays out in the occupied territories, such as the database system that every Israeli soldier operating in the occupied territories uses. The aim is to get personal information and data on every single Palestinian man, woman, and child. They then use it to restrict movement or potentially other freedoms. The monitoring of Palestinians 24/7 across the occupied territory can turn up personal details that an individual wishes to remain secret, e.g., a married man who might be gay, someone who might be having an affair, etc. That information, as well as any other embarrassing activities, can then be used to try to turn that person into a spy or pressure them in other ways.

Loewenstein quotes an Israeli human rights lawyer who says, “Because of surveillance tech, a country can avoid massacring protestors now. Today, we’re able to identify and stop surveillance of the next Nelson Mandela before he even knows he’s Nelson Mandela.”

These same technologies are used in the US and elsewhere. Take Oosto, formerly AnyVision. It’s an Israeli company that merges AI with facial recognition and biometrics and targets all Palestiniians across the West Bank. According to Loewenstein, Oosto “operates in over forty countries, including Russia, China (Hong Kong), and the US, and in countless locations such as casinos, manufacturing, and even fitness centers.”

And there’s Cellebrite, the Israeli digital intelligence behemoth whose products include the Universal Forensic Extraction Device hacking tool. According to Loewenstein:

Over 2,800 US government customers, including law enforcement agencies, including the Department of Veterans’ Affairs, and the Department of Agriculture, have purchased the company’s equipment, and the firm has hired prosecutors, police officers, and Secret Service agents to train people to use it. The company has announced that it has secured business with six of the world’s biggest oil refiners and six of the planet’s largest pharmaceutical firms. It has also moved into the increasingly profitable field of corporate surveillance.

Companies around the world have a financial incentive to pursue population control technologies as that is what the ruling class and their governments demand.

Even if these weapons of control are still primarily used on the “other” – migrants, climate refugees, and dissidents – their use will not be limited there, as Jewish Israelis realized during the early days of the Covid-19 pandemic:

[Israel] used its internal security service, the Shin Bet, to track and monitor potential Covid cases (though it had been secretly collecting all mobile phone metadata since at least 2002) and follow social media posts for any evidence of social gatherings. There was an outcry among the Israeli media class and some politicians, angered that a system designed to oppress Palestinians in the West Bank and East Jerusalem could be turned on Israeli Jews.

The EU, too, with help from Israel increasingly fine tunes surveillance and imprisonment tech on migrants and refugees before turning it on its own citizens:

Patrick Breyer, a European lawmaker with the German Pirate Party, took the EU to court to uncover the secrets of its AI-powered lie detection systems. “What we are seeing at the borders, and in treating foreign nationals generally, is that it’s often a testing field for technologies that are later used on Europeans as well,” he told the Associated Press. “And that’s why everyone should care, in their own self-interest.”

As the Israeli model is increasingly adopted around the world, Israel itself could provide a glimpse of the direction ruling classes and the profit motive are taking society:

What’s to Be Done?

David Kaye, the former United Nations Special Rapporteur on the Promotion and Protection of the Right to Freedom of Opinion and Expression, tells Loewenstein that government regulation is the answer as any international solution would be nonbinding. Kaye uses the example of the 1997 Anti-Personnel Landmines Convention, although the US, Israel, China, Pakistan, India, Egypt, and Russia were non-signatories. Kaye, however, has difficulty envisioning any government going beyond regulation of export and use “because give me a reason why states would give up this ridiculously powerful tool.”

That might make the task seem hopeless, Loewenstein points out Shoshana Zuboff’s reminder that most people had the same demoralized feeling about the rapaciousness of capitalism before unions began winning workers’ rights and the abolition of child labor.

While those rights have been rolled back in recent decades, previous victories show they can be won, even if the powers of state and corporate surveillance now make the fight that much more of an uphill climb.

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  1. Es s ce tera

    Thank you Conor, for this, it’s much appreciated – a rather frightening angle I hadn’t considered.

    If stopping a genocide isn’t enough…Israel exporting the gaza model worldwide seems like a virtually certain consequence of not stopping it. This is adds a whole other level of urgency.

  2. Gregory Etchason

    The question that’s never asked. Why does Israel need US aid? The answer is most US foreign aid goes to pay the US defense contractors.

  3. ciroc

    Wrongs should be condemned because they are wrongs, not because wrongs done to others are or could be done to oneself.

    1. Michael Fiorillo

      In the strictest moral sense, yes, of course, but isn’t the political mobilization needed to combat these offenses helped by being able to make the latter argument?

      Most of the moral commandments people live under have a very practical social basis and rationale, which likely better explains them than their distilled, abstract prescriptions: yes, it’s Bad to lie, but less because God doesn’t want you to, than because everything falls apart when everyone is lying about anything and everything.

      As we are currently finding out…

  4. The Rev Kev

    To organizations like the WEF, we are all to be treated as Palestinians. For decades Israel has been selling itself as the go to place on how to lock down a sizable population. I suppose that was why Modi wanted to be so tight with Israel. He wanted their expertise in locking down the non-Hindu portion of the population – especially the Muslims. But the fiasco over Gaza may have some customers wondering just how effective Israeli surveillance actually is. The Israelis spent billions building a surveillance network on the border with Lebanon. Hezbollah took down those billions of dollars of technology with cheap munitions and drones blinding the Israelis. Wanna know what the problem with all this surveillance technology? Sooner or later it comes home and virtually the entire population – except the elite – come under this ultra-surveillance. The Israelis were shocked when this was happening to them during the first years of the pandemic. They never thought that those tools would be applied to them.

    1. furnace

      Bhadrakumar has written precisely about this issue. See:

      The Indian defence and security establishments have been unabashed votaries of India’s strategic ties with Israel. Such excessive adulation of the Israeli model as worthy of emulation by India was built on sheer naïveté, completely overlooking that the two countries operate under vastly different conditions and national ethos. It is patently absurd that India can emulate Israeli methods of brutal repression or assassination as part of statecraft, apartheid policies and so on and get away with it.

      The incidents of October 7 have been an eye opener for Indians, which has exposed not only Israel’s frailties as a modern state but also its military’s bluster and intelligence’s failure. The acolytes of Israel in the Indian strategic community feel utterly disillusioned. Simply put, an influential constituency in India and the interest groups that it spawned are no longer calling the shots in Delhi. This is going to be consequential.

      At the same time, the entire ideological underpinning of the present government’s tilt towards the Israeli leadership under Benjamin Netanyahu is unravelling. In a brilliant essay recently, the well-known French scholar and author on right-wing politics in India, Christophe Jaffrelot wrote that the emerging India-Israel alliance during the recent years was anchored not only on the two ruling elites’ hostility to Islam but also on affinities between Hindutva and Zionism, characterised by “ethno-nationalist ideologies that prioritise factors like race, territory and nativism.”

      Going forward, such affinities are going to be hard for the Indian elite to sustain, leave alone openly flaunt, as Israel turns into an apartheid state and gets battered by the forces of history.

      In a sense it seems like Indian elites, especially those with connections to the BJP, bet on Israel as a way to emulate and impose hindutva opression over minority populations. Those factions have therefore lost a lot of clout over the recent debacles in Israel, and the utter incompetence seen in its military.

      1. Polar Socialist

        Makes one really wonder what’s currently going on in all the world military intelligence organizations, with all those Bradleys, Leopards, Challengers and Merkavas burning just like any other tank. Decades of lessons to be unlearned.

  5. Carolinian

    The above represents the Israeli MIC sales pitch but then the facts on the ground from Hamas are making the pitch look bad. Turns out all that technology is not the deciding factor as it wasn’t in Vietnam or even WW2 although the A-bomb did put a horrible stop to the thing.

    We here frequently quote Napoleon’s “the moral is to the physical as three to one” and Napoleon had to add a kind of liberation ideology to his mastery of artillery. But in the end his own moral failings did him in as they are likely to do to the would be oligarch lab. Not that all those people there are morally “bad” or even very different from the rest of the world but an ideology of victimhood and fear does not make for a healthy mental climate. Here in the South it was the same as the eventual excuse for slavery was that liberation would allow the slaves to kill all the whites. The abolitionists by this view were not liberators but “terrorists.” Odd how things go in circles.

    1. ChrisRUEcon

      The real danger, which depending on the hubris level of the Western agents any point in time, may or may not be fully understood, is this: if the west loses the morality argument, it accelerates the evolution of a multi-polar world because the West’s hypocrisy will be laid bare for all to see, and the Global South will pivot increasingly to China, not just economically, but also for security. Chinese naval vessels in the Caribbean, you say? It’s closer than you think. (via

    2. Durans

      I have to agree with you, for all the advanced tools Israel has it doesn’t seem to be going that well. Sure they are slaughtering lots of defenseless civilians and turning everything to rubble , but that can be done without the advanced technology. Israel can’t take out Hamas. Comparatively low-tech weapons are putting a beating on them. Their nukes and US and European support are the only reason they haven’t been overrun by their neighbors. These facts don’t exactly make for a good sell.

    3. howard

      I would love to see folks’ thoughts on where this failure of high-tech population control fits in with the main thesis (as I understand it anyway) of Joseph Tainter’s The Collapse of Complex Societies, namely, that societies approach a point of collapse as they receive diminishing marginal returns on increased investment in complexity.

  6. LadyXoc

    I’ve been enjoying #TrueAnonPod’s most recent two podcasts where they call for a ground invasion of Israel to search for WMD, and also call for IAEA to monitor and define Israel’s nuclear capabilities. It is time to see Israel for what it truly is and treat it as such.

  7. Michael Fiorillo

    Thanks for posting this important article. It goes a long way towards explaining why BDS is opposed so aggressively, since many fat, rich-blooded oxen would be gored if it were to catch on and succeed.

  8. JEHR

    The lessons that a people learn is not always the lesson we thought that they learned. Previous suffering of victims can become the training ground for the creation of new victims’ suffering. And round and round the circle goes until it comes home again.

  9. Lamped.usa

    Anyone who understands why cell phones are sold with non removable batteries knows that surveillance technologies are everywhere, and Israel is not the driving force behind it.

    Surveillance technologies are dual purpose, fighting terrorism and controlling own population.
    Since the invent of DHS, this has been discussed extensively.

    In case of Israel, fighting terrorism is one of the most important functions of the government, because Israel is under constant and real threat. In a democracy, there may be a difference of opinions, but most Israelis support the use of surveillance technology by their government.

    Israel has some good technological solutions, but that is true about many fields.

    In certain countries internal dissent is a much larger threat than terrorism. Massive use of surveillance technologies to control citizens all the way to the level of emotions should be an interesting topic for discussion.

    1. Polar Socialist

      That’s cute.

      Israel wouldn’t know democracy if it was 10,000 feet tall and painted in neon green. It’s a theocratic/ethnic apartheid state that denies any representation, or even basic human rights, from about 60% of the electorate.

  10. thump

    As the world moves from resource-rich and people-poor to the opposite, unprofitable populations will be used in any way possible (prisons, opioids) or at best left to fend for themselves.

  11. Karl

    Netanyahu may be right: authoritarian capitalism may be the future. But Netanyahu’s version of it is far from other models (e.g. China’s). Netanyahu’s is mostly the European model–fascist, i.e. control with naked violence. Napolitano, in his recent conversation with Max Blumenthal, likened the IDF to the Gestapo. Who can argue against that, seeing the mass graves of Palestinians?

    The Palestine Laboratory may be quite instructive to the far Right in the USA. If Israel’s experiment with genocide is seen as successful, e.g. efficient at eliminating opposition, the future could be violent indeed. The likely suspects– the “communists” “socialists” “peaceniks” “feminists” LGBTQ — will be cleansed.

    The next election will be a strong indicator of whether the US future will be one of social democracy or autocratic capitalism. I’m not sure there’s a middle ground.

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