The U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration recently, and unexpectedly, issued notice that satellite imagery of Israel and the Occupied Territories will no longer be blurred out. This article from Foreign Policy looks at the background of the policy change and its implications for human rights, archaeology, science, technology, civil society, and more.
"For the past two decades, there has been a general—and mostly unchallenged—understanding that satellite imagery is restricted over Israel and the Palestinian and Syrian territories it occupies. This was due to a 1996 U.S. regulation known as the Kyl-Bingaman Amendment (KBA) which has limited the quality and availability of high-resolution satellite imagery produced by U.S. companies covering Israel (and by implicit extension, the occupied Palestinian territories and the occupied Golan Heights). The result is that publicly available imagery on platforms such as Google Earth has been deliberately coarse and blurred. On June 25, following two years of sustained pressure from academia and civil society, the 97-word KBA was unexpectedly reformed, making higher-resolution satellite imagery legally accessible and readily available to all. ... Israel, driven by a desire for Cold War secrecy, lobbied Congress for stricter regulation, which led to the passing of the KBA: the U.S. government’s only censorship of imagery of any part of the world. The legislation, implemented under the guise of protecting Israel’s national security, was actually more an act of censorship. After all, high-resolution satellite imagery allows researchers to understand, identify, and document landscape changes. ... For 24 years, the legislation obfuscated the damaging effects of the Israeli occupation by literally hiding them from view. The censorship over Israel and the occupied territories has had negative archeological, geographical, and humanitarian implications. Arguably the most glaring of these has been its effects on monitoring the decades long Israeli occupation—including documenting home demolitions, territorial disputes, and settlement growth. Lower-resolution imagery has forestalled efforts to challenge and verify human rights violations, especially in hard-to-reach areas such as the Gaza Strip...."
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