Israeli Army Installs Remote-control Crowd Dispersal System at Hebron Flashpoint

Army says it is examining the possibility of using the system for deploying approved methods of crowd dispersal as part of ‘preparations for confronting those disrupting order’

The Israeli military has installed a remotely-controlled system for crowd dispersal in the West Bank city of Hebron, which includes the capacity to fire stun grenades, tear gas and sponge-tipped bullets.

The system, still in its pilot stage, was installed on Shuhada Street, over a roadblock in an area that has served in the past as the focal point of demonstrations and clashes between Palestinians and Israel’s military.

The army says it is examining the possibility of using the system for deploying approved methods of crowd dispersal, which does not include the firing of live bullets. Following publication, it clarified that at in its pilot stage, the system will be using only sponge-tipped bullets, despite several incidents in which sponge-tipped bullets have caused serious injuries in the West Bank and Israel throughout the years.

The system in Hebron was created by Smart Shooter, a company that designs systems to follow and lock in on targets using image processing based on artificial intelligence. It prides itself on its accuracy in hitting targets marked by its system, which can be controlled remotely.

In the West Bank, this system has been installed only in Hebron.

“The system was placed in the center of a heavily populated area, with hundreds of people passing by. Any failure of this technology could impact many people,” says Issa Amro, a human rights activist from Hebron. “I see this as part of a transition from human to technological control. We as Palestinians have become an object of experimenting and training for Israel’s military hi-tech industry, which is not accountable for anything it does,” he says.

Last year, the Washington Post revealed that Israel had begun using a facial recognition technology called “Blue Wolf” in the West Bank to monitor and surveil Palestinians. The system is a database fed by details and photos of Palestinians, including identity numbers, age, sex, address, license plate numbers, ties to other individuals, work status in Israel, as well as negative impressions soldiers have of a Palestinian’s conduct when encountering them.

Cameras for facial recognition have been installed on roadblocks in Hebron in recent years. In 2018, Israel’s military began using a drone capable of launching tear gas at demonstrators in the Gaza Strip and in 2021 Haaretz reported that police had begun using such drones against demonstrators in Israel. Additionally, a system that allows the firing of live ammunition from a distance has been installed in Gaza.

An army spokesman responded to this report saying, “As part of the army’s improved preparations for confronting people disrupting order in the area, it is examining the possibility of using remotely-controlled systems for the employment of approved measures of crowd dispersal. This does not include remote control of live gunfire.”