The Dublin-based digital rights NGO Front Line Defenders (FLD) published a major report earlier this month that found that six Palestinian human rights staff, working for NGOs later designated by the Israeli defense ministry as terror groups, were hacked by the technology company NSO Group’s Pegasus spyware. The hack was, apparently, part of an Israeli campaign to criminalize the advocacy efforts of the Palestinian NGOs. It sought compromising information that would buttress the government’s claims that they are affiliates of the banned Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine and funnel donations to fund its terror activities.
A number of these Palestinian groups, along with several Israeli human rights NGOs, have testified before international bodies that Israel has engaged in war crimes against Palestinians. Israel views this as what it calls “delegitimation,” an attempt to destroy the state of Israel by political means. It considers such acts as existential threats. One past government minister even went so far as to call for the “civil targeted assassination” of the leaders of the global Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) movement. The attacks portrayed in the FLD report are an integral part of that campaign.
FLD laid out a detailed timeline of events that ties the defense ministry’s designation of the NGOs as terror groups directly to the phone hacking. The first hacking victim came forward on October 16, giving his phone to FLD for a forensic analysis. It immediately shared the device logs with the Citizen Lab, the cyber-forensic detectives who specialize in detecting NSO’s spyware. The following day, the Dublin group met with the six Palestinians and confirmed their phones had been infiltrated.
Presumably, NSO and the Israeli internal security service Shin Bet discovered that their operation had been compromised and exposed almost simultaneously. That would explain why the following day, October 18, Salah Hammouri, one of the six whose phones were targeted, was notified that his Jerusalem…