Bringing Israeli apartheid to the US-Mexico border

Elbit Systems, an Israel-based technologies conglomerate, has played a central role in the implementation of the repressive policies of Israel against the Palestinians. As Elbit spreads its tentacles first to the US-Mexico border and then worldwide, it is incumbent upon all human rights activists to prevent this conglomerate from becoming the handmaiden of repressive regimes.

Stephen Welty

THE same racist and xenophobic logic that prevails in Israel’s violent response to the Great March of Return is also evident in the United States’ militarised southern boundary area with Mexico. Events both in Gaza and on the Mexican border reveal the global reach of Elbit Systems, an Israel-based technologies conglomerate spanning multiple continents.

Elbit’s dedication to hyper-scrutiny and criminalisation under the euphemism of ‘border patrol’ is apparent, whether in Gaza, the West Bank or the United States. Advocates for Palestinian rights, migrant rights and privacy rights have a transnational mission to challenge inherently intrusive and repressive means such as those employed worldwide by Elbit and the governments which contract with the company.

While Elbit generates most of its revenue in North America, it is also the pre-eminent hardware and software provider for Israeli ‘defence and homeland security’ industries. The conglomerate specialises in ‘intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance’ services.

In the summer of 2017, American officials developed a favourable impression after conducting an on-site analysis of methods pioneered by Elbit for monitoring the border between Egypt and Gaza. A few months later, in September, Elbit publicised an agreement increasing the number of ‘radar and surveillance towers’ at the boundary between the United States and Mexico, beefing up a $145 million agreement from 2014.

In addition to ‘border security’, Elbit Systems is also heavily involved in the maintenance and monitoring of Israel’s occupation of the West Bank. It is part of a consortium of companies collaborating on repressive policies that confine Palestinian mobility through the apartheid wall, a network of militarised checkpoints, and other technologies of ‘security’ and control. Elbit’s systems, including Peregrine and the mobile/relocatable surveillance systems, anchor ‘security’ in the West Bank as well as the US-Mexico border.

Elbit harnesses ‘big data’ and other ‘data streams’ and marries them to defence hardware to scoop up and catalogue details of whatever its array of sensors, monitors and computers might freely appraise. Unfettered ‘data streams’ can be and are put to a variety of pernicious uses in the hands of the US Department of Homeland Security and the US Armed Forces. With the various publics kept in the dark regarding what is catalogued, the capacity for government institutions to criminalise people based on this data is maximised.

The Peregrine system can connect to an assortment of monitors and ‘motion systems’ at borders, though these systems, which can be affected by wind and other factors, are unreliable. They can produce misattribution and responses that can prove dangerous to a readily criminalised population.

Elbit employs ‘truck mounts’ with heat-analysing cameras paired to vehicles that surveil borders. These devices complement Elbit’s ‘driverless’ motorised scrutiny that has surveilled the boundary dividing Israel and the Gaza Strip ‘since at least 2009’ and the West Bank as of December 2015. A ‘mounted surveillance system’ also operates on the US-Mexican border.

Elbit’s E-merge system subscribes to the same ‘data stream’ philosophy of massive ‘cyber-scoop’ that has gotten online corporations like Amazon and Facebook, and even the US National Security Administration, into trouble with the court of public opinion. This philosophy is integrated with both the apartheid wall and the Integrated Fixed Towers, and it works to stifle mobility and promote repression in Palestine. A public already aroused against Facebook’s involvement with Cambridge Analytica and against the NSA cyber-scoop of online bustle should also be concerned about the Elbit framework for invading the privacy of those most likely to be criminalised by racist states.

As a powerful transnational conglomerate, Elbit can strike at the human rights of residents and migrants near the US-Mexico border and throughout the West Bank and Gaza. Through its methods of data scooping and ‘automatic’ surveillance, Elbit is poised to heighten its universal assault on human rights.

Anyone who backs Palestinian rights, migrant rights or privacy rights should oppose the Elbit corporation.

Stephen Welty holds a Master’s in Middle Eastern Studies from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. His research for Friends of Sabeel North America aims to expose the Israeli occupation of Palestine and global militarisation. He thanks FOSNA staff and Allison Deger of Mondoweiss for their contributions to this article, which first appeared in the Washington Report on Middle East Affairs (August/September 2019,

*Third World Resurgence No. 341/342, 2019, p 65