Does Big Brother have a pet ‘Raccoon’ watching you?

IDF hardware at TA protest creates "chilling effect on freedom of expression," says civil rights attorney.

By
July 1, 2012 19:17
2 minute read.
'Raccoon' - IDF surveillance vehicle in Tel Aviv.

'Raccoon' IDF surveillance vehicle 390. (photo credit: Michael Omer-Man)

 
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If you were walking through Tel Aviv on Saturday night in the smaller, alternative march that broke off from the main social justice demonstration, you may have been photographed by one of the IDF’s state-of-the-art field reconnaissance and surveillance vehicles.

Social networks were abuzz on Sunday with photos of a “Raccoon” parked on the streets of central Tel Aviv.

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Used by the IDF’s Combat Intelligence Collection Corps, the Raccoon is a humvee outfitted with an advanced surveillance system that includes a radar and long-range day/night electrooptical observation system mounted on a mast rising from the vehicle’s roof.

Typically deployed on the battlefield, a Raccoon could be seen on Saturday night next to the Azrieli Mall in Tel Aviv, as well as on Ibn Gvirol and Kaplan streets, repeatedly appearing in front of the crowds blocking intersections, its mast rising over the protesters.

The Racoon is manufactured by Rafael Advanced Defense Systems and is one of the army’s more sophisticated field observation platforms.

Journalists and protesters said they could not recall such military hardware being deployed in a civilian capacity to monitor a protest in Tel Aviv.

Contacted by The Jerusalem Post on Sunday, the Tel Aviv Police said they would not comment on the vehicle, where it came from, if it was being operated by police or for what purpose. The IDF Spokesman’s Office said it had no knowledge of the vehicle’s deployment in the city.

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Nonetheless, the Border Police said that they had fielded similar inquiries from the press on Sunday, and that the vehicle was being operated by the police.

Attorney Avner Pinchuk of the Association for Civil Rights in Israel said that “Israel has long used aggressive means to suppress demonstrations in the occupied territories, and last night we saw the use of similar tactics in Tel Aviv, where an armored surveillance vehicle was present at the social justice demonstration. The presence of such a vehicle has an obvious chilling effect on the freedom of expression.”

Meretz chairwoman Zehava Gal-On cracked on Sunday that “those who are complaining about how yesterday the police brought a military vehicle used to listen in on the protest don’t understand the size of this accomplishment: It was the first time the state has listened to the demands of the protest movement.”

At any protest in Tel Aviv, a number of police are outfitted with camcorders to record the demonstration, in case the situation escalates into violence and officers find themselves facing misconduct or brutality charges.

At Saturday’s protest, which brought around 10,000 people onto the streets of Tel Aviv, more police than usual were equipped with camcorders, including a large number of undercover officers.

During the social justice rally on May 23, police arrested more than 80 protesters and were dogged by complaints of excessive use of force in the days that followed.

Videos of officers using force against demonstrators have circulated online since, while police have not released any video of violence by protesters.

The use of the Raccoon and the high number of officers outfitted with camcorders could be an effort to tilt the war of images in the police’s favor, but in the meantime, it is the Raccoon that remains at center stage.

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