Blurry satellite images of Palestine and Israel make rebuilding more difficult

The latest wave Violence between Israel and Palestine ended on May 20, after the two sides agreed to a ceasefire.

The Gaza Strip has suffered the brunt of the dead and devastated, with air strikes killing more than 230 people and destroying more than 1,000 residential and commercial buildings. The The New York Times Description of the landscape A “sea of ​​rubble”, with many hospitals, power lines, schools, sewage systems and roads damaged or destroyed.

With the support of humanitarian organizations, Palestinians now begin a long reconstruction process, and look to the conflict for indications of human rights violations, with the support of investigative journalists. But this work is becoming more difficult and expensive due to the lack of good satellite imagery of Israel and Palestine in the free mapping tools.

At the height of the violence, Notice open source investigators on Twitter Areas like Gaza look a lot more blurry on platforms like Google Earth, which gathers satellite imagery from a variety of sources. The reason is a vague US regulation, called the Kyl-Bingaman Amendment, that was preventing US companies from providing high-resolution satellite images of the area, due to security concerns expressed by Israel. Was regulation Canceled last year, And the limit is now similar to the resolution allowed for other parts of the world. Several commercial satellite image providers, such as Planet Labs, have quickly modified their products, while popular free tools, including Google Earth, have not.

A comparison of the images provided by Planet Labs and on Google Earth shows the stark difference in accuracy.

Same part of Gaza City as captured by Planet Labs (left), and as seen on Google Earth (right). (Click to enlarge.)

Photo: Planet Labs Inc; The Google

More accurate images allow to see building features, count individual trees, identify vehicles on the road, and count lines printed on the sidewalk. It shows more color variations, and the subtle shapes of things like squares and blocks. And on the free services, satellite images of Israel and Palestine are updated less frequently than in other parts of the world. On Google Earth, for example, some areas of New York City only have five different satellite images for 2020, while some areas of Gaza City have five images over the past 35 years.

This makes a huge difference to people on the ground, including humanitarian organizations trying to help Palestinians in the reconstruction effort.

More serious and imprecise

The ICRC has been working in Israel and Palestine since the 1960s, providing health services and other assistance to people during and after outbreaks of violence. It also helps societies rebuild. The International Committee of the Red Cross is currently repairing the water system, the electricity grid and the sewage system in the Gaza Strip.

Many of these activities involve the use of satellite imagery. “In times of conflict, we use images to discover the extent of the damage and the devastation,” says Christoph Hanger, an ICRC spokesman. When she is allowed into a conflict zone, she uses images to plan her movements. Once the conflict ends, “updated satellite imagery is essential to detect changes on the ground,” says Hunger, to see how the air strikes have affected buildings and infrastructure and to identify areas that should receive more attention.

Another section of Gaza City from Planet Labs (left), and Google Earth (right). (Click to enlarge.)

Photo: Planet Labs Inc. ; The Google

The images provided by free tools like Google Earth are too degraded for the ICRC to be able to use. Hanger says poor resolution “increases the likelihood of misinterpretation of images and thus leads to a less effective operational response.” As a result, he adds, the organization is forced to use commercial satellite image providers, which are more expensive and require additional human resources.

Evidence is unclear

Degraded satellite imagery is also affecting people far from Israel and Palestine – as digital investigators flock to photos and videos of the conflict to identify potential human rights violations. They use publicly available information online, including content shared on social media, photos and videos produced by Israelis and Palestinians, and satellite imagery available in free tools like Google Earth.

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