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Palestinian 'drone hacker' arrested heading to Arabs Got Talent

The young Palestinian alleged hacker was an avid fan of talent shows [twitter]

Date of publication: 24 March, 2016

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A young Palestinian talent-show enthusiast was arrested by Israeli authorities while leaving Gaza to attend a television competition. He was accused of hacking into Israeli drones.
A 20-year old Palestinian who allegedly was hacking into Israeli drones for Islamic Jihad was arrested by Israel as he attempted to cross through Erez to partake in the popular show Arabs Got Talent.

The arrest took place at the beginning of March, though Israel only recently announced the allegations against him. The accusations are strongly denied by Awaida’s family and friends.

Israeli police claimed that Majed Awaida was a computer administrator working for the militant group Islamic Jihad in Gaza.

An Israeli public prosecutor submitted an indictment against the engineer, accusing him of spying, delivering information to militant groups in Gaza and hacking into Israeli computers.

Awaida was accused of hacking into drones and cameras following an investigation by Shin Bet, Israel’s internal security service. They alleged that he began his career five years ago, at the age of fifteen, and developed his ability to hack into a certain type of small drone and even Israeli traffic cameras.

The service also said that he developed a programme to monitor air-traffic and flight details at Ben Gurion airport.
Israeli media reports stressed that encryption software had been drastically improved since Awida allegedly managed to hack into a drone during the 2014 Gaza war.
Awaida left Gaza last February to accompany the Palestinian Takht Band of teenagers to participate in the Palestinian “super star” programme
Talent club

Awaida left Gaza last February to accompany the Palestinian Takht Band of teenagers to participate in the Palestinian “super star” programme in his role as head of the Palestine Talent Club.

The band gained much coverage on the media for their emotional performance and footage from the performance shows Awaida backstage in tears.

Last year The New Arab interviewed Awaida, who studied at the Islamic University in Gaza, as a young engineering inventor in Gaza.

Among his engineering achievements, he said he created small robots for use in war situations to put out fires and search for survivors. However, he said that the robots were "destroyed" due to their threat to the occupation.

He added that he was designing a larger Arabic-speaking robot that could help the disabled in their homes.

"I wish I could do more, but I live in an occupied and blockaded country," he said, adding that there was a lack of financial support for his inventions.

"I sought to emigrate outside Palestine to develop my work, but this would not satisfy me. I aspire to become a professor in the field," he said.

Friends of Awaida described the Israeli allegations as a "lie". Palestinian media outlets wondered how the young man could knowingly pose such a threat to Israel and afterwards be able to cross Erez checkpoint.

All Palestinians who wish to leave through the crossing undergo stringent security checks and vetting, meaning that even the slightest blemish or suspicion prevents them from leaving the besieged Gaza strip via Israel.

Israeli footage showed a nervous smiling Awaida following his confession to the charges, that his family suspect he made was due to pressure and coercion by the Israeli authorities.

Forced confession?

Israeli footage on Wednesday showed a nervous smiling Awaida following his confession to the charges, that his family suspect he made was due to pressure and coercion by the Israeli authorities.

"I don’t know what Israel wants…but the indictment against him is ridiculous," Awaida's father told Palestinian news outlet Sawa, stressing that harassment and torture lead to his confession.

Although Awaida allegedly worked at a number of Islamic Jihad radio stations, his friends and family deny that he had any political affiliations.

His father added that the Israeli officials rejected any visits by lawyers to the prisoner, and also refused the Red Cross access.

The Palestinian al-Mazen Centre for Human Rights denounced the arrest of Awaida, and the Israeli gag order that followed the arrest, preventing the Centre and the detainee’s family from disclosing details concerning his arrest and mistreatment.

The organisation emphasised Israeli oppression against the civilian population in Gaza strip, and condemned the use of crossings as a way to "trap" and arrest Palestinians as the blockade on Gaza continues to tighten. 

Awaida was reasonably well known due to his support for Palestinian talent, being shown on panels judging aspiring singers and poets.

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