The availability of aerial imagery through open-access platforms only confirms the hindrance created by the KBA. In fact, so absurd is the KBA that Israel itselfÂ providesÂ free high-resolution aerial imagery of the territories it controls (modern-day Israel, the Occupied Palestinian Territory, and the Golan Heights), rendering the KBA utterly pointless while also belying the claim that the KBA serves Israeli national security interests.
Reassessing the KBAÂ
Since Michael Fradley and Andrea Zerbiniâ€™s groundbreaking 2018 journalÂ articleÂ and Al-Shabakaâ€™s policyÂ commentaryÂ of the same year, both of which call for a reassessment of the KBA, the amendment has come under greater scrutiny. However, there is little evidence to suggest that a policy change is imminent. Rather, the US Department of Commerce and its National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) â€“ the bodies tasked with administrating the KBA â€“ continue to evade and defer discussions about its efficacy.
The KBA was supposed to be reviewed regularly, but only in 2017 â€“ a decade after its inception â€“ did NOAA finally undertake a formal review, issuing itsÂ findingsÂ in late 2018. NOAAÂ concludedÂ that high-resolution imagery of Palestine-Israel was not â€śreadily and consistently availableâ€ť from non-US sources, and that as such it could not recommend a change to the amendment.
While a detailed report on NOAAâ€™s methodology has not been published, the review method appears to have consisted of NOAA staff attempting to purchase imagery and subsequently reporting the results. However, their logic was circular, as the KBA itself was the major obstacle NOAA staff faced, as US citizens, in their attempt to acquire high-resolution images. Foreign researchers, on the other hand, have been able to purchase uncensored high-resolution imagery from both non-US sellers and US resellers, demonstrating the anachronistic nature of the legislation. While one can only speculate the exact reason for NOAAâ€™s reticence, there is likely to be pressure from the Department of Commerce and the current White House administration to maintain or even strengthen the KBA. This is a clear instance of politics overriding common sense.
1.Â NOAA should publish a report on the methodology used in their 2018 report as a matter of urgency, and undertake a more rigorous review of the KBA.
2.Â Disposing of the KBA and modifying the regulations of the Department of Commerce and NOAA would level the commercial playing field between US and non-US imagery providers.Â This would allow satellite operators to share high-resolution images of Palestine-Israel on widely-used open-access platforms and ensure their continued international competitiveness. It would also enable archaeologists, researchers, and humanitarians to accurately document changes on the ground and allow for better accountability of the Israeli occupation.