Landmark reform of US policy marks significant advance for scholars working on the Levant

Landmark reform of US policy marks significant advance for scholars working on the Levant





We are thrilled to report on a breakthrough for archaeologists and scholars working in the Levant. Thanks to a hard-fought campaign by the late CBRL Assistant Director in Amman, Dr Andrea Zerbini, with his colleague from the EAMENA project, Dr Michael Fradley, US restrictions on access to high-resolution satellite imagery over Israel and the Occupied Palestinian Territories have now been lifted.

Whilst working together on the EAMENA project, Andrea and Michael came across the Kyl-Bingaman Amendment - a little highlighted, but ultimately fundamental piece of US legislation that prohibits access to high-resolution satellite imagery of Israel and Palestine on security grounds. The Kyl-Bingaman Amendment was a major impediment to EAMENA’s work that uses satellite imagery to identify and monitor archaeological sites across the MENA region. What’s more, the amendment went against the ethos of Arcadia – the major funders of the EAMENA project – as well as Andrea’s beliefs - that knowledge should be free and made open access to all.

In 2018 Andrea and Michael co-published a paper in the journal Space Policy with the intention of hopefully seeing the law changed. ‘Israel and Palestine: re-assessing the Kyl-Bingaman Amendment’ is available as open access here.

The Kyl-Bingaman Amendment contained a reform mechanism that meant restrictions would be lowered if companies outside the US were selling their own satellite imagery at a higher resolution than the level set by the US restrictions. Andrea and Michael found that several other companies had been producing sub-2m resolution imagery for several years which would, in theory, mean that the US satellite imagery should be accessible for free as open-source. Something that would be ground breaking for academics working on the region.

Two images of the site of Kirbat Khiraf in the Occupied Palestinian Territories, a Roman/Byzantine fortress above the Jordan Valley. The top image is a restricted and low resolution photo, the bottom image is unrestricted and high resolution. The site has been threatened by modern dirt tracks that connect a number of nearby military occupation sites. Map data: Maxar/Airbus, via Google Earth

Following a sustained campaign since 2018, on 25th June 2020, the Kyl-Bingaman Amendment was reformed. This change in US policy will have a significant impact for scholars using remote sensing in the region – not only for archaeology – but all the geographical and environmental sciences. You can read more about the academic work behind this policy change in a blog post published by Oxford University earlier this month.

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