Darkness Descending

I woke this morning to media reports of the continued carnage in Gaza and to headlines recycled from Associated Press announcing that Israel had struck ‘symbols of Hamas power’.  Front and centre in the frenzied assault was an attack on Gaza’s only power station: but its importance is hardly ‘symbolic’.

1509120862In Targets of opportunity Samuel Weber wrote: ‘Every target is inscribed in a network or chain of events that inevitably exceeds the opportunity that can be seized or the horizon that can be seen.’

In ‘In another time-zone…’ (DOWNLOADS tab) I elaborated his comment in relation to so-called ‘deliberative targeting’, which ‘places a logistical value on targets through their carefully calibrated, strategic position within the infrastructural networks that are the very fibres of modern society’:

The complex geometries of these networks then displace the pinpoint co-ordinates of ‘precision’ weapons and ‘smart bombs’ so that their effects surge far beyond any immediate or localised destruction. Their impacts ripple outwards through the network, extending the envelope of destruction in space and time, and yet the syntax of targeting – with its implication of isolating an objective – distracts attention from the cascade of destruction deliberately set in train. In exactly this spirit, British and American attacks on Iraqi power stations in 2003 were designed to disrupt not only the supply of electricity but also the pumping of water and the treatment of sewage that this made possible, with predictable (and predicted) consequences for public health. Similarly, on 28 June 2006, during the IDF’s Operation Summer Rains, Israeli missiles destroyed all six transformers of Gaza’s only power station (which provided over half of Gaza’s power). Being powerless in Gaza was as devastating as in Iraq:

‘The lack of electricity means sewage cannot be treated, increasing the risk of disease spreading, and hospitals cannot function normally. It means ordinary Gazans cannot keep perishable food because their fridges do not work. At night, they are plunged into complete darkness when the electricity cuts off. They rely on candles and paraffin lamps. Many residents have also been left with an irregular water supply as they need electricity to pump water up from nearby wells or from ground floor level to higher floors in blocks of flats.’

In attacking the power station – a repeated and familiar target, and so not one struck ‘by accident’ – the IDF knows very well that in the days, weeks and months to come hundreds, even thousands of people will get sick or even die as sewage plants and water pumps fail, as refrigeration systems stop, and as essential surgeries and life-support systems are interrupted.

The situation before the latest Israeli offensive was highly precarious, as the map below shows; you can download a hi-res version here (if you have power), and the accompanying one-page report spells out the implications.  Israeli restrictions on the importation of spare parts mean that the power plant has never been restored to full capacity after the previous attacks, and since June 2013 the situation has been exacerbated by ‘the halt in the smuggling of Egyptian-subsidized fuel used to operate the [power plant] via the tunnels’ (last year the differential was 3.2 shekels/litre compared with 7.1 shekels/litre for fuel imported from Israel).

GAZA power deficit

At full capacity, Fares Akram reports, the power station should supply 80 megawatts of electricity; before the most recent Israeli offensive it was already degraded, producing at most only 50-60 megawatts.  It was damaged by Israeli shelling three times last week, and the effects tore into what was left of the fabric of everyday life.  Listen to Atef Abu Saif, writing in his ‘Diary of a Palestinian’ on Saturday 26 July (and read the whole thing: it is an astonishing and eloquent testimony to the depravity of the onslaught):

It has now been 40 hours with no electricity. The water was also cut off yesterday. Electricity is a constant issue in Gaza. Since the Strip’s only power station was bombed in 2008, Gazans have had at best 12 hours of electricity a day. These 12 hours could be during the day, or while you are fast asleep; it’s impossible to predict. Complaining about it gets you nowhere. For three weeks we’ve barely had two or three hours a day. And right now, we would be happy with just one.

These blackouts affect every part of your life. Your day revolves around that precious moment the power comes back on. You have to make the most of every last second of it. First, you charge every piece of equipment that has a battery: your mobile, laptop, torches, radio, etc. Second, you try not to use any equipment while it’s being charged – to make the most of that charge. Next you have to make some hard decisions about which phone calls to take, which emails or messages to reply to. Even when you make a call, you have to stop yourself from straying into any “normal” areas of conversation – they’re a waste of power.

And remember that without those mobiles and laptops much of what the IDF has done would not reach the outside world: see this report , for example, which describes how 16 year old Farah Baker (@Farah_Gazan), ‘one of Gaza’s most powerful online voices’ with over 70,000 Twitter followers, was abruptly silenced when she was unable to charge her phone.

Gaza tweet power cut

Last night the power plant was hit by Israeli tank shells again – the IDF spokesman insists that the plant ‘was not a target’: just how many times do you have to strike something before you recognise what it is? – and now it has been forced to shut down completely.  You can watch a video interview with Sara Badiei, an ICRC water and sanitation engineer in Gaza, who describes the knock-on effects of the power shut-down here:

‘If there is no electricity, there is no water, and I want to make that clear… Water needs to be pushed down the lines, down these tubes, you need pumps to be able to run to bring the water out of the well, to push it down the line and to deliver it to the population.  If there’s no electricity, that can’t happen…’

Gaza also relies on 10 power lines from Israel and Egypt to provide an additional 120 megawatts but 8 of these have been cut by Israeli shelling.  In the interview, Sara explains that it takes 5-7 days to repair each line and it is, of course, extremely dangerous work in a war-zone under constant Israeli shelling.

This is not ‘symbolic’: it is infrastructural war of the most vicious kind, waged without restraint or remorse.  In the past, some Israeli politicians have demanded that Israel shut off the power (and water) supply to Gaza – for some of the international legal considerations, see Kevin Jon Heller’s careful review for Opinio Juris – but what has happened today isn’t about turning switches on or off.  Here is Harriet Sherwood in the Guardian:

The power plant is finished,” said its director, Mohammed al-Sharif, signalling a new crisis for Gaza’s 1.7 million people, who were already enduring power cuts of more than 20 hours a day.

Amnesty International said the crippling of the power station amounted to “collective punishment of Palestinians”. The strike on the plant will worsen already severe problems with Gaza’s water supply, sewage treatment and power supplies to medical facilities.

“We need at least one year to repair the power plant, the turbines, the fuel tanks and the control room,” said Fathi Sheik Khalil of the Gaza energy authority. “Everything was burned.”

Since I published the original version of this post, Human Rights Watch has documented – on 10 August – the cascading effects of the strike on the power plant:


It has drastically curtailed the pumping of water to households and the treatment of sewage, both of which require electric power. It also caused hospitals, already straining to handle the surge of war casualties, to increase their reliance on precarious generators. And it has affected the food supply because the lack of power has shut off refrigerators and forced bakeries to reduce their bread production.

“If there were one attack that could be predicted to endanger the health and well-being of the greatest number of people in Gaza, hitting the territory’s sole electricity plant would be it,” said , deputy Middle East and North Africa director at Human Rights Watch. “Deliberately attacking the power plant would be a war crime.”…

Ribhi al-Sheikh, deputy head of the Palestine Water Authority, said the lack of electricity had idled wells – except where generators were able to provide some back-up power – as well as water treatment and desalination plants. Idling wells endangers crops that require water at the hottest time of year.

Most urban households in Gaza need electricity to pump water to rooftop tanks. Ghada Snunu, a worker for a nongovernmental organization, said on August 4 that her home in Gaza City had been without electricity since the attack on the power plant, forcing her family to buy water in jerry cans and to conserve the used household water to empty the toilets. The collapse of electricity service meant that many Gazans lacked access to the 30 liters of water that is the estimated amount needed per capita daily for drinking, cooking, hygiene and laundering, said Mahmoud Daher, head of the Gaza office of the UN World Health Organization.

This is how Israel exercises its ‘right to defend itself’ and how ‘the most moral army in the world’ is set loose on civilians.


In the case of targeted killing (see ‘Drone geographies’, DOWNLOADS tab), the same network effects obtain:

‘…by fastening on a single killing – through a ‘surgical strike’ – all the other people affected by it are removed from view. Any death causes ripple effects far beyond the immediate victim, but to those that plan and execute a targeted killing the only effects that concern them are the degradation of the terrorist or insurgent network in which the target is supposed to be implicated. Yet these strikes also, again incidentally but not accidentally, cause immense damage to the social fabric of which s/he was a part – the extended family, the local community and beyond – and the sense of loss continues to haunt countless (and uncounted) others.’

This tactic, too, has been honed by the IDF, though not exactly refined.  Last year Craig Jones noted:

Since September 29th 2000, Israel has killed 438 Palestinians using the method of targeted killing. Of these, 279 were the ‘object’ of attack, meaning that Israel intentionally targeted them. The other 159 were ‘collateral damage’, chalked up to accidental or incidental consequences of targeting the other 279.

Rummaging around today, I’ve discovered another version of Sam Weber’s thesis with which I began, thanks to Jon Cogburn.  It’s a poem by the late (nationalist) Israeli poet Yehuda Amichai (who died in 2000) called ‘The Diameter of the Bomb’ (translated here by Chana Bloch):

The diameter of the bomb was thirty centimeters
and the diameter of its effective range about seven meters,
with four dead and eleven wounded.
And around these, in a larger circle
of pain and time, two hospitals are scattered
and one graveyard. But the young woman
who was buried in the city she came from,
at a distance of more than a hundred kilometers,
enlarges the circle considerably,
and the solitary man mourning her death
at the distant shores of a country far across the sea
includes the entire world in the circle.
And I won’t even mention the crying of orphans
that reaches up to the throne of God and
beyond, making a circle with no end and no God.

The poem was written in 1972, and in 2006 was the inspiration for a documentary film, also called The Diameter of the Bomb, about the aftermath of a suicide bombing in Jerusalem.  But its power reaches beyond place and time.  And that, in case anyone is wondering, is symbolic.

Gaza: a history


New from Hurst (UK)/Oxford (US), a translation of Jean-Pierre Filiu‘s Histoire de Gaza (Fayard, 2012): Gaza: a history.

Through its millennium–long existence, Gaza has often been bitterly disputed while simultaneously and paradoxically enduring prolonged neglect. Jean-Pierre Filiu’s book is the first comprehensive history of Gaza in any language.

Squeezed between the Negev and Sinai deserts on the one hand and the Mediterranean Sea on the other, Gaza was contested by the Pharaohs, the Persians, the Greeks, the Romans, the Byzantines, the Arabs, the Fatimids, the Mamluks, the Crusaders and the Ottomans. Napoleon had to secure it in 1799 to launch his failed campaign on Palestine. In 1917, the British Empire fought for months to conquer Gaza, before establishing its mandate on Palestine.

In 1948, 200,000 Palestinians sought refuge in Gaza, a marginal area neither Israel nor Egypt wanted. Palestinian nationalism grew there, and Gaza has since found itself at the heart of Palestinian history. It is in Gaza that the fedayeen movement arose from the ruins of Arab nationalism. It is in Gaza that the 1967 Israeli occupation was repeatedly challenged, until the outbreak of the 1987 intifada. And it is in Gaza, in 2007, that the dream of Palestinian statehood appeared to have been shattered by the split between Fatah and Hamas. The endurance of Gaza and the Palestinians make the publication of this history both timely and significant.

Here is the Contents list; despite the title of Part III, the book traces the story up to 2012 (the last chapter):

Part I – Gaza Before the Strip
Chapter 1 – The Crossroads of Empires
Chapter 2 – The Islamic Era
Chapter 3 – The British Mandate
Part II – 1947-1967: The Age of Mourning
Chapter 4 – The Catastrophe
Chapter 5 – Refugees and Fedayin
Chapter 6 – The First Occupation
Chapter 7 – Nasser’s Children
Part III – The Crushed Generation
Chapter 8 – The Four Years of War
Chapter 9 – The Era of the Notables
Chapter 10 – The Alien Peace
Chapter 11 – The New Wave
Part III – 1987-2007 The Generation of the Intifadas
Chapter 12 – The Revolt of the Stones
Chapter 13 – A Sharply Limited Authority
Chapter 14 – Days of Fury
Chapter 15 – One Palestine Against Another
Chapter 16 – Five Years in the Ruins

Here’s Mark Levine:

‘Anyone familiar with Jean-Pierre Filiu’s scholarship knows well his talent for taking complex historical processes and bringing their relevance for the present day to the front burner. Never have such skills been more needed than in addressing the still poorly understood history of Gaza. And Filiu succeeds admirably. Providing a wonderful synopsis of a century’s worth of history, his discussion of the more direct roots of the present violent dynamics, beginning with the “crushed generation” of the Six Day War and continuing through the travails of Gaza’s burgeoning hiphop scene, demonstrates just how historically and culturally rich remains this much abused land. A clear must-read for all those seeking to think outside the existing outdated prisms for studying history, and the future of Gaza and Palestine/Israel writ large.’ 

Gilbert Achcar writes:

‘Jean-Pierre Filiu is a scholar of international reputation and a champion of the downtrodden. This book will make you wonder how there could be such a paucity of works on Gaza, despite its centrality to Palestinian history, and help the reader better appreciate the plight of Gaza’s population.’

Filiu is Professor of Middle East Studies at Sciences-Po, but he’s more than a scholar; a former diplomat, he’s also published two graphic novels and written two popular songs.  This one is about Gaza, and it’s timely too:

Virtual Gaza


I had originally thought The everywhere war would include a reworked and extended version of my discussion of cyberwarfare and Stuxnet which appeared in the Geographical Journal (DOWNLOADS tab), but the chapter is now about ‘virtual’ battlespaces more generally – which are far from being purely ‘virtual’, of course – and includes some of the jottings I’ve made on the role of digital media in later modern war (see here and here).  With that in mind – but rather more than that in mind – I should update the part they are playing in Israel’s latest war on Gaza where, as the Wall Street Journal‘s headline on 23 July had it, ‘Israel and Hamas take fight to social media’.

The IDF is no stranger to information warfare and to the power of social media.  John Timpane explains the back-story succinctly:

In November 2012, Israel launched Operation Pillar of Defense – on Twitter. It thereby became the first nation to initiate hostilities by social media. Starting with a YouTube video of the aerial assassination of Hamas leader Ahmed al-Jabari, Pillar of Defense escalated the social-media war. The Israeli Defense Force (Twitter following: 292,000) tweeted times and places of rocket strikes against Israel. A rag-tag bunch of pro-Hamas Twitter feeds (such as the oft-shut-down @alqassam, with 11,000-plus followers), Facebook pages, and YouTube videos published images of torn bodies and bombed schools.

As of 2014, “both sides,” says [Lawrence] Husick, “have become remarkably more sophisticated in how they use social media to engage with the rest of the world.”

To provide some idea of the scale of operations, al-Jazeera has produced this remarkable representation of the unfolding of a global Twitterstorm about the war; what appears below are screenshots and you really need to watch the whole thing:


#Gaza under attack

The resources each side has at its disposable are far from equal.  According to Harriet Sherwood:

The propaganda war between Israel and the Palestinians is not new, but this battle-round is being fought with unprecedented ferocity. And like the asymmetry in the military conflict, the strength and resources of the Israel social media troops outweigh those of Hamas and other Palestinian organisations.

And those asymmetries have increased. Max Schindler reports,

With dueling Twitter hashtags, Facebook posts and YouTube channels, the Israeli Defense Forces and Hamas, the Palestinian militant group, are trading not just fire but also barbs over social media, in an attempt to win hearts and minds around the world. But Hamas, barred from certain platforms, faces additional challenges in the Internet war.

In this round of violence, the social media battle has become increasingly important. Israel’s ability to wage its campaign in Gaza depends on the level of international criticism it sustains.

On Wednesday, Twitter suspended several accounts used by Hamas…. Twitter’s terms of service block use of the website to “a person barred from receiving services under the laws of the United States or other applicable jurisdiction.” Hamas is classified as a terrorist organization by the State Department, denying it access to American commercial products…. Facebook maintains a similar policy, and has deleted dozens of Hamas accounts due to American government restrictions.

All of this has still wider implications because many of the tweets and the cell-phone videos uploaded to YouTube(see below) re-circulate through mainstream media too – though my strong suspicion is that the cautionary ‘cannot be verified‘ tag is used more often to diminish the suffering of people in Gaza than to call into question the IDF’s hasbara (public diplomacy/propaganda, take your pick).

These are more than military (or paramilitary) media operations, but the remainder is not only the work of individual ‘citizen-journalists’.  Ali Abunimah reports on a social media ‘war room’, set up on the first day of the current offensive by students at the Interdisciplinary Center Herzliya, a private university, to ‘explain’ Israel’s actions to overseas audiences: ‘israelunderfire’ originated here.  Some 400 volunteers from around the world are now involved in targeting online forums and producing their own (dis)infographics (more – and affirmative – reporting from the the Jerusalem Post here).

IDC Herzliya %22War Room%22

But most of the running is being made by the  IDF’s own concerted media campaign, and as I noted earlier Rebecca Stein has provided a timely analysis of ‘How Israel militarized social media’ that debunks some of the myths that have grown up around its ‘success’ (see also the link to her previous work here):

‘What’s been lost in this coverage – in this story of surprise — is the history of the Israel’s army presence on social media. For in fact, the military’s move to social media as a public relations platform has been rife with improvisation and failure, a process that runs counter to IDF narratives about its innovative work in this regard (the IDF lauding itself as a military early adopter). The army’s interest in the wartime potential of social media can be traced to the first few days of the 2008-2009 Gaza incursion….

In the years that followed, the IDF investment in social media would grow exponentially both in budgetary and manpower allocations, building on this ostensible wartime triumph.

But the process was rife with challenges and missteps…

Today, Israelis are also concerned about losing the media war. But they tell the story differently. In their rendering, the Israeli media problem is a by-product of damning or doctored images (this was the spirit of Netanyahu’s infamous “telegenically dead” remarks), of Palestinian media manipulation, of global anti-Israeli cum anti-Semitic bias. The Israeli media manages these problems by removing most traces of Palestinian dead and wounded from national news broadcasts.’

This feeds in to a deeper narrative in which both Palestinian casualties and Israeli culpability disappear from view, deftly characterised by Yonatan Mendel:

‘”We can forgive the Arabs for killing our children,” Golda Meir said in 1969, ‘but we cannot forgive them for forcing us to kill their children.’ Forty-five years on, in the third week of the Israeli attack on Gaza, with more than 800 Palestinians killed, about a quarter of them children, Israel’s government, its media and Israeli society have turned Meir’s idea of Israel being ‘forced’ to do unacceptable things into a vast and dangerous superstition. It refuses to take responsibility for the killing, just as it refused to take responsibility for the military occupation and the blockade: these, it tells itself, are what it has been forced into. Killing in Gaza in 2014, killing in 2012, and in 2008. But Israel has convinced itself, despite the rising numbers of dead, that isn’t killing anyone in Gaza. Hamas are the people doing the killing; they are responsible for the siege, the destruction, the underdevelopment, the poverty, the absence of peace talks, the postponement of a ceasefire and the use of UNRWA schools for military purposes.’

One final, crucial qualification. Even as he explains how the IDF and Hamas are fighting a media war, a battle to control the story on social media, John Tirmane insists that ‘the real war is of steel and fire, flesh and blood.’  What the countervailing voices of the ‘Twitterstorm’ seek to enable and to disable is an all too material firestorm.

The Tiny Apple

During the last week or so there have been several attempts to ‘bring Gaza home’ to New York. Chris Walker superimposed a map of Gaza on several major U.S. cities, including New York.  This is more artful than it first appears, since Chris has deliberately sought to show not the usual area for area comparison (the second map below) but rather ‘how much space is taken up by 1.8 million people’:



Transposition is a common tactic of popular geopolitics – it’s been widely used in commentaries on the war in Iraq in particular – but I’m in two minds about its political effectiveness.  Others clearly aren’t.  The next image is the Anti-Defamation League’s invitation to empathy (of sorts):


It elicited this response from Daniel Sieradski:


But perhaps the most powerful comparison between New York and Gaza is the latest info graphic from Visualizing Palestine on ‘the five stages of grief’: it’s effective, I think, because it’s original and you have to take your time over it.  And anything that encourages people to take time for Gaza and its people is worth it.

Five Stages of Grief

UPDATE: I’ve just had a kind note from Léopold Lambert reminding me of his ‘War in the Manhattan Strip’ that he published on the Funambulist a couple of years ago; I recommend reading the accompanying text….

Manhattan Strip - Map by Leopold Lambert


All white on the Western Front?

Indian troops at Ypres

There is a telling anecdote in Lyn Macdonald‘s account of The Somme:

Climbing on to the firestep, the Staff Captain cautiously raised his head above the parapet and looked across. ‘Good God!’ he exclaimed. ‘I didn’t know we were using Colonial troops!’ Pretor-Pinney made no reply. Hoyles and Monckton exchanged grim looks. ‘Dear God,’ muttered Monckton, when the Colonel and the visitor had moved away to a safe distance, ‘has the bastard never seen a dead man before?’ It was a rhetorical question. Lying out in the burning sun, soaked by the frequent showers of a week’s changeable weather, the bodies of the dead soldiers had been turned black by the elements. The Battalion spent the rest of the day burying them.

In fact, it’s doubly revealing.  On one side, it confirms the (I think simplistic) stereotype of the General Staff and their distance from death; but on the other side it also speaks to what Santanu Das, writing in the Guardian, calls ‘the colour of memory’:

In 1914, Britain and France had the two largest empires, spread across Asia and Africa, and an imperial war necessarily became a world war.

More than 4 million non-white men were recruited into the armies of Europe and the US. In a grotesque reversal of Joseph Conrad’s vision, thousands of Asians, Africans and Pacific Islanders were voyaging to the heart of whiteness and far beyond – to Mesopotamia, East Africa, Gallipoli, Persia and Palestine. Two million Africans served as soldiers or labourers; a further 1.3 million came from the British “white” dominions. The first shot in the war was fired in Togoland, and even after 11 November 1918 the war continued in East Africa.

A South African labourer said he went to war to “see different races”. If one visited wartime Ypres, one would have seen Indian sepoys, tirailleur Senegalese, Maori Pioneer battalions, Vietnamese troops and Chinese workers.

Today, one of the main stumbling blocks to a truly global and non-Eurocentric archive of the war is that many of these 1 million Indians, or 140,000 Chinese, or 166,000 West Africans, did not leave behind diaries and memoirs. In India, Senegal or Vietnam there is nothing like the Imperial War Museum; when a returned soldier or village headman died, a whole library vanished.

Moreover, as the former colonies became nation states, nationalist narratives replaced imperial war memories. Stories that did not fit were airbrushed. In Europe, communities turned to their own dead and damaged.

WWI Sikhs Bagpipes

In ‘Gabriel’s Map’ I began in East Africa in 1914 with an Indian Army contingent – whose staff officers included, in William Boyd‘s An Ice-Cream War,  the young Gabriel Cobb – sent to seize German East Africa defended by the local Schutztruppen under German command.  But as I travelled back to the Western Front the colonial troops who also served there slipped from the record.  Yet by the end of September 1914 two Indian divisions and a cavalry brigade had already arrived in France (see above), and in October the first sepoys were sent into battle at Ypres.  If British, French and German troops were shocked at the devastation of a European countryside that was, in its essentials, once familiar to them, what could the freezing cold, the endless mud and the splintered trees have meant to these men (who usually arrived unprepared and ill-equipped for the winter)?

sepoysinthetrenches_0_1I suspect a satisfying answer has to wait for Santanu’s next book, India, Empire and the First World War: words, images and objects (Cambridge University Press, 2015). But in the meantime the whitening of the Western Front (and other theatres of the War) can be resisted through other sources. Some of them are listed in his brief essay on ‘The Indian sepoy in the First World War’ for the the British Library (and you can find ‘Experiences of colonial troops’, adapted from his Introduction to Race, empire and First World War writing [Cambridge University Press, 2011] here).

In addition Christian Koller‘s ‘The recruitment of colonial troops in Africa and Asia and their deployment in Europe during the First World War’, Imigrants & Minorities 26 (1/2) (2008) 111-133 [open access pdf here] provides a helpful context and more references (including French and German sources), and Gajendra Singh‘s The testimonies of Indian soldiers and the two world wars: between self and sepoy (Bloomsbury, 2014)  is a wider, though inevitably selective account of the fabrication of Indian military identities under the Ra (the chapter on ‘Throwing snowballs in France’ is also available in Modern Asian Studies 48 (4) (2014): it’s an artful discussion of the (mis)fortunes of a chain letter – this is the ‘snowball’ in question – that ran foul of the military censor).  The Round Table 103 (2) (2014) is a special issue devoted to ‘The First World War and the Empire-Commonwealth’.


Finally, I’m working my way through Andrew Tait Jarboe‘s excellent PhD thesis, Soldiers of empire: Indian sepoys in and beyond the metropole during the First World War, 1914-1919 (Northeastern, 2013): during my current research on military-medical machines 1914-2014 I’ve found a number of references to the treatment of wounded Indian troops on the Western Front – their evacuation on hospital trains and their treatment in segregated hospitals – and Andrew’s third chapter (‘Hospital’) provides an illuminating reading of what was happening:

‘Between 1914-18, the British established segregated hospitals for wounded Indian soldiers in France and England… [T]hese hospitals were not benign institutions of healing. Like hospitals that repaired the bodies of English soldiers, Indian hospitals played a crucial role in sustaining the war-making capacity of the British Empire. Indian hospitals in Marseilles or Brighton also served an imperial purpose. As sites of propaganda, they reaffirmed the ideologies of imperial rule for audiences at home, abroad, and within the hospital wards. Yet even while the British Empire succeeded to a considerable extent in exploiting the manpower of India, … wounded sepoys were rarely ever mere pawns on the imperial chessboard. Hospital authorities were committed to two policies: returning sepoys to the front, and protecting white prestige. Wounded sepoys found ways of resisting both. In this way, Indian hospitals readily became what British authorities hoped they would not: spaces where imperial subalterns contested the policies and ideologies of imperial rule.’

Sikhs WW1

For imagery of non-European troops on the Western front and elsewhere, try this page at the Black Presence in Britain.  More wide-ranging is the exhibition organised by the Alliance française de Dhaka, War and the colonies 1914-1918, that you can visit online here (I’ve taken the image above from that collection).

All of this, clearly, adds another dimension to Patrick Porter‘s lively discussion of Military Orientalism: Eastern war through Western eyes (2009).  But it’s not only an opportunity to reverse (and re-work) that subtitle.  The Times of India reports a campaign to change ‘the colour of memory’ by instituting 15 August as a Remembrance Day in India:

“This will be our Remembrance Day. We have attended such memorial functions in France where heads of different states converge and the civilian turnout is quite big. But we don’t see a single Indian face there—quite an irony, given the fact that 1, 40,000 Indians defended French soil from German aggression in the Great War, and many never returned home. That’s why we, NRIs from France, came up with this project,” says a representative of Global Organization for People of Indian Origin (GOPIO), France.


The American way of bombing

I’ve argued elsewhere (in ‘Lines of Descent’ [DOWNLOADS tab] and in ‘The American way of bombing?‘) that it’s important to situate any critical account of drones in a much longer history of air war, and a new book just out from Cornell University Press promises to do just that: The American Way of Bombing: changing ethical and legal norms from Flying Fortresses to drones, edited by Matthew Evangelista and Henry Shue.  And unlike rip-off academic-commercial publishers (most of them in the UK), this is available as an e-edition (Kindle, etc) at a perfectly reasonable price.

Here are the details:

Aerial bombardment remains important to military strategy, but the norms governing bombing and the harm it imposes on civilians have evolved. The past century has seen everything from deliberate attacks against rebellious villagers by Italian and British colonial forces in the Middle East to scrupulous efforts to avoid “collateral damage” in the counterinsurgency and antiterrorist wars of today. The American Way of Bombing brings together prominent military historians, practitioners, civilian and military legal experts, political scientists, philosophers, and anthropologists to explore the evolution of ethical and legal norms governing air warfare.

Focusing primarily on the United States—as the world’s preeminent military power and the one most frequently engaged in air warfare, its practice has influenced normative change in this domain, and will continue to do so—the authors address such topics as firebombing of cities during World War II; the atomic attacks on Hiroshima and Nagasaki; the deployment of airpower in Iraq, Afghanistan, and Libya; and the use of unmanned drones for surveillance and attacks on suspected terrorists in Pakistan, Yemen, Sudan, Somalia, and elsewhere.

American way of bombing

Introduction: The American Way of Bombing
by Matthew Evangelista

Part I. Historical and Theoretical Perspectives

1. Strategic Bombardment: Expectation, Theory, and Practice in the Early Twentieth Century
by Tami Davis Biddle

2. Bombing Civilians after World War II: The Persistence of Norms against Targeting Civilians in the Korean War
by Sahr Conway-Lanz

3. Targeting Civilians and U.S. Strategic Bombing Norms: Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose?
by Neta C. Crawford

4. The Law Applies, But Which Law?: A Consumer Guide to the Laws of War
by Charles Garraway

Part II. Interpreting, Criticizing, and Creating Legal Restrictions

5. Clever or Clueless?: Observations about Bombing Norm Debates
by Charles J. Dunlap Jr.

6. The American Way of Bombing and International Law: Two Logics of Warfare in Tension
by Janina Dill

7. Force Protection, Military Advantage, and “Constant Care” for Civilians: The 1991 Bombing of Iraq
by Henry Shue

8. Civilian Deaths and American Power: Three Lessons from Iraq and Afghanistan
by Richard W. Miller

Part III. Constructing New Norms

9. Proportionality and Restraint on the Use of Force: The Role of Nongovernmental Organizations
by Margarita H. Petrova

10. Toward an Anthropology of Drones: Remaking Space, Time, and Valor in Combat
by Hugh Gusterson

11. What’s Wrong with Drones?: The Battlefield in International Humanitarian Law
by Klem Ryan

12. Banning Autonomous Killing: The Legal and Ethical Requirement That Humans Make Near-Time Lethal Decisions
by Mary Ellen O’Connell

Scoping Afghanistan

BOIJ Tracking drone strikes in AfghanistanThe marvellous Bureau of Investigative Journalism has just published a preliminary report on its new study  of drone strikes in Afghanistan, ‘the most heavily drone-bombed country in the world.’  The study, carried out with the support of the Remote Control Project, has been prompted by analyses which show that ISAF has persistently under-estimated civilian casualties from its strikes (‘“We only count that which we see… You can do a tremendous amount of forensics … [but] seldom do we see the actual bodies.”)

I have my doubts about the wisdom of severing ‘drone strikes’ from air strikes carried out by conventional aircraft that are networked in to ISR feeds from drones; I’ve elaborated this before, and it is a crucial part of my own work on militarised vision, where I’m working through the military investigations into air strikes in Kunduz, Sangin and Uruzgan.  I’ll start posting about this work next month.

The irony, I think, is not (quite) that we know so little about the ostensibly ‘public’ strikes in Afghanistan compared with the ‘covert’ campaigns in Pakistan, Yemen, Somalia and elsewhere: it is, rather, that we know a lot about how the USAF (though not the RAF) conducts strikes in Afghanistan but remarkably little about the victims, whereas in Pakistan we know much less about how the strikes are carried out (apart from the bureaucratisation of ‘kill lists’ in Washington) and, thanks to the work of the Bureau, much more about the victims.

It is true, though, that while the official US military investigations released through FOIA requests are often immensely informative, even in redacted form (more on this next month), there is often also a remarkable reluctance to release even basic information to the public.  Spot the difference between these two tables; the first release (on top) was subsequently overwritten by the second (below)…

Airpower statistics 2007-2012

As I say, more to come.  In the meantime, the ‘scoping study ‘ from the Bureau is here, and well worth reading.

Problematizing Cyber-Wars

Cyber OrientI’ve just received a Call For Papers on Problematizing Cyber-Wars for a special issue of CyberOrient: Online Journal of the Virtual Middle East.  The Guest Editor for the issue is the amazing Helga Tawil-Souri, whose work has done so much to illuminate these issues already and who starts in January as the new Director of NYU’s Hagop Kevorkian Center for Near Eastern Studies [more on Helga’s work, with links to her writing and other projects, here].

According to military analysts, since the 1991 Gulf War and even more so since the Hezbollah-Israel 2006 war, we have entered a new phase of warfare, in which kinetic and traditional military power are losing importance to symbolic and media power. Perhaps unsurprisingly given a still-widely held Orientalist view in military circles, many such perspectives revolve around wars and conflicts in the ‘Middle East’ or against ‘Islam’ more broadly – taking place in Iraq, Iran, Afghanistan, Israel/Palestine, Syria, but also on cyber networks and mobile phones. 

While these claims are of course hyperbole, this special issue of CyberOrient invites articles on questions of how we might define wars in a (new) media-age in the region; whether, why, and how (new) media are increasingly sites of warfare; the relationships between ‘virtual’ and ‘real’ battlespaces. Topics could include the significance of targeting (and bombing) telecommunications and media infrastructures; the use of (new) media as outlets for propaganda during wartime; the mediatization of war and the militarization of media; the role of participatory or social media and mobile communications during and in wars; relationships or differences between official, military, alternative, citizen, and grass-roots (new) media uses during war and conflict; the expanding definition of warzones; commemoration and memorialization of war in a digital age; among others. We welcome submissions from across disciplines and methodological approaches that are empirically and critically grounded.

IDF tweet re Hamas Twitter account

[In relation to the IDF tweet (above), from earlier this year, Twitter hasn’t suspended the all too obviously fake ‘Hamas Global PR’ here…]

CyberOrient is a peer-reviewed journal published by the American Anthropological Association, in collaboration with the Faculty of Arts of Charles University in Prague. The aim of the journal is to provide research and theoretical considerations on the representation of Islam and the Middle East, the very areas that used to be styled as an “Orient”, in cyberspace, as well as the impact of the internet and new media in Muslim and Middle Eastern contexts.


Articles should be submitted directly to Helga Tawil-Souri (helga@nyu.edu) and Vit Sisler (vit.sisler@ff.cuni.cz) by 30 September 2014 (Full Papers). Articles should
be between 6,000 and 8,000 words (including references), and follow the AAA style in referencing and citations. Upon acceptance, articles will be published online with free access in spring 2015.

More information can be found here.

UPDATE:  With exquisite timing, Mondoweiss has just published Rebecca Stein‘s analysis of ‘How Israel militarized social media’:

‘What’s been lost in this coverage – in this story of surprise — is the history of the Israel’s army presence on social media. For in fact, the military’s move to social media as a public relations platform has been rife with improvisation and failure, a process that runs counter to IDF narratives about its innovative work in this regard (the IDF lauding itself as a military early adopter). The army’s interest in the wartime potential of social media can be traced to the first few days of the 2008-2009 Gaza incursion….

In the years that followed, the IDF investment in social media would grow exponentially both in budgetary and manpower allocations, building on this ostensible wartime triumph.

But the process was rife with challenges and missteps.’

You can also find more detail in my previous posts here and here.

Footnotes to Gaza 101


Updates on Gaza 101 (at the risk of stating the obvious, the title for this post is a riff on Joe Sacco‘s brilliant Footnotes in Gaza [2009])

(1) Another powerful interview with Dr Mads Gilbert from al-Shifa Hospital, the main trauma centre in Gaza, and an excellent question:

“What would have happened if Palestinian fighters had bombed an Israeli hospital and killed five patients?  The world would have turned upside down. What is this second-hand, or even third-hand or fourth-hand citizenship in the world for the Palestinians?”

And in Gaza it’s way more than five (though that is clearly how so many governments around the world, including Canada, rank Palestinian citizenship).

Palestinian child deaths

(2)  By ‘citizenship in the world’ Gilbert is getting at the differential calculus that constitutes what Judith Butler calls ‘a grievable life’, and here Maya Mikdashi sharpens a (different) point I’ve made in relation to air strikes in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas and elsewhere: that not only the dead and injured women and children [see the map above, also available here] but also the dead and injured men are worthy of our grief.

Palestine men and women and children are one people— and they are a people living under siege and within settler colonial conditions. They should not be separated in death according to their genitalia, a separation that reproduces a hierarchy of victims and mournable deaths. Jewish Israelis (including soldiers and settlers) occupy the highest rungs of this macabre ladder, Palestinian men the lowest. This hierarchy is both racialized and gendered, a twinning that allows Palestinian womenandchildren to emerge and be publicly and internationally mourned only in spectacles of violence, or “war”—but never in the slow and muted deaths under settler colonial conditions—the temporality of the “ceasefire.” To insist on publicly mourning all of the Palestinian dead, men and women and children—at moments of military invasion and during the every day space of occupation and colonization— is to insist on their right to have been alive in the first place.

(3) Finally – if only it were the end to all this – here is the splendid Richard Falk on the chronic failure of international law to protect – let alone provide justice for – the Palestinian people.  This is how he begins:

What has been happening in Gaza cannot usefully be described as “warfare”. The daily reports of atrocities situate this latest Israeli assault on common humanity within the domain of what the great Catholic thinker and poet, Thomas Merton, caIled “the unspeakable”. Its horror exceeds our capacity to render the events through language.

Up to  a point; I said something similar but much less eloquently in ‘Gaza 101’.  Trauma ruptures language, to be sure, but these words from Ann Jones are also worth reflecting on (they come from her They were soldiers):

The worst we can say of war is that it is “unspeakable,” which in fact it is not. But we don’t speak of it because that would involve so many nasty words we don’t want to use and elicit so many things we don’t want to know, so many things we think we can’t do anything about now that the government answers only to the powerful few…


Geographies of peace

News today from I.B. Tauris of a new collection edited by Fiona McConnell, Nick Megoran and Philippa Williams, Geographies of peace:

Geographies of peaceFrom handshakes on the White House lawn to Picasso’s iconic dove of peace, the images and stereotypes of peace are powerful, widespread and easily recognizable. Yet if we try to offer a concise definition of peace it is altogether a more complicated exercise. Not only is peace an emotive and value-laden concept, it is also abstract, ambiguous and seemingly inextricably tied to its antithesis: war. And it is war and violence that have been so compellingly studied within critical geography in recent years. This volume offers an attempt to redress that balance, and to think more expansively and critically about what peace means and what geographies of peace may entail. The editors begin with an examination of critical approaches to peace in other disciplines and a helpful genealogy of peace studies within geography. The book is then divided into three sections. The opening section [Contesting narratives of peace] examines how the idea of peace may be variously constructed and interpreted according to different sites and scales. The chapters in the second section [Techniques of peacemaking] explore a remarkably wide range of techniques of peacemaking.

This widens the discussion from the archetypical image of top-down, diplomatic state-led initiatives to imperial boundary making practices, grassroots cultural identity assertion, boycotts, self-immolation, ex-paramilitary community activism, and ‘protective accompaniment’. The final section [Practices of coexistence] shifts the scale and focus to everyday personal relations and a range of practices around the concept of coexistence. In their concluding chapter the editors spell out some of the key questions that they believe a geography of peace must address: What spatial factors have facilitated the success or precipitated the failure of some peace movements or diplomatic negotiations? Why are some ideologies productive of violence in some places but co-operation in others? How have some communities been better able to deal with religious, racial, cultural and class conflict than others? How have creative approaches to sharing sovereignty mitigated or transformed territorial disputes that once seemed intractable? Geographies of Peace is the first book wholly devoted to exploring the geography of peace.

Drawing on both recent advances in social and political theory and detailed empirical research covering four continents, it makes a significant intervention into current debates about peace and violence.

Introduction: Geographical Approaches to Peace


2. Peace and Critical Geopolitics – Simon Dalby

3. Building Peaceful Geographies in and through Systems of Violence – Nicole Laliberte

4. Unearthing the Local: Hegemony and Peace Discourses in Central Africa – Patricia Daley


5. Moving Away from the Edge: Rethinking International Boundary Practices – John Donaldson

6. Making Space for Peace: International Protective Accompaniment in Colombia – Sara Koopman

7. Contextualizing and Politicizing Peace: Geographies of Tibetan Satyagraha – Fiona McConnell

8. Transforming the Troubles: Cultural Geographies of Peacebuilding in Northern Ireland – Lia di Shimada


9. A place of empathy in a fragile contentious landscape: environmental Peacebuilding in the Eastern Mediterranean –  Stuart Schoenfeld, Asaf Zohar, Ilan Alleson, Osama Suleiman and Galya Sipos-Randor

10. Everyday Peace, Agency and Legitimacy in North India – Philippa Williams

11. Migration and Peace: the Transnational Activities of Bukharan Jews – Nick Megoran

12. Welcome to Sheffield: the Less than Violent Geographies of Urban Asylum – Jonathan Darling

Conclusion: Geographies of peace, geographies for peace