Atlas wept

The Gaza War Map

To grasp the catastrophic scope of destruction in Gaza, there are three new resources of exceptional importance.  First, Lewis Whyld‘s The Gaza War Map: it’s an interactive map keyed to a series of panoramic images which transports you to 20 sites from Beit Hanoun south to Rafeh and it is, appropriately, devastating.

Gaza Crisis Atlas

Second, the UN’s Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs has released its Gaza Crisis Atlas: 110 pages of maps and high-resolution satellite imagery.  It’s a remarkably systematic survey, whose primary purpose is to assist aid and development agencies in planning and responding to the crisis, but it’s also an indispensable resource for anyone wanting to grasp the intensity of the prolonged Israeli assault on Gaza and its people.  The text and captions are available in eight languages, and you can zoom and print individual pages.

Finally, there’s MediaTown‘s drone-shot video of the destruction of Al-Shejaiya; its brevity does not sacrifice its impact:

Even hardened US military officers were stunned by the unrelenting and indiscriminate nature of the bombardment.  Throughout the offensive the Pentagon compiled reports twice a day on Israeli military operations, and according to a summary of the barrage on 20-21 July ’11 Israeli artillery battalions …  pumped at least 7,000 high explosive shells into the Gaza neighborhood, which included a barrage of some 4,800 shells during a seven-hour period at the height of the operation…’

That amounts to shelling Al-Shejaiya every six seconds FOR SEVEN HOURS (more from Kerry-anne Mendoza among the ruins of Al-Shejaiya here, and more imagery from Occupied Palestine here).

Al-Jazeera reports:

“Eleven battalions of IDF artillery is equivalent to the artillery we deploy to support two divisions of U.S. infantry,” a senior Pentagon officer with access to the daily briefings said. “That’s a massive amount of firepower, and it’s absolutely deadly.” Another officer, a retired artillery commander who served in Iraq, said the Pentagon’s assessment might well have underestimated the firepower the IDF brought to bear on Shujaiya. “This is the equivalent of the artillery we deploy to support a full corps,” he said. “It’s just a huge number of weapons.”

Artillery pieces used during the operation included a mix of Soltam M71 guns and U.S.-manufactured Paladin M109s (a 155-mm howitzer), each of which can fire three shells per minute. “The only possible reason for doing that is to kill a lot of people in as short a period of time as possible,” said the senior U.S. military officer. “It’s not mowing the lawn,” he added, referring to a popular IDF term for periodic military operations against Hamas in Gaza. “It’s removing the topsoil.”

“Holy bejeezus,” exclaimed retired Lt. Gen. Robert Gard when told the numbers of artillery pieces and rounds fired during the July 21 action. “That rate of fire over that period of time is astonishing. If the figures are even half right, Israel’s response was absolutely disproportionate.” A West Point graduate who is a veteran of two wars and is the chairman of the Center for Arms Control and Non-Proliferation in Washington, D.C., he added that even if Israeli artillery units fired guided munitions, it would have made little difference.’

Before I let Gard continue, it’s important to remember that the onslaught did not end that night.  Here is a remarkable video which shows the shelling of Shejaiya market on 30 July (more updates and images from #shejaia here).  Imagery of Shejaiya before and after the bombardment was distributed to Israeli soldiers in Brigade 828 as ‘a victory momento‘ and spur to maintain their ‘fighting spirit’.

Gard goes on to explain the circular error probable (CEP) of munitions and the blast and fragmentation or ‘kill radius’, which I’ve discussed here (scroll down for the ‘kill radius’):

Even the most sophisticated munitions have a circular area of probability, Gard explained, with a certain percentage of shells landing dozens or even hundreds of feet from intended targets. Highly trained artillery commanders know this and compensate for their misses by firing more shells. So if even 10 percent of the shells fired at combatants in Shujaiya landed close to but did not hit their targets — a higher than average rate of accuracy — that would have meant at least 700 lethal shells landing among the civilian population of Shujaiya during the night of July 20 into June 21. And the kill radius of even the most precisely targeted 155-mm shell is 164 feet. Put another way, as Gard said, “precision weapons aren’t all that precise.”

Senior U.S. officers who are familiar with the battle and Israeli artillery operations, which are modeled on U.S. doctrine, assessed that, given that rate of artillery fire into Shujaiya, IDF commanders were not precisely targeting Palestinian military formations as much as laying down an indiscriminate barrage aimed at cratering the neighborhood. The cratering operation was designed to collapse the Hamas tunnels discovered when IDF ground units came under fire in the neighborhood. Initially, said the senior Pentagon officer, Israel’s artillery used “suppressing fire to protect their forward units but then poured in everything they had, in a kind of walking barrage. Suppressing fire is perfectly defensible. A walking barrage isn’t.”

The implication of those closing remarks is that such an indiscriminate barrage is a clear violation of international humanitarian law: and the epic scale of that violation is made clear in the maps, imagery and video I’ve cited here.  It also amounts to collective punishment of a whole community, so it comes as no surprise to discover that the Israeli Supreme Court (‘sitting as the High Court of Justice’ – a phrase that has the same moral resonance as the Israeli Defence Force) has recently endorsed the ‘deterrent function’ of collective punishment (even though it too is prohibited under international humanitarian law).  But even the Court insisted that such a measure had to be ‘proportionate’.

All of this is much on my mind as I head to a meeting in Oulu, Finland, where I’ll be talking about ‘Trans-border transgressions: legal geographies and spaces of exception’.   The case studies on which I’ll draw are the Federally Administered Tribal Areas of Pakistan (mainly Waziristan) and Gaza.  More soon.

Gazonto

I’ve discussed the political-aesthetic practice of transposition before – superimposing war ‘over there’ on a city ‘over here’ – in relation to both Baghdad and Gaza.  For the most part, these have been cartographic exercises or art performances (see the closing sections of  ‘War and peace’ [DOWNLOADS tab] for some more examples).

Film-maker John Greyson has just released this short video, Gazonto, which is doubly different.  It takes the rash of video games about Gaza – many of which glorify successive Israeli assaults – and turns them to critical account, and it re-locates the air strikes from Gaza to Toronto (the flipping of the map near the beginning is inspired).

More here; if you are trying to remember where you’ve heard of John before, he was arrested and jailed in Egypt last summer, en route to Gaza with Tarek Loubani, an ER doctor who is one of the main architects of the Canada-Gaza collaboration that is responsible for taking Canadian doctors to Gaza to train local physicians.  They spent fifty days in a Cairo jail after John was seen filming Tarek treating demonstrators who had been shot by police in Ramses Square, where they had been protesting the military coup.  It was never clear which was the greater crime – treating the demonstrators or witnessing the emergency treatment.

This, of course, is one of the many appalling back-stories spawned by the intimacy between the al-Sisi government in Egypt and the Netanyahu government in Israel: what the splendid Richard Falk calls ‘neighbourly crimes of complicity’.  Geopolitics is rooted in these ‘accommodations’, and it cultivates all sorts of deadly blossoms.

But the tendrils reach far beyond the region, and many readers will appreciate why it is so important for a Canadian film-maker to re-stage the attacks on Gaza in a Canadian city.  For those who don’t, check out this report on the Harper government’s own video, released as the Israeli assault on Gaza was intensifying, affirming Canada’s support for Israel “Through Fire and Water”.   Really.

While I’m on this subject, Laleh Khalili has an excellent essay at the Society & Space open site to accompany the virtual issue on Israel/Palestine.  It’s called ‘A habit of destruction’:

The devastation to which Gaza has been subjected in the last few weeks seems to be yet another repetition of Israeli settler-colonial apparatus’ habit of destruction. Gaza has become emblematic of this habit, because in recent years it has so frequently been subjected to bombing while under a state of siege, but like all settler-colonialisms, the violence of the state is rooted not in an episodic “cycle of violence” but in the very ideology and practice of the settler-colonial movement…. 

The lesson of the most recent Israeli assault on Gaza, as in all previous assaults, is that civilians are not “collateral” or accidental casualties of war between combatants, but the very object of a settler-colonial counterinsurgency. The ultimate desire of such asymmetric warfare is to transform the intransigent population into a malleable mass, a docile subject, and a yielding terrain of domination.

And, as she concludes, ‘That ever so frequently the Israeli military plunges Palestinians into conflagrations of lead and steel and concrete dust and destruction is the clearest sign that it has failed at making Palestinians into such a docile population.’

War comes home

martha_rosler_2

The debate over the militarisation of policing in the United States that has been sparked by the shooting of a young Afro-American by a white police officer in Ferguson, Missouri increasingly cites Radley Balko‘s Rise of the warrior cop: the militarisation of America’s police forces.  It was published last year to considerable acclaim, and last August the Wall Street Journal‘s Saturday Essay featured what was, in effect, Balko’s three-minute version.

BALKO Rise of the warrior copSince the 1960s, in response to a range of perceived threats, law-enforcement agencies across the U.S., at every level of government, have been blurring the line between police officer and soldier. Driven by martial rhetoric and the availability of military-style equipment – from bayonets and M-16 rifles to armored personnel carriers – American police forces have often adopted a mind-set previously reserved for the battlefield. The war on drugs and, more recently, post-9/11 antiterrorism efforts have created a new figure on the U.S. scene: the warrior cop – armed to the teeth, ready to deal harshly with targeted wrongdoers, and a growing threat to familiar American liberties.

So far, so familiar – and by no means confined to the United States.  There the present debate seems to have been conducted in an intellectual vacuum.  When ‘Warrior cop’ was published, Glenn Greenwald wrote that ‘there is no vital trend in American society more overlooked than the militarization of our domestic police forces’, and he’s since repeated the claim (though he does acknowledge the ACLU report produced earlier this year, War Comes Home: the excessive militarization of American policing (see also Matthew Harwood‘s ‘One Nation Under SWAT’ here – he’s a senior writer/editor at the ACLU).

ACLU War comes home

I suspect the debate could be advanced, both politically and intellectually, by including two other (academic) voices that approach the situation from two different directions.  One is Steve Graham‘s Cities under siege: the new military urbanism (2010), which starts from new constellations of military violence, and the other is Mark Neocleous‘s War power, police power (2014), which starts from a wider conception of policing than has figured in the present discussion. Doing so would also enable the role of racialisation – which flickers in the margins of both accounts – to be given the greater prominence I think it deserves.  But it would also considerably sharpen talk of war ‘coming home’, as though it ever left

For now, though, let me make two further points.  One is about the need to enlarge the conventional conception of the military-industrial complex.  It has already been extended in all sorts of ways, of course – the Military-Industy-Media-Entertainment complex (MIME) and the Military-Academic-Industrial-Media complex (MAIM) to name just two – but it has become increasingly clear that the producers and designers of military equipment also have domestic police forces in their sights (sic).

It’s a complicated business, because on one side there is an active Department of Defense program that, since 1990, has channelled surplus military equipment to state and local police departments in the United States: more details from Shirley Li here.  The New York Times has a sequence of interactive maps showing the spread of everything from aircraft and armoured vehicles through grenade launchers and assault rifles to body armour and night vision goggles (the accompanying article is here).  The map below is just one example, showing the transfer of armoured vehicles:

Armoured vehicles transferred from US military to US police departments

On the other side, there’s also an active market for new equipment – and some of the latest ‘toys for the boys‘ (see also here) include drones (at present unarmed versions only for intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance).  Jane’s, widely acknowledged as an indispensable global database on military equipment and platforms, now advertises a new guide dedicated to ‘Police and Homeland Security Equipment’:

Jane’s Police & Homeland Security Equipment delivers a comprehensive view of law enforcement and paramilitary equipment in production and service around the world, providing A&D businesses with the market intelligence that drives successful business development, strategy and product development activity, and providing military, security and government organizations with the critical technical intelligence that they need in order to develop and maintain an effective capability advantage….

Profiles of more than 2,200 types of law enforcement equipment and services around the world, including firearms, body armor, personal protection, riot and crowd control equipment, communications, security equipment and biometric solutions, make Jane’s Police & Homeland Security Equipment the most comprehensive and reliable source of police equipment technical and program intelligence.

There is a genealogy to all of this, of course, which means there is important work to be done in tracing the historical pathways through which both offensive and defensive materials have migrated from external uses (by the military) to internal uses (by the police).  This breaches one of the canonical divides of the liberal state, a rupture signalled by the hybrid term ‘security forces’, but it has been going on for a long time.

Anna FeigenbaumIn an excellent essay – a preview of her book, Tear Gas: 100 years in the making, due out from Verso next year – Anna Feigenbaum shows how tear gas drifted from the battlefields of France and Belgium onto streets around the world.  The French were the first to use toxic gas shells on a large scale – engins suffocants – which discharged tear gas; in most cases the effects were irritating rather than disabling, and when the Germans used similar shells against the British in October 1914 at Neuve Chapelle they too proved largely ineffective.

These were ‘Lilliputian efforts’, according to historian Peter Bull, and experiments by both sides with other systems were aimed at a greater and deadlier harvest.  You can find much more on the use of lethal gas on the battlefield from Ulrich Trumpener, ‘The road to Ypres’, Journal of modern history 47 (1975) 460-80; Tim Cook, No place to run: the Canadian Corps and gas warfare in the First World War (Vancouver: UBC Press, 1999) – which despite its title is much less Canuck-centric than it might appear; Jonathan Krause, ‘The origins of chemical warfare in the French Army’, War in history 20 (4) (2013) 545-56; and Edgar Jones, ‘Terror weapons: the British experience of gas and its treatment in the First World War’, War in history 21 (3) (2014) 355-75.

But many military officers realised that tear gas had other potential uses, and Anna shows that the process of repatriation and re-purposing began even before the First World War had ended:

By the end of the 1920s, police departments in New York, Philadelphia, Cleveland, San Francisco, and Chicago were all purchasing tear-gas supplies. Meanwhile, sales abroad included colonial territories in India, Panama, and Hawaii.

With this new demand for tear gas came new supply. Improved tear-gas cartridges replaced early explosive models that would often harm the police deploying them….

Leading American tear-gas manufacturers, including the Lake Erie Chemical Company founded by World War I veteran Lieutenant Colonel Byron “Biff” Goss, became deeply embroiled in the repression of political struggles. Sales representatives buddied up with business owners and local police forces. They followed news headlines of labor disputes and traveled to high-conflict areas, selling their products domestically and to countries such as Argentina, Bolivia, and Cuba. A Senate subcommittee investigation into industrial-munitions sales found that between 1933 and 1937, more than $1.25 million (about $21 million today) worth of “tear and sickening gas” had been purchased in the U.S. “chiefly during or in anticipation of strikes.”

Tear gas against protesters in Bahrain

Anna continues the story through the Second World War and the Vietnam War (where in an unremarked irony tear gas was used against anti-war demonstrations) and down to the present, but you get the (horrible) idea.  She closes with the supreme irony:

Yet while tear gas remains banned from warfare under the Chemical Weapons Convention, its use in civilian policing grows. Tear gas remains as effective today at demoralizing and dispersing crowds as it was a century ago, turning the street from a place of protest into toxic chaos. It clogs the air, the one communication channel that even the most powerless can use to voice their grievances.

This brings me to my second point, and it’s one that both Steve and Mark sharpen in different ways: the militarization of policing is not only about weapons but also about the the practices in which they are embedded.  One place to start such an investigation would be the cross-over in what the military calls doctrine.  There’s many a slip between doctrine on the books and practice on the streets.  But Public Intelligence has recently published U.S. Army Techniques Publication 3-39.33: Civil Disturbances, which will now repay even closer reading.  The cross-overs between counterinsurgency, counter-terrorism and police operations against organised crime are now a matter of record – and I’ve discussed these on several occasions (see here and here) – but 3-39.33 is perhaps most revealing in its preamble:

ATP 3-39.33 provides discussion and techniques about civil disturbances and crowd control operations that occur in the continental United States (CONUS) and outside the continental United States (OCONUS)….Worldwide instability coupled with U.S. military participation in unified-action, peacekeeping, and related operations require that U.S. forces have access to the most current doctrine and techniques that are necessary to quell riots and restore public order.

Which is where I came in…  These are just preliminary jottings, and there’s lots more to say – and lots more to consider (as the Martha Rosler photomontage at the top of this post implies: it’s from her 2004 series Bringing the War Home: House Beautiful, which carries an implicit plea to attend to their homes and their streets not just ‘ours’ ) – so watch this space.

UPDATE:  See Stuart Schrader‘s elegant short essay on ‘Policing Empire’ at Jacobin:

‘… we should be skeptical of calls for police reform, particularly when accompanied by cries that this (militarization) should not happen here. A close look at the history of US policing reveals that the line between foreign and domestic has long been blurry. Shipping home tactics and technologies from overseas theaters of imperial engagement has been a typical mode of police reform in the United States. When policing on American streets comes into crisis, law-enforcement leaders look overseas for answers. What transpired in Ferguson is itself a manifestation of reform.

From the Philippines to Guatemala to Afghanistan, the history of US empire is the history of policing experts teaching indigenous cops how to patrol and investigate like Americans. As a journalist observed in the late 1950s, “Americans in Viet-Nam very sincerely believe that in transplanting their institutions, they will immunize South Viet-Nam against Communist propaganda.” But the flow is not one-way: these institutions also return home transformed.’

Thanks to Alex Vasudevan for the tip.

MAP and the meat-grinder

I’ve updated my previous posts on the medical geographies of Gaza several times (see herehere and here), and I’ve drawn on the testimony of Dr Mads Gilbert in extenso, but this testimony from another brave volunteer doctor deserves its own notice.

I met Ghassan Abu Sitta at a wonderful workshop in Paris in December 2012 on War and Medicine, and I learned so much from that one meeting (from everyone there: see my note about War and therapeutic geographies) that I was inspired to develop my own research project on the medical evacuation of casualties from war zones, 1914-2014.

Ghassan Abu Sitta

Ghassan is a reconstructive surgeon who used to work at Great Ormond Street in London but is now based in Beirut.  He’s recently returned from Gaza where he worked as a Medical Aid for Palestinians (MAP) volunteer at al Shifa hospital carrying out five, six and sometimes seven surgeries a day.

You can read some of the background in this excellent report by Robert Tait for Britain’s Telegraph, published ten days ago and from which I’ve borrowed the photograph above, but Ghassan has just been interviewed in depth by Yazan al-Saadi for Al Akhbar; you can read the full version here.

Ghassan says the attack on Gaza was like ‘a meat-grinder’, which he attributes to:

The amount of ordinance that the Israelis fired, the indiscriminate use of these bombs that are capable of bringing down whole buildings, the use of artillery shelling which is indiscriminate because the shell will hit the first thing it reaches, the fact that they were attacking from the air, from the sea, and by land with artillery at the same time. And there was a night they were doing this and then they lit all of Gaza’s sky with these flares just so people will know that this is what’s happening.

He also provides compelling testimony of his experience at al-Shifa, the main trauma centre for Gaza, that adds important detail to the accounts I’ve noted previously:

‘It looked like a refugee camp. The campus of the hospital has a lot of the families that escaped the bombing or lost their houses and they were living inside the walls of the hospital. Everywhere you go you see makeshift dwellings made out of laundry lines and bed sheeting turned into tents. And the hospital was completely full. Single rooms had four beds in them. In some wards we had two patients per bed.

‘The difference between this conflict and the one before is that nobody was allowing the patients out. So you had 7,000 injured – at the time I was there it was 6,000 and by the time the conflict ended the injured were 10,000. An overwhelming majority have still not been able to get out of Gaza. There have been some numbers, but not significant numbers to break the back of this problem….

‘The contingency plans were that all diesel was kept for the al-Shifa Hospital, so people did not have electricity at home, they would donate the diesel to the hospital. The wells that supply Shifa, like the rest of the water in Gaza, had become so contaminated with sea water, it’s salty. People do the best with what they have….

‘… the majority of the killing was happening because they were dropping ammunition designed to penetrate mountain caves. [The Israelis] were dropping them on civilian dwellings made out of breeze block. And so these four or five storey buildings were being pulverized by these one-ton bombs. That was what was wiping out whole families. And in Gaza, because land is so much in shortage, people come along and build their house, they build enough foundations that when their kids grow up, they can build a floor on top. So when you take out a four storey building, you take out four generations of a family. That was what happened to, I think, 60 families that have been completely wiped out…

The graphic below shows 26 members of just one extended family, the Abu Jame family, killed at home in Bani Suheila on 20 July; it comes from a sequence that is shockingly far too large to reproduce here, compiled by B’Tselem and available here. The infographic lists ‘members of families killed in their homes in 59 incidents of bombing or shelling’ in which 458 people were killed, including 108 women under the age of 60, 214 minors, and 18 people over the age of 60.  If you follow the link, you can hover over each image for the names and ages of those killed.

abu_jame3

Ghassan continues:

‘… they started inventing these humanitarian ceasefires, where people would go out and they would start killing them. We had this on the day of Eid, they said there was a humanitarian ceasefire and the kids went out to a local fair ground and they bombed them. The other time was in al-Shujayeh market, there was a humanitarian ceasefire, they got them into the market, they killed them, then they waited for the ambulances to get there, and then they shelled the ambulances again.

‘So the issue isn’t the type of weapons, but the intent to kill. The amount of ordinance they used and the tonnage of the bombs they used were intended to wipe out whole neighborhoods. That’s what they have done. They have completely wiped out Shejayeh, they wiped out Khuza’a, they wiped out a big part of Rafah, a big part of Khan Younes, and parts of Beit Hanoun….

‘ All the areas around the hospital were being bombed all the time. You would hear it. We heard something we knew it was close, but didn’t know how close it was. We then got a call to the emergency room and we were told that the administration and the out patients building had been hit – a lot of families had taken refuge in that area – so we had to go and help.’

Asked directly whether Hamas or other factions were firing rockets from the vicinity of the hospital, Ghassan is unequivocal:

‘Around Shifa? No, no, no. But in other places you would see them in the sky or hear them. You would learn to distinguish the whoosh of the rocket. Gaza is so small and so flat, I mean you are not going to hide them in the mountains or the jungle because there are no mountains or jungle. People are literally on top of each other. It’s going to happen. But around the hospital there were none.’

The optics of urban ruination

Ishikawa Kōyō

News from David Fedman of a new article co-authored with Cary Karacas, ‘The optics of urban ruination‘, which complements their previous, vital work on the cartographic imaginary of bombing.  It’s published in the Journal of Urban History but you can access it here.

World War II yielded many photographs of bombed-out cities. In this paper we telescope between two sets and scales of images that represent the principal frames through which the American and Japanese publics have memorialized the incendiary bombings that laid waste to urban Japan: aerial photographs taken by the US Army Air Forces during its wartime planning, prosecution, and assessment of the raids; and the ground-level images captured by Ishikawa Kōyō, a photographer working on behalf of the Tokyo Metropolitan Police. By means of a detailed examination of the production, circulation, and consumption of these photographs— what some scholars have called an “archaeological approach” to images of ruination—we explore not only the visual rhetoric and reality of the destruction of Japan’s cities, but also how that destruction is situated in history, memory, and visual culture.

As always with their work, it’s exquisitely written, intellectually savvy and a very powerful argument.  They juxtapose the photographic ‘view from above’ that was instrumental in the planning and execution of the American air raids with Ishikawa Kōyō’s ground-level perspective.  His work is virtual unknown outside Japan and yet, as they say, has become ‘the principal visual testimony in Japan for public memory of the incendiary air raids as they were experienced on the ground’:

What followed were, according to Ishikawa, scenes from hell. His detailed account of that evening indeed repeatedly invokes infernal metaphors to describe Tokyo’s destruction. The “demon’s wings”(akuma no tsubasa) rained fire that carbonized corpses which “flowed through the streets like rapids.”  The elements also conspired against the city to whip up the red winds (akakaze) that fanned the firestorms: “immense incandescent vortices,” he wrote, “rose in a number of places, swirling, flattening, sucking whole blocks of houses into a maelstrom of fire.”

Widespread chaos, intense heat, and the realization of the need to save his own life pre-vented Ishikawa from taking any photographs. His Chevrolet destroyed by flames, he slowly made his way on foot back to the Metropolitan Police Headquarters. After resting his fatigued body, at around 2 P.M. on March 10 Ishikawa set out to document the aftermath. He saw bodies “piled like mountains” (shitai no yama o kizuiteita) and corpses burnt to the point that “you could no longer discern the sex of the body” (danjyo no kubetsu mo tsukanai shitai).

Ishikawa first told himself not to photograph such upsetting images, but then, recalling his responsibilities to capture the “reality of the scenes,” he began to snap the shutter.That day Ishikawa took thirty-three photographs of the aftermath of what came to be called the Great Tokyo Air Raid.

You can find more at Japan Air Raids, a brilliant bilingual archive, and a (harrowing) selection of Ishikawa’s images here.  If you do click on that link, heed their warning:

While photographs such as [these] provide an intimate sense of the bodily pain that was inflicted by the firebombing, they also require much of the viewer. It is one thing to look at such photographs; it is another thing altogether to comprehend or attach meaning to the actual suffering it exposes.

And – do I have to say this? – it’s worth thinking about other scenes of urban ruination.

Peace in our time

I’ve talked about charting armed conflict around the world before.  Max Rosen has a series of data visualisations – ‘Our World in Data‘ – including several on war and peace.  They include this one, drawn from multiple sources and collated (and designed) by the Hague Centre for Strategic Studies, showing global war deaths – the size of the bubble refers to the proportion of the world population killed:

ourworldindata_global-war-deaths-1400-today-size-of-the-bubble-shows-percentage-of-world-population-killed-–-the-hague-centre-for-strategic-studies0

There are of course all sorts of problems in this sort of exercise – calculating ‘war deaths’ is a political and intellectual minefield of its own – but you can find the sources used for the graphic here (click on the button on the right).

You can also download the Hague Centre’s graphics in a single pdf, ‘Peace and Conflict across time’, here (again, click on the button on the right): the display arranges the graphics into two sets – ‘Decline of Conflict’ and ‘Drivers of Peace’.  No doubt Stephen Pinker would approve.

Max provides a more detailed analysis of conflicts post-1945 here, including this image (which extends only to 2004), and which is precisely the sort of thing that has licensed the debates over the decline of inter-state wars and the rise of (often transnational) ‘new wars’:

State-based armed conflicts

Before cheering the demise of inter-state war, however, we need to reflect on the multiple ways in which states and their advanced militaries are able to inflict violence by stealth (including cyber-attack), by proxy and by other other means (including economic warfare)…

Destructive Edge

In a previous post on ‘The Death Zone‘, I suggested readers compare Israel’s extended ‘buffer zone’ in Gaza by following the line of the main highway, Saladin Street.  Hugh Naylor has followed that route on the ground – what he calls ‘Desolation Road’ – and his report is accompanied by an interactive map showing some of the vast panorama of destruction:

Screen Shot 2014-08-08 at 10.01.01

I’ll have more to say about the caption – about the Israeli military’s targeting in Gaza – shortly.  The Guardian has just published a graphic by Nadja Popovich showing the UNRWA-run schools sheltering refugees (many of them from the expanded ‘buffer zone’) that were struck by the Israeli military:

Gaza schools hit by Israeli military

 Amnesty International reports growing evidence that health facilities and workers were deliberately targeted by the Israeli military:

Testimonies from doctors, nurses, and ambulance workers who have spoken to Amnesty International paint a disturbing picture of hospitals and health professionals coming under attack by the Israeli army in the Gaza Strip, where at least six medics have been killed. There is growing evidence that health facilities or professionals have been targeted in some cases.

Since Israel launched Operation “Protective Edge” on 8 July, the Gaza Strip has been under intensive bombardment from the air, land and sea, severely affecting the civilian population there. As of 5 August, according to the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, 1,814 Palestinians had been killed in the Gaza Strip, 86 per cent of them civilians. More than 9,400 people have been injured, many of them seriously. An estimated 485,000 people across the Gaza Strip have been displaced, and many of them are taking refuge in hospitals and schools.

Amnesty International has received reports that the Israeli army has repeatedly fired at clearly marked ambulances with flashing emergency lights and paramedics wearing recognizable fluorescent vests while carrying out their duties. According to the Palestinian Ministry of Health, at least six ambulance workers, and at least 13 other aid workers, have been killed as they attempted to rescue the wounded and collect the dead. At least 49 doctors, nurses and paramedics have been injured by such attacks; at least 33 other aid workers were also injured. At least five hospitals and 34 clinics have been forced to shut down due to damage from Israeli fire or continuing hostilities in the immediate area.

Hospitals across the Gaza Strip suffer from fuel and power shortages (worsened by the Israeli attack on Gaza’s only power plant on 29 July), inadequate water supply, and shortages of essential drugs and medical equipment. The situation was acute before the current hostilities, due to Israel’s seven-year blockade of Gaza, but have been seriously exacerbated since…

Amnesty International is aware of reports that Palestinian armed groups have fired indiscriminate rockets from near hospitals or health facilities, or otherwise used these facilities or areas for military purposes. Amnesty International has not been able to confirm any of these reports. While the use of medical facilities for military purposes is a severe violation of international humanitarian law, hospitals, ambulances and medical facilities are protected and their civilian status must be presumed. Israeli attacks near such facilities – like all other attacks during the hostilities – must comply with all relevant rules of international humanitarian law, including the obligation to distinguish between civilians and civilian objects and military targets, the obligation that attacks must be proportional and the obligation to give effective warning. Hospitals and medical facilities must never be forced to evacuate patients under fire.

20140801_ambulance_520

The report includes detailed testimony from Palestinian paramedics and ambulance crews who describe the extraordinary difficulty and danger they faced in attending to casualties from Israeli shelling (see also my post on ‘Gaza 101‘, the emergency number for Gaza, and the update here).  Not surprisingly, Israel has rejected Amnesty’s claims and denied targeting hospitals, but when Netanyahu’s spokesperson, Mark Regev, explained that ‘What we’ve had to do on a number of occasions is to hit terrorist targets in the immediate vicinity of hospitals and things like that, where they’ve abused them,’ he failed to address the violations of international law summarised in the last paragraph above.

There’s more.  B’Tselem, now back on line, is also providing detailed testimony from Gaza, including (so far) two ambulance drivers, Rami ‘Abd al-Haj ‘Ali and Ahmad Sabah.  Here is an extract from the first statement (all testimonies are linked to B’Tselem’s interactive map):

B'Tselem map Beit HanounOn Friday afternoon, 25 July 2014, I was working at the medical emergency call center in Beit Hanoun. At around 4:30 P.M., we received a call reporting injured people in al-Masriyin Street in Beit Hanoun. We asked the International Red Cross to coordinate our going there. About 15 minutes after we received the call, we got authorization and an ambulance headed over there with paramedics ‘Aaed al-Bura’i, 25, Hatem Shahin, 38, and driver Jawad Bdeir, 52. The team didn’t make it to the wounded people. Soon after they reached the street, they reported back that a tank had fired at them and they were injured. They asked for another team to come and rescue them.

The call center coordinated the arrival of another team with the International Red Cross and got authorization to go rescue the injured team. I drove the second ambulance, and there were two medics with me – Muhammad Harb, 31, and Yusri al-Masri, 54. The street is only about 200-300 meters from the call center, so we were there within minutes. When we reached the entrance to the street, we were surprised to see three tanks and a military bulldozer in the street, about 100 meters away.

Suddenly, with no warning, they opened heavy machine-gun fire at us. The bullets penetrated the ambulance. I tried to turn the ambulance around to get out of there, but the steering wheel must have been hit. Suddenly, I felt sharp pain in my leg and realized I’d been hit by a bullet or shrapnel. Then the windshield shattered. Because I couldn’t turn the ambulance around, I decided to try reversing. They kept firing as I backed up, until we got far enough away. When they stopped, I managed to turn us around and head back to the center.

On the way there we met Hatem Shahin, one of the paramedics from the first ambulance. He’d been hit by shrapnel in his shoulder and leg. He told us that a shell fired from a tank had hit the front part of the ambulance. He said he’d managed to get away but the other paramedic, ‘Aaed, had been hit. He told us that after he ran away from there, he saw the tank fire another shell at the ambulance, completely destroying it. He thought ‘Aaed must have been killed, but we didn’t know for sure.

The next day, on Saturday, a ceasefire was declared from 8:00 A.M. to 8:00 P.M. An ambulance team went to the spot and found ‘Aaed’s body in the burnt ambulance.

To put all of this in context, the BBC has mapped the deaths of 1,890 Palestinians – ‘mostly civilians’, as its accompanying chart shows – killed during the Israeli offensive to 6 August.  As you can see, Palestinians were killed ‘right across Gaza’ – not only in the expanded buffer zone shown on the map, though the carnage in Beit Hanoun and Shejaiya is clearly visible – with high concentrations also produced in the killing grounds of Gaza City and Khan Younis:

w640

Finally, in case you’re puzzled by the title for this post: Israel’s attack on Gaza is codenamed Tzuk Eitan in Hebrew, meaning ‘Firm Cliff’ or ‘Resolute Cliff’.  According to Yagiv Levy, ‘The operation’s name signals the power, commitment and resilience of the Israeli people.’  But the official English-language version, ‘Protective Edge’, was changed ‘to give it a more defensive connotation’ (really). As Steven Poole explains, ‘the bombing was supposedly “protective”, though not of those bombed’. All of this is of course in line with the designation of the Israeli military as the ‘Israeli Defence Forces’.

I decided I’d prefer to use a version that provides a more accurate rendering of what has happened – in Hebrew, English or Arabic.