Geographies of the Holocaust

We are in the preparatory stages for a new edition of the Dictionary of Human Geography, which I’m co-editing this time with Clive Barnett, Jeremy Crampton, Diana DavisGeraldine Pratt, Joanne Sharp and Henry Yeung.  At the moment, we are making devilishly difficult decisions over headwords (which to cut, which to add) and lengths (which to shorten, which to increase).  Of course, none of this is set in stone, and new entries always press themselves forward as the submission deadline draws near.  Sometimes they are words you wonder why they weren’t included in the first place.

One such, last time round, was ‘Holocaust’: a glaring omission from previous editions, I belatedly realised.  There was, after all, a considerable body of geographical work on it, some of it by geographers, which I did my best to incorporate in the entry I wrote in short order for the last edition.  In truth, I suspect I noticed the omission through my interest in Giorgio Agamben‘s Homo sacer and Remnants of Auschwitz; thinking about the geographies of the Holocaust made me realise that the space of the exception, however defined, was not limited by the barbed perimeter of the camp but extended out along the railway tracks to the ghettoes, the round-ups and a host of capillary and diminishing exceptions (see my discussion here).  This in turn makes the spatiality of the exception of constitutive significance.

51eob36VpHL

This time round, the intellectual task ought to be made easier by a new book edited by Anne Kelly Knowles, Tim Cole and Alberto Giordano, Geographies of the Holocaust, due from Indiana University Press in their Spatial Humanities series the middle of next month:

This book explores the geographies of the Holocaust at every scale of human experience, from the European continent to the experiences of individual human bodies. Built on six innovative case studies, it brings together historians and geographers to interrogate the places and spaces of the genocide. The cases encompass the landscapes of particular places (the killing zones in the East, deportations from sites in Italy, the camps of Auschwitz, the ghettos of Budapest) and the intimate spaces of bodies on evacuation marches. Geographies of the Holocaust puts forward models and a research agenda for different ways of visualizing and thinking about the Holocaust by examining the spaces and places where it was enacted and experienced.

1. Geographies of the Holocaust / Alberto Giordano, Anne Kelly Knowles, and Tim Cole
2. Mapping the SS Concentration Camps / Anne Kelly Knowles and Paul B. Jaskot, with Benjamin Perry Blackshear, Michael De Groot, and Alexander Yule
3. Retracing the “Hunt for Jews”: A Spatio-Temporal Analysis of Arrests during the Holocaust in Italy / Alberto Giordano and Anna Holian
4. Killing on the Ground and in the Mind: The Spatialities of Genocide in the East / Waitman W. Beorn, with Anne Kelly Knowles
5. Bringing the Ghetto to the Jew: The Shifting Geography of the Budapest Ghetto / Tim Cole and Alberto Giordano
6. Visualizing the Archive: Building at Auschwitz as a Geographic Problem / Paul B. Jaskot, Anne Kelly Knowles, and Chester Harvey, with Benjamin Perry Blackshear
7. From the Camp to the Road: Representing the Evacuations from Auschwitz, January 1945 / Simone Gigliotti, Marc J. Masurovsky, and Erik Steiner
8. Afterword / Paul B. Jaskot and Tim Cole

Tim Cole is the author of a series of outstanding geographical studies of the Holocaust, including Holocaust City on Budapest; he’s now Professor of Social History at Bristol, but his PhD in Geography at Cambridge was started under the supervision of Graham Smith, one of my dearest friends, who tragically died before the thesis was completed.

Here’s another old Cambridge friend Geoff Eley on the present collaborative project: ‘As a pioneering call to extend our familiar approaches, Geographies of the Holocaust offers a welcome model of collaborative interdisciplinarity — between historians and geographers, humanities and the social sciences, distinguished specialists and scholars from the outside. The desired purposes are admirably served. Thinking with space delivers not only a new range of challenging methodologies, but brings the well-established findings of the field under strikingly new perspectives too.’

Legal geographies and the assault on international law

I suspect anyone interested in international/transnational legal geographies will know of Jens David Ohlin‘s work already (he’s Professor of Law at Cornell and recently co-edited Targeted Killings: Law and Morality in an Asymmetrical World [Oxford, 2012]).  If not, check out his page on ssrn for recent papers; I’ve found three particularly helpful in thinking about US air strikes in Afghanistan and Pakistan and, more recently, the Israeli offensive against Gaza (more on this and the space of exception soon, I promise):

Targeting and the concept of intent (2013); Acting as a sovereign versus acting as a belligerent (2014); and The combatant’s privilege in asymmetric and covert conflicts (2014)

I’ve just received news of his new book out early in the New Year, whose relevance will be apparent from its title: The assault on international law.

OHLIN Assault of international lawInternational law presents a conceptual riddle. Why comply with it when there is no world government to enforce it? The United States has a long history of skepticism towards international law, but 9/11 ushered in a particularly virulent phase of American exceptionalism. Torture became official government policy, President Bush denied that the Geneva Conventions applied to the war against al-Qaeda, and the US drifted away from international institutions like the International Criminal Court and the United Nations.

Although American politicians and their legal advisors are often the public face of this attack, the root of this movement is a coordinated and deliberate attack by law professors hostile to its philosophical foundations, including Eric Posner, Jack Goldsmith, Adrian Vermeule, and John Yoo. In a series of influential writings they have claimed that since states are motivated primarily by self-interest, compliance with international law is nothing more than high-minded talk. Theses abstract arguments then provide a foundation for dangerous legal conclusions: that international law is largely irrelevant to determining how and when terrorists can be captured or killed; that the US President alone should be directing the War on Terror without significant input from Congress or the judiciary; that US courts should not hear lawsuits alleging violations of international law; and that the US should block any international criminal court with jurisdiction over Americans. Put together, these polemical accounts had an enormous impact on how politicians conduct foreign policy and how judges decide cases – ultimately triggering America’s pernicious withdrawal from international cooperation.

In The Assault on International Law, Jens Ohlin exposes the mistaken assumptions of these ‘New Realists,’ in particular their impoverished utilization of rational choice theory. In contrast, he provides an alternate vision of international law based on a truly innovative theory of human rationality. According to Ohlin, rationality requires that agents follow through on their plans even when faced with opportunities for defection. Seen in this light, international law is the product of nation-states cooperating to escape a brutish State of Nature–a result that is not only legally binding but also in each state’s self-interest.

Michael Sfard

But not all assaults on international law derive from the United States and from professors hostile to its philosophical foundations.  I urge you to read Michael Sfard‘s coruscating Op-Ed from Ha’artez on 4 August, ‘A “targeted assassination” of international law‘ (which is also available here if it disappears behind a paywall).  Michael is an Israeli human rights lawyer, specializing in international humanitarian law and dealing directly with the Israeli occupation of Palestine, and he is also the legal adviser to Yesh Din: Volunteers for Human Rights:

Israelis are surprised. Did I say surprised? Downright shocked. Even before the dust from the fighting has settled, even before this “most just of all wars” has ended, even as the most moral army in the world is still mired in Gaza – there is already talk of war crimes and an international investigation.

We, who didn’t carpet-bomb even though we could have, who dropped fliers and made phone calls and knocked on the roof; we, who agreed to the humanitarian cease-fire that Hamas violated; we, who took more precautions than any other nation would have done – we are once again being accused of war crimes. Once again, the same old song is being sung: decisions about opening an international investigation, talk of the International Criminal Court, fear of arrests in Europe. And we don’t understand why we deserve all this.

It is possible to console ourselves by accepting the explanation that the television journalists keep repeating to us: that the world is anti-Semitic and two-faced and supports Hamas. But this would constitute a regrettable evasion of the tough questions. It would constitute an effort to flee the pointed discussion Israeli society ought to be holding about the way we have waged armed conflicts with our enemies over the last decade.

Since the Second Lebanon War of 2006, the Israel Defense Forces has adopted an extremely problematic combat doctrine for conflicts that take place in urban areas with dense civilian populations, and in which the enemy is seen as an illegitimate terrorist entity (Hezbollah in Lebanon and Hamas in Gaza). This combat doctrine is supported by a legal theory developed by the IDF’s international legal division, which interprets the laws of war in a manner that is shockingly different from their accepted interpretation by experts in the field worldwide. Its direct result is massive civilian casualties and the destruction of civilian neighborhoods.

This combat doctrine consists of two elements, each of which is a declaration of war against the fundamental principles of the laws of armed combat. The first element redefines what constitutes a legitimate target for attack, such that it now includes not only classic military targets (bases, combatants, weapons stockpiles and so forth), but also facilities and objects whose connection to the enemy organization is nonmilitary in nature….

The second element is even more far-reaching: It holds that when fighting in urban areas, we are entitled to treat the entire area as a legitimate target and bombard it via air strikes or artillery shelling – as long as we first warn all the residents of our intention to do so and give them time to leave. The IDF first used this method in Beirut’s Dahiya neighborhood during the Second Lebanon War. Before bombing, the army dropped fliers telling the residents to leave. Then the bombs were dropped, and most of Dahiya’s houses were destroyed.

This doctrine was applied, to varying degrees, in Operations Cast Lead and Protective Edge as well, primarily in Gaza City’s Shujaiyeh neighborhood. It does not take into consideration the question of whether the prior warning given the population is effective – i.e., whether the population can in fact leave, whether solutions have been found for the elderly, the ill and the children. Nor is it accompanied by the creation of a safe corridor through which people can flee to someplace that won’t be fired on, and where civilians have what they need to survive.

The terrifying result of this combat doctrine, in both Cast Lead and Protective Edge, was piles of bodies of women, children and men who weren’t involved in the fighting….

The IDF’s lawyers, who provide legal support for this combat doctrine, are conducting a “targeted assassination” of the principles of international law: the principle of distinction, which requires differentiation between military targets (which are legitimate) and civilian targets (which aren’t); the principle of proportionality, which forbids attacking even a legitimate target if the anticipated harm to civilians is excessive in comparison to the military benefit from the target’s destruction; and the need to take effective, rather than merely symbolic, precautions.

More soon.

War cultures

929px-William_Orpen_-_Zonnebeke_-_Google_Art_Project

The British Academy is holding a two-day Landmark Conference in London on 12-13 November 2014, The First World War: Literature, Culture, Modernity.  The conference is convened by Santanu Das and  Kate McLoughlin:

A hundred years after the war’s outbreak, this conference brings together some of the world’s leading experts and emerging scholars to reassess its literary and cultural impact and explore its vexed relationship to modernity. Was the war a ‘crack in the table of history’ or did it reinforce deep continuities? What is the relationship between artistic form and historical violence, and between combatant and civilian creative responses? What are the colonial and transnational dimensions of First World War literature? Spanning across literature, the visual arts and music, the conference will adopt an international perspective as it investigates the war’s continuing legacies.

Registration is required; full details here.

In association with the conference, there will be an evening of music and readings at King’s College Chapel (London) on 11 November, Terrible Beauty: Music and Writing of the First World War, and an evening of poetry reading at the British Academy on 12 November, The Past Hovering: An Evening of War Poetry; both events are free but registration is required.

Following the colours

WWI Mobile carrier pigeon-loft

The Open University has just released online a series of ‘colourised’ photographs from the First World War.  My favourite is shown above: a mobile pigeon-loft so that messages could be carried back to GHQ (more on pigeons and the war effort here and especially here; their military service did not end with the First World War).

These were all originally black and white photographs, but Taschen has recently published a much more extensive collection of original colour (‘autochrome’) photographs – you can view some of the images online here – edited by Peter Walther, The First World War in Colour (384 pp).

Verdun

In an online announcement the publisher explains:

The devastating events of the First World War were captured in myriad photographs on all sides of the front. Since then, thousands of books of black-and-white photographs of the war have been published as all nations endeavour to comprehend the scale and the carnage of the “greatest catastrophe of the 20th century”. Far less familiar are the rare colour images of the First World War, taken at the time by a small group of photographers pioneering recently developed autochrome technology.

first_world_war_in_color_fo_gb_3d_05794_1406031040_id_813622To mark the centenary of the outbreak of war, this groundbreaking volume brings together all of these remarkable, fully hued pictures of the „war to end war“. Assembled from archives in Europe, the United States and Australia, more than 320 colour photos provide unprecedented access to the most important developments of the period – from the mobilization of 1914 to the victory celebrations in Paris, London and New York in 1919. The volume represents the work of each of the major autochrome pioneers of the period, including Paul Castelnau, Fernand Cuville, Jules Gervais-Courtellemont, Léon Gimpel, Hans Hildenbrand, Frank Hurley, Jean-Baptiste Tournassoud and Charles C. Zoller.

Since the autochrome process required a relatively long exposure time, almost all of the photos depict carefully composed scenes, behind the rapid front-line action. We see poignant group portraits, soldiers preparing for battle, cities ravaged by military bombardment – daily human existence and the devastating consequences on the front. A century on, this unprecedented publication brings a startling human reality to one of the most momentous upheavals in history.

A-Terrible-Beauty-246x348And for an altogether different rendering of the First World War – often but not always in colour – I recommend Paul Gough‘s magisterial account of 15 artists (many of whom saw active service,  A terrible beauty: British artists in the First World War.  You can download the first chapter here, sadly without the illustrations: but Paul’s commentary is incisive, and I found his work really helpful in working on ‘Gabriel’s Map’, especially his essays on military sketching which considerably enlarged my sense of the ‘cartographic imaginary’ on the Western Front.  Gerry Corden has a fine account of the book here, and includes many excellent images including the work of my favourite C.W.R. Nevinson.  Finally, Paul’s own website is here: click on Vortex 1 through 5 at the bottom.

Not a pigeon in sight, though.

Handling the news

A follow-up to Virtual Gaza : Gilad Lotan, chief data scientists at beteaworks, has provided a mapping of the intersections between mainstream media news media and social media here, including a discussion of what he calls ‘personalising propaganda’.

Twitter handles responding to UNRWA school shelling 25-30 July

The Israeli liberal newspaper Ha’aretz appears between the broadly ‘pro-Palestinian’ networks on the right and the ‘pro-Israeli’ on the left.  These are his designations not mine (BBC? the New York Times??!!), but the mappings are of Twitter handles responding between 25-30 July to the Israeli shelling of an UNRWA school in Beit Hanoun – a particular event that sparked a particular series of reports – not the war as a whole.  And we should also remember that there is often a significant difference between reporting in the English-language and Hebrew editions of Ha’aretz

Legitimate targets?

I’ve been thinking about the description of Gaza as a space of exception in my last post, and I will elaborate (and qualify) that discussion shortly: in many ways the Israeli offensive against Gaza reinforces Achille Mbembe‘s arguments about necropolitics but, as I’ll try to show, suggests the need for a reworking of Giorgio Agamben‘s claims about the exception.

En route, I’ve been greatly taken by the work of Janina Dill (Politics and International Relations, Oxford) – particularly her discussion of Israel’s development of ‘Lawfare 2.0’ in relation to Gaza – and, as I say, I’ll have much more to say about that shortly.  But I’ve also discovered she has a book due out from Cambridge in the fall which, like her (I imagine summary) chapter in The American Way of Bombing, speaks to my own work on genealogies and geographies of bombing: Legitimate Targets? Social construction, international law and US bombing.

DILL Legitimate targets?Based on an innovative theory of international law, Janina Dill’s book investigates the effectiveness of international humanitarian law (IHL) in regulating the conduct of warfare. Through a comprehensive examination of the IHL defining a legitimate target of attack, Dill reveals a controversy among legal and military professionals about the ‘logic’ according to which belligerents ought to balance humanitarian and military imperatives: the logics of sufficiency or efficiency. Law prescribes the former, but increased recourse to IHL in US air warfare has led to targeting in accordance with the logic of efficiency. The logic of sufficiency is morally less problematic, yet neither logic satisfies contemporary expectations of effective IHL or legitimate warfare. Those expectations demand that hostilities follow a logic of liability, which proves impracticable. This book proposes changes to international law, but concludes that according to widely shared normative beliefs on the twenty-first-century battlefield there are no truly legitimate targets.

Introduction
Part I. A Constructivist Theory of International Law:
1. The challenge
2. The theory
Part II. The Definition of a Legitimate Target of Attack in International Law:
3. Positive law
4. Customary law
Part III. An Empirical Study of International Law in War:
5. The rise of international law in US air warfare
6. The changing logic of US air warfare
7. The behavioural relevance of international law in US air warfare
Part IV. An Evaluation of International Law in War:
8. The lack of normative success of international law in US air warfare
9. The impossibility of normative success for international law in war
Conclusion.

The Death Zone

9780804778336I’ve praised Laleh Khalili‘s Time in the shadows before, and Jadaliyya has now reprinted an excerpt that is of renewed urgency in the face of the Israeli assault on Gaza.  Laleh explains:

I wrote Time in the Shadows in order to puzzle out why the counterinsurgency practices of enormously powerful state militaries—the US and Israel at the time I was writing the book—so often invoked law and humanitarianism, rather than naked force. And why so much of their war-fighting pivoted around the mass confinement not only of combatants but civilians. I was also struck by the similarities in the practices of confinement not only between Israel and the US but with historical accounts of colonial confinement effected by Britain and France.

For me, what was striking, insidious, devastating, was the less flashy, less visible, practices that were foundational to detention of suspected combatants and incarceration—whether in situ or through resettlement—of troublesome civilians. These practices—law, administration, demographic and anthropological mapping, offshoring—all sounded so dry, so rational, and yet they were grist to the mill of liberal counterinsurgents in so many ways. And the other similarity across a century and several continents seemed to be the repetition ad nauseam of the language of “protection” and of “security” to frame or rename or euphemise atrocities.

Among the technologies that best embody this language of protection used to violently pacify a population in counterinsurgencies are the separation wall and the various “protective” zones invented by the Israeli military to fragment the Palestinian territories and ensure panopticon-like surveillance and monitoring capability over these fragmented zones. These technologies have specific histories and are mirrored in so many different contexts. The following excerpt is an attempt at situating the wall and the various zones in both a longer historical continuum with colonial practices, while also reflecting on the settler-colonial specificities of their present form.

Laleh describes seam zones, security zones until, finally, she arrives at death zones:

Brigadier General Zvika Fogel, the former head of Southern Command, explained that after the Second Intifada, the Southern Command unofficially declared death zones in Gaza, where anyone entering could be shot: “We understood that in order to reduce the margin of error, we had to create areas in which anyone who entered was considered a terrorist.”

Asked about the legal basis for this, Fogel said:

“When you want to use something, you have no problem finding the justification, especially when we hit those we wanted to hit when we used them at the start of the events. If at the beginning we could justify it operationally, then even if there were personnel from the Advocate General’s Office or from the prosecution, it was easy to bend them in the face of the results…

Within Range DIAKONIAAccording to the Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre,  the Israeli military unilaterally implemented an undefined “no-go” zone inside Gaza in 2000.  It started to level lands near the border fence (which had been put in place in 1994), particularly around Rafeh, and ‘by mid-2006 Israel was leveling lands 300 to 500 meters from the fence.’  In 2010 the World Food Programme in collaboration with OCHA produced a report, ‘Between the Fence and a Hard Place‘, documenting the hardships and the horrors and in 2011 Diakonia produced a detailed report on the (il)legal armature of the buffer zone, ‘Within Range‘.  It concluded:

The use of force based on military necessity must be engaged in good faith and consistent with other rules of IHL, in particular the principles of distinction and proportionality and precautions in and during attack. This does not appear to be the case in the “buffer zone” as the violations to IHL are flagrant, frequent and grave. Israel remains the Occupying Power in the Gaza Strip. In this capacity, it must protect the safety and well-being of the Palestinian population and take Palestinian needs into account. In addition, Israel must also protect Israeli civilians and soldiers, but it is not allowed to do so at disproportionate expense to Palestinian civilian lives and property.

While acknowledging Israel’s security concerns regarding attacks on Israel from the Gaza Strip, the facts and information available show that the unilateral expansion of the “buffer zone” and its enforcement regime result in violations of international humanitarian law and grave infringement of a number of rights of Palestinians.

In 2012 OCHA estimated that up to 35 per cent of Gaza’s agricultural land had been affected by these restrictions at various times, and the Gazan economy had sustained a loss of around 75,000 MT of agricultural produce each year ($50 million p.a.)

The situation in December 2012 is set out on the map below, which shows what the Israeli military defined as ‘Access Restricted Areas’ (ARA) which, on the landward side, comprised three zones:

(1) A ‘No-Go Zone’, 100 metres wide, which was cleared of all vegetation and all built structures;

(2) A ‘restricted zone’, a further 100-300 metres wide, where access was permitted on foot and for farmers only;

(3) A ‘risk zone’…

GAZA December 2012 OCHA1

You can download a hi-res version here (see also Léopold Lambert‘s maps and commentary here).  In practice, the UN Office of the Commissioner for Human Rights explained, ‘the “no go zone’’ on land was at times enforced a few hundred metres beyond this, with a “high risk zone” extending sometimes up to 1,500 metres.’  In November 2012 these restrictions were supposed to be eased, as part of the agreement ending the Israeli offensive earlier that month.  But as the Commissioner reported, ‘there has been an increased level of uncertainty regarding the access restrictions imposed on land since this date.’  In the spring UN monitoring teams reported that in most cases farmers could not enter lands within 300 metres of the fence and that the Israeli military fired warning shots if they attempted to do so, that in some places the exclusion zone extended beyond 300 metres, and that there was continued concern about the presence of unexploded ordnance in the border areas. The map produced by Gisha: Legal Center for Freedom and Movement for September 2013, ‘Mapping movement and access‘, reflects these realities, and you can find a detailed report from the Palestinian Center for Human Rights and the IDMC, Under Fire: Israel’s enforcement of access restricted areas in the Gaza Strip (February 2014) here.

under-fire-cover-small

Unexploded ordnance is a matter of grave concern, but there has also been a history of live-fire incidents (see the graph below).  Since December 2013 and before the current Israeli offensive the number of live-fire casualties near the fence was increasing again. In a ten week period between December 2013 and March 2014 B’Tselem field researcher Muhammad Sabah documented 55 civilians injured near the fence: 43 by live fire; 10 by rubber bullets; and two hit by teargas canisters [I can’t link to the report at the moment because the B’Tselem website is under attack and has been taken off the grid; I can now – it’s here].

Shooting incidents in ARA, Gaza

These live-fire incidents are sometimes carried out from remote-controlled stations; the system is called ‘Spot and Strike‘.  Michael Morpurgo, the creator of “War Horse”, saw its effects when he visited Gaza in November 2010 as a representative of Save the Children:

“I stood in among the ruins watching the kids at work, coming and going with their donkeys and carts. They didn’t seem worried, so I wasn’t worried… I heard the shots, then the screaming, saw the kids running to help their wounded friends. Now I really was outside the comfort zone of fiction. A doctor from Medecins Sans Frontieres told me that the shots were not fired by snipers from the watchtowers on the wall, as I had supposed, but that these scavengers were routinely targeted, electronically from Tel Aviv, which was over 25 kilometres away – ‘Spot and Strike’, the Israelis call it.

“It was like a video game – a virtual shooting, only it wasn’t: there was blood, his trousers were soaked in it, the bullets were real. I saw the boy close to, saw his agony as the cart rushed by me. Many like him, the doctor told me, ended up maimed for life. Here was a child, caged and under siege, being deliberately targeted, his right to survival, the most basic of all children’s rights, being utterly ignored. Unicef says that 26 children were shot like this in 2010. The boy I saw was called Shamekh, I discovered. He lives in a house with 15 family members, and was out there earning what money he could, in the only way he knew how.’

Today, there is a palpable sense in which the whole of Gaza has become a death zone.  First, Israel has declared a three-kilometre ‘buffer zone’ inside Gaza’s borders which now effectively places 44 per cent of the territory off limits (you can download the OCHA map below here; the second map makes the situation clearer, though it inevitably sacrifices detail).  Compare this with the previous map by following the line of the road south-north.

GAZA Access Restrictions JULY 2014

ocha_opt_gaza_access_and_closure_map_december_2012_geopdf_mobile_buffer

Léopold Lambert has provided this close-in triptych which exposes the enormity of the expansion and the knock-on effects of the forced displacement:

Gaza

Mohammed Omer reports:

Anyone within the zone has been warned by the Israeli military to leave or risk being bombed.

This buffer zone has only exacerbated Gaza’s siege. To the east, Palestinians in Gaza are fenced in by Israeli artillery tanks, mortars, cannon shells and snipers. On Gaza’s western side, Israeli warships form a blockade and allow only a three-mile fishing zone. To the north resides more military checkpoints and soldiers. To the south, the Egyptian military has closed off the Rafah border.

The buffer zone has tightened the Israeli chokehold around Gaza’s small strip of land.

Damage in the Gaza stripThis is, as Jesse Rosenfed reports, a ‘No Man’s Land’ in exactly the expanded sense proposed by Noam Leshem and Al Pinkerton:

What that means on the ground is scenes of extraordinary devastation in places like the Al Shajaya district approaching Gaza’s eastern frontier, and Beit Hanoun in the north. These were crowded neighborhoods less than three weeks ago. Now they have been literally depopulated, the residents joining more than 160,000 internally displaced people in refuges and makeshift shelters. Apartment blocks are fields of rubble, and as I move through this hostile landscape the phrase that keeps ringing in my head is “scorched earth.”

It’s not like Israel didn’t plan this. It told tens of thousands of Palestinians to flee so its air force, artillery and tanks could create this uninhabitable no-man’s land of half-standing, burned-out buildings, broken concrete and twisted metal. During a brief humanitarian ceasefire some Gazans were able to come back to get their first glimpse of the destruction this war has brought to their communities, and to sift through their demolished homes to gather clothes or other scattered bits of their past lives. But many were not even able to do that.

Satellite imagery has confirmed the scale of the devastation; the map (right) is based on just three areas within the expanded ‘buffer zone’ and was compiled from imagery taken before the intensification of the onslaught.  You can find details of the UNITAR/UNOSAT programme and image files here.  If you can bear to get closer, there are photographs taken on the ground here and here.

Second, the Israeli military have not confined their operations to the expanded buffer zone, and those who have – somehow – found sanctuary outside its limits (but of necessity still within the closed and shuttered confines of Gaza) have found that they are pursued by aircraft and tanks.  The image below, taken from the same source (and same date) used to compile the map above, shows a wide arc of damage in central Gaza far beyond the ‘zone’ (see also my previous posts herehere and here; you can also find a detailed interactive photo-map of the whole territory from the New York Times here).

Damage Assessment Gaza City 25 July 2014

‘The problem,’as one young resident explained to Anne Barnard, ‘is that when we are fleeing from the shelling, we still find the shelling around us.’  Stories abound of families seeking refuge only to find death waiting for them.  One man told Alexandra Zavis that his brother, four sisters, brother-in-law and five young children escaped from eastern Gaza to what they thought was a safe place in central Gaza City, only to be killed when the top floors of the building collapsed after an Israeli air strike the very next day.  Others tell similar stories – one family moving twice before eventually ten of them were killed.  And then there are all those who have sought refugee in UNRWA camps, many of them schools, or who have been rushed to hospitals for treatment, only to be bombed and shelled there too.

Ha’aretz‘s headline on 31 July says it all: ‘The Gaza battlefield is crowded with the displaced and the homeless.’  So it is.  And still they are bombed and shelled.  As UNRWA’s Chris Gunness put it, ‘Gaza is unique in the annals of modern warfare in being a conflict zone with a fence around it, so civilians have no place to flee.’

In his seminal essay on ‘Necropolitics‘, written more than ten years ago, Achille Mbembe had this to say:

Late-modern colonial occupation differs in many ways from early-modern occupation, particularly in its combining of the disciplinary, the biopolitical, and the necropolitical. The most accomplished form of necropower is the contemporary colonial occupation of Palestine… 

Entire populations are the target of the sovereign. The besieged villages and towns are sealed off and cut off from the world. Daily life is militarized… The besieged population is deprived of their means of income. Invisible killing is added to outright executions…

I have put forward the notion of necropolitics and necro-power to account for the various ways in which, in our contemporary world, weapons are deployed in the interest of maximum destruction of persons and the creation of death-worlds, new and unique forms of social existence in which vast populations are subjected to conditions of life conferring upon them the status of living dead.

Gaza has been systematically turned not only into a prison, then, but also into a camp: and the lives of those within have been have been subjected to a ruthless bio-political programme that, at the limit, has become a calculated exercise in necro-politics.  This confirms Paul Di Stefano‘s claim that that, for the Israeli military, Gaza has been transformed into ‘a state of exception where normal rights do not apply. Within this liminal space, Palestinian bodies are viewed as obstacles to be destroyed or controlled in the maintenance of the colonial order.’