Now I’ve read the abstracts this looks even more exciting than it did when all I had was a list of names… There are so many contributions that intersect with my own work and interests I’m looking forward to some lively exchanges – and to learning a lot.
Most readers will know Eyal Weizman‘s searing account of the cruel intersections between the politics of visibility and the politics of verticality in occupied Palestine, Hollow Land: Israel’s architecture of occupation.
But there are other, no less intimate and intrusive dimensions to the politics of visibility for a people under military (and civilian) occupation that amount to what Gil Hochberg calls an ‘uneven distribution of “visual rights”‘. In her brilliant new book from Duke University Press, Visual occupations: violence and visibility in a conflict zone, she explores ‘the political importance of various artistic attempts to redistribute the visible’ (my emphasis) and, in effect, to put in place a counter-politics of visuality.
In Visual Occupations Gil Z. Hochberg shows how the Israeli Occupation of Palestine is driven by the unequal access to visual rights, or the right to control what can be seen, how, and from which position. Israel maintains this unequal balance by erasing the history and denying the existence of Palestinians, and by carefully concealing its own militarization. Israeli surveillance of Palestinians, combined with the militarized gaze of Israeli soldiers at places like roadside checkpoints, also serve as tools of dominance. Hochberg analyzes various works by Palestinian and Israeli artists, among them Elia Suleiman, Rula Halawani, Sharif Waked, Ari Folman, and Larry Abramson, whose films, art, and photography challenge the inequity of visual rights by altering, queering, and manipulating dominant modes of representing the conflict. These artists’ creation of new ways of seeing—such as the refusal of Palestinian filmmakers and photographers to show Palestinian suffering or the Israeli artists’ exposure of state manipulated Israeli blindness —offers a crucial gateway, Hochberg suggests, for overcoming and undoing Israel’s militarized dominance and political oppression of Palestinians.
Here’s the Contents List:
Introduction. Visual Politics at a Conflict Zone
Part I. Concealment
1. Visible Invisibility: On Ruins, Erasure, and Haunting
2. From Invisible Spectators to the Spectacle of Terror: Chronicles of a Contested Citizenship
Part II. Surveillance
3. The (Soldier’s) Gaze and the (Palestinian) Body: Power, Fantasy, and Desire in the Militarized Contact Zone
4. Visual Rights and the Prospect of Exchange: The Photographic Event Placed under Duress
Part III. Witnessing
5. “Nothing to Look At”; or, “For Whom Are You Shooting?”: The Imperative to Witness and the Menace of the Global Gaze
6. Shooting War: On Witnessing One’s Failure to See (on Time)
It’s a compelling book, and I’m struck by another parallel with Eyal’s work. In Hollow Land Eyal showed the central role that architecture and architects play in Israel’s illegal occupation of the West Bank, but in subsequently developing his collaborative Forensic Architecture project he effectively reverse-engineers architecture’s dominant imaginary to use built forms and spatial formations as a way of revealing prior trajectories of violence to a public forum. That too is a counter-politics of visuality.
I’ve been inspired by Judith Butler‘s work in all sorts of ways – most recently by her discussions of performance, performativity and bodies in spaces that helped me make sense of the events that unfolded in Tahrir Square (see here and here). I now have news of a new book from Judith that addresses these themes in more detail: Notes Toward a Performative Theory of Assembly, due from Harvard in November.
Judith Butler elucidates the dynamics of public assembly under prevailing economic and political conditions, analyzing what they signify and how. Understanding assemblies as plural forms of performative action, Butler extends her theory of performativity to argue that precarity—the destruction of the conditions of livability—has been a galvanizing force and theme in today’s highly visible protests.
Butler broadens the theory of performativity beyond speech acts to include the concerted actions of the body. Assemblies of physical bodies have an expressive dimension that cannot be reduced to speech, for the very fact of people gathering “says” something without always relying on speech. Drawing on Hannah Arendt’s view of action, yet revising her claims about the role of the body in politics, Butler asserts that embodied ways of coming together, including forms of long-distance solidarity, imply a new understanding of the public space of appearance essential to politics.
Butler links assembly with precarity by pointing out that a body suffering under conditions of precarity still persists and resists, and that mobilization brings out this dual dimension of corporeal life. Just as assemblies make visible and audible the bodies that require basic freedoms of movement and association, so do they expose coercive practices in prison, the dismantling of social democracy, and the continuing demand for establishing subjugated lives as mattering, as equally worthy of life. By enacting a form of radical solidarity in opposition to political and economic forces, a new sense of “the people” emerges, interdependent, grievable, precarious, and persistent.
The book is based on Judith’s three Mary Flexner Lectures, ‘Bodies in Alliance‘, delivered at Bryn Mawr College in 2011:
‘Gender politics and the right to appear’
‘Bodies in alliance and the politics of the street’
‘Towards an ethics of co-habitation’
For readers wanting to follow and analyse the US-led air campaign in Iraq and Syria in more detail, I recommend Chris Woods‘ new project, Airwars. Chris is a veteran of the Bureau of Investigative Journalism’s Drone War Project and the author of Sudden Justice: America’s secret drone wars (2015) – which really is the gold standard for analysis of US remote operations.
Airwars.org is a collaborative, not-for-profit transparency project aimed both at tracking and archiving the international air war against Islamic State (Daesh), in both Iraq and Syria. We also seek to highlight – and follow up where possible – those cases in which claims of civilian non-combatant casualties from coalition airstrikes have been indicated by credible monitoring agencies. In addition we track reported ‘friendly fire’ incidents.
The site includes tabulations and also an interactive, zoomable map (see the screenshot below). You can find a detailed discussion of sources and methodology here.
I’m tracking all this for The everywhere war… In case you are wondering why that is taking so long to finish: The colonial present started out as an essay on 9/11 and the US invasion of Afghanistan; I then realised that Sharon was taking advantage of the ‘war on terror’ to ramp up Israeli dispossession and repression of the Palestinian people, and so started work on a second essay (I’m ashamed to say that at the time I knew as little about the West Bank and Gaza as I did about Afghanistan on 11 September 2001). Then the US invaded Iraq… Much the same is happening with The everywhere war, but I do have the end in my sights. I hope.
From The Onion:
In an effort to limit the fallout from any unintended collateral damage, the Pentagon has dispatched a fleet of unmanned aerial vehicles to the Middle East specially designed to express condolences for the civilian casualties of U.S. drone airstrikes, sources confirmed Wednesday.
The remotely piloted aircraft, known as the M2-Griever, have reportedly targeted bereaved individuals in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iraq, and other restive regions. Military officials confirmed that the state-of-the-art drones have already flown hundreds of covert condolence missions in an effort to convey the U.S. government’s official regrets to those mourning the death of innocents caught in the midst of American combat operations…
“The Griever represents the future of warfare damage control,” said U.S. Air Force general Mitchell Holt… “From our command center in Nevada, we possess the tactical capability to project compassion anywhere in the world,” he added.
It’s worth reading the whole thing.
I expect most readers know how the International Committee of the Red Cross had its origins in Henry Dunant‘s horror at the unrelieved suffering he witnessed in the aftermath of the Battle of Solferino in 1859 (see my earlier post here).
In A Memory of Solferino (1862) he asked: ‘Would it not be possible, in time of peace and quiet, to form relief societies for the purpose of having care given to the wounded in wartime by zealous, devoted and thoroughly qualified volunteers?’
Dunant’s vision of an impartial relief society to provide aid to those wounded in time of war led to the formation of a series of national relief societies and, as John Hutchinson shows in Champions of Charity: War and the rise of the Red Cross, these national societies soon became entangled with nationalism. ‘Gripped by the passions of patriotism,’ he writes, by the time of the First World War these national societies ‘undertook to perform whatever repair work the armies required of them.’
And yet, even with these entanglements, a key principle was defended: medical neutrality. According to Physicians for Human Rights, medical neutrality requires:
- The protection of medical personnel, patients, facilities, and transport from attack or interference;
- Unhindered access to medical care and treatment;
- The humane treatment of all civilians; and
- Nondiscriminatory treatment of the sick and injured.
During the First World war there were complaints that the principle had been sporadically violated: that stretcher-bearers had been attacked by snipers when they sought to recover the wounded or that military hospitals had been deliberately shelled or bombed. Here, for example, is the aftermath of one of several air raids targeting base hospitals at Etaples on the French coast between May and August 1918 (supposedly in retaliation for a British air raid on Cologne):
But in the last decade of our own century such violations have become increasingly systematic. And, as more and more civilians have become trapped and even targeted in conflict zones whose ‘battlefields’ know no bounds, so those violations have extended far beyond attacks on military-medical infrastructure and personnel.
Last summer I detailed the attacks made by the Israeli military on medical facilities and emergency systems in Gaza, and I drew attention to the work of Physicians for Human Rights in documenting the precariousness of medical care there. But the calculated production of these spaces of exception is not exceptional, and attacks like these have become part of the arsenal of later modern war. “Instead of being protected,” says Donna McKay, executive director of PHR, “medical care is actually a target.”
Physicians for Human Rights is part of the Safeguarding Health in Conflict Coalition which has now joined with Human Rights Watch to publish Attacks on Health: a Global Report (2015) that summarises attacks on health care facilities and health care workers around the world:
Over the past year armed groups have attacked hospitals, clinics, and health personnel in 41 incidents in Afghanistan and deliberately killed over 45 health workers, primarily polio vaccinators, in Nigeria and Pakistan. In Syria, where medical facilities in Aleppo have been hit with government barrel bombs, 194 medical personnel have been killed and 104 medical facilities attacked since 2014….
The organizations described attacks in South Sudan, where 58 people were killed in four hospitals in a series of attacks in early 2014, and in eastern Ukraine, where it is estimated that 30 to 70 percent of health workers have fled the region because of insecurity. In Yemen, Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) militants carried out attacks on health facilities in early 2014, and the 10-country Saudi-led coalition conducted air strikes that hit hospitals and interrupted medical supplies during the conflict in early 2015. Relying on data from Insecurity Insight’s Security in Numbers Database, the report also shows trends in attacks on health care over the course of a decade in South Sudan and Central African Republic.
In close concert with the report Physicians for Human Rights have produced an interactive online map of attacks on health care around the world between January 2014 and April 2015 (see the screenshot above).
The organisation has also produced a detailed map of attacks on health care systems – or what’s left of them – in Syria (see the screenshot above), which you can access here. It needs to be supplemented by PHR’s Doctors in the crosshairs: four years of attacks on health care in Syria, which was published in March:
The symbols of the Red Cross and Red Crescent have been turned from a shield of protection into crosshairs on the backs of those who knowingly risk their lives to save others.
You can find more on the violation of medical neutrality in Syria in an open-access article by Ravi S. Katari in the Journal of global health here and in a short essay by Sasha Zients and Dylan Okabe-Jawdat for the Columbia Political Review (May 2015) here.
And you can find more on the systematic violation of medical neutrality in Bahrein and elsewhere here.
In July I’m thrilled to be speaking at Reconfiguring Global Space: the geography, politics and ethics of drone war, to be held at Indiana University – Bloomington, 14-17 July.
The other speakers – which explains why I’m thrilled to be going – include Medea Benjamin, Mark Neocleous, Priya Satia and Madiha Tahir: people I know only through print, video or e-mail (sometimes all three!) and it will be good to meet them in non-digital form. Which, given the subject of the conference, is an all too appropriate wish….
There are lots of other interesting participants too: the outline program is here, and the organizers hope to have full details available at the end of this month.