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.
I’ve taken this map from a Situation Report issued by the World Health Organisation on 6 May, which superimposes new cases of Ebola virus disease (EVD) over total confirmed cases throughout the epidemic in West Africa:
Three days later the WHO declared Liberia to be free of Ebola:
Forty-two days have passed since the last laboratory-confirmed case was buried on 28 March 2015. The outbreak of Ebola virus disease in Liberia is over.
Interruption of transmission is a monumental achievement for a country that reported the highest number of deaths in the largest, longest, and most complex outbreak since Ebola first emerged in 1976. At the peak of transmission, which occurred during August and September 2014, the country was reporting from 300 to 400 new cases every week.
During those 2 months, the capital city Monrovia was the setting for some of the most tragic scenes from West Africa’s outbreak: gates locked at overflowing treatment centres, patients dying on the hospital grounds, and bodies that were sometimes not collected for days.
In previous commentaries I discussed the militarisation of the epidemic and, in particular, the mission of the US military under the direction of US Africa Command. But the ‘West Point’ in my title is thousands of miles from the US Military Academy in upstate New York… It’s a sprawling informal settlement in Monrovia, the capital of Liberia (below).
In an extended essay in the New Yorker earlier this year, ‘When the fever breaks‘, Luke Mogelson told the story of Omu Fahnbulleh and her husband Abraham. They lived with their three children in Robertsport in northern Liberia. Last summer Fahnbulleh tested positive for Ebola; by the time an ambulance arrived Abraham was sick too, and they were both loaded into the back and driven off.
Fahnbulleh and her husband believed that they were going to a hospital. Instead, several hours later, the ambulance turned onto a narrow lane that ran past low-slung shops and shanties. Fahnbulleh realized that they were in West Point, Monrovia’s largest slum. A police officer opened a metal gate, and the ambulance stopped inside a compound enclosed by tall walls. In the middle of the compound stood a schoolhouse. The driver helped Fahnbulleh and Abraham through a door, down a hall, and into a classroom. A smeared chalkboard hung on one of the walls, which were painted dark blue. Dim light filtered through a latticed window. On the concrete floor, ailing people were lying on soiled mattresses. When Fahnbulleh lay down, she saw that the two men beside her were dead.
This was the only school in West Point, originally built by USAID, and it had been converted into a ‘holding centre’ for Ebola patients; the only ‘treatment’ on offer was provided by a man in a biohazard suit spraying the floor, the walls and the patients with chlorine. Two nights later Abraham died, and as soon as it was light Fahnbulleh – convinced she would die too if she stayed – determined to escape.
At daybreak, after spending the night in the other classroom, she walked out of the school. Policemen loitered in the yard. When Fahnbulleh reached the gate, they let her pass, afraid to touch her.
After several nights of sleeping rough she was taken to an Ebola Treatment Unit at a government hospital, from where she was eventually discharged.
It’s a heart-breaking story, made all the more extraordinary by a photograph taken by John Moore which shows ‘Omu Fereneh’ standing over the body of her husband ‘Ibrahim’ on 15 August in the schoolhouse. The image was widely reproduced – see also here, for example – and raises important questions about the mediatisation as well as the militarisation of the crisis. Moore’s work won him the title of L’Iris d’Or /Sony World Photography Awards’ Photographer of the Year:
John Moore’s photographs of this crisis show in full the brutality of people’s daily lives torn apart by this invisible enemy. However, it is his spirit in the face of such horror that garners praise. His images are intimate and respectful, moving us with their bravery and journalistic integrity. It is a fine and difficult line between images that exploit such a situation, and those that convey the same with heart, compassion and understanding, which this photographer has achieved with unerring skill. Combine this with an eye for powerful composition and cogent visual narrative, and good documentary photography becomes great.
I’m not sure that Omu Fereneh is Omu Fahnbulleh, or Ibrahim Abraham, but it would be a remarkable coincidence if they were not the same people.
In any event, soon after the photograph was taken and soon after Fahnbulleh escaped, the situation in West Point changed dramatically. Realising that their community had become a dumping ground for Ebola victims from all over Liberia, local residents stormed the schoolhouse and demanded it be closed. They ransacked the building, making off with mattresses and sheets, and evicted over 20 patients who they claimed had been brought in from outside West Point.
Two days later the state called in its security forces which had urged the imposition of mass quarantine. Joe Shute takes up the story:
On August 20, President Ellen Johnson Sirlief ordered the only road leading in to the slum be sealed off, and the entire community placed under quarantine. As the army moved in, many of the city’s vagrants who slept in the slum at night were trapped inside.
West Point was surrounded by barricades and barbed wire; police in helmets and riot-shields stopped people going out into the city; gunships patrolled the water front, and a nightly curfew was imposed on the district’s 70,000 residents. There was, Joe reports, ‘a desperate clamour to escape, some people even trying to swim around the peninsula to enter the city’s port.’
The imposition of a militarised quarantine was a double mis-step.
First, it exacerbated the already precarious position of West Point residents. Many of them were refugees and child soldiers from Liberia’s civil wars; they were crowded together in makeshift corrugated-iron shacks, almost all of them without plumbing or running water. The district is threaded by narrow sand alleys – there is only one paved road – and by open sewers. In 2009 the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs reported there were only four public toilets in West Point; to use them cost 2-3 cents, and many chose to use the beach instead.
Most of West Point’s residents were dependent on access to the city and the ocean for their livelihood, but with the imposition of the blockade food supplies dwindled and food prices sky-rocketed. As the Institute for Development Studies argued in a Practice Paper on ‘Urbanisation, per-urban growth and zoonotic disease‘ earlier this year:
Poor peri-urban residents, with no money to purchase and store in bulk, buy essentials daily. When lock-down, intended to halt disease spread, occurs, shops, markets and transport facilities are closed, reducing opportunities for peri-urban residents to work and earn cash for food. Many of their activities continue clandestinely, undermining the health intervention. During attempts in West Point to contain the spread of Ebola, people found new ways of moving through the area quarantined in August 2014. Their concern was not exposure to Ebola, but their inability to access food and water.
Some bribed the police to let them out; others, still more desperate, even swam around the point. Here is a report from Norimitsu Onishi writing in the New York Times:
“We suffering! No food, Ma, no eat. We beg you, Ma!” one man yelled at Ms. Johnson Sirleaf as she visited West Point … surrounded by concentric circles of heavily armed guards, some linking arms and wearing surgical gloves.
“We want to go out!” yet another pleaded. “We want to be free, Mama, please.”
Quarantine has to be seen as a political, even a biopolitical response. As the IDS insists,
In the face of Ebola, and with the pressure on governments to act, the peri-urban area becomes an attractive place to intervene. The deployment of the military and the police to quarantine the peri-urban is a tangible manifestation of state power that is oppressive for residents. Thus quarantine-related activities fulfil the political role of assuaging the urban elite’s fears of contagion – ‘cleaning up’ the peri-urban by excluding the poor, rather than helping them or addressing the key challenges of the disease.
And, as Onishi also explained, the political implications were not lost on local residents:
“Putting the police and the army in charge of the quarantine was the worst thing you could do,” said Dr. Jean-Jacques Muyembe, a Congolese physician who helped identify the Ebola virus in the 1970s, battled many outbreaks in Central Africa and has been visiting Monrovia to advise the government. “You must make the people inside the quarantine zone feel that they are being helped, not oppressed.”
Not surprisingly, the imposition of quarantine provoked concerted collective protest. Hundreds of young men tried to storm the barricades and force their way through the makeshift checkpoint. Soldiers and police opened fire, killing a fifteen-year-old boy.
As Clare Macdougall reported:
“The force was disproportionate, they were already using batons, sticks, they had access to teargas and equipment to things to control an unarmed crowd,” said Counsellor Tiawan Gongloe, Liberia’s most prominent human rights lawyer. “I find it difficult to believe that there was any justification for shooting a 15-year-old boy who was unarmed. This is not a militarized conflict, it is a disease situation and a biological problem.”
Second, as this implies, quarantine is not an effective counter-measure and may well be counter-productive. Sealing off ‘plague towns’ was a medieval and early modern response to infectious disease – remember your Foucault! – but as one commentator noted, ‘isolating a small group of unhealthy people with a large group of healthy residents can cause more harm than good if they don’t get access to food, water and medical care — all of which are in increasingly short supply.’ In fact, transmission of Ebola occurs through bodily fluids once a patient shows symptoms of the disease, which means that the most effective response is not mass quarantine but the isolation of individual cases. This places a premium on contact tracing (you can find another image gallery from John Moore here, tracking a tracing coordinator in West Point; see also my previous post for more details and links on contact tracing).
Following negotiations with community leaders, the government eventually agreed to lift the quarantine. ‘We are out of jail!” declared one triumphant resident.
Now people started to mobilise in other ways. In return for removing the barriers and barbed wire, Luke Mogelson explained, community leaders implemented other containment measures:
identifying sick people, removing them from the community, quarantining their houses, tracking down their recent contacts, and monitoring those contacts for twenty-one days—the maximum amount of time the virus has been known to incubate before manifesting symptoms. Previously, all this was the responsibility of highly trained specialists…
In West Point, the job fell to the neighborhood. “We had to guarantee that the things that needed to be done would be done by ourselves,” Archie Gbessay, another local leader, who worked with Martu to carry out the interventions, told me one afternoon in November. We were walking down the main road that snakes through West Point. Gbessay wore a knapsack filled with case-investigation forms and kept his thumbs hooked on the chest-strap clipped across his sternum. He is twenty-eight years old but exudes a quiet force that seems to have accrued over a much longer life; his face quivers with intensity when he talks about Ebola. “If we didn’t do this, nobody was going to do it for us,” he said.
To build a network of active case-finders who could cover all of West Point, Gbessay recruited three volunteers from each of the slum’s thirty-five blocks. Most of them were young and had a degree of social clout—“credible people,” Gbessay called them. The quarantine had done little to alleviate popular skepticism of the government’s Ebola-containment policies, however, and, for a while, hostility persisted. “At first, the cases were skyrocketing,” Gbessay said. “We used to see seventy, eighty cases a day. But by the middle of September everyone started to think, Look, I better be careful. Today, you talk to your friend—tomorrow, you hear the guy is gone. So they started to pay attention.”
Otis Bundor, a contact tracer in West Point, described his day’s work and emphasised the importance of a trust that depended on local knowledge and on being known:
At the beginning of the outbreak, people were afraid to tell us if their family members were sick. They worried about stigmatization, and they were frightened that their wife or sister or son would go to the hospital and never come back. Some people thought that health workers were injecting patients with poison. As a contact tracer, you need to have the intellectual prowess to convince doubters that Ebola is real…
At first, family members hid bodies and buried them under the cover of darkness. This is one of the reasons that the disease became an epidemic. Attitudes changed only when people noticed that in almost all of the houses where someone died, another person later got sick. In one household, more than seven people died after they vehemently prevented contact tracers from entering.
But gradually contact tracing – or, more accurately, the contact tracers – became accepted as something other than policing. By the time Luke Mogelson visited West Point the holding centre in the schoolhouse had reopened as a transit centre:
Now, when residents of the slum felt unwell, they came here to be diagnosed and, if necessary, wait for an ambulance that was staffed by West Pointers and managed by Martu. The average wait time had become a matter of minutes, rather than days.
In September, at the height of the outbreak in Monrovia, the C.D.C. warned that Ebola could infect 1.4 million West Africans by late January. The prediction assumed that no “changes in community behavior” would occur. By November, that assumption was obsolete in West Point. Gbessay’s active case-finders had largely prevailed on their neighbors to come forward with symptoms and observe basic precautions such as avoiding physical contact with each other and washing their hands several times a day at the hundreds of chlorine buckets stationed throughout the city. As a result, cases were waning. “Every day, patients come,” the supervisor of the transit center told me. “But it’s going down. It’s getting less and less.”
And as Lenny Bernstein noted, this turn-around ‘has occurred without the provision of a single treatment bed by the U.S. military, which has promised to build 17 Ebola facilities containing 100 beds each across Liberia.’
For those heading off to the International Conference on Critical Geography in Ramallah this summer, essential reading from Sharon Rotbard: White City, Black City: Architecture and War in Tel Aviv and Jaffa (MIT/Pluto Press, 2015) (first published in Hebrew in 2005).
In 2004, the city of Tel Aviv was declared by UNESCO a World Heritage Site, an exemplar of modernism in architecture and town planning. Today, the Hebrew city of Tel Aviv gleams white against the desert sky, its Bauhaus-inspired architecture betraying few traces of what came before it: the Arab city of Jaffa. In White City, Black City, the Israeli architect and author Sharon Rotbard offers two intertwining narratives, that of colonized and colonizer. It is also a story of a decades-long campaign of architectural and cultural historical revision that cast Tel Aviv as a modernist “white city” emerging fully formed from the dunes while ignoring its real foundation—the obliteration of Jaffa. Rotbard shows that Tel Aviv was not, as a famous poem has it, built “from sea foam and clouds” but born in Jaffa and shaped according to its relation to Jaffa. His account is not only about architecture but also about war, destruction, Zionist agendas, erasure, and the erasure of the erasure.
Rotbard tells how Tel Aviv has seen Jaffa as an inverted reflection of itself—not shining and white but nocturnal, criminal, dirty: a “black city.” Jaffa lost its language, its history, and its architecture; Tel Aviv constructed its creation myth. White City, Black City—hailed upon its publication in Israel as ”path-breaking,” “brilliant,” and “a masterpiece”—promises to become the central text on Tel Aviv.
There’s an excellent preview/review by Tom Sperlinger, ‘The “forced geography” of Tel Aviv‘, over at the electronic intifada:
At its heart, the book focuses on how Jaffa was all but absorbed into Tel Aviv and thus “ceased to exist as an urban and cultural entity” after 5,000 years. This focus on a city that isn’t there, which Rotbard describes as “an encyclopedia of ruins,” makes this a peculiar book to categorize.
It is not exactly a study of history or architecture. In fact, it can be quite frustrating as either, sometimes eliding past and present in the course of its argument. But it is compelling as a ghost story, in which the perpetual fictions created about Tel Aviv cannot obscure its past….[for a dissenting view, see the Comments at the electronic intifada]
Rotbard explains how in the decades since 1948, Tel Aviv has continued to push anything unwanted into the shadow city at its side:
Everything unwanted in the White City is relegated to the Black City: … garbage dumps, sewage pipes, high voltage transformers, towing lots and overcrowded central bus stations; noise and air pollution factories and small industries; illegal establishments like brothels, casinos and sex shops; unwelcoming and intimidating public institutions such as the police headquarters, jails, pathological institutes and methadone clinics; and finally, a complete ragtag of municipal outcasts and social pariahs — new immigrants, foreign workers, drug addicts and the homeless … Paradoxically, this has actually ensured that the Black City is the most colorful, heterogeneous and cosmopolitan city space in the whole of Israel.
‘Forced geography’ – Sharon’s own term – reminds me of one of my favourite books, also about Jaffa and Tel Aviv: Mark Levine‘s Overthrowing Geography: Jaffa, Tel Aviv, and the Struggle for Palestine, 1880-1948 (University of California Press), which was published in 2005 hard on the heels of the original edition of White City, Black City:
This landmark book offers a truly integrated perspective for understanding the formation of Jewish and Palestinian Arab identities and relations in Palestine before 1948. Beginning with the late Ottoman period Mark LeVine explores the evolving history and geography of two cities: Jaffa, one of the oldest ports in the world, and Tel Aviv, which was born alongside Jaffa and by 1948 had annexed it as well as its surrounding Arab villages. Drawing from a wealth of untapped primary sources, including Ottoman records, Jaffa Shari’a court documents, town planning records, oral histories, and numerous Zionist and European archival sources, LeVine challenges nationalist historiographies of Jaffa and Tel Aviv, revealing the manifold interactions of the Jewish and Palestinian Arab communities that lived there.
At the center of the book is a discussion of how Tel Aviv’s self-definition as the epitome of modernity affected its and Jaffa’s development and Jaffa’s own modern pretenses as well. As he unravels this dynamic, LeVine provides new insights into how popular cultures and public spheres evolved in this intersection of colonial, modern, and urban space. He concludes with a provocative discussion of how these discourses affected the development of today’s unified city of Tel Aviv–Yafo and, through it, Israeli and Palestinian identities within in and outside historical Palestine.
Here is the Contents List:
1. Modern Cities, Colonial Spaces, and the Struggle for Modernity in the Eastern Mediterranean
2. From Cedars to Oranges: A History of the Jaffa–Tel Aviv Region from Antiquity to the Late Ottoman Period
3. Taming the Sahara: The Birth of Tel Aviv and the Last Years of Ottoman Rule
4. Crossing the Border: Intercommunal Relations in the Jaffa–Tel Aviv Region during the Mandate Period
5. A Nation from the Sands? Images of Jaffa and Tel Aviv in Palestinian Arab and Israeli Literature, Poetry, and Prose
6. Ceci N’est Pas Jaffa (This Is Not Jaffa): Architecture, Planning, and the Evolution of National Identities in Jaffa and Tel Aviv, 1880–1948
7. Planning to Conquer: The Role of Town Planning in the Expansion of Tel Aviv, 1921–1948
8. The New-Old Jaffa: Locating the Urban, the Public, and the Modern in Tel Aviv’s Arab Neighborhood
POSTSCRIPT: A welcome reminder from Léopold Lambert of his interview with Dena Qaddumi (right) earlier this year on the spatial politics of Jaffa-Tel Aviv:
It attempts to propose a struggle narrative for Palestine that is not focused on Jerusalem to which many of us contribute, thus participating to a debate mostly focused on the 1967 war. By examining the spatial politics of Jaffa-Tel Aviv, Dena attempts to show that similar “ethnoocratic” logics of segregation are also at work in an environment admittedly less militarized. This logic also incorporates the same capitalist mechanisms of gentrification at work in other cities of the world. We begin by an historical approach to the “black” and “white” cities — using Sharon Rotbard’s terminology — before addressing its current situation, in particular from an architecture point of view, symptoms of the spatial violence at work within the city.
A characteristically smart post from Larry Lewis at War on the Rocks about Obama’s promise to investigate the mistakes made in the CIA-directed drone strike that unwittingly killed two hostages in Pakistan in January 2015. ‘We’ve been on that path before, in Afghanistan,’ he writes, ‘and we know where it leads: more promises followed by a repeat of similar mistakes.’
Larry explains that the US military was causing an ‘unacceptable number’ of civilian casualties in Afghanistan between 2006 and 2009:
When an incident occurred, they investigated the incident, made changes to guidance, and promised to keep such an incident from happening again. But these incidents kept happening. So the military repeated this ineffective review process again and again. This “repeat” cycle was only broken when military leaders approved the Joint Civilian Casualty Study, a classified outside review requested by General Petraeus. This effort had two key differences from earlier efforts. First, it was independent, so it was able to overcome false assumptions held by operating forces that contributed to their challenges. And second, the study looked at all potential civilian casualty incidents over a period of years, not just the latest incident. This approach helped identify systemic issues with current tactics and policies as the analysis examined the forest and not just the nearest tree. This study also considered different sets of forces operating within Afghanistan and their relative propensity for causing civilian casualties.
You can access the unclassified Executive Summary – co-written by Larry with Sarah Sewell – here. I’ve noted Larry’s important work on civilian casualties before – here, here and here – but his short Op-Ed raises two issues that bear emphasis.
The first is that it is a mistake to abstract strikes carried out by a Predator or a Reaper from air strikes carried out from conventional platforms; the latter are often facilitated and even orchestrated by a UAV – as in the ‘signature’ case of the Uruzgan strike in 2010 – but, pace some drone activists, our central concern should surely be the wider matrix of military violence. This also implies the need to articulate any critique of CIA-directed drone strikes in Pakistan with the use of air power in Afghanistan (and not only because USAF pilots fly the ‘covert’ missions across the border). Here General Stanley McChrystal‘s Tactical Directive issued in July 2009 that directly addressed civilian casualties is a crucial divide. As Chris Woods emphasizes in Sudden Justice,
‘Radically different tactics were now being pursued on either side of the “AfPak” border…. Even as Stanley McChrystal was cutting back on airstrikes in Afghanistan, the CIA was escalating its secret air war in Pakistan’s tribal areas.’
The second issue is the extraordinary partitions – blinkers might be more accurate – that seem to be imposed on military operations and investigations. In the case of the Uruzgan attack, for example, a military lawyer was called in at the eleventh hour to monitor the video feeds from the Predator as it tracked a ‘convoy’ (a term surely as leading as ‘Military-Aged Male’) in the early morning. As the next two slides show, taken from my ‘Angry Eyes’ presentation, the JAG knew the Rules of Engagement (ROE) and the Tactical Directive; he obviously also knew the legal requirements of proportionality, distinction and the rest.
Knowing the ROE, the Tactical Directive and the formal obligations of international law is one thing (or several things): but what about ‘case law’, so to speak? What about knowledge of other, similar incidents that could have informed and even accelerated the decision-making process? In this case, before the alternative course of action could be put into effect and an ‘Aerial Vehicle Interdiction’ set in motion – using helicopters to halt the three vehicles and determine what they were up to – two attack helicopters struck the wholly innocent ‘convoy’ and killed 15-21 civilians. Fast forward to the subsequent, I think forensic Army investigation. This is the most detailed accounting of a ‘CIVCAS’ incident I have read (and you’ll be able to read my analysis of it shortly), and yet here too – even with senior military legal advisers and other ‘subject experts’ on the investigating team – there appears to be no reference to other, similar incidents that could have revealed more of the ‘systemic issues’ to which Larry so cogently refers.
This is made all the stranger because there is no doubt – to me, anyway – that the US military takes the issue of civilian casualties far more seriously than many of its critics allow.