The Violence of Populism and Precarity

The LA Review of Books has an interesting interview (conducted by Brad Evans) with Mark Duffield here.  I’m not sure the posted title (‘The Death of Humanitarianism’) captures the range and force of Mark’s critique – it’s a long way from Didier Fassin, for example, whose work I also admire – but see for yourself:

Late liberalism’s turn to catastrophism is a response to global recalcitrance. A quarter-century ago, an emergent liberal interventionism boasted that the age of absolute sovereignty was over. As a result of pushback, however, such exceptionalism has evaporated. Coupled with the downturn, liberalism seems but one among many competing powers and truths. Greeted with alarm in the West and dismissed as so much backward or populist reaction, we have to be more open to the run of the present.

If the computational turn has allowed a post-humanist vision of a world that is smaller than the sum of its parts to consolidate, then late liberalism has authored a realist ontopolitics of accepting this world as it is — rather than worrying how it ought to be. It is a connected world of disruptive logistics, mobility differentials, data asymmetries, vast inequalities, and remote violence: a world of precarity.

Populism is seemingly an inevitable response to an unwanted future through the reassertion of autonomy. As a political model, it is instructive. Resistance requires the active recreation of autonomy. During the 1960s, large areas of social, economic, and cultural life still lay outside capitalism. The university campus, the shop floor, and the “Third World” as it was termed, already existed as areas of effective autonomy. For the New Left, this made them potential sites for liberation and revolution. In a connected world, such nurturing autonomy no longer exists.

Political pushback involves the recreation of autonomy via the repoliticization of ground and place through their imbrications with history, culture, and the life that should be lived. It is a resistance that seeks to renegotiate its position and reconnect with the world anew. And so the question we confront is: Can we reassert a progressive autonomy, or at least a humanitarian autonomy based on a resistance to the dystopia of permanent emergency?

When post-humanism holds that design has supplanted revolution, perhaps it’s time to imbue a new humanitarian ethic based on resisting design. A resistance that privileges more the sentiments of spontaneity, circulation, and necessary difference. We cannot imagine the yet to be. We can, however, encourage its arrival by resisting the negative loss and abjection of precarity through a politics of humanitarian critique.

The interview coincides with the publication of Mark’s new book, Post-humanitarianism: governing precarity in the digital world (Polity, December 2018):

The world has entered an unprecedented period of uncertainty and political instability. Faced with the challenge of knowing and acting within such a world, the spread of computers and connectivity, and the arrival of new digital sense-making tools, are widely celebrated as helpful. But is this really the case, or have we lost more than gained in the digital revolution?

In Post-Humanitarianism, renowned scholar of development, security and global governance Mark Duffield offers an alternative interpretation. He contends that connectivity embodies new forms of behavioural incorporation, cognitive subordination and automated management that are themselves inseparable from the emergence of precarity as a global phenomenon. Rather than protect against disasters, we are encouraged to accept them as necessary for strengthening resilience. At a time of permanent emergency, humanitarian disasters function as sites for trialling and anticipating the modes of social automation and remote management necessary to govern the precarity that increasingly embraces us all.

Post-Humanitarianism critically explores how increasing connectivity is inseparable from growing societal polarization, anger and political push-back. It will be essential reading for students of international and social critique, together with anyone concerned about our deepening alienation from the world.

Here is the list of contents:

Chapter One: Introduction – Questioning Connectivity
Chapter Two: Against Hierarchy
Chapter Three: Entropic Barbarism
Chapter Four: Being There
Chapter Five: Fantastic Invasion
Chapter Six: Livelihood Regime
Chapter Seven: Instilling Remoteness
Chapter Eight: Edge of Catastrophe
Chapter Nine: Connecting Precarity
Chapter Ten: Post-Humanitarianism
Chapter Eleven: Living Wild
Chapter Twelve: Conclusion – Automating Precarity

Intelligence designed

LIMN 6

The latest issue of Limn is on ‘The total archive‘:

Vast accumulations of data, documents, records, and samples saturate our world: bulk collection of phone calls by the NSA and GCHQ; Google, Amazon or Facebook’s ambitions to collect and store all data or know every preference of every individual; India’s monumental efforts to give everyone a number, and maybe an iris scan; hundreds of thousands of whole genome sequences; seed banks of all existing plants, and of course, the ancient and on-going ambitions to create universal libraries of books, or their surrogates.

Just what is the purpose of these optimistically total archives – beyond their own internal logic of completeness? Etymologically speaking, archives are related to government—the site of public records, the town hall, the records of the rulers (archons). Governing a collective—whether people in a territory, consumers of services or goods, or victims of an injustice—requires keeping and consulting records of all kinds; but this practice itself can also generate new forms of governing, and new kinds of collectives, by its very execution. Thinking about our contemporary obsession with vast accumulations through the figure of the archive poses questions concerning the relationships between three things: (1) the systematic accumulation of documents, records, samples or data; (2) a form of government and governing; and (3) a particular conception of a collectivity or collective kind. (1) What kinds of collectivities are formed by contemporary accumulations? What kind of government or management do they make possible? And who are the governors, particularly in contexts where those doing the accumulation are not agents of a traditional government?

This issue of Limn asks authors to consider the way the archive—as a figure for a particular mode of government—might shed light on the contemporary collections, indexes, databases, analytics, and surveillance, and the collectives implied or brought into being by them.

The issue includes an essay by Stephen J. Collier and Andrew Lakoff on the US Air Force’s Bombing Encyclopedia of the World.  I’ve discussed the Encyclopedia in detail before, but they’ve found a source that expands that discussion, a series of lectures delivered in 1946-48 to the Air War College by Dr. James T. Lowe, the Director of Research for the Strategic Vulnerability Branch of the U.S. Army’s Air Intelligence Division. The Branch was established in 1945 and charged with conducting what Lowe described as a ‘pre-analysis of the vulnerability of the U.S.S.R. to strategic air attack and to carry that analysis to the point where the right bombs could be put on the right targets concomitant with the decision to wage the war without any intervening time period whatsoever.’

Bombing Encylopedia Coding Form

The project involved drawing together information from multiple sources, coding and geo-locating the nominated targets, and then automating the data-management system.

What interests the authors is the way in which this transformed what was called  ‘strategic vulnerability analysis’: the data stream could be interrogated through different ‘runs’, isolating different systems, in order to identify the ‘key target system’:

‘… the data could be flexibly accessed: it would not be organized through a single, rigid system of classification, but could be queried through “runs” that would generate reports about potential target systems based on selected criteria such as industry and location. As Lowe explained, “[b]y punching these cards you can get a run of all fighter aircraft plants” near New York or Moscow. “Or you can punch the cards again and get a list of all the plants within a geographical area…. Pretty much any combination of industrial target information that is required can be obtained—and can be obtained without error” (Lowe 1946:13-14).’

Their central point is that the whole project was the fulcrum for a radical transformation of knowledge production:

‘The inventory assembled for the Encyclopedia was not a record of the past; rather, it was a catalog of the elements comprising a modern military-industrial economy. The analysis of strategic vulnerability did not calculate the regular occurrence of events and project the series of past events into the future, based on the assumption that the future would resemble the past. Rather, it examined interdependencies among these elements to generate a picture of vital material flows and it anticipated critical economic vulnerabilities by modeling the effects of a range of possible future contingencies. It generated a new kind of knowledge about collective existence as a collection of vital systems vulnerable to catastrophic disruption.’

And so, not surprisingly, the same analysis could be turned inwards – to detect and minimise sites of strategic vulnerability within the United States.

All of this intersects with the authors’ wider concerns about vital systems security: see in particular their ‘Vital Systems Security: Reflexive biopolitics and the government of emergency‘, in Theory, Culture and Society 32(2) (2015):19–51:

This article describes the historical emergence of vital systems security, analyzing it as a significant mutation in biopolitical modernity. The story begins in the early 20th century, when planners and policy-makers recognized the increasing dependence of collective life on interlinked systems such as transportation, electricity, and water. Over the following decades, new security mechanisms were invented to mitigate the vulnerability of these vital systems. While these techniques were initially developed as part of Cold War preparedness for nuclear war, they eventually migrated to domains beyond national security to address a range of anticipated emergencies, such as large-scale natural disasters, pandemic disease outbreaks, and disruptions of critical infrastructure. In these various contexts, vital systems security operates as a form of reflexive biopolitics, managing risks that have arisen as the result of modernization processes. This analysis sheds new light on current discussions of the government of emergency and ‘states of exception’. Vital systems security does not require recourse to extraordinary executive powers. Rather, as an anticipatory technology for mitigating vulnerabilities and closing gaps in preparedness, it provides a ready-to-hand toolkit for administering emergencies as a normal part of constitutional government.

It’s important to add two riders to the discussion of the Bombing Encyclopedia, both of which concern techno-politics rather than biopolitics.  Although those responsible for targeting invariably represent it as a technical-analytical process – in fact, one of the most common elements in the moral economy of bombing is that it is ‘objective’, as I showed in my Tanner Lectures – it is always also intrinsically political; its instrumentality resides in its function as an irreducibly political technology.

KeptDark1As Stephen and Andrew make clear, the emphasis on key target systems emerged during the Combined Bomber Offensive against Germany in the Second World War, when it was the subject of heated debate.  This went far beyond Arthur Harris‘s vituperative dismissals of Solly Zuckerman‘s arguments against area bombing in favour of economic targets (‘panacea targets’, Harris called them: see my discussion in ‘Doors into nowhere’: DOWNLOADS tab).  You can get some sense of its wider dimensions from John Stubbington‘s intricate Kept in the Dark (2010), which not only provides a robust critique of the Ministry of Economic Warfare’s contributions to target selection but also claims that vital signals intelligence – including ULTRA decrypts – was withheld from Bomber Command.  Administrative and bureaucratic rivalries within and between intelligence agencies did not end with the war, and you can find a suggestive discussion of the impact of this infighting on US targeting in Eric Schmidt‘s admirably clear (1993) account of the development of Targeting Organizations here.

Any targeting process produces not only targets (it’s as well to remember that we don’t inhabit a world of targets: they have to be identified, nominated, activated – in a word, produced) but also political subjects who are interpellated through the positions they occupy within the kill-chain.  After the Second World War, Freeman Dyson reflected on what he had done and, by implication, what it had done to him:

FREEMAN DYSON

But data-management had been in its infancy.  With the Bombing Encyclopedia, Lowe argued, ‘the new “machine methods” of information management made it possible “to operate with a small fraction of the number of people in the target business that would normally be required.”‘  But there were still very large numbers involved, and Henry Nash –who worked on the Bombing Encyclopedia – was even more blunt about what he called ‘the bureaucratization of homicide‘:

HENRY NASH

This puts a different gloss on that prescient remark of Michel Foucault‘s: ‘People know what they do; frequently they know why they do what they do; but what they don’t know is what what they do does.’

Nash began his essay with a quotation from a remarkable book by Richard J. Barnet, The roots of war (1972).  Barnet said this (about the Vietnam War, but his point was a general one):

‘The essential characteristic of bureaucratic homicide is division of labor. In general, those who plan do not kill and those who kill do not plan. The scene is familiar. Men in blue, green and khaki tunics and others in three-button business suits sit in pastel offices and plan complex operations in which thousands of distant human beings will die. The men who planned the saturation bombings, free fire zones, defoliation, crop destruction, and assassination programs in the Vietnam War never personally killed anyone.

BarnetRichard‘The bureaucratization of homicide is responsible for the routine character of modern war, the absence of passion and the efficiency of mass-produced death. Those who do the killing are following standing orders…

‘The complexity and vastness of modern bureaucratic government complicates the issue of personal responsibility. At every level of government the classic defense of the bureaucratic killer is available: “I was just doing my job!” The essence of bureaucratic government is emotional coolness, orderliness, implacable momentum, and a dedication to abstract principle. Each cog in the bureaucratic machine does what it is supposed to do.

‘The Green Machine, as the soldiers in Vietnam called the military establishment, kills cleanly, and usually at a distance. America’s highly developed technology makes it possible to increase the distance between killer and victim and hence to preserve the crucial psychological fiction that the objects of America’s lethal attention are less than human.’

Barnet was the co-founder of the Institute for Policy Studies; not surprisingly, he ended up on Richard Nixon‘s ‘enemies list‘ (another form of targeting).

I make these points because there has been an explosion – another avalanche – of important and interesting essays on databases and algorithms, and the part they play in the administration of military and paramilitary violence.  I’m thinking of Susan Schuppli‘s splendid essay on ‘Deadly algorithms‘, for example, or the special issue of Society & Space on the politics of the list – see in particular the contributions by Marieke de Goede and Gavin Sullivan (‘The politics of security lists‘), Jutta Weber (‘On kill lists‘) and Fleur Johns (on the pairing of list and algorithm) – and collectively these have provided essential insights into what these standard operating procedures do.  But I’d just add that they interpellate not only their victims but also their agents: these intelligence systems are no more ‘unmanned’ than the weapons systems that prosecute their targets.  They too may be ‘remote’ (Barnet’s sharp point) and they certainly disperse responsibility, but the role of the political subjects they produce cannot be evaded.  Automation and AI undoubtedly raise vital legal and ethical questions – these will become ever more urgent and are by no means confined to ‘system failure‘ – but we must not lose sight of the politics articulated through their activation.  And neither should we confuse accountancy with accountability.

Emergency Response

I’ve been catching up on a stream of publications by Pete Adey and Ben Anderson on emergencies, including ‘Affect and security: exercising emergency in UK “civil contingencies”‘, Society & Space 29(6) (2011) 1092-1109; ‘Anticipating emergencies: Technologies of preparedness and the matter of security’, Security dialogue 43 (2) (2012) 99-117; and ‘Governing events and life: “Emergency” in UK Civil Contingencies’, Political Geography 31 (1) (2012) 24-33.

This has been prompted by a continuing conversation with Theo Price about a series of political/artistic interventions under the rubric of COBRA RES, in which he’s invited me to take part. COBRA, as many readers will know, is

the British Government’s emergency response committee set up to respond to a national or regional crisis. Standing for Cabinet Office Briefing Room A [below], the COBRA Committee comes together in moments of perceived crisis under the chairmanship of either the Prime Minister or the Home Secretary. At COBRA meetings, decisions and a possible response, sometimes simply a press conference, are made under real or imagined conditions of emergency and/or crisis. 

Cabinet_Office_Briefing_Room

The committee can evoke emergency powers such as suspending Parliament or restricting movement. Such emergency-based responses have ranged from tackling Ash Dieback disease to the deployment of military hardware on civilian rooftops during the London Olympics.  Emergency and crisis-based politics are becoming increasingly common as modes of contemporary governance in an age of hyped terrorism and economic and environmental crises.

COBRA RES is a critical response, holding up a mirror to COBRA ‘as a way of producing different information, new perspectives and alternative narratives, while existing in a mimetic relationship to the emergency Committee itself and the situation it is responding to.’

COBRA RES aims to re-frame the response from an aesthetic perspective, while operating as an active-archive that follows, traces and maps the constantly changing tide of emergency politics. COBRA RES is a collective of artists and writers who aim to ask critical questions of COBRA through a series of creative responses. Reflecting and mimicking the structure of the COBRA Committee, the artists, writers and filmmakers are chosen for their relevance to the given context of the COBRA meeting.

The artists and writers are given nine days from the initial COBRA meeting in which to respond to either COBRA or the context it is meeting under. For the process to work, it is important that pressure is applied to the artists and writers so as prevent too much consideration, with limited facts available, in an attempt to re-create a parallel action of response. 

Steve Bell's If …

You can read more from Theo about the project in ‘Art in an Emergency’ here:

Art allows a certain freedom to explore and reimagine politics, offering a reflective surface on which to review the distorted image projected by the state in moments of crisis. But in recent years, it is politics that has increased its use of aesthetics to help manipulate and develop – often in a favourable light – its own agenda.

This image-based politics is a politics of presentation, of appearance and constructed images that tell a certain story, often a moral story of good v evil, of citizen v terrorist. Such morals are created through aesthetic and performative means to convince the general public that not only is the government protecting them, but that new terror legislation is necessary and justified. This approach is not new, but when political spin is used in ’emergency’ events, from which new terror legislation may then emerge, surely it is better to deal in fact than gesture.

Not all political situations invite an artistic response, but the government’s Cobra committee, and the ’emergencies’ prompting its meetings, offer a wide array of unknown variables that leave an open space for interpretation and imagination. Often Cobra closes this gap with its publicly announced meeting – we aim to re-open it.

As politics and society become increasingly brand-aware, with digital images and presentation the preferred power-tools to promote a political position, art becomes the obvious medium through which to ask questions. Art can only respond to the world around it and if politics and politicians increasingly attempt to define, promote and manipulate their position by aesthetic and performative means, art must reflect, mimic and respond in kind.

1a807d_1af2366c17ff43d3af3e28a47d5764b1.jpg_srz_144_51_75_22_0.50_1.20_0.00_jpg_srz

COBRA and thus COBRA RES have met five times since January 2013:

COBRA 1.0 Our first response was an exhibition after COBRA had met when hostages had been held in the Tiguentourine gas plant in Algeria.

COBRA 1.1 The second response was a book of artistic and written responses to the COBRA meeting following the killing of soldier Lee Rigby in Woolwich, south London.

Artists: Steve Bell, Hugh Jordan, Kennardphillipps, Nima Esmailpour, Nicolas Hausdorf, & Alex Goller ( H+Corp), Frida Go, Chie Konishi, Samuel Stevens, Theodore Price, Adam Ferguson, Jenny Richards, Richard Wilson, Robert Malt  Writers: Iain Boal (foreword), Nicolas Hausdorf, Theodore Price, Philip Howe, Samuel Stevens

COBRA 1.2 Responding to the situation in Nairobi shopping centre, secret postal responses were submitted to COBRA RES by a selection of artists. This work will not be viewed or opened until the final COBRA RES exhibition in 2018.

COBRA 1.3 DVD of artist films with accompanying book of texts, which responded to the extensive flooding to hit large parts of the United Kingdom.

Artists: Adam Chodzko, Stephen Connolly, Alison Ballard, Margaret Dickinson, John Jordan, Theodore Price, Stina Wirfelt, Samuel Stevens, Rose Butler, Nabli Ahmed, Daniel Shanken, Oliver Bancroft, James Connelly, Stevie Deas, Wonderland Collective  Writers: Nina Power ( Lead Essay) Christopher Collier, Jenny Richards, Nicolas Hausdorf, John Jordan, Isabelle Fremeaux, Theodore Price, Samuel Stevens, Stephen Connolly.

COB1.4_1.6_invite

The most recent (fifth) COBRA RES production (see above) is in response to three COBRA meetings in July and August 2014:

18th July 2014 in response to the shooting down of Malaysia Airlines Flight MH17 over Ukraine (Chaired by Prime Minister David Cameron)

30th July 2014 in response to the continued outbreak of Ebola in West Africa (Chaired by newly appointed Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond)

8th August 2014 in response to Islamic State forcing thousands to flee their homes and take refuge on Mount Sinjar, Iraq (Chaired by newly appointed Defence Secretary Michel Fallon)

Examining the inter-play of emergency politics, COBRA RES has issued a set of emergency card games and an accompanying book of theoretical texts. The games invite the reader to become player by moving towards an active ‘participation’ within the grand narrative of each separate emergency episode.

Cards by: COBRA RES and H+Corp  Texts by: Richard Barbrook, Roland Bleiker, David Campbell, Derek Gregory, Nicolas Hausdorf, Emma Hutchinson, Theodore Price and Strategic Optimism Football Club.

The book accompanying the latest COBRA RES includes my ‘Drone geographies’ (see DOWNLOADS tab) and my post on ‘The war on Ebola‘ (artfully and graciously re-crafted by Theo),

Missing maps

Missing Maps ProjectA postscript (of sorts: a postpost?) to my previous discussion of the use of satellite imagery by humanitarian organisations.

Today’s Guardian includes a notice by Chris Michael of the Missing Maps project, an open, collaborative venture between Médecins sans Frontières, the American Red Cross, the British Red Cross and the Humanitarian OpenStreetMap Team (HOT) to map what MSF calls ‘the most crisis-prone parts of the developing world.’

It is, says Michael, ‘nothing less than a human genome project for the world’s cities.’  Less hyperbolically, mapping is of vital importance in any emergency, and MSF’s experience in providing medical aid after the Haiti earthquake in 2010 alerted the organisation to the importance of accurate and reliable geo-locational data.

HOT Ebola

The base will be satellite imagery but, unlike HOT’s existing disaster response mapping [see its response to the Ebola epidemic in West Africa (above) here and here], the new project is intended to be pre-emptive.  And in case you are wondering what’s wrong with Google Maps, the answer is: a lot.  Michael again:

Crowdsourcing … gives the open-source project an advantage over Google Maps, which is engaged in its own effort to build proprietary maps for cities in Africa and the developing world. By harnessing the aggregated individual acts volunteered by everyday people, Missing Maps can make its scope truly planetary. Google has similarly been asking people to voluntarily flesh out Google Maps, following criticism that the company was ignoring places where there was no advertising money to be made. After all, there’s no Starbucks in a slum. And Google Maps is, like the rest of Google’s projects (whatever their current openness and freedom of use), privately owned and subject to fees at any time they might choose to start charging.

“The point of the project is that the maps will all be open source,” says Missing Maps coordinator Pete Masters. “It will be illegal for anyone to charge anyone to [have access to OpenStreetMap.org] – meaning local people will have total access to them, not just to look at, but to edit and develop.”

That idea more than any other has fired the imaginations of the people in unmapped places, says Gayton. “It’s legally impossible for someone to steal it, to close off and own the data. It’s created by genuine volunteer labour, and belongs to everyone. And the question everyone asks me is: ‘Why?’ They couldn’t believe it.”

katanga_and_lubumbashi_map

To give you an idea of what is envisaged, the image above juxtaposes a hand-drawn MSF map in Katanga (DRC) with a map of Lubumbashi (DRC) made by local university students and others (see below) supported by the Humanitarian Open Street Map team.

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I’ve borrowed both images from MSF, and you can find more information about the project and how to get involved from MSF here, via the project’s wiki here, and on Facebook here.

I realise that there’s nothing new about participatory mapping: have a look at Map Kibera, which has successfully put a marginalised zone of Nairobi on the map and morphed into an interactive community information project.

Map Kibera

And there are risks and dangers in being ‘put on the map’ too.  The OpenStreetMaps community has produced constantly evolving maps of Syria, for example [follow the link for some animations], and while I don’t dispute Eric Fischer‘s claim at Mapbox that ‘this data is of vital importance to humanitarian workers on the ground’, I suspect it’s also valuable to others on the ground – and, for all I know, in the air too.

But even if you don’t want to or can’t get involved in Missing Maps, reading this project alongside parallel ventures by MapAction (which this year alone has had field teams in Iraq, Liberia, Paraguay, Serbia and south Sudan), together with other established work in participatory mapping and GIS (like the Rainforest Foundation‘s Mapping for Rights project) and counter-mapping and counter-cartography is highly instructive.

Gaza 101

pcrs483

101 is the emergency number for Gaza and the rest of occupied Palestine.  And perhaps I should begin with that sentence: I say ‘the rest of occupied Palestine’ because, despite Israel’s ‘disengagement’ from Gaza in 2005, Israel continues to exercise effective control over the territory which means that Gaza has continued to remain under occupation.  It’s a contentious issue – like Israel’s duplicitous claim that the West Bank is not ‘occupied’ either (even by its illegal settlers) merely ‘disputed’ – and if you want the official Israeli argument you can find it in this short contribution by a former head of the IDF’s International Law Department here and here.  The value of that essay – apart from illustrating exactly what is meant by chutzpah – is its crisp explanation of why the issue matters:

‘This does not necessarily mean that Israel has no legal obligations towards the population of the Gaza Strip, but that to the extent that there are any such legal obligations, they are limited in nature and do not include the duty to actively ensure normal life for the civilian population, as would be required by the law of belligerent occupation…’

Certainly, one of the objectives of Israel’s ‘disengagement’ was to produce what its political and military apparatus saw as ‘an optimal balance between maximum control over the territory and minimum responsibility for its non-Jewish population’.  That concise formulation is Darryl Li‘s, which you can find in his excellent explication of Israel’s (de)construction of Gaza as a ‘laboratory’ for its brutal bio-political and necro-political experimentations [Journal of Palestine Studies 35 (2) (2006)]. (Another objective was to freeze the so-called ‘peace process’, as Mouin Rabbani explains in the latest London Review of Books here; his essay also provides an excellent background to the immediate precipitates of the present invasion). Still, none of this entitles Israel to evade the obligations of international law.  Here it’s necessary to recall Daniel Reisner‘s proud claim that ‘If you do something for long enough, the world will accept it… International law progresses through violations’: Reisner also once served as head of the IDF’s International Law Department, and the mantra remains an article of faith that guides IDF operations.  But as B’Tselem, the Israeli Information Center for Human Rights in the Occupied Territories, insisted in an important opinion published at the start of this year:

Even after the disengagement, Israel continues to bear legal responsibility for the consequences of its actions and omissions concerning residents of the Gaza Strip. This responsibility is unrelated to the question of whether Israel continues to be the occupier of the Gaza Strip.

But there’s more.  International humanitarian law – no deus ex machina, to be sure, and far from above the fray – not only applies during Israel’s military offensives and operations, including the present catastrophic assault on Gaza, but provides an enduring set of obligations.  For as Lisa Hajjar shows in a detailed discussion re-published by Jadaliyya last week, Israel’s attempts to make Gaza into a space of exception – ‘neither sovereign nor occupied’ but sui generis – run foul of the inconvenient fact that Gaza remains under occupation. Israel continues to control Gaza’s airspace and airwaves, its maritime border and its land borders, and determines what (and who) is allowed in or out [see my previous post and map here].  As Richard Falk argues, ‘the entrapment of the Gaza population within closed borders is part of a deliberate Israeli pattern of prolonged collective punishment’ – ‘a grave breach of Article 33 of the Fourth Geneva Convention’ – and one in which the military regime ruling Egypt is now an active and willing accomplice.

Karam abu Salem crossing

So: Gaza 101.  Medical equipment and supplies are exempt from the blockade and are allowed through the Karam Abu Salem crossing (after protracted and expensive security checks) but the siege economy of Gaza has been so cruelly and deliberately weakened by Israel that it has been extremely difficult for authorities to pay for them.  Their precarious financial position is made worse by direct Israeli intervention in the supply of pharmaceuticals.  Corporate Watch reports that

When health services in Gaza purchase drugs from the international market they come into Israel through the port of Ashdod but are not permitted to travel the 35km to Karam Abu Salem directly. Instead they are transported to the Bitunia checkpoint into the West Bank and stored in Ramallah, where a permit is applied for to transport them to Gaza, significantly increasing the length and expense of the journey.

There’s more – much more: you can download the briefing here – but all this explains why Gaza depends so much on humanitarian aid (and, in the past, on medical supplies smuggled in through the tunnels).  Earlier this summer Gaza’s medical facilities were facing major shortfalls; 28 per cent of essential drugs and 54 per cent of medical disposables were at zero stock.

ochaopt_atlas_health_care_december2011

Medical care involves more than bringing in vital supplies and maintaining infrastructure (the map of medical facilities above is taken from the UN’s humanitarian atlas and shows the situation in December 2011; the WHO’s summary of the situation in 2012 is here).  Medical care also involves unrestricted access to electricity and clean water; both are compromised in Gaza, and on 1 January 2014 B’Tselem reported a grave deterioration in health care as a result:

‘The siege that Israel has imposed on the Gaza Strip since Hamas took over control of the security apparatus there in June 2007 has greatly harmed Gaza’s health system, which had not functioned well beforehand…. The reduction, and sometimes total stoppage, of the supply of fuel to Gaza for days at a time has led to a decrease in the quality of medical services, reduced use of ambulances, and serious harm to elements needed for proper health, such as clean drinking water and regular removal of solid waste. Currently, some 30 percent of the Gaza Strip’s residents do not receive water on a regular basis.’

WHO Right to healthIn-bound transfers are tightly constrained, but so too are out-bound movements.  Seriously ill patients requiring advanced treatment had their access to specialists and hospitals outside Gaza restricted:

‘Israel has cut back on issuing permits to enter the country for the hundreds of patients each month who need immediate life-saving treatment and urgent, advanced treatment unavailable in Gaza. The only crossing open to patients is Erez Crossing, through which Israel allows some of these patients to cross to go to hospitals inside Israel [principally in East Jerusalem], and to treatment facilities in the West Bank, Egypt, and Jordan. Some patients not allowed to cross have referrals to Israeli hospitals or other hospitals. Since Hamas took over control of the Gaza Strip, the number of patients forbidden to leave Gaza “for security reasons” has steadily increased.’

As in the West Bank, Israel has established a labyrinthine system to regulate and limit the mobility of Palestinians even for medical treatment.  Last month the World Health Organization explained the system and its consequences (you can find a detailed report with case studies here):

‘In Gaza, patients must submit a permit application at least 10 days in advance of their hospital appointment to allow for Israeli processing. Documents are reviewed first by the health coordinator but final decisions are made by security officials. Permits can be denied for reasons of security, without explanation; decisions are often delayed. In 2013, 40 patients were denied and 1,616 were delayed travel through Erez crossing to access hospitals in East Jerusalem, Israel, the West Bank and Jordan past the time of their scheduled appointment. If a patient loses an appointment they must begin the application process again. Delays interrupt the continuity of medical care and can result in deterioration of patient health. Companions (mandatory for children) must also apply for permits. A parent accompanying a child is sometimes denied a permit, and often both parents, and the family must arrange for a substitute, a process which delays the child’s treatment.’

On 17 June Al-Shifa Hospital, the main medical facility in Gaza City (see map below), had already been forced to cancel all elective surgeries and concentrate on emergency treatment.  On 3 July it had to restrict treatment to life-saving emergency surgery to conserve its dwindling supplies. All of this, remember, was before the latest Israeli offensive.  People have not stopped getting sick or needing urgent treatment for chronic conditions, so the situation has deteriorated dramatically.  The care of these patients has been further compromised by the new, desperately urgent imperative to prioritise the treatment of those suffering life-threatening injuries from Israel’s military violence.

al-Shifa and Shuja'iyeh map

Trauma surgeons emphasise the importance of the ‘golden hour’: the need to provide advanced medical care within 60 minutes of being injured.  Before the IDF launched its ground invasion, there were three main sources of injury: blast wounds from missiles, penetrating wounds from artillery grenades and compression injuries from buildings collapsing.  But this is only a typology; many patients have multiple injuries. ‘We are not just getting patients with one injury that needs attending,’ said the head of surgery at Al-Shifa, ‘we are getting a patient with his brain coming out of his skull, his chest crushed, and his limbs missing.’  All of these injuries are time-critical and require rapid intervention. Ambulance control centre central GazaAnd yet the Ministry of Health reckons that Gaza’s ambulance service is running at 50 per cent capacity as a result of fuel shortages.  That figure must have been reduced still further by the number of ambulances that have been hit by Israeli fire (for more on paramedics in Gaza, and the extraordinary risks they run making 20-30 trips or more every day, see here and this report from the Telegraph‘s David Blair here).  When CNN reporters visited the dispatch centre at Jerusalem Hospital in Gaza City last Tuesday, they watched a a screen with illuminated numbers recording 193 killed and 1,481 injured and the director of emergency services dispatching available ambulances to the site of the latest air strike (by then, there had already been over 1,000 of them).  But the system only works effectively when there is electricity…

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Power supplies were spasmodic at the best of times (whenever those were); they have been even more seriously disrupted by the air campaign, and since the start of the ground assault Gaza has lost around 90 per cent of its power generating capacity.  Nasouh Nazzal reports that many hospitals have been forced to switch to out-dated generators to light buildings and power equipment:

“The power generators in Gaza hospitals are not trusted at all and they can go down any moment. If power goes out, medical services will be basically terminated,” [Dr Nasser Al Qaedrah] said. He stressed that the old-fashioned types of power generators available in Gaza consume huge quantities of diesel, a rare product in the coastal enclave.

On occasion, Norwegian ER surgeon Mads Gilbert told reporters, if the lights go out in the middle of an operation ‘[surgeons] pick up their phones, and they use the light from the screen to illuminate the operation field.’ (He had brought head-lamps with him from Bergen but found they were on Israel’s banned list of ‘dual-use’ goods). As the number of casualties rises, the vast majority of them civilians, so hospitals have been stretched to the limit and beyond.  According to Jessica Purkiss, the situation was already desperate a week ago:

“The number of injuries is huge compared to the hospitals’ capacity,” said Fikr Shalltoot, the Gaza program director for Medical Aid for Palestinians, an organization desperately trying to raise funds to procure more supplies. “There are 1,000 hospital beds in the whole of Gaza. An average of 200 injuries are coming to them every day.”

As in so many other contemporary conflicts – Iraq, Libya, Syria – hospitals themselves had already become targets for military violence.  For eleven days Al-Wafa Hospital in Shuja’iyeh in eastern Gaza City (see the map above), the only rehabilitation centre serving the occupied territories, was receiving phone calls from the IDF warning them that the building was about to be bombed.  [In case you’re impressed by the consideration, think about Paul Woodward‘s observation: ‘I grew up in Britain during the era when the Provisional IRA was conducting a bombing campaign in Northern Ireland and on the mainland. I don’t remember the Provos ever being praised for the fact that they would typically phone the police to issue a warning before their bombs detonated. No one ever dubbed them the most humane terrorist organization in the world.’] The staff refused to evacuate the hospital because their patients were paralysed or unconscious. The Executive Director, Dr Basman Alashi, explained:

‘We’ve been in this place since 1996. We are known to the Israeli government. We are known to the Israeli Health Center and Health Ministry. They have transferred several patients to our hospital for rehabilitations. And we have many success stories of people come for rehabilitation. They come crawling or in a wheelchair; they go out of the hospital walking, and they go back to Israel saying that al-Wafa has done miracle to them. So we are known to them, who we are, what we are. And we are not too far from their border. Our building is not too small. It’s big. It’s about 2,000 square meters. If I stand on the window, I can see the Israelis, and they can see me. So we are not hiding anything in the building. They can see me, and I can see them. And we’ve been here for the last 12 or 15 years, neighbors, next to each other. We have not done any harm to anybody, but we try to save life, to give life, to better life to either an Arab Palestinian or an Israeli Jew.’

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But just after 9 p.m. on 17 July shells started falling:

‘… the fourth floor, third floor, second floor. Smoke, fire, dust all over. We lost electricity… luckily, nobody got hurt. Only burning building, smoke inside, dust, ceiling falling, wall broke, electricity cutoff, water is leaking everywhere. So, the hospital became [uninhabitable].’

Seventeen patients were evacuated and transferred to the Sahaba Medical Complex in Gaza City. Sharif Abdel Kouddos takes up the story:

‘The electricity went out, all the windows shattered, the hospital was full of dust, we couldn’t see anything,’ says Aya Abdan, a 16-year-old patient at the hospital who is paraplegic and has cancer in her spinal cord. She is one of the few who can speak.

It is, of course, literally unspeakable.  But this was not an isolated incident – still less ‘a mistake’ – and other hospitals have been bombed or shelled.  According to the Ministry of Health, 25 health facilities in Gaza have been partially or totally destroyed. Just this morning it was reported that Israeli tanks shelled the al-Aqsa Hospital in Deir al-Balah in central Gaza, killing five and injuring 70 staff and patients. The Guardian reports that ambulances which tried to evacuate patients were forced to turn back by continued shelling.  According to Peter Beaumont:

‘”People can’t believe this is happening – that a medical hospital was shelled without the briefest warning. It was already full with patients,” said Fikr Shalltoot, director of programmes at Medical Aid for Palestinians in Gaza city.’

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The hospitals that remain in operation are overwhelmed, with doctors making heart-wrenching decisions about who to treat and who to send away, refusing ‘moderately injured patients they normally would have admitted in order to make room for the more seriously wounded.’  Mads Gilbert (centre in the image above) again:

Oh NO! not one more load of tens of maimed and bleeding, we still have lakes of blood on the floor in the ER, piles of dripping, blood-soaked bandages to clear out – oh – the cleaners, everywhere, swiftly shovelling the blood and discarded tissues, hair, clothes,cannulas – the leftovers from death – all taken away…to be prepared again, to be repeated all over. More then 100 cases came to Shifa last 24 hrs. enough for a large well trained hospital with everything, but here – almost nothing: electricity, water, disposables, drugs, OR-tables, instruments, monitors – all rusted and  as if taken from museums of yesterdays hospitals.

Al-Shifa, where he is working round the clock, has only 11 beds in its ER and just six Operating Rooms.  On Saturday night, when the Israeli army devastated the suburb of Shuja’ieyh, its ‘tank shells falling like hot raindrops‘, al-Shifa had to deal with more than 400 injured patients. Al-Shifa is Gaza’s main trauma centre but in other sense Gaza’s trauma is not ‘centred’ at all but is everywhere within its iron walls.  Commentators repeatedly describe Gaza as the world’s largest open-air prison – though, given the cruelly calculated deprivation of the means of normal life, concentration camp would be more accurate – but it is also one where the guards routinely kill, wound and hurt the prisoners. The medical geography I’ve sketched here is another way of reading Israel’s bloody ‘map of pain‘. I am sickened by the endless calls for ‘balance’, for ‘both sides’ to do x and y and z, as though this is something other than a desperately unequal struggle: as though every day, month and year the Palestinians have not been losing their land, their lives and their liberties to a brutal, calculating and manipulative occupier.  I started this post with an image of a Palestinian ambulance; the photograph below was taken in Shuja’ieyh at the weekend.  It too is an image of a Palestinian ambulance.

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For updates see here; I fear there will be more to come. In addition to the links in the post above, this short post is also relevant (I’ve received an e-mail asking me if I realised what the initial letters spelled…. Duh.)

‘Double tap’

Glenn Greenwald – who’s moved from Salon.com to become the Guardian‘s columnist on civil liberties and US national security  – describes the vicious twist given to ‘rapid response‘ in US military and paramilitary operations in Iraq and Pakistan:

The US government has long maintained, reasonably enough, that a defining tactic of terrorism is to launch a follow-up attack aimed at those who go to the scene of the original attack to rescue the wounded and remove the dead. Morally, such methods have also been widely condemned by the west as a hallmark of savagery. Yet, as was demonstrated yet again this weekend in Pakistan, this has become one of the favorite tactics of the very same US government….

[A]ttacking rescuers (and arguably worse, bombing funerals of America’s drone victims) is now a tactic routinely used by the US in Pakistan. In February, the Bureau of Investigative Journalism documented that “the CIA’s drone campaign in Pakistan has killed dozens of civilians who had gone to help rescue victims or were attending funerals.”  Specifically: “at least 50 civilians were killed in follow-up strikes when they had gone to help victims.” That initial TBIJ report detailed numerous civilians killed by such follow-up strikes on rescuers, and established precisely the terror effect which the US government has long warned are sown by such attacks: “Yusufzai, who reported on the attack, says those killed in the follow-up strike ‘were trying to pull out the bodies, to help clear the rubble, and take people to hospital.’ The impact of drone attacks on rescuers has been to scare people off, he says: ‘They’ve learnt that something will happen. No one wants to go close to these damaged building anymore.'”

And, as Greenwald notes, the tactic – which the Department of Homeland Security called “double tap” when it condemned Hamas for using it –  intimidates not only rescuers but also journalists…

More on the Bureau of Investigative Journalism‘s report from Democracy Now here.  At the time [February 2012] Chris Woods suggested that there were indications of a change in policy and practice:

‘…the attacks on rescuers and mourners that we note, they’ve all occurred under the Obama administration between 2009 and July 2011. I think that date is quite interesting, because that’s also when Leon Panetta stepped down as head of CIA. You have an interim CIA leader, and then David Petraeus comes in. We haven’t had any reports from Pakistan since July of last year of attacks on rescuers. So there’s an indication of a policy change, and there’s also an indication of a targeting change on the ground.’

But Greenwald notes a series of later reports showing that the dismal practice had resumed by the fall.

Rapid Response

Interesting post from Ben Anderson at Berfois.  He suggests that ‘Over ten years since the advent of the war on terror it is no longer the “state of emergency” that dominates modern government’s response to emergencies. Organising for rapid response now occurs across all domains of life at a time when disparate events and conditions are grouped under the category of emergency.’  Here’s the punchline:

‘If rapid response has replaced the ‘state of emergency’ as the dominant paradigm for governing emergencies, how might those of us concerned with enhancing democratic life respond to rapid response? The critique of ‘state of emergency’ legislation is now a familiar one: in an emergency Government power is extended and liberal democracies reveal their authoritarianism. Unlike ‘state of emergency’ legislation, rapid response does not usually simply involve some form of temporary ‘suspension’ of normal rights. Quite the opposite: rapid response is the automation of exceptional but constitutional action through flexible, intersecting, protocols that govern how things should be done in response. Whilst the role of ‘state of emergency’ legislation in liberal democracies has been subject to considerable scrutiny in the post 9/11 world, there has been very little if any public reflection on the protocols that facilitate response (the only exception being post disaster inquiries and reports). This needs to change. For emergencies, and the response to emergencies, are a key occasion when lives are valued or devalued and democratic life, such as it functions today, is placed in question. How, then, can the protocols through which ‘rapid response’ is organised be opened up to public negotiation and contestation in advance of an emergency?’

Ben lists a series of’civil organisations and situations in which ‘rapid response’ is now invoked, but (as he knows very well) this often includes a set of militarized protocols.  John Morrissey has provided an excellent account of the origin of the United States’ unified combatant commands that span the globe – like CENTCOM – in which he emphasises the key role of Carter’s Rapid Deployment Joint Task Force that stood up in 1980 ‘to plan, jointly train, exercise and be prepared to deploy and employ designated forces in response to contingencies threatening US vital interests’ in the Gulf region.  Since then – in fact before then – speed and agility became the watchwords of advanced military operations, and not only internationally.  Earlier this year General Ray Odierno, the US Army’s Chief of Staff, outlined some of the changes that lie ahead in an essay in Foreign Affairs (May/June 2012), which included this passage:

‘…  the challenges in the United States itself remain daunting. Although the actions of our forces overseas have helped preclude more terrorist attacks on the U.S. homeland, the threat persists. The need for U.S. armed forces, and the army in particular, to provide planning, logistical, command-and-control, and equipment support to civil authorities in the event of natural disasters continues to be demonstrated regularly and is unlikely to diminish. And many security challenges in the Americas are transnational, including humanitarian crises, illicit trafficking, organized crime, terrorism, and weapons proliferation. Army forces will continue to be ready to contribute to broader national efforts to counter those challenges at home, if needed. Our reserve component soldiers remain the bedrock of the army’s domestic response capability, but where appropriate we will also dedicate active-duty forces, especially those with niche skills and equipment, to provide civilian officials with a robust set of reliable and rapid response options.’

That last clause lit up the blogosphere with warnings of a threat to the constitution and of martial law.  I’m not persuaded by those alarms, but I do think that the line between the suspension of rights in a ‘state of emergency’ and the constitutionality of ‘rapid response’ is a dangerously pliable one.

And there are other modalities of rapid response that seek to confound state action and violence, often powered by new social media; here, for example, is a project of Amnesty International against forced evictions:

Note: For more of Ben’s work on emergencies (in the UK), see Ben Anderson and Peter Adey, ‘Governing events and life: “Emergency” in UK civil contingencies’, Political Geography 31 (1) (2012) 24-33 and Peter Adey and Ben Anderson, ‘Anticipating emergencies: technologies of preparedness and the matter of security’, Security dialogue 43 (2) (2012) 99-117.