Sound(ing)s

DAUGHTRY Listening to warMy interest in the militarisation of vision is longstanding, but it’s important not to exaggerate the salience of an increasingly ‘optical war’.  Through ‘The natures of war’ project (see DOWNLOADS tab) I’ve also been drawn to the importance of sound in conducting, surviving and even accounting for military violence (see, for example, herehere, and here).  And, as Martin Daughtry‘s remarkable Listening to war (2015) shows, sound continues to be significant in later modern war too.

Even its absence is significant, sometimes performative: think of all those video feeds from Predators and Reapers that, as Nasser Hussain so brilliantly reminded us, are silent movies – apart from the remote commentary from pilots and sensor operators:

‘The lack of synchronic sound renders it a ghostly world in which the figures seem unalive, even before they are killed. The gaze hovers above in silence. The detachment that critics of drone operations worry about comes partially from the silence of the footage.

The contemporary militarisation (or weaponisation) of sound is double-edged, and I mean that in several sense.

First, Mary Roach has a revealing chapter in Grunt: the curious science of humans at war (2016) on what she calls ‘Fighting by ear: the conundrum of noise’.  It turns out that 50 – 60 per cent of situational awareness comes from hearing – and yet the sound of war can be literally deafening.  The damage is often permanent, but in the heat of battle hearing loss makes it difficult to parse the torrent of noise – to distinguish offensive and defensive fires, to detect direction and range, and to send and receive vital communications.  Mary explains:

ROACH GruntFor decades, earplugs and other passive hearing protection have been the main ammunition of military hearing conservation programs. There are those who would like this to change, who believe that the cost can be a great deal higher. That an earplug can be as lethal as a bullet. Most earplugs reduce noise by 30-some decibels. This is helpful with a steady, grinding background din — a Bradley Fighting Vehicle clattering over asphalt (130 decibels), or the thrum of a Black Hawk helicopter (106 decibels). Thirty decibels is more significant than it sounds. Every 3-decibel increase in a loud noise cuts in half the amount of time one can be exposed without risking hearing damage. An unprotected human ear can spend eight hours a day exposed to 85 decibels (freeway noise, crowded restaurant) without incurring a hearing loss. At 115 decibels (chainsaw, mosh pit), safe exposure time falls to half a minute. The 187-decibel boom of an AT4 anti-tank weapon lasts a second, but even that ultrabrief exposure would, to an unprotected ear, mean a permanent downtick in hearing. Earplugs are less helpful when the sounds they’re dampening include a human voice yelling to get down, say, or the charging handle of an opponent’s rifle. A soldier with an average hearing loss of 30 decibels may need a waiver to go back out and do his job; depending on what that job is, he may be a danger to himself and his unit. “What are we doing when we give them a pair of foam earplugs?” says Eric Fallon, who runs a training simulation for military audiologists a few times a year at Camp Pendleton. “We’re degrading their hearing to the point where, if this were a natural hearing loss, we’d be questioning whether they’re still deployable. If that’s not insanity, I don’t know what is.”

TCAP

For that reason the US military has been experimenting with what it calls ‘Tactical Communication and Protective Systems‘ (‘Tee-caps’, shown above): ear protectors that incorporate radio communications.  They are a response both to the cacophony and the geometry of war:

No one, in the heat of a firefight, is going to pause to take off her helmet, pull back her ear, insert the plug, and repeat the whole process on the other side, and then restrap the helmet. There’s time for this on a firing range, and there might have been time on a Civil War battlefield, where soldiers got into formation before the call to charge…  You knew when the mayhem was about to start, and you had time to prepare, whether that meant affixing bayonets or messing with foamies. There’s no linear battlefield any more. The front line is everywhere. IEDs go off and things go kinetic with no warning. To protect your hearing using earplugs, you’d have to leave them in for entire thirteen-hour patrols where, 95 percent of the time, nothing loud is happening. No one does that.

Saydnaya 1 JPEG

Second, sounds can intimidate – sometimes deliberately so – but they can also be reverse-engineered to reveal the geometry of violence.  One obvious example is the use of sound-ranging to locate artillery batteries on the Western Front in the First World War; but less obvious, and of critical importance, soundscaping can form an important part of a forensic investigation into crimes of war. This brings me to yet another mesmerising project from Eyal Weizman‘s Forensic Architecture agency. Eyal explains:

In 2016 Forensic Architecture was commissioned by Amnesty International to help reconstruct the architecture of Saydnaya – a secret Syrian detention center – from the memory of several of its survivors, now refugees in Turkey.

Since the beginning of the Syrian crisis in 2011, tens of thousands of Syrians, including protestors, students, bloggers, university professors, lawyers, doctors, journalists and others suspected of opposing the regime, have disappeared into a secret network of prisons and detention centers run by the Assad government. Saydnaya, located some 25 kilometers north of Damascus in an East German-designed building dating from the 1970s, is one of the most notoriously brutal of these places.

Torture has become routinised there – and not as a weapon in the grotesque arsenal of ‘enhanced interrogation’ (which, for any Trump fans who have stumbled into this site in error, has been demonstrated countless times not to work anyway).  Amnesty could not be clearer:

There are no interrogations at Saydnaya. Torture isn’t used to obtain information, but seemingly as a way to degrade, punish and humiliate. Prisoners are targeted relentlessly, unable to “confess” to save themselves from further beatings. Survivors say they dreaded family visits as they were always followed by extensive beatings.

Eyal continues:

As there are no recent photographs of its interior spaces, the memories of Saydnaya survivors are the only resource with which to recreate the spaces, conditions of incarceration and incidents that take place inside.

In April 2016, a team of Amnesty International and Forensic Architecture researchers travelled to Turkey to meet a group of survivors who have come forward because they wanted to let the world know about Saydnaya.

To understand the role of sound in the investigation, what Eyal calls ‘ear-witnessing’, here is Oliver Wainwright writing about the project in the Guardian:

“Architecture is a conduit to memory,” says Weizman, describing how an Arabic-speaking architect [Hania Jamal] built a digital model on screen as detainees described specific memories and events. “As they experienced the virtual environment of their cells at eye level, the witnesses had some flashes of recollection of events otherwise obscured by violence and trauma.”

One drop of water

Inmates were constantly blindfolded or forced to kneel and cover their eyes when guards entered their cells, so sound became the key sense by which they navigated and measured their environment – and therefore one of the chief tools with which the Forensic team could reconstruct the prison layout. Using a technique of “echo profiling”, sound artist Lawrence Abu Hamdan was able to determine the size of cells, stairwells and corridors by playing different reverberations and asking witnesses to match them with sounds they remembered hearing in the prison.

“Like a form of sonar, the sounds of the beatings illuminated the spaces around them,” says Abu Hamdan. “The prison is really an echo chamber: one person being tortured is like everyone being tortured, because the sound circulates throughout the space, through air vents and water pipes. You cannot escape it.”

Oliver continues:

Saydnaya detainees developed an acute aural sensitivity, able to identify the different sounds of belts, electrical cables or broomsticks on flesh, and the difference between bodies being punched, kicked or beaten against the wall.
“You try to build an image based on the sounds you hear,” says Salam Othman, a former Saydnaya detainee, in a video interview. “You know the person by the sound of his footsteps. You can tell the food times by the sound of the bowl. If you hear screaming, you know newcomers have arrived. When there is no screaming, we know they are accustomed to Saydnaya.”

Architecture of sound

You can find full details of the project, of its architectural and auditory modelling, and its findings here, and there is also an excellent video on YouTube:

Documenting what is happening provides an essential platform for political and eventually legal action against those responsible.  You can joint Amnesty’s campaign here (scroll down).  Please do.

Standing on occupied ground

This is Reading Week at UBC, so I’m doing just that…  At the AAG Annual Meeting in San Francisco there is a Plenary Session on Friday 1 April (sic) on Forging Solidarity: Taking a stand on Palestine:

In July 2015 the International Critical Geography Group convened its seventh conference in the occupied city of Ramallah, Palestine. The conference brought together scholars and activists committed to combating social exploitation and oppression. Altogether four hundred participants from over forty countries energetically took up issues on and beyond the violent frontlines of class, gender, race, sexual, and colonial divisions. Yet they also took critical steps beyond discussion and debate of our intellectual work towards concrete collective action. An example of this was the overwhelmingly vote of conference participants for a strong resolution to sign onto the Palestinian Academic and Cultural Boycott and the broader Boycott Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) campaign against Israel. The resolution adopted is both a political statement in solidarity with the anti-colonial struggle of our Palestinian comrades but also an agenda for a broader commitment to anti-capitalist, decolonial, anti-racist, feminist and queer social movements and struggles around the world against growing social, economic and political precarity, rising authoritarianism, encroachment of fundamental rights, dispossession, structural adjustment in the south and north, revanchism, ongoing colonization of public space, land and resources, the privatization of the commons, as well as structural and state-sanctioned violence against racialized, gendered, queer bodies, and other targeted bodies and communities.

Building on the momentum generated by the conference and this resolution, this discussion panel aims to open up a serious discussion about BDS and the academic boycott of Israel within the Association of American Geographers. This is, we believe, particularly relevant in light of the current situation in Palestine/Israel but also taking into consideration how academics from other professional organisations such as the American Anthropological Association, the Association for Asian American Studies, the American Studies Association and the Native American Studies Association, as well as a number of student councils worldwide, have already endorsed this call for solidarity. Our distinguished panel of scholars and activists will speak out about the importance and the urgency to adopt a political stand on Palestine and to further the work of decolonizing the discipline of geography. In doing so, we hope to reaffirm a commitment to critical scholarship and praxis by encouraging and enabling spaces of political and conceptual possibility for geographers in solidarity with ongoing socio-political, economic and environmental struggles around the globe.

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In the wake of that ICG Conference in Ramallah, David Lloyd‘s moving reflections on another conference/workshop in the same city, ‘Walter Benjamin in Palestine‘, repay careful reading:

Activism is in fact the antagonist of complacency and of the satisfaction with familiar protocols that dulls thinking and makes the institutionalized academic a little stupid. But activism is not always expressed in headlong mobilization or fervent debates, nor is thought only the forethought that shapes or the afterthought that reflects on practice. As “Benjamin in Palestine” exemplified, it can also take the form of deliberate thinking in common whose very exercise is a form of resistance, however limited. As the BDS movement continues to advance, perhaps workshops like these, which step beyond mere “severance of relations” (as Benjamin described the act of striking) to shape conditions for new modes of relation, may offer a way to think the future of our resistance to Israeli apartheid. Perhaps too it offers a model also for an alternative to the insidious corporatization of our intellectual and creative lives under the neoliberal dispensation we all confront, wherever we reside, and not only in occupied Palestine. That, indeed, may be the insight we have been gifted by those who daily struggle for the right to education in the face of dispossession.

BUTLER NotesIn its way this, too, is a modestly performative politics of assembly.  So it’s good to see that panelists at the AAG plenary include this year’s Honorary Geographer, Judith Butler; full list is here.  You can find Judith’s previous remarks on BDS (at Brooklyn College) here.

You can also find out much more about the American Anthropological Association’s stand (last year) here; the statement that accompanied the successful resolution is here; a series of FAQs (“Yes, but…”) is here; and other resources are here.

It’s opportune, too, that the latest issue of borderlands should be devoted to The politics of suffering – with a special focus on occupied Palestine.  Among the many truly excellent essays three stand out for me.

First, Suvendrini Perera‘s accomplished contrapuntal reading of transnational justice, ‘Visibility, Atrocity and the Subject of Postcolonial Justice‘, which proceeds’ through a series of key sites – Congo, Belgium, Nuremberg, Israel, Gaza – that links past and present, colonial and colonizing worlds’, and then focuses on the deaths of tens of thousands of civilians on the beaches of Mullivaikkal in northeast Sri Lanka:

In the context of the 2009 atrocities in Lanka, in this paper I attempt to think through a set of questions about visibility, witness, suffering, accountability and disposability as they are played out in the relations between the necro-geo-politics of global institutions and the patchworks of local and transnational movements that attempt to materialize peoples’ suffering and realize the possibility of justice within fragile and compromised frameworks.

Drone feed Gaza city November 2012

Second, Joseph Pugliese‘s characteristically innovative ‘Forensic ecologies of occupied zones and Geographies of dispossession: Gaza and occupied East Jerusalem‘:

In this essay, I work to develop what I term multi-dimensional matrices of suffering that envisage the understanding of suffering beyond the locus of the human subject. In my theorising of multi-dimensional matrices of suffering, I proceed to conceptualise the suffering experienced in occupied zones as both relational and distributed. In the occupied zone, suffering encompasses complex, multi-dimensional vectors that bind humans, animals, animate and non-animate objects and entities, buildings and land. In the context of the regimes of violence that inscribe occupied zones, I situate suffering, and a range of other affects, in ecological configurations that, through a range of forensic indices, evidence the impact of these regimes of violence on the broad spectrum of entities that comprise a particular occupied zone. The conceptualisation of suffering and trauma in occupied zones in terms of its relational multi-dimensionality, its site-specific matrices and relational distribution across ecologies, I conclude, enables an understanding of suffering that moves beyond anthropocentric approaches. I situate my analysis in the context of Israel’s drone-enabled regime of unrelenting surveillance, occupation and military control over Gaza [see image above] and its continuing occupation of East Jerusalem.

It really is a tour de force, only too literally so, and builds not only on Joe’s brilliant State violence and the execution of law and his previous research but also on Jane Bennett‘s work and – as the title signposts – on Eyal Weizman‘s project of forensic architecture.  It’s doubly important because so much critical writing on military drones has virtually nothing to say about Israel’s use (and sale) of them.

Finally, Jasbir Puar‘s ‘The ‘right’ to maim: Disablement and inhumanist biopolitics in Palestine‘:

This essay argues that Israel manifests an implicit claim to the ‘right to maim’ and debilitate Palestinian bodies and environments as a form of biopolitical control and as central to a scientifically authorized humanitarian economy. In this context, the essay tracks the permeating relations between living and dying that complicate Michel Foucault’s foundational mapping of biopower, in this case, the practice of deliberate maiming. In doing so it demonstrates the limitations of the idea of ‘collateral damage’ that disarticulates the effects of warfare from the perpetration of violence, and notes that the policy of maiming is a productive one, a form of weaponized epigenetics through the profitability of a speculative rehabilitative economy.

This too is meticulously argued and imaginatively constructed, and adds important dimensions to my posts about Israel’s war on Gaza and, in particular, my preliminary speculations about the prosthetics of military violence.

Rooting for the uprooted

There’s an excellent account by Michael Hodges of Eyal Weizman‘s Forensic Architecture project (he now calls it a research agency) over at Wired UK.  Unlike some media versions, this is fully – and appropriately – embodied and materialised, following Eyal through East Jerusalem and into the West Bank in August 2015.  He explains:

“The idea is to use forensic architecture as a method that extends deep into the facts and looks at them and maps them out to see the materialisation of political forces. Forensic Architecture assumes that every bit of material reality is the product of a complex force field that extends in space and time. So you can take an inanimate object and see into it, almost like a crystal ball.”

That’s as good a summary of the project as you’ll find, but en route you also understand the ‘situatedness’ of the project – that’s an inadequate formulation, I increasingly think, since it’s also about extending deep into what, for want of a batter word, we might call the field: it’s about the rootedness of Forensic Architecture in the lives of the uprooted.

FA Waziristan 2010 reconstruction

In consequence, what also comes into view during the report is the passionate commitment of its investigators to the witnesses whose experiences they recover:

“We understand the relationship between memory, architecture and violence,” Weizman says. “Take the woman who survived the drone strike in Waziristan [above; see also the video here: scroll down to case 2]. She was very traumatised; she lost relatives in there. We returned her digitally to the site of the attack and built it together with her, reconstructed her family house that had been hit by the drone [above]. During the modelling process she was meticulous about every window, every object we placed in there, every person. But she was very obsessed with a fan. In the beginning she said it was on the ceiling. Then she said no, it was a standing fan. She asked us to move it to the left and then to the right and then back again, until we were wondering, what is it about the fan? But when we made her walk through the space she recollected exactly where it had been, and that after the strike had killed her family she had found bits of human flesh on the blades of the fan. You see, the fan acted as an anchor for her memory and in the end we reassembled that memory in a digital space.”

And as you follow Eyal through occupied Palestine, you also realise that there is something vitally defiant in so thoroughly challenging Israel’s rhetorical claim to the ‘facts on the ground’.

“I’ve looked at clouds from both sides now…”

Eyal Weizman‘s stunning Wall Exchange, “Forensic Architecture”, which he presented at the Vogue Theatre in Vancouver earlier this month, is now up on YouTube here and embedded below.

If you are puzzled by my riff on Joni Mitchell, start around 46:10 (though you’ll miss a lot if you do…).

And while we’re on the subject of clouds, you’ll find a remarkable analysis of a different sort of militarized cloud in Tung-Hui Hu‘s A Prehistory of the Cloud from MIT:

We may imagine the digital cloud as placeless, mute, ethereal, and unmediated. Yet the reality of the cloud is embodied in thousands of massive data centers, any one of which can use as much electricity as a midsized town. Even all these data centers are only one small part of the cloud. Behind that cloud-shaped icon on our screens is a whole universe of technologies and cultural norms, all working to keep us from noticing their existence. In this book, Tung-Hui Hu examines the gap between the real and the virtual in our understanding of the cloud.

Hu shows that the cloud grew out of such older networks as railroad tracks, sewer lines, and television circuits. He describes key moments in the prehistory of the cloud, from the game “Spacewar” as exemplar of time-sharing computers to Cold War bunkers that were later reused as data centers. Countering the popular perception of a new “cloudlike” political power that is dispersed and immaterial, Hu argues that the cloud grafts digital technologies onto older ways of exerting power over a population. But because we invest the cloud with cultural fantasies about security and participation, we fail to recognize its militarized origins and ideology. Moving between the materiality of the technology itself and its cultural rhetoric, Hu’s account offers a set of new tools for rethinking the contemporary digital environment.

Prehistory of the Cloud

Here is Lisa Parks on what is surely one of the must-reads of the year:

“Hu’s riveting genealogy of the cloud takes us into its precursors and politics, and boldly demonstrates how fantasies of sovereignty, security, and participation are bound up in it. Much more than a data center, the cloud is a diffuse and invisible structure of power that has yielded a data-centric order. Imaginative and lucidly written, this book will be core to digital media studies.”

The conflict shoreline, colonialism and climate change

Conflict_Shoreline_web

When Eyal Weizman was in Vancouver last March – joining us for Gaston Gordillo‘s  workshop on Space, materiality and violence at the Peter Wall Institute for Advanced Studies – he delivered a public lecture on The Conflict Shoreline: Colonialism as Climate Change.

It’s now available as an extended essay (96 pp) from Steidl in association with Cabinet Books:

The village of al-‘Araqib has been destroyed and rebuilt more than seventy times in the “battle over the Negev,” an ongoing Israeli state campaign to uproot the Bedouins from the northern threshold of the desert. Unlike other frontiers fought over during the Israel–Palestine conflict, however, this threshold is not demarcated by fences and walls but advances and recedes in response to cultivation, colonization, displacement, urbanization, and climate change.

The fate of al-‘Araqib, like that of other Bedouin villages along the desert’s threshold, its “aridity line,” is bound up with deep environmental changes. But whereas even the most committed environmentalists today conceive of climate change as an accidental and unintentional side effect of modernity, Israeli architect and theorist Eyal Weizman argues that from the point of view of colonial history, climate change has never been simply collateral damage. It has always been a stated goal; “making the desert bloom” is, in effect, “changing the climate.”

In examining this history, Weizman outlines attempts—from the Ottoman era through the period of European colonization to the present—to scientifically define, measure, and map the threshold of the desert. Such efforts have been important because imperial and, later, national governments—whose laws have never recognized property rights in the desert—aimed to push back this threshold as they tried to expand the limits of arable land and bring the nomads under state control. In the Negev, the displacement of the weather and the displacement of the Bedouins have gone hand in hand. But while the desert edge, and the Bedouins, have been driven further and further south, global climate change today acts as a major counterforce. Predictably, the Bedouins are caught in the middle.

Brilliantly researched and argued, Weizman’s text—part detective story, part history lesson, and part scientific analysis—explores the changing threshold of the Negev through the extraordinary contemporary photographs of American artist Fazal Sheikh, as well as an array of documents, maps, and images, including historical aerial imagery, remote sensing data, state plans, court testimonies, and nineteenth-century travelers’ accounts. Together, these disparate forms of evidence establish the “conflict shoreline” as a border along which climate change and political contestation are deeply, perilously entangled.

You can find some of the background, and the relation to Eyal’s Forensic Architecture project, in an interview earlier this year:

I’m mostly trying to establish forensic architecture as a critical field of practice and as an agency that produce and disseminate evidence about war crimes in urban context. Recent forensic investigations in Guatemala and in the Israeli Negev involved the intersection of violence and environmental transformations, even climate change. For trials and truth commissions, we analyze the extent to which environmental transformation intersect with conflict.

The imaging of this previously invisible types of violence—‘environmental violence’ such as land degradation, the destruction of fields and forests (in the tropics), pollution and water diversion, and also long term processes of desertification—we use as new type of evidence of processes dispersed across time and space. There are other conflicts that unfold in relation to climatic and environmental transformations and in particular in relation to environmental scarcity.

Conflict has reciprocal interaction with environment transformation: environmental change could aggravate conflict, while conflict tends to generate further environmental damage. This has been apparent in Darfur, Sudan where the conflict was aggravated by increased competition over arable due to local land erosion and desertification. War and insurgency have occurred along Sahel—Arabic for ‘shoreline’—on the southern threshold of the Sahara Desert, which is only ebbing as million of hectares of former arable land turn to desert. In past decades, conflicts have broken out in most countries from East to West Africa, along this shoreline: Eritrea, Ethiopia, Somalia, Sudan, Chad, Niger, Mali, Mauritania, and Senegal. In 2011 in the city of Daraa, farmers’ protests, borne out of an extended cycle of droughts, marked the beginning of the Syrian civil war. Similar processes took place in the eastern outskirts of Damascus, Homs, al-Raqqah and along the threshold of the great Syrian and Northern Iraqi Deserts. These transformations impact upon cities, themselves a set of entangled natural/man-made environments. The conflict and hardships along desertification bands compel dispossessed farmers to embark upon increasingly perilous paths of migrations, leading to fast urbanization at the growing outskirts of the cities and slams.

I’m trying to understand these processes across desert thresholds. There has been a very long colonial debate about what is the line beyond which the desert begins. Most commonly it was defined as 200 mm rain per annum. Cartographers were trying to draw it, as it represented, to a certain extent, the limit of imperial control. From this line on, most policing was done through bombing of tribal areas from the air. Since the beginning, the emergence of the use of air power in policing in the post World War I period—aerial control, aerial government—took form in places that were perceived, at the time, as lying beyond the thresholds or edges of the law. The British policing of Iraq, the French in Syria, and Algeria, the Italians in Libya are examples where control would hover in air.

Up to now I was writing about borders that were physical and manmade: walls in the West Bank or Gaza and the siege around it—most notably in Hollow Land (2007). Now I started to write about borders that are made by the interaction of people and the environment—like the desert line—which is not less violent and brutal. The colonial history of Palestine has been an attempt to push the line of the desert south, trying to make it green or bloom—this is in Ben Gurion’s terms—but the origins of this statement are earlier and making the desert green and pushing the line of the desert was also Mussolini’s stated aim. On the other hand, climate change is now pushing that line north.

Following not geopolitical but meteorological borders, helps me cut across a big epistemological problem that confines the writing in international relations or geopolitics within the borders organize your writing. Braudel is an inspiration but, for him, the environment of the Mediterranean is basically cyclically fixed. The problem with geographical determinism is that it takes nature as a given, cyclical, milieu which then affects politics—but I think we are now in a period where politics affects nature in the same way in which nature affects politics. The climate is changing in the same speed as human history.

fazal-sheikh-desert-bloom-web

The conflict shoreline was originally commissioned in response to Fazal Sheikh’s Desert Bloom series (part of his remarkable Erasure trilogy: see image stream above, and also here).

Truth Commission

It has also been submitted as evidence for Zochrot‘s project on transitional justice, the Truth Commission on the responsibility of Israeli society for the events of 1948–1960 in the South.

Transitional justice mechanisms address the needs of communities and countries in conflict to cope with systematic abuses and structural injustices in order to facilitate reconciliation. Communities in conflict, both victims and victimizers, have developed a variety of innovative approaches to addressing the needs that result from ongoing conflicts. Hitherto, practices informed by the transitional justice paradigm have been used mainly to accompany and heal societies and communities in political transitions such as from totalitarian to democratic rule, or from an apartheid regime as in South Africa to an egalitarian democratic regime. Usually, these practices have been applied after a violent conflict had ended in a peace agreement, as in the former Yugoslavia, or in an armistice, as in Cyprus or Northern Ireland.

Many activists around the world have demonstrated time and again that silencing and ignoring the past prevent conflict resolution and the attainment of true reconciliation. Therefore, even in situations of seemingly intractable conflicts, several initiatives by civil society organizations, trade union or social religious organizations similar to state-sponsored mechanisms of transitional justice have sprung around the world. For the past 40 years, these initiatives have acted without government backing to bring resolve violent conflicts.

The Truth Commission established by Zochrot now joins these initiatives. The first of its kind in Israel/Palestine, the Commission is unique in that … it is active while the conflict is still ongoing, and against the background of the regime’s evasion of responsibility to the events of the Nakba, which began in 1948 and is still ongoing [the Nakba or ‘catastrophe’ refers to the forced eviction and dispossession of the Palestinian people set in motion by the war of 1948]. The Truth Commission for Exposing Israeli Society’s Responsibility for the Events of 1948-1960 in the South which started its deliberations in late October 2014…

The Commission seeks to expose the events of the Nakba during those years – events that have profound implications for the ongoing Nakba experienced by the Palestinian Bedouins to this day. The Commission examines testimonies by Palestinian displaced persons and refugees, as well as Jews who lived in the south and Jewish fighters who took part in displacement and expulsion operations in the area. In addition, the Commission peruses relevant archive materials. The Commission’s report will be designed to encourage the Jewish society in Israel to accept responsibility for past injustices in the south, with reference to the ongoing Nakba, and for redressing them.

You can also read Tom Pessah‘s report for +972 here.

Wall Exchange: Forensic Architecture

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“When war happens in the city, people die in buildings, the majority in their homes; when the dust settles ruins become evidence with which we could reconstruct controversial events.”
Eyal Weizman

I’m delighted to announce that my good friend Eyal Weizman will deliver the next Wall Exchange on Forensic Architecture at the Vogue Theatre in downtown Vancouver on 15 October 2015:

Can architecture provide new tool of political analysis and intervention? This question is central to the work of Eyal Weizman, Israeli architect and scholar. Since 2010 he has been directing Forensic Architecture, an innovative forensic agency that investigates the sites of contemporary conflicts and monitors the crimes of states. His teams examine buildings, ruins, maps, satellite imagery and increasingly an emergent type of testimony — images and clips taken by citizens and uploaded online. His talk will unpack new modes of exposing the logic behind state violence from the frontier regions of Pakistan, through the forests of south America to the Israel-Palestine conflict.

I’ve noted the work of Forensic Architecture many times – see here and here, for example, and our Acting Director Gastón Gordillo‘s excellent review essay on Forensis [introduction available here; full version appeared in Environment & Planning D: Society and Space 33 (2) (2015) 382 – 388 and is available here] – so if you are (or can be) in Vancouver in the fall, do come along.

Like all Wall Exchanges, the lecture is sponsored by UBC’s Peter Wall Institute for Advanced Studies and is free and open to the public – though you do need to book in advance.  Full details and a link to book will be available on the PWIAS website from 8 September onwards.

The Platform Edge

I should have drawn attention to these two further, vital resources in my post on Black Friday, Israel’s assault on Rafah during ‘Operation Protective Edge‘.

Gaza Platform INTRO SCREEN

First, Forensic Architecture‘s wider collaboration with Amnesty International (in association with the Al-Mezan Centre for Human Rights/Palestinian Centre for Human Rights) has produced The Gaza Platform:

The Gaza Platform is an interactive map of attacks by Israeli forces on Gaza between 8 July and 26 August 2014.

It enables its users to explore a vast collection of data, collected on the ground by the Al Mezan Center for Human Rights and the Palestinian Centre for Human Rights (PCHR), as well as Amnesty International, during and after the conflict.

Produced through a year-long collaboration between Forensic Architecture and Amnesty International, the Gaza Platform is a new gateway to this precious, first-hand information: it not only gives access to a large quantity of otherwise dispersed data, but helps make sense of it.

The Gaza Platform is the most comprehensive public repository of information about attacks carried out during the 2014 Gaza conflict to date. At the time of its launch on 8 July 2015, it featured over 2,750 individual events, recording the deaths of more than 2,200 people, including 1,800 civilians and 600 children. As a digital interface, it enables access not only to text reports, but also to photos, videos, audio recordings and satellite imagery documenting the war – all in one place.

It is important to note that the Gaza Platform does not provide a complete record of the impact of Israeli attacks during the 2014 conflict. It does not cover every single attack that took place during the conflict, but only those for which a report is available. Therefore, the total number of casualties presented in the Gaza Platform falls short of the one recorded by the UN across the entire conflict.

However, the Gaza Platform does more than provide overall figures and statistics about the conflict. Each death is linked to a specific event, for which all available details and context are given, thus providing the granular details of each individual event recorded. It also helps to reveal trends by making links between dispersed individual events and detecting patterns of attacks across the 50-day time span of the conflict, thereby contributing to an assessment of the conduct of Israeli forces and its conformity or otherwise with the provisions of international humanitarian law (the laws of war). As such, the Gaza Platform is a tool aimed at uncovering the truth about the attacks on Gaza and contributing to accountability efforts for crimes under international law committed by both sides during the 2014 conflict, the third such conflict in six years.

According to Doug Bolton writing in the Independent:

Phillip Luther, the Director of Amnesty International‘s Middle East and North Africa programme, said it “has the potential to expose the systematic nature of Israeli violations committed during the conflict.”

He added: “Our aim it for it to become an invaluable resource for human rights investigators pushing for accountability for violations committed during the conflict.”…

Francesco Sebregondi, the director of the project at Forensic Architecture, said the map “exploits the power of new digital tools to shed light on complex events such as the latest war in Gaza.”

“It enables users to move across scales, from the granular details of each incident to the big picture of the overall conflict, by revealing connections between scattered events.”

I’m not going to link to them, but the hysterical response from apologists for the indiscriminate violence of the Israeli assault on Gaza shows that the Gaza Platform has hit a nerve: as it should.

Incidentally, there’s a short article in today’s Guardian about the ongoing transformation of humanities research: the growth of the ‘digital humanities’,  ‘tech-savvy’ analysis of large data sets, collaborations with non-academic professionals, and a determination to show how ‘research can benefit society’.  The Gaza Platform isn’t mentioned, but it surely exemplifies exactly what the author has in mind.

BLUMENTHAL 51 Day War

Second, Max Blumenthal‘s coruscating chronicle of The 51 Day War: ruin and resistance in Gaza, out now from Verso.  As Juan Cole put it, ‘Max Blumenthal audaciously takes in-your-face, on-the-ground journalism into the realm of geopolitics.’  You can find Glenn Greenwald‘s interview with Max at The Intercept here:

What shook me the most was how well I was treated in the rubble. How after interviewing families who would tell me about witnessing their neighbors being destroyed by a missile, that they would beseech me to have lunch with them. I didn’t even know where the lunch would come from. They would chase me down after denouncing my government and insisting that the Obama administration was no better than Netanyahu, and hand me sweets, and tell me that they see a clear difference between the American people and the American government. I mean, that kind of treatment showed me how impeccable the character of these people was, even as they were facing their own immiseration and ruin.

That was kind of deceptive, because I started to adjust, in a weird way, to being in the rubble with these people. Then the bombing started again, and then I had to deal with the terror of night after night of bombings, and naval shelling throughout the day, and drones swooping closely overhead, searching for targets. And I became shell-shocked. So I couldn’t have even imagined going through 51 days of that, especially as a child under the age of seven.

We have to recognize that the Gaza Strip is a ghetto of children. The majority of the people in the Gaza strip are under age 18, and a substantial percentage of those under 18 are under the age of seven, which means they have known nothing in their lives but these three atrocious wars, which have left almost 20 percent of the entire area of the Gaza Strip in ruins.

What’s on those children’s mind? What kind of lives can they have? Can they ever be normal as they go through life without therapy, without relief, without recourse and without justice, with continuous traumatic stress disorder?

Black Friday

Just released: a joint investigation by Amnesty International and Forensic Architecture reconstructs Israel’s siege of Rafah during its assault on Gaza in 2014.  You can read the Executive Summary here and access the full report, Black Friday: carnage in Rafah, here.

In Rafah, the southernmost city in the Gaza Strip, a group of Israeli soldiers patrolling an agricultural area west of the border encountered a group of Hamas fighters posted there. A fire fight ensued, resulting in the death of two Israeli soldiers and one Palestinian fighter. The Hamas fighters captured an Israeli officer, Lieutenant Hadar Goldin, and took him into a tunnel. What followed became one of the deadliest episodes of the war; an intensive use of firepower by Israel, which lasted four days and killed scores of civilians (reports range from at least 135 to over 200), injured many more and destroyed or damaged hundreds of homes and other civilian structures, mostly on 1 August.

In this report, Amnesty International and Forensic Architecture, a research team based at Goldsmiths, University of London, provide a detailed reconstruction of the events in Rafah from 1 August until 4 August 2014, when a ceasefire came into effect. The report examines the Israeli army’s response to the capture of Lieutenant Hadar Goldin and its implementation of the Hannibal Directive – a controversial command designed to deal with captures of soldiers by unleashing massive firepower on persons, vehicles and buildings in the vicinity of the attack, despite the risk to civilians and the captured soldier(s).

The report recounts events by connecting various forms of information including: testimonies from victims and witnesses including medics, journalists, and human rights defenders in Rafah; reports by human rights and other organizations; news and media feeds, public statements and other information from Israeli and Palestinian official sources; and videos and photographs collected on the ground and from the media.

Satellite imagery Rafah 1 August 2014

Amnesty International and Forensic Architecture worked with a number of field researchers and photographers who documented sites where incidents took place using protocols for forensic photography. Forensic Architecture located elements of witness testimonies in space and time and plotted the movement of witnesses through a three-dimensional model of urban spaces. It also modelled and animated the testimony of several witnesses, combining spatial information obtained from separate testimonies and other sources in order to reconstruct incidents. Three satellite images of the area, dated 30 July, 1 August and 14 August, were obtained and analysed in detail; the image of 1 August reveals a rare overview of a moment within the conflict. Forensic Architecture also retrieved a large amount of audiovisual material on social media and employed digital maps and models to locate evidence such as oral description, photography, video and satellite imagery in space and time. When audiovisual material from social media came with inadequate metadata, Forensic Architecture used time indicators in the image, such as shadow and smoke plumes analysis, to locate sources in space and time….

Public statements by Israeli army commanders and soldiers after the conflict provide compelling reasons to conclude that some attacks that killed civilians and destroyed homes and property were intentionally carried out and motivated by a desire for revenge – to teach a lesson to, or punish, the population of Rafah for the capture of Lieutenant Goldin.

There is consequently strong evidence that many such attacks in Rafah between 1 and 4 August were serious violations of international humanitarian law and constituted grave breaches of the Fourth Geneva Convention or other war crimes.

It really is worth accessing the full report and closely examining the video animations produced by Forensic Architecture.

Lambert Hannibal Directive JPEG

You can find a commentary on the project and its wider implications, which also draws on a lecture FA’s Eyal Weizman gave at Médecins sans Frontières in Paris earlier this month, by Léopold Lambert over at Warscapes here: ‘The Hannibal Directive and the economy of lives: making sense of Black Friday in Gaza‘.

The Hannibal Directive exists because of the historical asymmetrical characteristics of prisoner exchanges between the Israeli government and Palestinian and Lebanese political groups like Hamas and Hezbollah. The armed sections of these groups evidently rely on this precise asymmetrical relationship and undertake kidnappings of one or multiple Israeli soldiers when possible to negotiate the liberation of several Palestinians held in Israeli prisons. However, the economy of lives that can be perceived through this asymmetry is profoundly disturbing. The hidden message in the enunciation of the 2011 Shalit exchange is the following: One Israeli life is worth 1,027 Palestinian lives. The very fact that many of us know Shalit’s name, but not one of the 1,027 liberated Palestinian prisoners’, is symptomatic. In the case of “Black Friday,” this economy of lives exposes its violence through even more extreme and perverse forms: for the Israeli army, 135 to 200 Palestinian lives are worth ending in order to end an Israeli one, so to avoid freeing Palestinian prisoners.

We should not think of the concept of economy of lives as a retrospective reading of the Israeli Army’s crimes: This logic is at work in most Western military decision making, as Weizman shows in his book The Least of All Possible Evils (Verso 2011) through interviews with Human Rights Watch consultant Marc Garlasco, a former Pentagon “chief of high-value targeting” during the first years of the 2003 US war in Iraq. For each airstrike against an Iraqi political or military figure that Garlasco designed, he had to follow a “correct balance of civilian casualties in relation to the military value of a mission. ” In other words, there is a number of civilians the US army allows itself to kill as “collateral damage” when targeting a strategic assassination. In Iraq, this number was 30, Garlasco reveals. “In this system of calculation,” writes Weizman, “twenty-nine deaths designates a threshold. Above it, in the eyes of the US military lawyers, is potentially ‘unlawful killing’; below it, ‘necessary sacrifice.’” Here, again, lives are disincarnated into statistics calculated in relation to military and ideological objectives.

AI Unlawful and deadly JPEGI should not that there are also important critiques of Amnesty’s other investigations into ‘Operation Protective Edge’, most significantly from Normal Finkelstein at Jadaliyya.  

He takes particular exception to Amnesty’s Unlawful and Deadly: Rocket and mortar attacks by Palestinian armed groups during the 2014 Gaza/Israel conflict.

He insists that Amnesty too often cites official Israeli sources in ways that ‘magnify Hamas’s and diminish Israel’s criminal culpability’. You can access what he describes as his ‘forensic analysis’ of that report in two parts, here and here.

My own posts on ‘Operation Protective Edge’ are here, here, here, here, here (my own attempt at a forensic analysis of sorts), and here.

Irresponsible Eyes

The Left to Die Boat

I’m off to Berlin to give a new version of ‘Angry Eyes‘ at HAU’s Waffenlounge (‘Weapons Lounge’), so I’ve been thinking some more about the dispersed and distributed field of militarized vision.  En route, I’ve read Timothy Raeymaekers‘ thoughtful reflection over at Liminal Geographies on Charles Heller and Lorenzo Pezzani‘s short film Liquid Traces.

Their video retraces the awful journey of 72 desperate people who set out from Tripoli on 27 March 2011.  Two weeks later their boat washed ashore on the Libyan coast again – but with only 11 survivors on board, two of whom later died.

I expect many readers will recognise that Liquid Traces derives from a project at Forensic Architecture called The Left to Die Boat:

The Forensic Oceanography project was launched in summer 2011 to support a coalition of NGOs demanding accountability for the deaths of migrants in the central Mediterranean Sea while that region was being tightly monitored by the NATO-led coalition intervening in Libya. The efforts were focused on what is now known as the “left-to-die boat” case, in which sixty-three migrants lost their lives while drifting for fourteen days within the NATO maritime surveillance area.

By going “against the grain” in our use of surveillance technologies, we were able to reconstruct with precision how events unfolded and demonstrate how different actors operating in the Central Mediterranean Sea used the complex and overlapping jurisdictions at sea to evade their responsibility for rescuing people in distress. The report we produced formed the basis for a number of ongoing legal petitions filed against NATO member states.

1A

As Tim notes,

The paradox is this: despite its departure during a period of massive Frontex and NATO deployment following the Tunisian and Libyan uprisings, and despite the vicinity of 38 NATO ships (see below) and numerous commercial vessels, the migrants who were traveling across the Mediterranean were left to die while being actively observed through an assemblage of multiple, irresponsible eyes.

P14-2A_DOD-110324-dod03

Tim concludes in terms that echo my own invocation of Donna Haraway, though in a radically different context:

Rather than being a God’s eye, which towers high above human activity, as if it were seeing from nowhere, the assemblage that surveys Mediterranean waters constitutes a patchy puzzle of often conflicting and contradictory visions and legislations, and – I might add – quite different and opposing temporalities. As Haraway points out, the main question in this case becomes not what but “how to see? Where to see from? What limits to vision? What to see for? Whom to see with? Who gets to have more than one point of view? Who gets blinded? Who wears blinders? Who interprets the visual field? What other sensory powers do we wish to cultivate besides vision?” And… “with whose blood were my eyes crafted?”

in Berlin, I’ll be presenting a new reading of an air strike orchestrated by an MQ-1 Predator in Uruzgan; here’s the programme note:

In the early hours of 21 February 2010 a team of US Special Forces soldiers and Afghan National Army troops flew in by helicopter to the village of Khod in Uruzgan, Afghanistan. Their job was to search for a factory making Improvised Explosive Devices (IEDs). In the darkness the headlights of three vehicles were spotted in the far distance, and their movements were tracked by a Predator drone sending back full motion video to its crew at Creech Air Force Base in Nevada. Hour after hour, the Predator crew became more and more convinced that they were watching a group of Taliban preparing to attack the Special Forces team. But the Predator only had only one missile left, and so two combat helicopters were ordered in to attack. As the smoke cleared, it became obvious that a dreadful mistake had been made: women and children were visible among the casualties. A subsequent US Army investigation revealed that at least 15 innocent civilians had been killed and another 12 seriously injured; there were no Taliban present. The crew of the Predator were blamed – not least for having a ‘Top Gun’ mentality. But re-reading the 2,000 pages of that investigation reveals another story that dramatically complicates what has become the standard critique of Unmanned Aerial Violence and raises a series of troubling questions about militarized vision and later modern war.

More here on the narrowness of the standard ‘Predator view’, and I’ll post the full essay as soon as it’s finished.

The architecture of violence

I’m late coming to this – partly because I’m just back from Finland, and partly because term is upon us….

Rebel architecture

Here is an excellent short documentary from Al Jazeera featuring Eyal Weizman on ‘The architecture of violence‘, explaining the ‘slow violence’ of architecture in the Israeli occupation of Palestine and the evolution of urban warfare.

9781844678686_Hollow_Land-131a036e4e5db107ee8520dcea0ea32eIt also documents the trajectory of Eyal’s work, from the brilliant Hollow Land through to forensic architecture (as he says ‘the crime was done on the drawing-board itself’).

It’s the third episode in Al Jazeera‘s Rebel Architecture series.  Film-maker Ana de Sousa explains:

Until recently I would look at images of these ruins and see nothing more than potent monuments of destruction. Traces of lives eliminated or chased away. But they are more than that. Making The Architecture of Violence with the architect Eyal Weizman has shifted my gaze, taught me to look at buildings and ruins as objects that bear witness to events and that can speak to us – we just need to know what questions to ask them.

From the moment we started developing this series, the idea behind Rebel Architecture was to look beyond so-called starchitecture – beyond the architectural ostentation of technological feats, and towards a more socially aware, though still creative architecture serving the people on the ground. But it was also to use architecture as a way of exploring different environmental, social and political realities around the world. While many of the documentaries in our series have looked at how architecture – the design and construction of physical structures – is being used by architects to respond to rapid urbanisation, pollution, limited resources or natural disasters, The Architecture of Violence is a different kind of film.

When I came across the work of Eyal Weizman, I realised that there was a completely different way of using architecture and of being an architect. Weizman’s work lies at the intersection of architecture with politics, violence, conflict and human rights. As an Israeli architect opposed to the occupation of the West Bank and Gaza Strip, he fell foul of the Israeli architectural establishment early in his career, and was forced to explore alternatives to “building buildings”. Our film looks at how architecture can be used to interpret, protest and resist, in Weizman’s case, the Israeli occupation of the West Bank and Gaza.

I’ve embedded the video from YouTube below, but if you have difficulty accessing it clink on the link above, which will take you directly to the original on Al Jazeera.