Bearing witness

ICCG Ramallah 2015

Lisa Tilley provides some sobering reflections on the recent International Conference of Critical Geography at Ramallah here:

The settler colonial condition can be fully understood only by those who live it. But the rest of us can at least bear witness in the place (Palestine) where it is most legible….

Yet in spite of the overtly political and defiant tone, the organisers had agonised over the decision to hold the event in the West Bank because doing so effectively excluded most Arab and Muslim scholars from other parts of the world, as well as Israeli allies who are prohibited from entering Palestinian urban areas, lest Israeli-Palestinian solidarities bloom. Some registered participants were turned away by border forces after being interrogated upon arrival at Tel Aviv, others, especially those with links to Arab or predominantly Muslim countries were subject to invasive interrogation and humiliation either on arrival or on departure.

Yet even these denials, sacrifices, indignities, and border dramas, much as they caused individual pain, actually served in their own way to fortify the overall political message of the conference by becoming part of the anti-normalcy performance of the event itself. Beyond this, physically being in the ‘critical’ geographies of the West Bank was politically and intellectually productive in a way that would be impossible to recreate in another time and place…

Palestine always stays on our lips, confronts our concepts and categories, even rendering worthless some of our carefully spun arguments. The real lessons took place in fertile valleys, poisoned by settler toxins, alongside the walls in which blast holes remain, at the sites of shootings and repressed Selma-style marches, witnessed by nobody…

There were moments when we all simply turned our faces away and wept. But the tears of three hundred critical geographers falling on Palestinian soil will not bring down walls or shatter a violent racist project. “We do not need pity” was stated from the start by Palestinian scholars. So instead the task is to bear witness to Palestine, to say that we know Palestine, that we know it exists, that it has existed, and will continue to exist. Palestinians continue the process of writing back, we can only echo what they say and join in the task of writing/speaking/thinking back in order to bring into being a global Palestine.

More (tweets) here.  I so wish I could have been there.

War against the people

I’ve long admired Jeff Halper‘s work with the Israeli Committee Against House Demolitions (though to me, haunted by the passages from The poetics of place that Edward Said invokes in Orientalism,  ‘home demolition’s would carry even more resonance: it’s so much more than buildings that the Israelis so brutally turn to rubble).

ICAHD

Jeff’s classic, even canonical essay on ‘the matrix of control‘ (see also here) was a constant reference point for my chapters on occupied Palestine in The Colonial Present, and on my first visit to the West Bank I was part of a group that Jeff generously spent a day showing the materialities of military occupation and illegal colonisation: you think you know what you’re going to see, but all the reading in the world can’t prepare you for what Israel has done – and continues to do – to the people of Palestine.

the-matrix-of-control

So I’m really pleased to hear from Jeff that his new book, War against the people: Israel, the Palestinians and global pacification, will be out in September (from Pluto Press in the UK and via the University of Chicago Press in the USA):

Modern warfare has a new form. The days of international combat are fading. So how do major world powers maintain control over their people today?

HALPER War against the peopleWar Against the People is a disturbing insight into the new ways world powers such as the US, Israel, Britain and China forge war today. It is a subliminal war of surveillance and whitewashed terror, conducted through new, high-tech military apparatuses, designed and first used in Israel against the Palestinian population. Including hidden camera systems, sophisticated sensors, information databases on civilian activity, automated targeting systems and, in some cases, unmanned drones, it is used to control the very people the nation’s leaders profess to serve.

Drawing from years of research, as well as investigations and interviews conducted at international arms fairs, Jeff Halper reveals that this practice is much more insidious than was previously thought. As Western governments tighten the grip on their use of private information and claw back individual liberties, War Against the People is a timely reminder that fundamental human rights are being compromised for vast sections of the world, and that this is a subject that should concern everyone.

I’ve noted before the ways in which Israel has used its continuing occupation of Palestine as a laboratory to test new technologies of military violence – and as a series of test cases designed to push the envelope of what is permissible under international humanitarian law and even international human rights law – but here Jeff radicalises the argument to develop a deeply disturbing vision of what he calls ‘securocratic wars in global battlespace’.  It’s vitally necessary to remember that later modern war is not the exclusive artefact of the United States and its military-academic-industrial-media (MAIM) complex, and that what happens in Israel/Palestine has desperately important implications for all of us.

Many commentators have claimed – I think wrongly – that one of the new characteristics of war in the twenty-first century is that it has become ‘war amongst the people’: as though No Man’s Land on the Western Front was somehow roped off from the gas attacks and shells that assaulted farms, villages and towns behind the front lines, for example, and air raids were limited to exclusively military-industrial targets.  Even if we confine ourselves to the trajectory of ostensibly modern warfare and track forward through the Second World War, Korea, Malaya, Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia…. the story is the same: modern war has long been fought amongst the people (though increasingly amongst ‘their’ people).  The deconstruction of the battlefield, as Frédéric Mégret calls it, is clearly visible in Palestine and is inseparable from its globalization.  It’s hardly surprising, then, that ‘war amongst the people’ should so easily turn into what Jeff describes as ‘war against the people’.

Here is the list of contents:

Introduction : How Does Israel Get Away With It?

Part I: The Global Pacification Industry
1. Enforcing Hegemony: Securocratic Wars in Global Battlespace

Part II: A Pivotal Israel
2. Why Israel? The Thrust Into Global Involvement
3. Niche-Filling in a Global Matrix of Control

Part III: Weaponry of Hybrid Warfare and Securocratic Control (Niche 1)
4. Niche 1: Weaponry of Hybrid Warfare and Securocratic Control
5. Dominant Maneuver
6. Precision Engagement

Part IV: Securitization and “Sufficient Pacification” (Niche 2)
7. Niche 2: The Securocratic Dimension: A Model of “Sufficient Pacification”
8. Operational Doctrines and Tactics

Part V: Serving Hegemons Throughout the World-System
9. Serving the Hegemons on the Peripheries: The “Near” Periphery
10. Security Politics on the “Far” Periphery
11. The Private Sector

Part VI: Domestic Securitization and Policing
12. Serving the Core’s Ruling Classes “At Home”

Conclusions: Mounting Counterhegemonic Challenges and Resisting Pacification
Resisting Capitalist Hegemony and Pacification: The Need for Infrastructure
Resistance to Pacification: Focusing on the MISSILE Complex

Military, media and (im)mobilities

Two important new books on Israel’s occupation of Palestine that both have even wider implications.

First, Adi Kuntsman and Rebecca Stein on Digital militarism: Israel’s occupation in the social media age from Stanford University Press:

pid_23022Israel’s occupation has been transformed in the social media age. Over the last decade, military rule in the Palestinian territories grew more bloody and entrenched. In the same period, Israelis became some of the world’s most active social media users. In Israel today, violent politics are interwoven with global networking practices, protocols, and aesthetics. Israeli soldiers carry smartphones into the field of military operations, sharing mobile uploads in real-time. Official Israeli military spokesmen announce wars on Twitter. And civilians encounter state violence first on their newsfeeds and mobile screens.

Across the globe, the ordinary tools of social networking have become indispensable instruments of warfare and violent conflict. This book traces the rise of Israeli digital militarism in this global context—both the reach of social media into Israeli military theaters and the occupation’s impact on everyday Israeli social media culture. Today, social media functions as a crucial theater in which the Israeli military occupation is supported and sustained.

Here is Laleh Khalili on the book:

“Amidst the hype of Facebook revolutions and the ostensible democratizing power of social media, Adi Kuntsman and Rebecca Stein illuminate the counterpoint: online militarization and the extension of state politics into the virtual realm. They expose the machinery of the Israeli state power at work within social media, and show the possibilities for countering the force of this machinery. Powerfully argued, beautifully researched, and thought-provoking, Digital Militarism is vitally important.”

Second, Hagar Kotef‘s Movement and the Ordering of Freedom: On Liberal Governances of Mobility from Duke University Press:

KOTEF Movement and the ordering of freedomWe live within political systems that increasingly seek to control movement, organized around both the desire and ability to determine who is permitted to enter what sorts of spaces, from gated communities to nation-states. In Movement and the Ordering of Freedom, Hagar Kotef examines the roles of mobility and immobility in the history of political thought and the structuring of political spaces. Ranging from the writings of Locke, Hobbes, and Mill to the sophisticated technologies of control that circumscribe the lives of Palestinians in the Occupied West Bank, this book shows how concepts of freedom, security, and violence take form and find justification via “regimes of movement.” Kotef traces contemporary structures of global (im)mobility and resistance to the schism in liberal political theory, which embodied the idea of “liberty” in movement while simultaneously regulating mobility according to a racial, classed, and gendered matrix of exclusions.

And here is Eyal Weizman on this one:

“In this book Hagar Kotef manages to successfully weave several intellectual projects: a wide-ranging and theoretically sophisticated contribution to political theory, a robust and fine-grained analysis of the mechanisms of Israeli control of Palestinian movement, and a direct confrontation with its injustice. This book is a major contribution to the topological shift in the study of space. Kotef does nothing less than rewrite the history of territory as a matter of movement, and that of sovereignty as the control of matter in movement. By pushing her original insight as far as it would go, she best captures the logic of the world we struggle to live within.”

You can read the introduction on Scribd.

Visual occupations and a counter-politics of visuality

Most readers will know Eyal Weizman‘s searing account of the cruel intersections between the politics of visibility and the politics of verticality in occupied Palestine, Hollow Land: Israel’s architecture of occupation.

But there are other, no less intimate and intrusive dimensions to the politics of visibility for a people under military (and civilian) occupation that amount to what Gil Hochberg calls an ‘uneven distribution of “visual rights”‘.  In her brilliant new book from Duke University Press, Visual occupations: violence and visibility in a conflict zone, she explores ‘the political importance of various artistic attempts to redistribute the visible’ (my emphasis) and, in effect, to put in place a counter-politics of visuality.

978-0-8223-5887-9_prIn Visual Occupations Gil Z. Hochberg shows how the Israeli Occupation of Palestine is driven by the unequal access to visual rights, or the right to control what can be seen, how, and from which position. Israel maintains this unequal balance by erasing the history and denying the existence of Palestinians, and by carefully concealing its own militarization. Israeli surveillance of Palestinians, combined with the militarized gaze of Israeli soldiers at places like roadside checkpoints, also serve as tools of dominance. Hochberg analyzes various works by Palestinian and Israeli artists, among them Elia Suleiman, Rula Halawani, Sharif Waked, Ari Folman, and Larry Abramson, whose films, art, and photography challenge the inequity of visual rights by altering, queering, and manipulating dominant modes of representing the conflict. These artists’ creation of new ways of seeing—such as the refusal of Palestinian filmmakers and photographers to show Palestinian suffering or the Israeli artists’ exposure of state manipulated Israeli blindness —offers a crucial gateway, Hochberg suggests, for overcoming and undoing Israel’s militarized dominance and political oppression of Palestinians.

Here’s the Contents List:

Introduction. Visual Politics at a Conflict Zone

Part I. Concealment

1. Visible Invisibility: On Ruins, Erasure, and Haunting
2. From Invisible Spectators to the Spectacle of Terror: Chronicles of a Contested Citizenship

Part II. Surveillance

3. The (Soldier’s) Gaze and the (Palestinian) Body: Power, Fantasy, and Desire in the Militarized Contact Zone
4. Visual Rights and the Prospect of Exchange: The Photographic Event Placed under Duress

Part III. Witnessing

5. “Nothing to Look At”; or, “For Whom Are You Shooting?”: The Imperative to Witness and the Menace of the Global Gaze
6. Shooting War: On Witnessing One’s Failure to See (on Time)

Closing Words

2014_cover_publication_forensisIt’s a compelling book, and I’m struck by another parallel with Eyal’s work.  In Hollow Land Eyal showed the central role that architecture and architects play in Israel’s illegal occupation of the West Bank, but in subsequently developing his collaborative Forensic Architecture project he effectively reverse-engineers architecture’s dominant imaginary to use built forms and spatial formations as a way of revealing prior trajectories of violence to a public forum.  That too is a counter-politics of visuality.

Redlining

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I’ve posted about maps of this summer’s Israeli assault on Gaza before (see also here), and in the light of those discussions Max Blumenthal‘s testimony before the Extraordinary Session of the Brussels Tribunal on Gaza this past week was exceptionally interesting.  He arrived in Gaza on 15 August, at the start of yet another ‘humanitarian ceasefire’, and recorded testimony from residents from several of the areas destroyed by the Israeli military.

In Shuja’iyya Max and his colleague Dan Cohen discovered a map abandoned by the Israeli military in an ammunition box:

IDF Map Gaza

Over at Alternet, Max reads this map with the aid of Eran Efrati, a veteran of the Israeli army.  Over the last five years Eran has been conducting interviews with Israeli soldiers – since Operation Cast Lead, in fact – and as part of his investigations into the vicious attack on Shuja’iyya he had this to say to Amy Goodman:

‘… in the morning, families are starting to come back into their neighborhood, civilians looking for family members they left behind and looking for them under the rubbles…. People [are] going around the neighborhood and screaming names of family members, looking for them—obviously unarmed civilians. The soldiers are in the house, looking ahead. At that time, they decide to do an imaginary red line in the sand. Our officers tell them they had to do an imaginary red line to determine if they’re in risk or not. And whoever will cross this red line will be a risk for them, and so far, they can kill him. Of course, that’s not something new. It happened in 2009 and in 2012. But this time, this imaginary red line was drawn very, very far from the house. Snipers were sitting on the windows waiting for orders.’

eran efrati

The map Max and Dan found provides further evidence of these ‘red lines’; Max again:

The map you are looking at offers an indication that not only were individual soldiers able to devise their own “invisible” red lines, there was an explicit policy to transform areas of central Shujaiya into free-fire zones where civilians could be killed simply for being present.

In orange, in the upper center of the map, the phrase, “Tzir-Hasuf,” or “We cleared it out,” appears. All homes along this road were destroyed. In fact, most of the homes in the entire area displayed on the map were razed to the ground.

In the upper-right-hand corner of the map, inscribed in red Hebrew letters, you can see the phrase, “Hardufim.” This is code invoked over army radios to indicate soldiers killed in combat. According to Efrati, the phrase was used during Operation Cast Lead to delineate areas where Palestinian civilians could be killed. It appears this line was drawn in Shujaiya after the Golani Brigade lost 13 soldiers during clashes on the evening of the 19th — when “Hardufim” was heard blaring across Israeli army radios — before they occupied homes in Shujaiya the following morning, when the now notorious videotaped execution of 22-year-old Salem Shamaly occurred.

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.

Gaza 101

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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.’

el-Wafa.03

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.’

mads-gilbert-at-al-shifa-hospital

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.

Shujaiyeh.01
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.)