Logistics and violence

Over at The Disorder of Things Charmaine Chua introduces a lively podcast in which she discusses Logistics – violence, empire and resistance with Deb Cowen and Laleh Khalili.

Together, we take a look at the increasing ubiquity and prominence of logistics as a mode for organizing social and spatial life. We discuss how this seemingly banal concern with the movement of goods is actually foundational to contemporary global capitalism and imperialism, reshaping patterns of inequality, undermining labor power, and transforming strategies of governance. We also ask: what might a counter-logistical project look like? What role does logistics play in anti-colonial and anti-capitalist struggles across the globe?

On her own blog, The Gamming, Laleh links to lecture she gave at Georgetown on ‘The Logistics of Counterinsurgency’:

It is a banal cliche of military thinking that the deployment of coercive forces to the battlefields requires a substantial commitment in logistical support for the transport of goods, materiel, and personnel to the war-zone, the maintenance of forces there, and their eventual withdrawal from there. In counterinsurgency warfare, which is predicated on the deployment of large numbers of forces, persuasion or coercion of civilian populations into supporting the counterinsurgent force, and the transformation of the civilian milieu as much as the military space, this logistical function becomes even more crucial. In this talk I will be thinking through the ways in which the making of logistical infrastructures – roads, ports, warehouses, and transport – has been crucial to the wars the US has waged since 2001 in Southwest Asia, and how these infrastructures in turn transform the social, political, and economic lives of the region they leave behind.

It’s a wonderfully wide-ranging survey (Afghanistan, Israel/Palestine, Vietnam, Morocco and more), and it’s also a richly illustrated and immensely thoughtful performance.

In addition, Laleh’s lecture provides a brilliant context for my limited incursions into logistics in Afghanistan (here, here and here), an arena which I am now revisiting to understand both the supply of medical matériel and the evacuation of casualties.

Gazonto

I’ve discussed the political-aesthetic practice of transposition before – superimposing war ‘over there’ on a city ‘over here’ – in relation to both Baghdad and Gaza.  For the most part, these have been cartographic exercises or art performances (see the closing sections of  ‘War and peace’ [DOWNLOADS tab] for some more examples).

Film-maker John Greyson has just released this short video, Gazonto, which is doubly different.  It takes the rash of video games about Gaza – many of which glorify successive Israeli assaults – and turns them to critical account, and it re-locates the air strikes from Gaza to Toronto (the flipping of the map near the beginning is inspired).

More here; if you are trying to remember where you’ve heard of John before, he was arrested and jailed in Egypt last summer, en route to Gaza with Tarek Loubani, an ER doctor who is one of the main architects of the Canada-Gaza collaboration that is responsible for taking Canadian doctors to Gaza to train local physicians.  They spent fifty days in a Cairo jail after John was seen filming Tarek treating demonstrators who had been shot by police in Ramses Square, where they had been protesting the military coup.  It was never clear which was the greater crime – treating the demonstrators or witnessing the emergency treatment.

This, of course, is one of the many appalling back-stories spawned by the intimacy between the al-Sisi government in Egypt and the Netanyahu government in Israel: what the splendid Richard Falk calls ‘neighbourly crimes of complicity’.  Geopolitics is rooted in these ‘accommodations’, and it cultivates all sorts of deadly blossoms.

But the tendrils reach far beyond the region, and many readers will appreciate why it is so important for a Canadian film-maker to re-stage the attacks on Gaza in a Canadian city.  For those who don’t, check out this report on the Harper government’s own video, released as the Israeli assault on Gaza was intensifying, affirming Canada’s support for Israel “Through Fire and Water”.   Really.

While I’m on this subject, Laleh Khalili has an excellent essay at the Society & Space open site to accompany the virtual issue on Israel/Palestine.  It’s called ‘A habit of destruction’:

The devastation to which Gaza has been subjected in the last few weeks seems to be yet another repetition of Israeli settler-colonial apparatus’ habit of destruction. Gaza has become emblematic of this habit, because in recent years it has so frequently been subjected to bombing while under a state of siege, but like all settler-colonialisms, the violence of the state is rooted not in an episodic “cycle of violence” but in the very ideology and practice of the settler-colonial movement…. 

The lesson of the most recent Israeli assault on Gaza, as in all previous assaults, is that civilians are not “collateral” or accidental casualties of war between combatants, but the very object of a settler-colonial counterinsurgency. The ultimate desire of such asymmetric warfare is to transform the intransigent population into a malleable mass, a docile subject, and a yielding terrain of domination.

And, as she concludes, ‘That ever so frequently the Israeli military plunges Palestinians into conflagrations of lead and steel and concrete dust and destruction is the clearest sign that it has failed at making Palestinians into such a docile population.’

The Death Zone

9780804778336I’ve praised Laleh Khalili‘s Time in the shadows before, and Jadaliyya has now reprinted an excerpt that is of renewed urgency in the face of the Israeli assault on Gaza.  Laleh explains:

I wrote Time in the Shadows in order to puzzle out why the counterinsurgency practices of enormously powerful state militaries—the US and Israel at the time I was writing the book—so often invoked law and humanitarianism, rather than naked force. And why so much of their war-fighting pivoted around the mass confinement not only of combatants but civilians. I was also struck by the similarities in the practices of confinement not only between Israel and the US but with historical accounts of colonial confinement effected by Britain and France.

For me, what was striking, insidious, devastating, was the less flashy, less visible, practices that were foundational to detention of suspected combatants and incarceration—whether in situ or through resettlement—of troublesome civilians. These practices—law, administration, demographic and anthropological mapping, offshoring—all sounded so dry, so rational, and yet they were grist to the mill of liberal counterinsurgents in so many ways. And the other similarity across a century and several continents seemed to be the repetition ad nauseam of the language of “protection” and of “security” to frame or rename or euphemise atrocities.

Among the technologies that best embody this language of protection used to violently pacify a population in counterinsurgencies are the separation wall and the various “protective” zones invented by the Israeli military to fragment the Palestinian territories and ensure panopticon-like surveillance and monitoring capability over these fragmented zones. These technologies have specific histories and are mirrored in so many different contexts. The following excerpt is an attempt at situating the wall and the various zones in both a longer historical continuum with colonial practices, while also reflecting on the settler-colonial specificities of their present form.

Laleh describes seam zones, security zones until, finally, she arrives at death zones:

Brigadier General Zvika Fogel, the former head of Southern Command, explained that after the Second Intifada, the Southern Command unofficially declared death zones in Gaza, where anyone entering could be shot: “We understood that in order to reduce the margin of error, we had to create areas in which anyone who entered was considered a terrorist.”

Asked about the legal basis for this, Fogel said:

“When you want to use something, you have no problem finding the justification, especially when we hit those we wanted to hit when we used them at the start of the events. If at the beginning we could justify it operationally, then even if there were personnel from the Advocate General’s Office or from the prosecution, it was easy to bend them in the face of the results…

Within Range DIAKONIAAccording to the Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre,  the Israeli military unilaterally implemented an undefined “no-go” zone inside Gaza in 2000.  It started to level lands near the border fence (which had been put in place in 1994), particularly around Rafeh, and ‘by mid-2006 Israel was leveling lands 300 to 500 meters from the fence.’  In 2010 the World Food Programme in collaboration with OCHA produced a report, ‘Between the Fence and a Hard Place‘, documenting the hardships and the horrors and in 2011 Diakonia produced a detailed report on the (il)legal armature of the buffer zone, ‘Within Range‘.  It concluded:

The use of force based on military necessity must be engaged in good faith and consistent with other rules of IHL, in particular the principles of distinction and proportionality and precautions in and during attack. This does not appear to be the case in the “buffer zone” as the violations to IHL are flagrant, frequent and grave. Israel remains the Occupying Power in the Gaza Strip. In this capacity, it must protect the safety and well-being of the Palestinian population and take Palestinian needs into account. In addition, Israel must also protect Israeli civilians and soldiers, but it is not allowed to do so at disproportionate expense to Palestinian civilian lives and property.

While acknowledging Israel’s security concerns regarding attacks on Israel from the Gaza Strip, the facts and information available show that the unilateral expansion of the “buffer zone” and its enforcement regime result in violations of international humanitarian law and grave infringement of a number of rights of Palestinians.

In 2012 OCHA estimated that up to 35 per cent of Gaza’s agricultural land had been affected by these restrictions at various times, and the Gazan economy had sustained a loss of around 75,000 MT of agricultural produce each year ($50 million p.a.)

The situation in December 2012 is set out on the map below, which shows what the Israeli military defined as ‘Access Restricted Areas’ (ARA) which, on the landward side, comprised three zones:

(1) A ‘No-Go Zone’, 100 metres wide, which was cleared of all vegetation and all built structures;

(2) A ‘restricted zone’, a further 100-300 metres wide, where access was permitted on foot and for farmers only;

(3) A ‘risk zone’…

GAZA December 2012 OCHA1

You can download a hi-res version here (see also Léopold Lambert‘s maps and commentary here).  In practice, the UN Office of the Commissioner for Human Rights explained, ‘the “no go zone’’ on land was at times enforced a few hundred metres beyond this, with a “high risk zone” extending sometimes up to 1,500 metres.’  In November 2012 these restrictions were supposed to be eased, as part of the agreement ending the Israeli offensive earlier that month.  But as the Commissioner reported, ‘there has been an increased level of uncertainty regarding the access restrictions imposed on land since this date.’  In the spring UN monitoring teams reported that in most cases farmers could not enter lands within 300 metres of the fence and that the Israeli military fired warning shots if they attempted to do so, that in some places the exclusion zone extended beyond 300 metres, and that there was continued concern about the presence of unexploded ordnance in the border areas. The map produced by Gisha: Legal Center for Freedom and Movement for September 2013, ‘Mapping movement and access‘, reflects these realities, and you can find a detailed report from the Palestinian Center for Human Rights and the IDMC, Under Fire: Israel’s enforcement of access restricted areas in the Gaza Strip (February 2014) here.

under-fire-cover-small

Unexploded ordnance is a matter of grave concern, but there has also been a history of live-fire incidents (see the graph below).  Since December 2013 and before the current Israeli offensive the number of live-fire casualties near the fence was increasing again. In a ten week period between December 2013 and March 2014 B’Tselem field researcher Muhammad Sabah documented 55 civilians injured near the fence: 43 by live fire; 10 by rubber bullets; and two hit by teargas canisters [I can’t link to the report at the moment because the B’Tselem website is under attack and has been taken off the grid; I can now – it’s here].

Shooting incidents in ARA, Gaza

These live-fire incidents are sometimes carried out from remote-controlled stations; the system is called ‘Spot and Strike‘.  Michael Morpurgo, the creator of “War Horse”, saw its effects when he visited Gaza in November 2010 as a representative of Save the Children:

“I stood in among the ruins watching the kids at work, coming and going with their donkeys and carts. They didn’t seem worried, so I wasn’t worried… I heard the shots, then the screaming, saw the kids running to help their wounded friends. Now I really was outside the comfort zone of fiction. A doctor from Medecins Sans Frontieres told me that the shots were not fired by snipers from the watchtowers on the wall, as I had supposed, but that these scavengers were routinely targeted, electronically from Tel Aviv, which was over 25 kilometres away – ‘Spot and Strike’, the Israelis call it.

“It was like a video game – a virtual shooting, only it wasn’t: there was blood, his trousers were soaked in it, the bullets were real. I saw the boy close to, saw his agony as the cart rushed by me. Many like him, the doctor told me, ended up maimed for life. Here was a child, caged and under siege, being deliberately targeted, his right to survival, the most basic of all children’s rights, being utterly ignored. Unicef says that 26 children were shot like this in 2010. The boy I saw was called Shamekh, I discovered. He lives in a house with 15 family members, and was out there earning what money he could, in the only way he knew how.’

Today, there is a palpable sense in which the whole of Gaza has become a death zone.  First, Israel has declared a three-kilometre ‘buffer zone’ inside Gaza’s borders which now effectively places 44 per cent of the territory off limits (you can download the OCHA map below here; the second map makes the situation clearer, though it inevitably sacrifices detail).  Compare this with the previous map by following the line of the road south-north.

GAZA Access Restrictions JULY 2014

ocha_opt_gaza_access_and_closure_map_december_2012_geopdf_mobile_buffer

Léopold Lambert has provided this close-in triptych which exposes the enormity of the expansion and the knock-on effects of the forced displacement:

Gaza

Mohammed Omer reports:

Anyone within the zone has been warned by the Israeli military to leave or risk being bombed.

This buffer zone has only exacerbated Gaza’s siege. To the east, Palestinians in Gaza are fenced in by Israeli artillery tanks, mortars, cannon shells and snipers. On Gaza’s western side, Israeli warships form a blockade and allow only a three-mile fishing zone. To the north resides more military checkpoints and soldiers. To the south, the Egyptian military has closed off the Rafah border.

The buffer zone has tightened the Israeli chokehold around Gaza’s small strip of land.

Damage in the Gaza stripThis is, as Jesse Rosenfed reports, a ‘No Man’s Land’ in exactly the expanded sense proposed by Noam Leshem and Al Pinkerton:

What that means on the ground is scenes of extraordinary devastation in places like the Al Shajaya district approaching Gaza’s eastern frontier, and Beit Hanoun in the north. These were crowded neighborhoods less than three weeks ago. Now they have been literally depopulated, the residents joining more than 160,000 internally displaced people in refuges and makeshift shelters. Apartment blocks are fields of rubble, and as I move through this hostile landscape the phrase that keeps ringing in my head is “scorched earth.”

It’s not like Israel didn’t plan this. It told tens of thousands of Palestinians to flee so its air force, artillery and tanks could create this uninhabitable no-man’s land of half-standing, burned-out buildings, broken concrete and twisted metal. During a brief humanitarian ceasefire some Gazans were able to come back to get their first glimpse of the destruction this war has brought to their communities, and to sift through their demolished homes to gather clothes or other scattered bits of their past lives. But many were not even able to do that.

Satellite imagery has confirmed the scale of the devastation; the map (right) is based on just three areas within the expanded ‘buffer zone’ and was compiled from imagery taken before the intensification of the onslaught.  You can find details of the UNITAR/UNOSAT programme and image files here.  If you can bear to get closer, there are photographs taken on the ground here and here.

Second, the Israeli military have not confined their operations to the expanded buffer zone, and those who have – somehow – found sanctuary outside its limits (but of necessity still within the closed and shuttered confines of Gaza) have found that they are pursued by aircraft and tanks.  The image below, taken from the same source (and same date) used to compile the map above, shows a wide arc of damage in central Gaza far beyond the ‘zone’ (see also my previous posts herehere and here; you can also find a detailed interactive photo-map of the whole territory from the New York Times here).

Damage Assessment Gaza City 25 July 2014

‘The problem,’as one young resident explained to Anne Barnard, ‘is that when we are fleeing from the shelling, we still find the shelling around us.’  Stories abound of families seeking refuge only to find death waiting for them.  One man told Alexandra Zavis that his brother, four sisters, brother-in-law and five young children escaped from eastern Gaza to what they thought was a safe place in central Gaza City, only to be killed when the top floors of the building collapsed after an Israeli air strike the very next day.  Others tell similar stories – one family moving twice before eventually ten of them were killed.  And then there are all those who have sought refugee in UNRWA camps, many of them schools, or who have been rushed to hospitals for treatment, only to be bombed and shelled there too.

Ha’aretz‘s headline on 31 July says it all: ‘The Gaza battlefield is crowded with the displaced and the homeless.’  So it is.  And still they are bombed and shelled.  As UNRWA’s Chris Gunness put it, ‘Gaza is unique in the annals of modern warfare in being a conflict zone with a fence around it, so civilians have no place to flee.’

In his seminal essay on ‘Necropolitics‘, written more than ten years ago, Achille Mbembe had this to say:

Late-modern colonial occupation differs in many ways from early-modern occupation, particularly in its combining of the disciplinary, the biopolitical, and the necropolitical. The most accomplished form of necropower is the contemporary colonial occupation of Palestine… 

Entire populations are the target of the sovereign. The besieged villages and towns are sealed off and cut off from the world. Daily life is militarized… The besieged population is deprived of their means of income. Invisible killing is added to outright executions…

I have put forward the notion of necropolitics and necro-power to account for the various ways in which, in our contemporary world, weapons are deployed in the interest of maximum destruction of persons and the creation of death-worlds, new and unique forms of social existence in which vast populations are subjected to conditions of life conferring upon them the status of living dead.

Gaza has been systematically turned not only into a prison, then, but also into a camp: and the lives of those within have been have been subjected to a ruthless bio-political programme that, at the limit, has become a calculated exercise in necro-politics.  This confirms Paul Di Stefano‘s claim that that, for the Israeli military, Gaza has been transformed into ‘a state of exception where normal rights do not apply. Within this liminal space, Palestinian bodies are viewed as obstacles to be destroyed or controlled in the maintenance of the colonial order.’

Torture, drones and detention


Hajjar and Khalili
Lisa Bhungalia writes with the welcome news that Jadaliyya has audio of a conversation between Laleh Khalili and Lisa Hajjar on ‘Torture, drones and detention’ at SOAS earlier this month.

The publication of Laleh’s Time in the shadows: confinement in counterinsurgencies (Stanford, 2012) and Lisa’s Torture: a sociology of human rights and violence (Routledge, 2012) is the occasion for a wide-ranging discussion of ‘the vagaries of liberal warfare’, including the intimacies between humanitarianism  (indeed, the very idea of the human) and war.

The two security-state solution

So Mitt Romney insists that ‘the Palestinians have no interest whatsoever in establishing peace‘…. Given the scale of illegal Israeli settlement in the West Bank (see the meticulous reports from the Foundation for Middle East Peace), the brutality of the Israeli occupation, and the chokehold Israel maintains on Gaza, Palestinians have no interest in peace??

The contours of the Israeli security state’s impress on the Palestinian people ought to be well known – though evidently they aren’t – but hard on the tawdry heels of Romney’s offensive assertion comes a brilliant essay at Jadailiyya from Lisa Bhungalia that details the operation of the American security state in Palestine.

Invoking Laleh Khalili‘s work on occupied Palestine’s position within global counterinsurgency – I’ve drawn attention to this before – Lisa examines ‘the ways in which practices of colonial subjugation and management are being mobilized through the less sensational, seemingly mundane spaces and practices of aid governance’: to be precise, through the United States Agency for International Development (USAID).  She shows how its elaborate certification of NGOs and private agencies works not just to channel financial assistance but also to channel information back to the US and Israeli governments. Like collateral damage estimation in military targeting, this civilian regime works through an extended chain of calculation-calibration-certification. This is Eyal Weizman‘s ‘humanitarian present’ with a vengeance: ‘If a decision to accept USAID funds is undertaken, one must fundamentally operate within a framework that affords little flexibility in terms of negotiating the security priorities set out by Washington and Tel Aviv.’

It is also part of the tightening development-security nexus:

‘What we are seeing, in effect, is a proliferation of sites and diversity of means through which US political and economic power is being articulated. Alongside its military and diplomatic interventions, the US is simultaneously extending its reach through a host of “development experts,” humanitarian agents and “democracy promoters” charged with filtering, sorting and policing the Palestinian civilian population. While taking a new and perhaps more sophisticated form, these contemporary practices and strategies must not be dissociated from a longer history of counterinsurgency in Palestine…. The aid regime that has taken form in recent decades is part and parcel of the refinement and evolution of techniques that Khalili speaks of.’

The poster above is the work of Hafez Omar here and here, and Lisa’s essay derives from her doctoral research whose working title is ‘Negotiating a Colonial Present: Aid and its fragmentary states in Palestine’ .