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.

Sight-seeing: war and extreme tourism

For the last several months there have been dispiriting reports of Israeli tourists travelling to the Golan Heights to gaze across the war zone in Syria: as Allison Good put it over at Foreign Policy, “Many Israelis are foregoing the pool or the beach, flocking instead to the Israel-Syria border for a little action.”

There was a thoughtful response to this voyeurism from Paul Woodward at War in Context – make no mistake, this is spectatorship not witnessing, as the video that prefaces his commentary makes clear – in which he suggested a series of ways in which he thought Israelis watching the war through binoculars was significantly different from Americans watching the war on television:

For Israelis the spectacle of regional violence is self-affirming.

It reinforces the idea that Israel is justifiably obsessed with its own security because it is surrounded by a ‘dangerous neighborhood.’

It confirms Ehud Barak’s racist notion that Israel is a villa in a jungle and that tranquility inside this villa can only be afforded by high walls.

It defines neighbors on the basis of their otherness and legitimizes indifference in preference to empathy.

I’m not so sure; there are, sadly, also American constituencies who surely see things the same way.

There are also close parallels between the voyeurs on the Golan Heights (or in this case Lows) and the ‘hill of shame’ from which the international media looked on at the Israeli attack on Gaza in 2009.  Here too the media were joined by Israeli tourists with cameras, binoculars and picnics: ‘bombing as spectator sport’, as two angry commentators described it.  There’s another personal, passionate report here.  For more on watching Gaza, see Peter Lagerquist, ‘Heard on the Hill of Shame’, at MERIP and – absolutely vital, this – David Campbell‘s  take, ‘Constructed visibility: photographing the catastrophe of Gaza (2009)’, which can be downloaded through his blog here. And Craig Jones has an excellent article culled from his MA thesis on ‘Shooting Gaza: Israel’s visual war’ in Human Geography 4 (1) (2011): abstract here.

There is also now a developing discussion of the wider, militarized landscape of ‘extreme tourism’ in Israel from Matt Carr at Ceasefire.  He pays close attention to the growth of tour companies run by former military officers and settlers, to the inclusion of the illegal settlements on the West Bank in their itineraries, and to the shooting ranges where tourists are encouraged to role play:

The sight of these ignorant, gimlet-eyed tourists in sunglasses and shorts, living out their paramilitary fantasies and teaching even young children to kill imaginary terrorists in a land under Israeli military occupation, is not the most edifying spectacle. But Caliber 3 does not only aim to thrill. Its activities are intended to combine ‘the values of Zionism with the excitement and enjoyment of shooting which makes the activity more meaningful.’ As the school’s director puts it ‘What is key here is not just shooting at targets, but hearing how we fight every day to protect the Jewish state.’

This can all be embedded in an emerging literature on ‘battlefield tourism’ or ‘war tourism’ – Richard Butler and Wantanee Suntikul have an edited collection, Tourism and war, out from Routledge this summer – but I think it’s more usefully connected to Rebecca Steins pathbreaking work on the politics of tourism, especially her book Itineraries in Conflict: Israelis, Palestinians and the political lives of tourism (Duke University Press, 2008). You can find a more recent report from her, ‘An All-Consuming Occupation’, on the fourth Jerusalem Festival of Light in June 2012 and the wretched history of tourism that was concealed in its glare, at MERIP.  She’s also provided an incisive examination of Israeli media coverage of the Gaza war – most eyes have been directed at international coverage –  in ‘Impossible witness: Israeli visuality, Palestinian testimony and the Gaza war’, Journal of cultural research 16 (2-3) (2012) 135-53.

Finally, for faint flickers of hope, there’s Caryn Aviv‘s essay on ‘The emergence of alternative Jewish tourism’, European Review of History 18 (1) (2011) 33-43.  Here’s the abstract:

This article explores the emergence of ‘alternative Jewish travel’ to the West Bank and within Israel. One programme, aimed at diaspora Jews, reframes religious, cultural, and ethnic Jewish identity to include non-violence and solidarity with Palestinians as part of what it means to be Jewish. Another programme, aimed at Israeli citizens (both Jews and non-Jews), reframes Israeli national identity to include post-Zionist solidarity with Palestinians, but is not necessarily Jewish in any religious or ethnic sense. Alternative Jewish travel programme tours explore complicated questions of justice and nationalism in different ways that reflect their simultaneously local and global positions, who organises them, and how they define Jewishness differently.

In Frames of War: when is life grievable? (2009) Judith Butler offered a series of reflections on other, no less violent visualities than those I have discussed here, but Aviv’s essay is worth reading alongside Butler’s response to the Jewish critics of her richly deserved award of the Adorno Prize by the city of Frankfurt: grace under fire.