Googling military occupation

A new report from the Arab Center for Social Media Advancement, Mapping Segregation: Google Maps and the Human Rights of Palestinians, adds another dimension to contemporary discussions about the weaponisation of social media (and, not incidentally, about Google’s claims of social responsibility).

The report outlines the restrictions imposed by the illegal Israeli occupation of the West Bank on Palestinians, and compares three cartographic apps: Google Maps, Maps.me and Waze.  The focus is on what is missing from their digital maps – the misrepresentation or erasure of Palestinian villages (though illegal Israeli colonies are clearly marked) – and the cartographic attenuation of the all-too-real restrictions on the movement of Palestinians.  For example:

On routes within the West Bank, Google Maps prioritizes directing users through Israel rather than through the West Bank, even if this adds considerable distance to the journey. The drive from Ramallah to Nablus through the West Bank usually takes 45 minutes, however when using Google Maps, the journey takes a long route through Israel and takes 4.5 hours. In contrast, the shortest route from Ramallah to Bethlehem takes the driver through Jerusalem, which is inaccessible for Palestinian West Bank ID holders. Whenever a route passes through the West Bank, Google Maps shows two warnings on the route description: “This route has restricted usage or private roads” and “This route may cross country borders” and fails to highlight Israeli settlements or checkpoints. Google Maps is unable to calculate routes within Palestinian rural communities, or to and from Gaza, displaying the message “Sorry, we could not calculate driving/walking directions from x to y”. The app offers the option to “add a missing place” and edit information, but this “might take some time to show up on the map” as they must be reviewed first.

More from +972 magazine here.

If you haven’t done this before, try putting “Palestine” into the search box on Google Maps: the report discusses that too.

Laboratories and assemblages

I’m on my way home from Bergen, where I was taking part in the Norsk Sakprosafestival (loosely, ‘Non-Fiction Festival’).  I gave a sawn-off version of ‘Angry eyes’, followed by a conversation with the ever-interesting Kristin Bergtora Sandvik, and took part in a panel discussion on ‘Freedom’ with Astri Suhrke, Kareem Amer, Jonny Steinberg, Ilan Pappe and Hilde Sandvik.  I had a marvellous time, and I’m deeply grateful to my hosts and especially Oyvind Vagnes for their warm welcome and generous hospitality.  This was the first time the festival has been held outside Oslo, and I hope it continues for many years to come.  It certainly deserves to do so.

the-lab-poster_for_internet

Over dinner, Ilan (whose new book is on ‘the largest prisons in the world’, Gaza and the West Bank) reminded me of an excellent film that I’d neglected to write about when it first came out – and given my previous post, and the horror of Gaza over the summer, it’s not too late to do so.

The film is Yotam Feldman‘s The Lab, which was released in North America in August.  Feldman writes:

The Lab is a cinematic investigation into the lure of Israeli weapons in the international arms trade. Why are countries all over the world lining up to buy Israeli arms? And how did such a small country become one of the biggest military exporters in the world? Israeli salesmen and executives in huge arms corporations seem eager to promote their products and pride themselves on their booming business. Profits have never been better — sales are doubling every year, and the potential seems unlimited.

But the product they are selling is unique. Rather than rifles, rockets or bombs, the Israeli companies sell their experience. The long-running conflict with the Palestinians has created a unique and unrivalled laboratory for testing technologies and ideas relating to “asymmetric warfare” — a conflict between a state and civil or irregular resistance. In this manner the Israeli conflict with the Palestinians may be seen as a national asset — rather than a burden…

While making the film, I witnessed the relationship between a network of military generals, politicians and private business; the use of current military operations as a promotional device for private business; the brutal employment of the Israeli experience, and the blurred lines between what is legitimate and forbidden in this line of business.

You can read Jonathan Cook’s characteristically perceptive take on the film’s central argument here, from which I’ve taken the following extract:

The title relates to the film’s central argument: that Israel has rapidly come to rely on the continuing captivity of Palestinians in what are effectively the world’s largest open-air prisons.

The reason is that there are massive profits to be made from testing Israeli military innovations on the more than four million Palestinians in Gaza and the West Bank.

According to Feldman, that trend began with Operation Defensive Shield, Israel’s re-invasion of the West Bank and Gaza in 2002, which formally reversed the process of Israeli territorial withdrawals initiated by the Oslo accords.

Following that operation, many army officers went into private business, and starting in 2005 Israel’s arms industry started to break new records, at $2 billion a year.

But the biggest surge in sales followed Operation Cast Lead, Israel’s month-long assault on Gaza in winter 2008-09, which killed more than 1,400 Palestinians and 13 Israelis. Record sales in the wake of that attack reached $6 billion.

These military operations, including the most recent against Gaza, last year’s Pillar of Cloud, the film argues, serve as little more than laboratory-style experiments to evaluate and refine the effectiveness of new military approaches, both strategies and weaponry.

Gaza, in particular, has become the shop window for Israel’s military industries, allowing them to develop and market systems for long-term surveillance, control and subjugation of an “enemy” population.

But Feldman’s still sharper point is that this means that the claim ‘we are all Palestinians’ has a greater purchase than most of us realise:

The effects of Israeli theory and technology on other countries can hardly be overestimated. Forces choosing to employ Israeli-cultivated military techniques ultimately begin to alter their political and social circumstances. Therefore, countries all over the world are increasingly “Palestinizing” (or “Israelizing”) their conditions. Both sides — seller and buyer — become partners in the development of a form of future war between the state and civil resistance groups.

War, police and assemblages of intervention

This needs to be added to the mix when we (re)think about contemporary war/police assemblages – which is an appropriate note for me to cheer the publication today of War, police and assemblages of intervention, edited by Jan BachmannColleen Bell and Caroline Holmqvist.

This book reflects on the way in which war and police/policing intersect in contemporary Western-led interventions in the global South. The volume combines empirically oriented work with ground-breaking theoretical insights and aims to collect, for the first time, thoughts on how war and policing converge, amalgamate, diffuse and dissolve in the context both of actual international intervention and in understandings thereof.

The book uses the caption WAR:POLICE to highlight the distinctiveness of this volume in presenting a variety of approaches that share a concern for the assemblage of war-police as a whole. The volume thus serves to bring together critical perspectives on liberal interventionism where the logics of war and police/policing blur and bleed into a complex assemblage of WAR:POLICE. Contributions to this volume offer an understanding of police as a technique of ordering and collectively take issue with accounts of the character of contemporary war that argue that war is simply reduced to policing. In contrast, the contributions show how – both historically and conceptually – the two are ‘always already’ connected. Contributions to this volume come from a variety of disciplines including international relations, war studies, geography, anthropology, and law but share a critical/poststructuralist approach to the study of international intervention, war and policing.

Here’s what it contains (and you can see that The Lab adds a really important dimension to the discussion):

Assemblages of War:Police – An Introduction, Jan Bachmann, University of Gothenburg, Colleen Bell, University of Saskatchewan, Caroline Holmqvist, Swedish National Defence College

Part I: Ordering
1.The Police Power in Counterinsurgencies: Discretion, Patrolling, and Evidence, Colleen Bell, University of Saskatchewan

2. Policing Africa – The US Military and Visions of Crafting ‘Good Order’, Jan Bachmann, University of Gothenburg

3. Security Sector Reform (SSR) and the War:Police Assemblages of International Interventions, Marc Doucet, St. Mary’s University and Miguel de Larrinaga, University of Ottawa

Part II: Othering

4. The Enemy Live: A Genealogy, Laurence McFalls, University of Montreal and Mariella Pandolfi, University of Montreal

5. The Utility of Proxy Detentions in Counterinsurgencies, Laleh Khalili, School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London

6. Tribal Militias, Neo-Orientalism and the US Military’s Art of Coercion, Oliver Belcher, University of Oulu, Finland

7. Checkpoints and the Gendered Policing of ‘Civilized’ Nation-State Boundaries in Southern Thailand, Ruth Streicher, Free University of Berlin

Part III: Spatializing

8. A Mediterranean Police Assemblage, Barry J Ryan, Keele University

9. Air Power as Police Power, Mark Neocleous, Brunel University

10. Intervention and Ontological Politics: Security, Pathologization, and the Failed State Effect in Goma, Peer Schouten, University of Gothenburg and Kai Koddenbrock, University of Duisburg-Essen

Afterword: War and Crime, Military and Police: The Assemblage of Violence by Security? Didier Bigo, King’s College, University of London and Sciences Po

The facts on the ground

Razed to the groundHuman Rights Watch has released a bleak report, Razed to the Ground: Syria’s unlawful neighborhood demolitions, 2012-2013.

Satellite imagery, witness statements, and video and photographic evidence show that Syrian authorities deliberately and unlawfully demolished thousands of residential buildings in Damascus and Hama in 2012 and 2013, Human Rights Watch said in a report released today.

The 38-page report, “Razed to the Ground: Syria’s Unlawful Neighborhood Demolitions in 2012-2013,” documents seven cases of large-scale demolitions with explosives and bulldozers that violated the laws of war. The demolitions either served no necessary military purpose and appeared to intentionally punish the civilian population or caused disproportionate harm to civilians, Human Rights Watch found.

“Wiping entire neighborhoods off the map is not a legitimate tactic of war,” said Ole Solvang, emergencies researcher at Human Rights Watch. “These unlawful demolitions are the latest additions to a long list of crimes committed by the Syrian government.”

Demolitions, Hama

More images and commentary here, but this is almost certainly only a fragmentary map of a still wider geography of urbicide.  According to Martin Chulov, reporting from Beirut,

Nadim Houry, deputy director of Human Rights Watch for the Middle East and North Africa, said: “These are the areas that we were told about by witnesses. There are likely to be other areas, but there are many black holes in Syria where we don’t have information. This is likely part of a systematic policy in rebel held areas elsewhere in the country as well.

“It shows yet again that this is not a one-off act by a commander. This is part of a strategy targeting all opposition-held areas. It is a mirror image of the starvation of people in Yarmouk [refugee camp in Damascus] or in Old Homs. It shows yet again how ready the government is to collectively harm areas of people that are supporting the opposition.”

The circumstances and context are different, but Assad is clearly borrowing yet another tactic from Israel’s playbook.  The ongoing demolition of homes in occupied Palestine is a slower process, but just as brutal and just as illegal: see the work of the Israeli Committee against House Demolitions here (though I wish it were called the Committee against Home Demolitions to capture more fully what is being so deliberately and callously destroyed).  Here is Human Rights Watch last summer:

Israeli forces should immediately end unlawful demolitions of Palestinian homes and other structures in Occupied Palestinian Territory. The demolitions have displaced at least 79 Palestinians since August 19, 2013. Demolitions of homes and other structures that compel Palestinians to leave their communities may amount to the forcible transfer of residents of an occupied territory, which is a war crime.

Human Rights Watch documented demolitions on August 19 in East Jerusalem that displaced 39 people, including 18 children. Israeli human rights groups and the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) documented additional demolitions in East Jerusalem and the West Bank on August 20 and 21 that destroyed the homes of 40 people, including 20 children.

“When Israeli forces routinely and repeatedly demolish homes in occupied territory without showing that it’s necessary for military operations, it appears that the only purpose is to drive families off their land, which is a war crime,” said Joe Stork, acting Middle East director at Human Rights Watch. “The politics of peace talks do not make it any less unlawful for Israel to demolish Palestinians’ homes without a valid military reason.”

Remember these two reports when you read the response from the ‘international community’ to the latest Syrian revelations.  And listen to the silences.