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03 Aug 2014, Rafah, Gaza Strip --- Smoke rises following what witnesses said was an Israeli air strike in Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip August 3, 2014. An Israeli air strike killed at least 10 people and wounded about 30 others on Sunday in a U.N.-run school in the southern Gaza Strip, a Palestinian official said, as dozens died in Israeli shelling of the enclave and Hamas fired rockets at Israel. The Israeli military said it was looking into the reported attack, the second to hit a school in less than a week. REUTERS/Ibraheem Abu Mustafa (GAZA - Tags: POLITICS CIVIL UNREST MILITARY CONFLICT) --- Image by © IBRAHEEM ABU MUSTAFA/Reuters/Corbis

Article commissioned and published by Warscapes on July 30, 2015 about the “Black Friday” report by Forensic Architecture and Amnesty International and the links that can be drawn between the Palestinian and African American struggles.

Part 1: Hannibal Directive

On July 2, 2015, architect and intellectual Eyal Weizman gave a lecture at the Médecins Sans Frontières headquarters in Paris in which he presented the latest research of Forensic Architecture. Since 2012, this think tank, founded and directed by Weizman at Goldsmiths University of London, has investigated several dozen geopolitical events for which the “testimony” of architecture and/or objects was interpreted in order to be presented as evidence for prosecution of state responsibility in these events. A few of these cases investigate Israeli and U.S. drone strikes, respectively in Gaza and Pakistan. One involves the deliberate lack of assistance given to a drifting migrant boat in the Mediterranean Sea. Yet another focuses on a former concentration camp buried in former Yugoslavia.

The organization’s most recent research consists of the reconstruction of events in Gaza that immediately followed the capture of an Israeli soldier on August 1, 2014, during the so-called “Operation Protective Edge” (which killed 2,220 Palestinians, including 1,492 civilians, and displaced more than 500,000 others in July and August 2014). The comprehensive and meticulously documented report covering a single day in the conflict has now been released in the form of a collaborative online publication by Forensic Architecture and Amnesty International under the name “Black Friday.” 

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2014_0729 Gaza - Google Earth

In 1966, Michelangelo Antonioni released his first English-language film, Blow Up, in which he introduces a photographer played by David Hemmings, who realizes in his dark room that he may have captured the evidence of a crime on one of his photographs. Intrigued by a detail in the background of the picture he took, he undertakes to ‘blow up’ this detail (something proper to film photography) to a point where he is able to confirm his suspicion. Similarly, a few days ago, I realized that the most updated Google Earth data for Gaza consisted in photographs taken on July 29, 2014, the day when the Israeli army bombed the single power plant of the Strip (see this July 2014 map to understand the electric power supply in Gaza). The photographs show a large cloud of smoke spread over the land of Gaza as an evidence of the dreadful action of the Israeli army against the 1.8 millions inhabitants of the Strip, since those of them who were not directly suffering from the destruction of their homes had nonetheless to face shortage of electricity, clean water and sewage because of the power plant bombing (see past article). Google uses a mix of satellite and aircraft photography in order to compose their representation of the Earth and, just like in Antonioni’s movie, we could think of a coincidence for the satellite to be present a few moments after the bombing, and it has been suggested to me that Google deliberately kept this imagery as a form of geopolitical positioning. However, the last murderous siege on Gaza (July-August 2014) cannot be compared with the crime depicted in Blow Up: there is no coincidence or, rather, the coincidence is continuous.

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Latrun Monastery

A few days ago, Orit Theuer, a recent graduate from the Vienna Academy of Fine Arts, shared with me her thesis project (2014) investigating the 1949 Armistice Line between Israel and the Palestinian territories on the West Bank of the Jordan River, which was under Jordanian control until the beginning of the Israeli occupation in 1967. This line is more known as the “Green Line” and Theuer’s work allows us to explore its path and debate of its hypothetical obsolescence.

Many people who produce knowledge around the territorial struggles at work in historic Palestine, experience a fascination for cartographying their spatial components. Nevertheless, maps and aerial photographs can potentially disincarnate the issues at stake if they’re not complemented by other documents ‘on the ground’ bringing the viewers to the earthly realms of bodies and materiality. Theuer thus undertook to drive as close as possible of the totality of the Green Line path from its North intersection with the Jordan River, to its Southern one with the Dead Sea (see map below) and associated photographs she took to each aerial view of the Green Line. Her main site of investigation is less the territories on both sides of the line than what I like to call, “the oxymoronic thickness of the line” (see the 2010 graphic novel Lost in the Line as one instance of it) and the ambiguous legality applied in it. A similar approach in Palestine has been undertaken by Decolonizing Architecture Art Residency directed by Sandi Hilal, Alessandro Petti, and Eyal Weizman in their research “The Lawless Line” (2010) about the West Bank areas’ lines as defined by the 1993 Oslo Accords. As Theuers reminds us in the beginning of her Atlas of No-Man’s Landthe Green Line was originally defined by both the Israeli and Transjordanian commanders of Jerusalem in 1948, respectively Moshe Dayan and Abdullah el-Tell. Drawn in precarious conditions considering the future impact of its path — the story goes that it was either on the ground or on a military jeep’s bonnet — the line could not acquire the mathematical ‘purity’ that its definition entitles (a line has no thickness) since it was drawn by “three to four millimeters wide” grease pencils. Based on the scale of the map on which it was drawn (1:250,000), the thickness of the line is no less than 80 meters, a substantial space of legal ambiguity. Moreover, this thickness increases with a significant degree in the region of Jerusalem where the line occasionally splits (another oxymoron) into two between Dayan and el-Tell’s paths (in red on Theuer’s maps). As Theuer recounts, the zone between the two lines has a real juridical precedence in the ambiguity it constitutes as the 2003 trial “Eitan Kramer vs. The State of Israel” attests. The 168 pages of the Atlas of No-Man’s Land reconstituting the totality of the Green Line’s path show us the paradoxical ‘full-ness’ of the line’s thickness: towns, fields, roads occupy its liminal space despite the lack of legal definition proper to it.

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Place de l’Etoile Rouge in Cotonou (Benin)

After spatial thinkers like Keller Easterling, Beatriz Colomina or Chantal Mouffe, the Critical Spatial Practice series edited by Nikolaus Hirsch and Markus Miessen now publishes a short book by Eyal Weizman, entitled The Roundabout Revolutions (Sternberg Press, 2015). In it, Weizman briefly introduces the research work (with Blake Fisher and Samaneh Moafi) that preceded the design of a folly for Gwangju (South Korea) Biennale. This architectural intervention mostly materializes by circular marks on the asphalt floor corresponding to the circumferences of seven roundabouts of the world that hosted large insurrectionist movements in the recent years (to the exception of one): from the smallest to the largest, Ramallah’s al-Manara square (2011), Gwangju’s Provincial Hall roundabout (1980), Damascus’s al-Sabaa Bahrat Square (2011), Tunis’s Place du 7 Novembre 1987 (renamed after the revolution to Place du 14 Janvier 2011), Cairo’s Tahrir Square (2011), and Tehran’s Azadi Square (2009). More squares would need to be added to this list (Manama’s Pearl roundabout, Kiev’s Maidan Square, Istanbul’s Taksim Square, etc.) and some of them are indeed described in Weizman’s book, which undertakes to introduce the genesis of this particular urban typology.

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Al-Karmil (Leopold Lambert for The Funambulist)
Maps created by Léopold Lambert for The Funambulist (June 2015) / Access a high-quality version here (12MB) (license: Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommerical-ShareAlike 4.0)

Two recent events involving the policed/militarized evacuation of a swimming pool based on the ethnicity of the swimmers have recently came to light. 1. McKinney, U.S. /// On June 6, 2015, in McKinney, a suburban town of Texas, a group of African American children who were celebrating the end of the scholar year by organizing a pool party in the local swimming pool were evicted from it by the police. Some of them were arrested and insulted, and one Black teenager girl was violently assaulted by a White police officer before being crushed onto the ground by the same officer for long minutes. We can suspect that we would have never heard of this sickening event if it was not for a clear video showing the totality of the assault — in this regard, it is crucial to see that the cut images massively shown in the press reflects less the violence of the assault than do the long minutes of the video during which the young woman, sobbing, had her face in the ground, the police officer pressing his weight on her back. I am adding here a small map of what I believe is the spatial context in which this racist assault occurred (I found it through a few information found in articles, as well as from the visual indications of the video itself), since the aim of this article is to understand these two events through the spatial politics at work in both situations — a situation that I do not know specifically in the policed neighborhood of Craig Ranch in McKinney, Texas, but that evidently do not escape from the structural racism the characterize the relationships between the American forces of police and Black bodies.

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Rafah - Map by Leopold Lambert for The Funambulist (June 2015) - Copy
Map created by Léopold Lambert for The Funambulist (2015) / Access a high-quality version here (12MB) (license: Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommerical-ShareAlike 4.0)

This is the second article accounting to my current research about the bulldozer used as a weapon of war by the Israeli army. The first one was about the Jenin refugee camp during the Second Intifada in 2002, while this one will briefly describe four historical episodes of such destruction in Rafah, a city separated by the (militarized) border between Egypt and the Gaza Strip. For the occasion, I created the map above, that can be complemented by another one, made a year ago, at the beginning of the last Israeli siege on Gaza.

EPISODE 1 /// 1971: “Pacification” of Gaza by Ariel Sharon

In December 1969, General Ariel Sharon — the same who was Prime Minister during the 2002 siege on Jenin — is named at the head of the Israeli army Southern Command after his determining contribution of the 1967 invasion of the Sinai Peninsula. In October 1970, the first Israeli settlement is built in the Gaza Strip, quickly followed by six others in the 1970s. The Israeli army thus wants to fully control Gaza and destroy the Palestinian resistance, particularly active since the beginning of the occupation three years earlier. In 1971, Sharon thus leads a mission of counter-insurrection that he recounts in his memoirs (Simon & Schuster, 1989) . Like other counter-insurgency specialists of colonial armies, from French Marshall Robert Bugeaud (see past article) to U.S. General David Petraeus, Sharon trains his soldiers to know the terrain on which they operate, as well as to think with the same rationale than the ‘insurgents.’ He also describes the various tactics used to detect P.L.O. hideouts in the Gaza urban fabric, some of which can be considered as quite architectural: we can think of the systematic use of knotted ropes to measure homes both from outside and inside to spot potential hidden rooms, as well as the use of folded ladders to conveniently observe what is happening behind private walls.

As one can suspect, Sharon’s memoirs present the Israeli army’s actions as inoffensive to the Palestinian population not affiliated to the P.L.O., only briefly mentioning his decision to widen the streets of several refugee camps (mostly Rafah’s) and the massive home demolitions that result from it. Indeed, 2,500 Palestinian houses were destroyed by this operation of bulldozed street enlargement that will be reproduced thirty years later in Jenin. Dense urban fabrics always constitute a problem for the counter-insurgency officer, who occasionally improvises himself as an architect of destruction in the reconfiguration of these neighborhoods. The 16,000 inhabitants of Rafah subsequently homeless were offered to relocate in new neighborhoods nearby designed and built by Israel (called Brazil and Canada) providing that they will renounce their status of refugee and, thus their rights to return.

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Palestinians run infront an israeli bulldozer as it destroy houses next to the border of Egypt at the Rafah refugee camp in the southern of Gaza Strip . Tusday Jan. 20.2004. (AP Photo/Khalil Hamra).

Palestinians run infront an israeli bulldozer as it destroy houses next to the border of Egypt at the Rafah refugee camp in the southern of Gaza Strip . Tusday Jan. 20.2004. (AP Photo/Khalil Hamra).

Israeli army Caterpillar D9 bulldozer (2002) / This photograph by Khalil Harra is however not from Jenin but from Rafah (Gaza)

This article consists in a way for me to articulate a few thoughts before organizing them more rigorously in a short book I’ve been asked to write. This specific text is axed on a testimony published by the Israeli newspaper Yediot Aharonot on May 31, 2002. This testimony was given by Moshe Nissim, a reservist who operated a Caterpillar D9 bulldozer for 75 hours straight during the Israeli army siege on the Jenin refugee camp in April 2002, during the Second Intifada. Although I accessed the full testimony in its French translation and commented by Tsadok Yeheskeli in the excellent Revue d’Études Palestiniennes (Vol. 85, Fall 2002), I found the English translation on the Gush-Shalom website and copied it here at the end of the article in order to make sure that it remains available as an archive.

On the contrary of more recent Israeli soldiers’ testimonies collected by the organization Break the Silence (see past article), Nissim’s account of his own actions can in now way be understood as repentance. On the contrary, the absence of any sign of shame in his saying — signs of shame can usually be found in what is left ‘untold’ — is striking in how much it reveals a deep dysfunction in his inability to perceive reality and exercise restraint. Several times in it, he recounts that he repeatedly asked his hierarchy to order him to destroy more Palestinian buildings (although he did not seem to fundamentally need orders to do so): “I kept begging for more and more missions,” “I bitched them to give me more work,” “I want more work!,” “I wanted more.” Nissim describes how he never stopped destroying Palestinian houses during 75 hours, half naked and sustaining himself with “whisky and something to munch on.” His obsession for destruction (“I wanted to destroy everything. I begged the officers, over the radio, to let me knock it all down; from top to bottom. To level everything.”) seems to only find an equivalent with his passion for the Jerusalem (Israeli) football team of Beitar: he wanted to raise a flag of the team on top of one of the mosques of the refugee camp, and proudly declares that his substantial contribution to the destruction of about 100 buildings in the neighborhood of Hawashin consisted in the creation of a stadium for the camp (“I made them a stadium in the middle of the camp”). Although Palestinian bodies are almost completely absent from his account (they occasionally appear through the vague pronoun “they”), his delusional sense of reality does not forbids him to understand that many people died from the action of the bulldozer he drove: “I am sure people died inside these houses, but it was difficult to see, there was lots of dust everywhere, and we worked a lot at night. I found joy with every house that came down, because I knew they didn’t mind dying, but they cared for their homes. If you knocked down a house, you buried 40 or 50 people for generations. If I am sorry for anything, it is for not tearing the whole camp down.” 

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chinese-riot-police-drill-01
Chinese anti-riot police exercising in a drill before the 25th anniversary of the 1989 student revolt (AFP/May 2014)

I recently encountered a video showing a 2011 South Korean anti-riot police drill (watch it below), which I found revealing enough to try articulating a few thoughts about it. Drills are interesting because they offer us a clear vision of the way the police sees itself, sees insurgent bodies, and sees the built environment that surrounds it. This specific video (for a quick watch of it start at 2:20) is particularly illustrative of such a vision, and I propose to examine these three dimensions through it here:

INSURGENT BODIES: Whether they wave banners, kick policemen, hit them with sticks — they do not seem to aim at anything else than their shields — or throw molotov cocktails at them — thus triggering a particularly burlesque troop movement (see 5:30) — the insurgent bodies (probably enacted by other policemen) are represented as soulless mechanistic bodies only able of a limited amount of actions, continuously repeated. This vision not only represents the way counter-insurrection forces consider the bodies they find in front of them (what is written on the banners or screamed by the revolted bodies is irrelevant), it is also an operative narrative that needs to be continuously produced in order for the policing action to be legitimized. In other words, for the authorities, the encounter between the police bodies and insurgent bodies should not be a political one: because insurgent bodies are systematically depicted as simple mechanical (violent) assemblage, the political convictions and principles of individual police bodies cannot be engaged.

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Kurdistan - Jonas Staal
Local parliament in Cizîre, Rojava (Syrian Kurdistan) / Photograph by Jonas Staal (2015)

Last Tuesday, I attended a lecture of Dutch artist Jonas Staal at the Centre for Research Architecture in Goldsmiths (London). Among other things, he was introducing the last work accomplished through his brilliant project of New World Summit in which he invites representatives of black listed and/or stateless political organizations of the world to present their struggle and debate with other members of the summit. I recommend to everyone to have a close look at the four occurrences of the summit since 2012 (in Berlin, Leiden, Kochi, and Brussels), but through this article, I would like to insist on one particular aspect of Jonas’s lecture, when he described his recent trip to the self-governing canton of Cizîre in Rojava (Syrian Kurdistan) where a new mode of governance is currently practiced in the vacuum of power created by the Syrian civil war. This canton, situated in the Kurdish area where Syria meets both Turkey and Iraq, is to be distinguished from the two others in Rojava: Kobané and Efrîn. Jonas explained that despite a common goal aiming at the creation of the State of Kurdistan, the Rojava revolution movement, as well as the Kurdish Women’s Movement (who presented their manifesto for a Democratic Confederalism at the last New World Summit) operate independently from the PKK (Kurdistan Workers’ Party), which tends to adopt a relatively dated mode of governance compared to these younger movements.

When presenting the photograph above, Jonas described the inverted hierarchy of the various parliaments operating in this mode of governance: when we are used to observe the strong decisional power of national parliaments, decreasing as the scale of governance becomes smaller (regional, departmental, cantonal, municipal, neighborhood-based, etc.), the Rojava revolution movement, Jonas says, has adopted an exact inverse principle. Neighborhood parliaments have the strongest ability to take important decisions for the territory on which it operates, when cantonal and even more so, national, parliaments’ authority operates to a lesser extent. As simple as this inversion sounds, it appears to me that such a mode of governance can radically change the way political life is practiced. In order to attempt to explain why, I propose two points that are radically engaged by this principle: territorial and body scales of governance and intensity-based citizenship.

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Map Gilo Settlement Jerusalem - Leopold Lambert for The Funambulist
Map created by Léopold Lambert for The Funambulist (May 2015) / Download a high-quality version of them here (8.1MB) (license: Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommerical-ShareAlike 4.0)

The Israeli settlement of Gilo (26,929 inhabitants), whose construction started in East Jerusalem four years after the 1967 invasion, is well-known to be exemplary of the occupation and colonization of East Jerusalem. One of the main reasons for this consists in the road-infrastructure associated to it: a high viaduct dominating the Palestinian town of Beit Jala (see photos 5 and 6) and two tunnels (see photo 7) constituting what Eyal Weizman calls “the politics of verticality” (different sovereignties applied on different layers of the same territory) in Hollow Land (Verso, 2007), whose cover shows a drawing of the viaduct. Gilo, and its ‘little brother’ Har Gilo (602 inhabitants) are also forming the buffer area between Jerusalem and Bethlehem, two municipalities separated by the apartheid wall built by the Israeli government starting 2002. The two checkpoints that filters Palestinian (and pilgrims) movement between Jerusalem and Bethlehem are situated nearby: Gilo checkpoint itself (also known as 300) allows (on ‘normal’ days) pedestrian crossing (for Palestinian who have a permit to access Jerusalem) in addition to vehicles (most Christian pilgrim coaches use it), when the tunnels checkpoint regulate Road 60 that joins Jerusalem to Hebron — vehicles with an Israeli plates can go through the tunnels, while Palestinian cars cannot.

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