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.”Read more
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.Read more
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 Land, the 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.Read more
NYPD’s Domain Awareness System / Photograph by Shannon Stapleton/Reuters
In a recent article (May 15, 2015), the investigative news platform Mediapart, reported the use of a crime predicting algorithm by the French Ministry of Interior since the end of 2014. This type of algorithms that predicts the degrees of probability for crimes to occur at a given place and a given time, has been used for the past few years by various police department in the United States, as well as the in the United Kingdom. The Los Angeles Police Department and its Real-Time Analysis and Critical Response Division, in particular, relies on the private (!) company PredPol in order to organize the location of police patrols in the city (see a 2014 article in The Guardian). Of course, when talking about these algorithms, Philip K. Dick’s short story, Minority Report (1956) and its cinematographic adaptation by Steven Spielberg (2002) are invoked as the prophecy that announced such policing practices. Minority Report indeed describes a police force able to arrest people before they are about to commit a crime based on predictions made by three “precogs.” The vision developed by this fiction insists on the potential fallibility of this system and the problem of arresting someone for a crime (s)he has not yet committed. However, what I would like to shortly examine here, is rather what the use of these algorithms implies in the way a society is structurally conceived.
The first thing that ought to be said might be candid, but there seems to be a fundamental problem in the fatality of criminal behavior that these algorithms imply. As I wrote in a previous article about police and the notion of “law enforcement,” the very fact that such a thing as ‘anti-riot police’ exists, implies that the State anticipates that demonstrations against it would be fundamentally illegitimate and should thus be suppressed by a branch of police designed for it. Crime predicting algorithms register themselves in the anticipative function of the police, which might appear as an obvious function to us, but that can actually be dated historically as a recent paradigm. Anticipation requires a set of incriminating criteria that essentially rely on collective and/or individual subjectivity, not on any legal basis, since one cannot be legally accused of “already resembl[ing] his crime before he commits it,” as Michel Foucault states in his 1974-1975 Lectures at the Collège de France (Abnormals, 2004). This collective and/or individual subjectivity obviously involves racism as a determining influences and the overwhelmingly numerous cases of police officers searching, arresting and sometimes killing non-White bodies in the Western world are here to remind us of this.Read more
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.Read more
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.Read more
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.Read more
Photograph from the “Breaking the Silence” report
The Israeli organization Breaking the Silence has just released a 237-page report of soldier’s testimonies following the dreadful siege on Gaza in July and August 2014, which killed 2,200 Palestinians, including at least 1,492 indubitable civilians (OCHA numbers). There is already a lot that has been written yesterday and today about it, from the newspapers pretending to believe that the atrocities described by the Israeli soldiers themselves constitutes some exceptional misbehavior when, actually it is clear in the reading of these testimonies that they are the war’s modus operandi, and corresponds to orders (or the absence of orders), to more interesting articles written in the Electronic Intifada, +972 Magazine or on Geographical Imaginations. It therefore does not seem so useful to add a description of what is only an (admittedly important) confirmation of something we already knew. What I can propose however, is to state a few points about which we should be careful when we read these testimonies from sixty-five Israeli soldiers.Read more
In last January, French Prime Minister Manuel Valls described the situation of the French banlieues (suburbs) as “a territorial, social, ethnic apartheid.” Beyond the problematic use of the term of “apartheid” that tends to normalize South Africa’s history — I personally use it in the context of Palestine, because the political intensities of both situations are somehow comparable — we could potentially appreciate the gravity of the words from the head of the government, if they actually corresponded to a radical national plan of territorial revalorisation, as well as an unequivocal acknowledgement of responsibility from the political ‘class’ for what is surely the most important issue of the country (Valls was himself mayor of Evry in Paris’s Southern suburbs between 2001 and 2012). Although Valls probably did not intend to have the term ‘apartheid’ understood this way (we can also suppose that he never really thought about what the apartheid actually is), we cannot strip it away from the governmental strategy contained within it.
Ten years ago (October-November 2005), an important revolt started in the banlieues after two Black and Arab teenager, Bouna Traoré et Zyed Benna, died from electrocution (October 25) while running away from a vehicle of the BAC (Brigade Anti-Criminality, a branch of the police, known for its regular verbal and physical violence against the banlieues youth) that suspected them from having trespassed a construction site. The movement of outrage for this particular event and, more generally, the territorial and citizenry exclusion that the banlieues constituted, mostly manifested in numerous vehicles and buildings set on fire. On November 8, 2005, President Jacques Chirac (assuredly inspired by his then Minister of Interior…Nicolas Sarkozy) declared the state of emergency. Although many of the exceptional measures allowed by this legal state were not applied — a curfew was however applied in six neighborhoods — we can see in this decision how the state considers discursively and politically the racialized and economically precarious populations of the banlieue as absolute otherness. The state of emergency ended on January 4, 2006, a long time after the last car burnt, and ten years later, things have only gone worse between the economic struggle than a majority of the banlieues population has to face, as well as the increased liberation of physical and verbal forms of racism and islamophobia.Read more
Rachel Corrie confronting a Israeli army bulldozer before being killed by it (March 13, 2003)
A few months ago, I learned that Judith Butler was going to give a lecture at the London School of Economics and Political Science about the notion of human shields. Butler’s choice for this notion is very likely to have been motivated by its systematic use by the Israeli army during last dreadful summer to justify the two thousand civilians it kills in Gaza, both through bombing and terrestrial invasion. I enthusiastically discovered yesterday that the video of the lecture (that occurred on February 4, 2015) was now available online (see below) and undertook to watch it (twice!). Although Gaza inhabitants are at the core of Butler’s intervention’s first half, she then attempts to articulate a parallel with the numerous killing of unarmed black men and women by white police officers in the United States, thus exiting the legal notion of human shield to prefer the (admittedly fascinating) process by which a body looses a status of civilian, or rather acquires a status of threat within a racist fantasy that proves to be fatal when its author is an armed body, if not a police officer. Feeling that the notion of human shields had then been forgotten from her argument, I felt the urge to go back to it, in order to try making some sense — however minor — out of it.
Butler argues that the only rationale in which a human body/life can be understood as embodying a certain degree of militarization in just being where it is, is an economic rationale: what we could call “economization of life,” following Michelle Murphy (see our conversation in Archipelago). Such a positioning of one body, whether voluntary or not, is based on a what Butler calls a calculation of cost/benefits since the act of putting a body on the line can be necessarily considered as a cost in the extreme fragility and precariousness it constitutes, as Banu Bargu (quoted several times in the lecture) illustrates in her brilliant work about human shields. Nevertheless, Butler notes that “when we speak about voluntary and involuntary human shields, we are from the start talking about designations that take place in language, and for specific reasons: these are discursive formations that are already mobilized in the service of a war effort or in the midst of a war field.”Read more