Evicted inhabitants of the Torre David / Photograph by Jorge Silva (July 2014)
Yesterday, I received an email from a well-known art/design publisher describing, as an introduction, the on-going eviction of the Torre David in Caracas, whose never achieved high-rise structure has been hosting 3,000 squatters for the last fifteen years. The architectural appropriation of a capitalist structure by a multitude of proletarian bodies provided a dramatic aesthetic fetishized by many architects (me included, see past article). The tower is now being evicted, stripping away its inhabitants from their years of efforts to make their community function and to construct a sense of home. Passed the introduction about the on-going eviction, this same publisher presented its award-winning book dedicated to the Torre David and ended its article with the following statement: “We would like to recommend the book for review, as it is becoming a historical document due to the most recent events.” As it happens, I do own a review copy of the book that the publisher was ‘recommending’ and, after having observed that it seemed to serve more the interests of its authors (and its readers) than the inhabitants of the tower themselves, I had refused to write an article about it. This, added to the inappropriate affirmation that this book is becoming “a historical document” while 3,000 people are forced into displacement, makes me wonder about the production of knowledge in which we take part.
The photograph above was taken on Wednesday, July 16, 2014, only a few seconds (if not fractions of seconds) before the four Palestinian kids were killed by an Israeli navy shell directed at them. For many of us, this murderous event culminates as the paradigm of the Israeli army’s war crimes in the on-going siege on Gaza. These four children are part of the 111 who got killed by the Israeli army these last two weeks according to today’s OCHA report. The assassination of children, whether deliberate or not, appears as absolutely unacceptable and touches us all deeply. I certainly do not want to argue the opposite. Yet, I would like to make us think about the fact that this massacre is far from being the first one in history against Palestinian children and the fact that they seem to repeat in all impunity would tend to tell us that we are arguing against it using a wrong way.
Let’s consider a hypothetic scenario: if we were offered the choice of saving every children of Gaza in exchange of the perpetuation of the siege, wouldn’t we all accept it? Here lies the fundamental problem of looking for innocence, it drives us to ask the questions that legitimize that against what they think they are fighting. Let’s consider this hypothetical choice again: what lies behind it is a transfer of responsibility. If you refuse it, you will become responsible for the death of children. This is what happened following the four kids’ murder described above: both Israel and the United States, regretted that children had to die but imputed the blame to Hamas for not having signed the (unilaterally designed) ceasefire the day before. “Hamas could have saved Gaza’s children but refused to do so” is the explicit rhetoric that comes out from the affirmation of this choice. Much of the Western press saw it this way and perpetuated the narrative of symmetry that has allowed the occupation to exist until now. The choice is however crooked in its very essence: the responsibility cannot be legitimately transferred. Despite its rhetoric, Israel does have the choice of whether or not continuing the bombing and raid on Gaza; the idea that it would have not such a choice, and therefore such a responsibility — invited by the title of the NY Times about the four murdered kids for example — brings us back to the absurd Kubrickian narratives of Doctor Strangelove and his “doomsday device.”
On July 13, 2014, Palestinian Gaza-based journalist Mohammed Omer wrote the following tweet: “Most difficult moment for a father: split his children in all corners of the house or all in one corner and die together?“. This heartbreaking question in the context of the siege of Gaza by the Israeli army reveals the duress (a term I learn yesterday from Ann Laura Stoler) of the situation for Palestinians. What it also brings back to light is the fact that the Israeli attacks are targeting domestic structures, such as hospitals, schools, and homes. But what is a home anyway? Privileged’s imaginaries invite us to think that it is the perfect embodiment of safety. As kids we play tag and, when reaching the zone where the rules prevent us from being tagged, we scream “Home!”. Later in our lives, we run away from someone in the street, reach “home,” lock behind us and take the deep breath that signifies that we are safe. Of course, as I have argued many times, this safety comes at a social price as the walls that form a home are almost always materializing the regime of private property, which imposes a form of violence in the exclusivity it gives to some bodies having access to it, and exclude others. And still, we all need a home where we can feel safe and appropriate, hence the tragedy of homelessness as described in a past article.
The necessary association of safety and home is however a luxury that many people in the world cannot afford, the Palestinians maybe less than anybody else. Many people of the West Bank see their homes raided by the IDF in the middle of the night, waking-up all inhabitants with guns in their face, then leaving with men and boys arrested until further notice. Gaza’s homes do not even see the ‘precautionary” presence of bodies on site but are subjected to F16 fighter jets’ and drones’ bombs that lead to Omer’s tragic dilemma. How does the paradigmatic architecture of the civilian realm thus become the favored target of military bombing? The Israeli army itself asks the question: “When is a house, a home?” This architectural section poster, prepared by the IDF as a propaganda kit for everyone willing to use disingenuousness to support its bombing, attempts to propagate the demagogic argument of “human shields” that embody the national alibi of the massacre it organizes. In this regard, it ought to be noted that no one serious seems to believe in the rationale of this argument, otherwise, questions about whether the IDF can then legitimately kill the “hostages” with the alleged “hostage takers” would have emerged. On Aljazeera, Nicola Perugini and Neve Gordon make a useful synthesis of the propaganda means created by the IDF to spread this simulacrum of argument. As we saw in a recent article, the goal of the IDF consists in transforming legal statuses: from a civilian body to a “warned potential collateral damage,” and, in the case of a house, from the status of home to the one of “enemy military building.” This strategy is however purely ideological. As we know thanks to the work of Eyal Weizman and his original work on “Forensic Architecture” (see past article), the internal calculation made by the Israeli army (and the American one in its “targeted assassinations”) is not as much a question of legal status, but rather the calculated amount of acceptable civilian killings for each military objective — that also includes the rate of mistaken objectives.
Erez Crossing: one of the only land access to Gaza
While I am writing these words, the Israeli army is starting its land invasion of the Gaza strip, thus providing the conditions for the continuation of the massacre that this army has been undertaking this last week. Once again, the fact of writing about the on-going tragedy unfolding in front of our eyes constitutes for me to insists on the (infra)structural conditions that foresee it, as well as enforces it to some degree.
The spectacularization of many aspects of the IDF’s militarized operations (via their Twitter account for example), coupled with their despicable interpretation as a sort of show by an Israeli ‘audience,’ as I wrote in the previous article, provide us with the comparison of the Roman games and their dramatic display of death. In the case of these games, the stage for the spectacle is insured by the architecture of the amphitheater itself that enforces the presence of the victims inside the circus, the doors being accessible only by the agent of death, whether executioners or wild animals. The doors to the Gaza strip are not numerous (five plus one in Egypt: see the map in previous article) but, similarly to the Roman amphitheater, they open only for the asymmetrical agent of death, in this case the troops and vehicles of the IDF. The population of Gaza is thus prisoners from the walls while the latter’s porosity is controllable at wish by the Israeli army: architecture’s power is fully exercised.
Tel Aviv inhabitants evacuating beaches and shopping malls during siren alerts.
Writing seems to be the only thing that does not make me feel completely powerless in front of the horror of the on-going bombing of Gaza coupled with a vast campaign of misinformation led by the Israeli State and army then followed by the quasi-totality of the Western mainstream press. Commenting on the (deliberate or not) misuse of images of destroyed houses in Gaza to describe the situation in Israel like openly biased media the BBC or Fox News have been doing is not of my interest here. On the contrary, the imaginary that is conveyed by self-entitled “liberal press,” in particular in European is, I believe, much more problematic. The main basis of this imaginary consists in constructing narratives presenting absolute symmetry. They talk of the “Israeli-Palestinian conflict” or “peace agreements,” when presenting the destruction of Palestinian lives and homes, they insist on the “retaliatory” characteristics of such military operation and, despite the affirmed regrets of the killings of civilians, they directly use IDF documents and rhetoric to justify them. But symmetry can only manifests if the manufactured imaginary involves the notion of threat for all bodies living in Palestine (i.e., the region of Israel and the Palestinian territories). There is thus a need for an imagery of Israel under attack, an ideological spectacle (one might want to wonder if there can be a non-ideological spectacle).
Manufacturing the ideological spectacle of threat and fear is used by the Israeli army both internally and externally. Externally, such a spectacle will, indeed, provides the imagery of a nation under continuous threat, a “villa surrounded by the jungle” as former Israeli Prime-Minister and Minister of Defense, Ehud Barak famously defined Israel. This spectacle used externally is conveyed through images. It therefore requires a photographic and cinematographic labor to provide such visual documents that will inform the imaginary of legitimacy. The Israeli crowd gathered at night with portable chairs and popcorn on the hills of Sderot bordering the Gaza strip, cheering each time a bomb explodes on Palestinian houses, articulates the role of the audience (external use) with the role of the actors (internal use) introduced in the next paragraph.
In the continuity of the last article about the current Israeli dreadful siege on Gaza, this text will try to examine the way the Israeli army adopts legal tactics that supplies its supporters — how else calling these people who go out at night and sit on Sderot hills to watch the ‘show’ of the IDF bombing Gaza ? — with a narrative that only ‘a little’ of disingenuousness would transform into an argument. History has showed us that, if repeated by enough people and enough times with the same rhetoric construction (“Israel has the right to self-defense!”, “Palestinians use Human shields!”, “Only hating terrorists get their houses destroyed!”), these arguments appear to gain a certain legitimacy both at the national and international scale. How else could have this deadly apartheid situation continued otherwise?
In September 2013, I wrote an article entitled “Law as a Colonial Weapon,” about the way the IDF has made use of its legal corps to legally organize and justify the occupation of Palestinian territories. The techniques described in it (mostly thanks to Ra’anan Alexandrowicz‘s fim, The Law in these Parts) mostly applies to East Jerusalem and the West Bank since the withdrawal of all Israeli bodies and settlements from the Gaza Strip in 2005. This article therefore constitutes a short examination about the way the law is also used as a weapon in Gaza; in this case, as a military siege one. Before starting my argumentation, I feel compelled to say that I will be using the Israeli army’s terminology to make a point about its legal tactics, but we should remain very careful about all discursive hints that would legitimize the very process of “targeted assassinations” without due trial conducted by the State of Israel on territories that it controls.
Map created by Léopold Lambert for The Funambulist (July 10, 2014) /
Download a high-quality version of the map here (5MB)
(license: Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommerical-ShareAlike 4.0)
As the military siege on Gaza (the fourth since the 2005 evacuation of the Israeli settlers) continue to kill every day (81 Palestinian killed in bombings so far), I go back, once again to the idea that we should as much focus on the exceptional violence that affects many of us emotionally, as on the normal violence that unfolds itself on a daily basis upon what has been legitimately named “the largest prison on earth (1.65 millions inhabitants). Let it be clear, making maps won’t save any life, and the production of knowledge during urgent situation is always problematic. Moreover, maps tend to be disincarnated and therefore carry the risk of a desensitization on the contrary of photographs and/or videos that allow us to identify with situated bodies. There is therefore a need for articulating the emotional approach to violence — it manifests most of the time through the notion of spectacular — with a more structural and analytical approach of it, as I have been recently writing again.
This map can be put in relation with the three articles I have written during the last siege, “Operation Pillar of Cloud” in November 2012. The first one was introducing a map that I did in a similar concern of sensitivization. This map was one of “the Manhattan Strip” (only 4-times smaller than the Gaza strip) under siege like Gaza was at that time. The second one was describing Gaza as a scale-1 experiment for the Israeli government and army to test how little can the strip be fed in power, water, supplies, etc. without triggering an actual “humanitarian disaster.” Finally, the third article was trying to think how a Gaza kid could picture Israelis since the only ones (s)he have seen in her/his life were soldiers or machines.
Article written for DAMn Magazine 45 about the 34th Archipelago conversation with Demilit ///
On May 2, 2014, I took a walk in downtown Oakland with the three members of Demilit, Bryan Finoki, Nick Sowers, and Javier Arbona in order to record a sonic examination of the rampant militarization of public space in Western cities. Demilit was founded in 2010 to develop a common research on the politics of production of urban space. Walks are one of the means to address such a production as it allows an inventory of the objects that populate public space, as well as the examination of the rationale behind their presence.
Maps created for the purpose of this article / Download them here in high resolution (7.1 MB)
(license: Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommerical-ShareAlike 4.0)
As I recently wrote in an article about Mathieu Kassowitz’s La Haine, I will probably write a lot about Paris’s banlieues in the coming year(s), as I will be soon returning to live on that side of the Atlantic ocean. I spent the last weeks elaborating documents to illustrate what these “banlieues” really are. This is as useful to people who are not so familiar with Paris’s geography as for people who live in the center of the city, since most of the latter rarely venture in the suburbs. The maps presented above, associated with the list of illustrations below, therefore attempt to present a geographic inventory of the “Cités” and “Zones Urbaines Sensibles” (Sensitive Urban Zones) that exist in the first four zones of Paris’s region’s public transportation system. The term banlieue is abusive in the sense that it means suburb, but it is understood internationally — and to some extents in France too — as low-income neighborhoods whose architecture is characterized by “barres” (long and massive housing buildings) and “tours” (towers) that host, among others, an important population of foreign and first/second generation French (often young) North and West Africans.
Palestinian home destruction in East Jerusalem (January 2014) / Photograph by Tali Mayer/Activestills.org
As I have been writing in the past, I try to refrain myself from writing about the phenomenal aspects of the Palestinian struggle against the occupation to concentrate on the structural aspects. Sometimes, it is particularly difficult to exercise such refrain, like it is now when one sees the wave of anti-Arab racism that seems to currently materialize in Israel; however, we would condemn ourselves to perpetuate the effects if we just focus on them without examining their structural causes. The legal and political organization of the apartheid in Palestine needs to be continuously addressed.
Last week, online magazine +972 published an article, written by Michael Omer-Man, reporting about the “return of punitive home demolition” by the Israeli army in East Jerusalem and the West Bank. This punitive measure had been stopped in 2005 following an army report affirming that this type of punishment was (unsurprisingly) failing to constitute a deterrent to what it defines as “terrorism.” The house concerned by the demolition order in this case belongs to a Palestinian man accused of having killed an Israeli off-duty police officer and wounded his wife and two children. According to Omer-Man, this man has been accused but not convicted, which reinforces the arbitrary injustice of this punitive measure. However, focusing too much on whether a person subjected to justice have been convicted or not would ultimately implicitly legitimize the punitive measure of home demolition, since it would shift the concern from what this punishment means to the individualized judicial cases of the people subjected to it. I would like to therefore question this punitive measure for what it actually means.
The map presented above is an artwork by Sabine Réthoré. It consists in a map of the Mediterranean Sea and its coastal regions that was subjected to two simple operations: – A 90-degree tilt compared to the implicit imperial convention of placing the North on top. – A withdrawal of all national borders. That is how this map appears to us as simultaneously familiar and peculiar. Through it we recognize a space we know well — North Africans, Middle Easterns and South Europeans do at least — but our perception of it evolves thanks to the way it is represented. The “Borderless Mediterranean Sea” represents territories that seem optically closer to each other than when considered on a geopolitical map. The sea almost appears as a calm lake, where people on one bank would not feel fundamentally different from their neighbors on the opposite one. We can no longer see three continents struggling to exist but, rather, the sea as gathering lands around it. The names of the cities are worth reading out loud. Their sounds reveal more regional identities blending into each other, than strictly differentiated national belongings.
Yesterday, June 26, 2014, the American Supreme Court ruled that the Massachusetts legislation that used to enforce a 35-feet (barely 11 meters) buffer zone in front of abortion clinics was anti-constitutional (thanks Mimi for the info). Religious and/or conservative groups in North America are organized to semantically and verbally pressure women on their way to get an abortion with various degrees of aggressiveness. The buffer zones around abortion clinics are thus though to materialize “safe spaces” where women can be protected from such pressure. We could try to look at the concept of buffer zone abstractly and ponder the question of what it means to suspend some rights (of expression in this context) on a given space; however, that would be forgetting two fundamental facts about this specific situation: the first one consists in the observation that similar zones are systematically applied around bodies (whether politicians, movie stars, or professional footballers) that are considered (reasonably or not) at risk from a given crowd. In this case, buffer zones are implemented by temporary fences and/or bodyguards that make these areas move with the concerned body. The second fact that fundamentally differentiates this last debatable example from the clinic’s buffer zones is that women who are on their way to get an abortion are systematically antagonized by the surrounding crowds that can tremendously increase their emotional vulnerability. The legal aspect of the violence of this antagonism might not be directly physical, this violence unfolds itself from a group of people in a position of power toward a precarious body: it is therefore a clear case where the law is required to envelop this body with protection.
We often encounter the concept of “safe space” within groups of people, where opinions and feeling are encouraged to be expressed and, thereby an atmosphere of protection against moral judgment needs to be implemented. Whether on specific sites on the Internet or in the semi-private spaces of associations, safe spaces are to be materialized through the social relation of the bodies involved. However, when a safe space needs to materialize within public space, safety cannot simply occur through the social link: it needs to be implemented as actual space.
Still from La Haine by Mathieu Kassovitz (1995)
If, like me, you were a French teenager in the 1990s, you probably have a powerful remembrance of Mathieu Kasovitz’s La Haine (1995), in particular of the tracking shot that starts from the back of DJ Cut Killer mixing Assassin and NTM’s (the historical reference of Parisian hip-hop) “Nique la Police” (Fuck the Police) and Edith Piaf’s “Non, je ne regrette rien” (I do not regret anything) and slowly flies over the Cité des Muguets in the suburbs of Paris (see the successive stills assembled below). This film remains a narrative reference to the situation of the Parisian banlieues (suburbs) where the most precarious populations, which include an important part of the North and West African first and second generations of immigration from French former colonies. It is in my plans to expose how technocratic urbanism has lead to the systematic spatial exclusion that we know now in a more detailed manner in the near future (in the meantime, one can read the past articles about “Fortress Paris”); however, for the purposes of this article, I would like to concentrate on La Haine.
The film’s plot is set to happen on the next day of massive demonstrations following the arrest of a young man of the cité — cités refer to this particular urban typology of separated groups of buildings that were thought to be used in a quasi-autarkic way — by the police, which brutalized him to a state of coma. The first minutes of the film (see below) show documentary footage of similar historical protests following Makome M’Bowole’s murder by the police after his arrest in 1993, and Malik Oussekine’s murder by the riot police during a demonstration in 1986. In La Haine, the police is the clear antagonist. This is not always true in the persons of the police officers themselves: persons deal with the power they exercise in various ways (from the comprehensive version to the most violent one); however, the police beyond the persons, that is the institution that the police embodies, is to be understood as part of the systematic exclusion that the banlieues incarnate (hence the film’s soundtrack!).
Excerpt of the forthcoming book Undocumented: The Architecture of Migrant Detention by Tings Chak (2014)
The last podcast published on Archipelago is a conversation with Tings Chak, Toronto-based migrant justice organizer (as part of the organization No One Is Illegal for example), as well as a multidisciplinary designer. Tings is about to publish a graphic-essay book entitled Undocumented: The Architecture of Migrant Detention (The Architecture Observer, 2014) that articulates the two aspects of her work as an organizer and as a designer. In her Funambulist Paper entitled “Racialized Geographies and the Fear of Ships,” she had already exposed how the historical and contemporary treatment of migration depends on considerations for the very bodies of the migrants themselves. Most of them are either refused, expelled, marginalized or incarcerated. In Undocumented, she engages the architectural typology of the Canadian migrant detention centers at many levels.
One of these levels consits in the legal aspect of the detentions themselves. The latter are not effectuated to punish bodies, but for administrative reasons, holding bodies to a location for them to wait — sometimes for years — to hear about whether or not they will be expelled from the national territory or not. The detention is thus not only painful but each body who is detained is not aware for how much time. Another level is the administrativization of the bodies:
There has been a recent outcry on the Internet after the wide spreading of a series of photographs showing metallic/concrete spikes on stone thresholds, planters and other surfaces that could potentially be used by homeless people in order to sleep. Judging the motivations of people who have been part of this outcry is not my place here; however one cannot help but to notice the hyper-punctuality of this kind of conversations on the Internet that, too often, restraint themselves to 140 characters of indignation with no subsequent political traction. The very fact that many people seem to have just discovered this anti-homeless material device for the first time in these coming weeks is telling of the triviality with which they consider the public space of the cities in which they live. The problem here is not as much the evanescence of this outcry — after all, it could have sensitized a few people — but, rather, the way it embodies one more proof that a wrongly asked question can implicitly legitimize that against which the question had been asked. In other words, by targeting the spikes, rather than homelessness itself, this outcry is considering the fact that our societies count a multitude of homeless people as granted.
When children, we are being told that there is no such thing as a “stupid question,” and that there are only “stupid answers.” This would be too easy if it was true. I would actually argue that only questions can be stupid and answers are only as pertinent as the questions that triggered them. I wrote a few weeks ago about the deceptive question “what should we do with the European immigration problem” that the xenophobic movements have succeeded to have moderate parties systematically answered forgetting that there may not be any “immigration problem” to begin with. I also recently discussed with Derek Gregory about the deceptive questions that legitimatize American drone attacks: “can the US Army assassinate an American citizen without due trial?” or “can the Obama administration release the procedure used in the context of this kind of attacks?” All these questions are asked in the belief that they will help prevent what they actually implicitly legitimize (xenophobia, drone assassinations, homelessness, etc.) by bringing the point of attention to an effect of the problem, and not the cause of it.
French soldier in 1916 / Bibliothèque Nationale de France
The following article is based on the reading of Peter Sloterdijk‘s Terror from the Air (Semiotext(e), 2007), as well as the inspiration provided on this blog by Andreas Philippopoulos-Mihalopoulos and Philippe Theophanidis in their respective Funambulist Papers, “The Funambulist Atmosphere“ (July 2012) and “Caught in the Cloud: The Biopolitics of Tear Gas Warfare” (August 2013), which both refer to Sloterdijk’s book. The latter introduces a short history of chemical terrorism and its implications for our perception of the atmosphere in which our bodies are embedded and interact. Although Sloterdijk insists on the 20th-century mutation of warfare from a symmetrical scheme to an asymmetrical one, which therefore develop terrorist activity, he however attributes the birth of “atmoterror” to the gas attacks created by the German army during the First World War, i.e. a war between two symmetrical armies. “Terror operates on a level beyond the naïve exchange of armed blows between regular troops; it involves replacing these classical forms of battle with assaults on the environmental conditions of the enemy’s life,” he writes. This definition can resonate with the context of the First World War, since both armies had reached such a degree of immobility in their tranches, that something like “life conditions” and the daily rhythm they imply, can apply to it.
The lightning-fast development of military breathing apparatuses (in the vernacular: linen gas masks) shows that troops were having to adapt to a situation in which human respiration was assuming a direct role in the events of war. (Peter Sloterdijk, Terror from the Air, trans. Amy Patton and Steve Corcoran, Los Angeles: Semiotext(e), 2009, 19.
Panzer by Nik Nowak (2011)
This article is relatively premature as I will soon read Steve Goodman’s Sonic Warfare: Sound, Affect, and the Ecology of Fear (MIT Press, 2012), as well as Hillel Schwartz’s Making Noise: From Babel to the Big Bang and Beyond (Zone Books, 2011); yet I felt the need to already construct an inventory of weaponized designs that mobilize a dimension of affect we tend to forget when dealing with topics such as the militarization of urban space: sound. Every time I write about sound used as weapon, I go back to the biblical example of the battle of Jericho (see past article) that describes the fortress walls of the city being destroyed by the trumpets of the Hebrews. Whether this story actually occurred this way or not, we should keep from it the idea that sound is not any less material than a wall or a body. The experience we have of sound is commonly accepted as immaterial, as if sound was a superimposed reality onto the realm of physicality. Sound constitutes however material waves that we usually perceive through the vibration of our ear drum, but the experience of low frequencies — the bass system at a James Blake concert for example — can also be done through the entire body as the vibrations are more intense.
Such a capacity to affect bodies could not possibly not be weaponized in various forms. An example already quoted on the Funambulist was the US Army siege on the Vatican Embassy where ex-dictator of Panama, Manuel Noriega took refuge when the Americans invaded the country in 1989 (see past article about sieges on embassies). The tactic used by the US Army consisted in surrounding the embassy with a powerful sound system, and play loud music through it until Noriega surrendered from exhaustion. Such example constitutes a sonic torture at large scale that was re-applied later at a more individualized scale in the various detention centers of the so-called “war on terror” in Afghanistan, Iraq, and Guantanamo Bay: detainees would be kept in a room while continuously suffering from extremely loud music.