IAM has often reported on how scholars have abused their academic positions to push their political agenda. One such case is Dr. Eyal Weizman. Weizman is an Israeli scholar of architecture working at the UK’s Goldsmiths University of London, where he founded the center for Forensic Architecture (FA). Recently, Weizman has hit the news when he was refused a US visa.
Weizman intended to use his trip to the US to advance an investigation into a Florida detention center where migrant children are held.
Weizman’s exhibition True to Scale, currently showing at the Museum of Art and Design in Miami, includes an investigation into a CIA drone strike in Pakistan, presented by a UN Special Rapporteur in the General Assembly; an analysis of the Chicago police killing, lead to an investigation by the mayor and the city’s police department; and an inquiry into Israeli bombing in Gaza, that informed the International Criminal Court’s recent decision to open an investigation into the possibility of Israeli war crimes.
While he was refused a visa, the American security officer asked him to provide information on the people he was in contact with, places to which he had traveled, whether he had recently been in Syria, Iran, Iraq, Yemen, or Somalia or met their nationals? And the hotels at which he has stayed. He was also asked to supply the US Embassy with information on fifteen years of travel history. Where he had gone to and who had paid for it. Weizman declined to provide this information and explained, "Working in human rights means being in contact with vulnerable communities, activists and experts, and being entrusted with sensitive information. These networks are the lifeline of any investigative work. I am alarmed that relations among our colleagues, stakeholders, and staff are being targeted by the U.S. government as security threats."
Weizman is a notoriously anti-Israel activist who, as a student in London, mapped Israeli settlements, producing a study that was presented as evidence to the International Court of Justice.
FA started around 2010 with the London riots and the big protest after the police killing of Mark Duggan. Weizman’s group is trying to use cutting edge technologies to help social movements and civil society to "invert the balance of epistemological power, against the monopoly of knowledge that states have." Their work seeks to "invert the forensic gaze and turn it against the actors – police, military, secret service, border agencies" For this, "our training as critical scholars in deconstructing police statements, or military statements taken by secret services or the government."
Weizman's clients have an anti-Israel agenda. He is currently working with the AM Qattan Foundation (AMQF), a registered UK charity, founded in 1993 by Abdel Mohsin Al-Qattan, a Palestinian refugee who made a fortune in the Gulf construction industry. AMQF employs more than 100 people in the West Bank and Gaza, running programs on science, drama and the arts. The FA exhibition is in Ramallah. Yazid Anani, the curator of the exhibition and director of A.M. Qattan Foundation’s public program division, said that the exhibition "presents a paradigm shift and refutes post-colonial theories, especially the attempt to assert that ‘The master’s tools will never dismantle the master’s house’." As Palestinians, "we must learn from the experiences of others who struggle in the Global South and from cases where resistance has been able to expose crimes perpetrated by authoritarian regimes, holding them accountable for human rights violations. This is especially significant in light of the ongoing human rights violations and the violent acts that the Israeli colonial authorities are carrying out daily against Palestinians."
Weizman's clientele also includes Amnesty International, which has published a letter of protest against Weizman's visa refusal demanding its' reversal; the International Criminal Court, Weizman serves on the Technology Advisory Board; the Israeli human rights group B’Tselem where he serves on its Advisory Board; The New York Times, their co-production video One Building, One Bomb, won an Emmy award.
Weizman's anti-Israel bias was spotted by Yagil Henkin, a military historian who reviewed Weizman's 2007 book Hollow Land. Henkin noted that the book "is part and parcel” of Weizman’s political activities, where Weizman intends to show "how the Israelis have succeeded in subjugating the Palestinians through the calculated use of space." Henkin concludes that "grab bag of speculations is firmly grounded in modern critical theory. Indeed, throughout the book Weizman cites such neo-Marxist, post-structuralist, and post-colonial heavyweights as Frantz Fanon, Antonio Gramsci, Gilles Deleuze, Felix Guattari, Edward Said, and Adi Ophir. Yet if the book’s radical appeal ensures its admission into the post-Zionist canon, its theoretical baggage inevitably weighs it down. Indeed, its barely concealed biases and distortions would irritate any reader."
In an interview, Weizman stated, "I support the BDS movement. It is a form of civil action directed at Israeli colonial practices and simultaneously at those Western governments, above all that of the United States, which support nearly all of Israel’s actions and continually reward the state with unparalleled financial, diplomatic, and cultural support.”
Clearly, Weizman’s FA is a tool to attack Israel, he has no investigation into Palestinian misconduct. He also attacks the UK and the US, discrediting their police and border control. The Goldsmiths University of London enables him to refute the phrase borrowed from Audre Lorde, "The Master's Tools Will Never Dismantle the Master's House." We should expect more bias coming from his direction.
ARCHITECTURE SANS BORDERS
Eyal Weizman barred from U.S. ahead of Forensic Architecture retrospective
By MATT SHAW • February 19, 2020
Opening February 20, 2020, Forensic Architecture: True to Scale explores the research agency’s work uncovering human rights violations around the world. Image displays Forensic Architecture Investigation #15: The Bombing of Rafah on the Gaza strip. (Courtesy Forensic Architecture)
London-based research collective Forensic Architecture, known for its use of architectural, spatial, and technological analysis to uncover state and corporate violence, opens its first major U.S. exhibition today at Miami Dade College’s Museum of Art and Design (MOAD). However, as the collective’s founder, Eyal Weizman was preparing to fly to Miami from his home of London for the opening, he received an email from the U.S. Embassy informing him that his visa had been revoked and he would not be allowed to travel to the United States.
When Weizman went to apply for another visa, an interviewer at the Embassy told him that an “algorithm” had identified him as a security threat due to people he had interacted with, places he had traveled recently, or an unidentified combination of the two. When given the opportunity to “speed up the process” by giving names he felt might have been the cause for setting off alarms, Weizman refused.
Here is the full statement, which will be read by his partner professor Ines Weizman at the MOAD tonight, and was sent to AN by Weizman via email.
Today (February 19th) I was meant to be here with you at the Museum of Art and Design in Miami to open Forensic Architecture’s first major survey exhibition in the United States, True to Scale
But on Wednesday, February 12th, two days before my scheduled flight to the U.S, I was informed in an email from the U.S. Embassy that my visa-waiver (ESTA) had been revoked and that I was not authorised to travel to the United States. The revocation notice stated no reason and the situation gave me no opportunity to appeal or to arrange for an alternative visa that would allow me be here.
It was also a family trip. My wife Prof. Ines Weizman, who was scheduled to give talks in the U.S. herself, and our two children traveled a day before I was supposed to go. They were stopped at JFK airport in New York where Ines was separated from our children and interrogated by immigration officials for two and a half hours before being allowed entry.
The following day I went to the U.S. Embassy in London to apply for a visa. In my interview the officer informed me that my authorization to travel had been revoked because the “algorithm” had identified a security threat. He said he did not know what had triggered the algorithm but suggested that it could be something I was involved in, people I am or was in contact with, places to which I had traveled (had I recently been in Syria, Iran, Iraq, Yemen, or Somalia or met their nationals?), hotels at which I stayed, or a certain pattern of relations among these things. I was asked to supply the Embassy with additional information, including fifteen years of travel history, in particular where I had gone and who had paid for it. The officer said that Homeland Security’s investigators could assess my case more promptly if I supplied the names of anyone in my network whom I believed might have triggered the algorithm. I declined to provide this information.
This much we know: we are being electronically monitored for a set of connections—the network of associations, people, places, calls, and transactions—that make up our lives. Such network analysis poses many problems, some of which are well known. Working in human rights means being in contact with vulnerable communities, activists and experts, and being entrusted with sensitive information. These networks are the lifeline of any investigative work. I am alarmed that relations among our colleagues, stakeholders, and staff are being targeted by the U.S. government as security threats.
This incident exemplifies—albeit in a far less intense manner and at a much less drastic scale—critical aspects of the “arbitrary logic of the border” that our exhibition seeks to expose. The racialized violations of the rights of migrants at the U.S. southern border are of course much more serious and brutal than the procedural difficulties a U.K. national may experience, and these migrants have very limited avenues for accountability when contesting the violence of the U.S. border.
As I would have announced in today’s lecture, this exhibition is an occasion to launch a joint investigation with local groups into human rights violations in the Homestead detention center in Florida, not far from here, where migrant children have been held in what activists describe as “regimented, austere and inhumane conditions”.
In our practice, exhibitions are treated as alternative forums for accountability, ways of informing the public about serious human rights violations. Importantly, they are also opportunities to share with local activists and community groups the methods and techniques we have assembled over years of work in the field.
To that effect, this exhibition includes an investigation into a CIA drone strike in Pakistan that was presented by a UN Special Rapporteur in the General Assembly; an analysis of the Chicago police killing of a barber that lead to an investigation by the mayor and the city’s police department; and an inquiry into the Israeli bombing of Rafah in Gaza that informed the International Criminal Court’s recent decision to open an investigation into the possibility of Israeli war crimes in occupied Palestine—all alongside other investigations we have conducted with communities and human rights collaborators in Germany, Venezuela, the Mediterranean, and Syria.
These works seek to demonstrate that we can invert the forensic gaze and turn it against the actors—police, militaries, secret services, border agencies—that usually seek to monopolise information. But in employing the counter-forensic gaze one is also exposed to higher level monitoring by the very state agencies investigated.
I would like to thank all those who showed enormous commitment to make this exhibition possible, especially Sophie Landres, Francisco Canestri, Gladys Hernando, Nicole Martinez and Rina Carvajal from MOAD, members of Forensic Architecture here and there, friends who helped through this process, Ines for reading this statement, and you all for coming.
Mostly though I would like to thank our partner communities who continue to resist violent state and corporate practices and who are increasingly exposed to the regime of “security algorithms”—a form of governance that aims to map, monitor, and—all too often—police their movements and their struggles for safety and justice.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Executive Editor, Architect's Newspaper
THE U.S. GOVERNMENT SHOULD REVERSE ‘OUTRAGEOUS’ VISA REVOCATION FOR FORENSIC ARCHITECTURE HEAD
The U.S. government should reverse its outrageous decision to revoke the visa of renowned human rights investigator Eyal Weizman, Amnesty International said today. The organization vigorously condemned the U.S. decision to revoke Eyal Weizman’s visa, and raised serious concerns about the practice of visa revocations based on problematic security algorithms.
“Stopping Eyal Weizman from entering the United States does a grave disservice to human rights documentation efforts,” said Margaret Huang, executive director of Amnesty International USA.
“It would be ludicrous to suggest that Eyal Weizman poses a security threat, and it’s an embarrassment for the U.S. to bar him.”
Eyal Weizman, the head of the London-based investigative agency Forensic Architecture, was scheduled to fly to Miami for the organization’s first major U.S. survey exhibition, opening today at Miami Dade College’s Museum of Art and Design (MOAD). Two days before he was scheduled to depart, he was informed by the United States embassy that his visa had been revoked.
When Eyal Weizman visited the embassy to reapply for a visa, an official there informed him that his authorization to travel had been revoked because an “algorithm” had identified a security threat.
“Invoking the results of an algorithm cannot disguise the spurious nature of this visa decision, and, in fact, it heightens our concerns about how the decision was taken,” said Margaret Huang. “This is ideological exclusion via algorithm, a troubling indicator of the bias and irrationality of the high-tech security state.”
The problems of discriminatory, opaque and unaccountable algorithmic decision-making are well known. Algorithms designed to predict so-called security risks could be used to arbitrarily flag certain groups, including human rights investigators, under a veneer of objectivity and accuracy. It is especially worrying to find algorithms making or influencing decisions that have such a powerful negative impact on the rights to freedom of expression, opinion, and association without meaningful human oversight or the ability to appeal.
As described below, Eyal Weizman and Forensic Architecture have done path-breaking work documenting grave human rights abuse committed by U.S. government actors, raising concerns that the decision to bar his entry is tainted by political bias.
The practice of ideological exclusion has a long history in the United States, having been used for decades as a political tool to keep U.S. audiences from being exposed to dissident viewpoints. During the Cold War, in particular, the US government denied visas to some of the world’s leading intellectuals, writers and artists who, the government thought, might promote Communism or other “subversive” views.
Eyal Weizman’s organization, Forensic Architecture, employs spatial analysis, digital forensics, and other cutting-edge research methodologies to document and expose human rights violations. Its work on behalf of communities victimized by state violence has been wide-ranging and effective. Among its projects have been investigations into Israeli war crimes in occupied Palestine, U.S. drone strikes in Pakistan, and police killings in Chicago.
The organization just announced a new investigation into the Homestead detention center in Florida, where migrant children have been held in what activists have described as “regimented, austere and inhumane conditions.”
A frequent collaborator with Amnesty International, Forensic Architecture was established in 2010, and is based at Goldsmiths, University of London.
“This is a stark example of how the ever-expanding web of surveillance combined with advanced data analytics is fueling unaccountable state power, bolstered by hidden algorithmic decision-making,” said Margaret Huang.
19 FEBRUARY 2020
The algorithm is watching you
Eyal Weizman is the founding director of Forensic Architecture, a research agency based at Goldsmiths, University of London, that undertakes advanced spatial and media investigations into cases of human rights violations. What follows is an edited version of a statement presented on his behalf in Miami this evening.
Today I was meant to be at the Museum of Art and Design in Miami to open Forensic Architecture’s first major survey exhibition in the United States, True to Scale. But last Wednesday, 12 February, two days before my scheduled flight to the US, I was informed in an email from the US embassy that my visa waiver had been revoked and I was not authorised to travel to the United States. The revocation notice gave no reason and no opportunity to appeal.
It was also a family trip. My wife, Ines Weizman, was scheduled to give talks in the US herself. She and our two children travelled the day before I was supposed to go. On arrival at JFK, Ines was separated from the children and interrogated by immigration officials for two and a half hours before being allowed entry.
The following day I went to the US embassy in London to apply for a visa. In my interview the officer informed me that my authorisation to travel had been revoked because the ‘algorithm’ had identified a security threat. He said he did not know what had triggered the algorithm but suggested that it could be something I was involved in, people I am or was in contact with, places to which I had travelled (had I recently been in Syria, Iran, Iraq, Yemen, or Somalia or met their nationals?), hotels at which I stayed, or a certain pattern of relations among these things. I was asked to supply the embassy with additional information, including 15 years of travel history, in particular where I had gone and who had paid for it. The officer said that Homeland Security investigators could assess my case more promptly if I supplied the names of anyone in my network whom I believed might have triggered the algorithm. I declined to provide this information.
This much we know: we are being electronically monitored for a set of connections – the network of associations, people, places, calls and transactions – that make up our lives. Such network analysis poses many problems, some of which are well known. Working in human rights means being in contact with vulnerable communities, activists and experts, and being entrusted with sensitive information. These networks are the lifeline of any investigative work. I am alarmed that relations among our colleagues, stakeholders and staff are being targeted by the US government as security threats.
This incident exemplifies – in a far less intense manner and at a much less drastic scale – critical aspects of the ‘arbitrary logic of the border’ that the Forensic Architecture exhibition in Miami seeks to expose. The racialised violations of the rights of migrants at the US southern border are of course much more serious and brutal than the procedural difficulties a UK national may experience, and these migrants have very limited avenues for accountability when contesting the violence of the US border.
As I would have announced in today’s lecture, the exhibition is an occasion for Forensic Architecture to launch a joint investigation with local groups into human rights violations at the Homestead detention centre in Florida, where migrant children have been held in what activists describe as ‘regimented, austere and inhumane conditions’.
In our practice, exhibitions are treated as alternative forums for accountability, ways of informing the public about serious human rights violations. They are also opportunities to share with local activists and community groups the methods and techniques we have assembled over years of work in the field.
True to Scale includes an investigation into a CIA drone strike in Pakistan that was presented by a UN Special Rapporteur in the General Assembly; an analysis of the Chicago police killing of a barber that lead to an investigation by the mayor and the city’s police department; and an inquiry into the Israeli bombing of Rafah in Gaza that informed the International Criminal Court’s recent decision to open an investigation into the possibility of Israeli war crimes in occupied Palestine. The exhibition presents other investigations with communities and human rights collaborators in Germany, Venezuela, the Mediterranean and Syria.
Our work seeks to demonstrate that we can invert the forensic gaze and turn it against the actors – police, military, secret service, border agencies – that aim to monopolise information. But in employing the counter-forensic gaze one is also exposed to higher level monitoring by the very state agencies investigated.
US bars entry to researcher who exposes Israeli rights abuses
last update : 23/02/2020 - 01:46 AM
The US has effectively denied entry to Eyal Weizman, founder of the research group Forensic Architecture.
Forensic Architecture, based in the UK, uses groundbreaking methodologies such as digital forensics and spatial analysis to expose human rights abuses. The group has published several investigations concerning Israeli violations against Palestinians.
Weizman, who holds Israeli and British passports, was due to travel to the US for Forensic Architecture’s first major survey in the country at Miami Dade College’s Museum of Art and Design. The exhibition, titled Forensic Architecture: True to Scale, opened on Thursday and runs through late September.
That exhibition includes new findings concerning the brutal beating of Faisal al-Natsheh in the West Bank city of Hebron in 2014. The investigation relies on a virtual reality model of the site of the assault and cross-referenced testimony from Dean Issacharoff, the soldier who beat al-Natsheh, as well as testimony from two witnesses.
Weizman had also intended to use his trip to the US to advance an investigation into a Florida detention center where migrant children are held in cruel conditions.
Two days before his scheduled departure, US authorities informed Weizman by email that his right to travel to the country under a visa waiver program had been revoked because an algorithm had identified a security threat.
When Weizman visited the US embassy in London to reapply for a visa, an official there asked him to provide detailed information about his travel over the past 15 years. He was also asked to name any of his contacts that could have triggered the algorithm, Weizman told media.
Weizman said that he refused to provide further information to the embassy because doing so “would be putting people at risk by reporting their names.”
Amnesty International condemned the effective barring of Weizman to the US, saying it “raised serious concerns about the practice of visa revocations based on problematic security algorithms.”
The rights group added that “Algorithms designed to predict so-called security risks could be used to arbitrarily flag certain groups, including human rights investigators, under a veneer of objectivity and accuracy.”
Amnesty suggested that political bias may have informed the decision to bar Weizman from entering the US, noting a “long history” of ideological exclusion to keep Americans “from being exposed to dissident viewpoints.”
Last year the US barred entry to Omar Barghouti, a Palestinian human rights activist and co-founder of the boycott, divestment and sanctions movement.
The Trump administration has also revoked the visa of the chief prosecutor of the International Criminal Court over her thwarted efforts to pursue investigations of alleged war crimes perpetrated by American forces in Afghanistan.
Screenshot of split screen showing men looking at monitor and a virtual reality rendering of soldiers in an alley
Forensic Architecture’s investigation into the 2014 beating of a Palestinian in Hebron employs virtual modeling and cross-referenced testimony.
US officials have also threatened to impose sanctions or seek to criminally prosecute officials at the International Criminal Court if they pursue investigations into alleged war crimes committed by Israel.
Weizman serves on the Technology Advisory Board of the International Criminal Court.
From the very beginning, Weizman’s career has been dedicated to confronting injustice.
While a student at London’s Architectural Association, Weizman began mapping Israeli settlements in the West Bank, producing a study presented as evidence to the International Court of Justice.
Weizman founded Forensic Architecture at Goldsmiths, University of London, where he is a professor.
Forensic Architecture analyzed multiple video and audio sources and employed computer modeling to pinpoint the Israeli Border Police officer who killed unarmed Palestinian teenager Nadim Siam Nuwara in May 2014.
The Border Police officer, Ben Dery, received a nine-month prison sentence over the 17-year-old’s killing – a lenient sentence but exceedingly rare conviction over the slaying of a Palestinian by Israeli occupation forces.
In partnership with the Israeli human rights group B’Tselem, Forensic Architecture revealed that Israel doctored footage in an attempt to cover up the killing of two boys in Gaza in 2017.
Analysis by the group also contradicted Israel’s claims that a Palestinian citizen of Israel was attempting to attack police with his car when officers shot him during a home demolition raid in the unrecognized village of Umm al-Hiran in 2017.
Yaqoub Abu al-Qiyan, a math teacher, bled to death after being shot and was branded as a terrorist by Israeli political leaders.
Forensic Architecture’s findings indicate that Abu al-Qiyan was driving slowly and his vehicle only accelerated after he was shot at by police, suggesting he had lost control of his car.
The research group’s investigation of weaponry used against protesters in Gaza contributed to the resignation of Warren B. Kanders, part-owner of US arms maker Sierra, from the board of the Whitney Museum of American Art last year.
Forensic Architecture withdrew from the New York City museum’s prestigious biennial before Kanders resigned as vice chair.
The group’s investigations have also focused on abuses within the US.
Forensic Architecture, in partnership with Invisible Institute, produced “one of the closest analyses of any police shooting ever done,” according to Weizman, concerning the 2018 death of Harith Augustus in Chicago.
Augustus, a barber, was stopped by police patrolling the South Shore neighborhood of the city. According to Forensic Architecture, that encounter “began with Augustus fully cooperating, and ended with him shot five times, his firearms license in his hand, and his gun still clipped in its holster.”
The group’s investigation demonstrates how the Chicago Police Department immediately constructed the false narrative of an “armed confrontation” between officers and Augustus, a Black citizen.
Forensic Architecture also found that Chicago police “distorted known facts and selectively released the videos in their possession, in an effort to deflect the public outrage provoked by the incident.”.
AN talks to Eyal Weizman about tech in truth-telling ahead of Forensic Architecture’s first U.S. survey
For a project commissioned by Amnesty International, Forensic Architecture analyzed thousands of images found online that confirmed that Israeli forces acted disproportionately in response to a soldier’s kidnapping. Forensic Architecture relied on pattern analysis, remote sensing, 3D modeling, image analysis, and other high-tech tools. (Courtesy Forensic Architecture)
Forensic Architecture has garnered a significant reputation within the field of architecture (they had a major showing at the most recent Chicago Architecture Biennial) and beyond for their work reconstructing violent events perpetrated by state actors and others using architectural tools and emerging technologies. The collective’s work has been displayed everywhere from the courthouse to major art exhibitions, including during this past year’s Whitney Biennial. The video One Building, One Bomb, co-produced with The New York Times, won an Emmy this past year, and in 2018 they were also nominated for the United Kingdom’s prestigious Turner Prize.
This month, Forensic Architecture, which is based out of Goldsmiths, University of London, will have its first major U.S. survey; Forensic Architecture: True to Scale will open on February 20 at the Museum of Art and Design at Miami Dade College. Ahead of the Miami exhibition, AN spoke with Forensic Architecture founder Eyal Weizman to discuss the changes of the past decade, the power of technology, and the importance of forensics in a “post-truth” era.
Drew Zeiba: Forensic architecture began a decade ago. How has the project changed and how have the tools you use evolved since then?
Eyal Weizman: When we started around 2010, it was the beginning of the Arab Spring and the really heartbreaking civil war that came in its wake. Those particular sets of conflicts had a particular texture to them. They happened in an environment that had a lot of mobile phones and in the areas where there’s internet connectivity, and where the government’s ability to shut down the internet was not always successful. We started being in an environment where increasingly you had more and more videos around incidents that we could map. It was also the early teens where at the time, in London great protest around tuition fees and then the big protest after the police killing of Mark Duggan in North London. This killing was during a period when police did not yet have dash cams. And ever since, we’ve seen the introduction of body cams and dash cams to police investigations.
Forensic Architecture investigated the police murder of Harith Augustus, questioning the “split-second” decision that led to Augustus’s death by analyzing the incident through six different temporal lenses. (Courtesy Forensic Architecture)
If you look today at the conflicts that are taking place, we have several thousand videos, hours long, broadcasting live as things are happening. The sheer media density requires us to use different technologies in order to bring accountability. We have recently developed machine vision and machine learning technologies that, working together with human researcher, can speed up the process of sieving through thousands and thousands and thousands of hours of content coming from confrontations with policing Hong Kong, for example. In relation to police violence, we have now concluded the investigation in Chicago [into the police killing of Harith Augustus] with full body cams available, several dash cams, a CCTV, etc.
We are working in a much more media-saturated environment and need new tools like artificial intelligence to help us identify materials like our work on Warren Kanders that used machine learning. [Kanders is the ousted vice chairman of the board of the Whitney Museum, whose company Safariland sells tear gas used at the U.S.-Mexico border, in Gaza, and elsewhere, including in U.S. cities such as Baltimore and Ferguson, Missouri.] We’re creating virtual reality sites for witnesses to walk through the scene of the together with the psychologists and lawyer and protection, but can also recall events. And we are trying to be at cutting edge of technologies that would help social movement and civil society to invert the balance of epistemological power, against the monopoly of knowledge that states have over information in battlefields and in crime scenes.
The abundance of images also has to do with the increasing presence of surveillance—including by CCTV cameras and police body cams, as you mention. How can architectural and technological tools invert the power relationship embedded in some of these commonplace image-making tools?
Forensics have to be in the hands of the people. Forensics was developed as a state tools, as a form of state power, as a police tool. But when the police is the agency that dispenses violence and the agency that’s investigating it, we have a problem. We absolutely need to be able to have independent groups holding police to account. And what we have is our creativity and we can effectively mobilize and make more of much fewer bits of data and image, because we’re working aesthetically and we work socially with those independent groups in producing evidence. We socialize the production of evidence, we make it a collective social practice that involves the communities that are experiencing state violence continuously.
Commissioned by the UN Special Rapporteur on Counterterrorism and Human Rights, Forensic Architecture used footage obtained by MSNBC of a drone strike in Pakistan to determine whether civilians were harmed. Technologies such as geolocation, image and pattern analysis, and 3D modeling were used. (Courtesy Forensic Architecture)
At the same time, Forensic Architecture often works in places where there is seemingly a limited amount of the evidence or data that investigators typically rely upon, or with evidence that is biased. Police body cams show the officer’s perspective only, for example. Your work is coming at a time that people are describing as “post-truth.” How does the work of Forensic Architecture fit in to this political context?
The very nature of what we call investigative aesthetics is based on working with weak signals and with partial data. You need to fill that gap with a relation between those points you have, sort of like stars in a dark sky. You see very few dots and we need to actually see how they can support the probability of something to have occurred. And any investigative work that comes from the point of view of civil society is both about demolishing and building. So we need to use our training as critical scholars in deconstructing police statements, or military statements taken by secret services or the government—and we need to take those ruins, those scattered bits of media flotsam that exist and build something else with it.
There’s always demolition and rebuilding that takes place. That is very structural to our work. Right now, the mistrust in public institutions in the political sphere, In the so-called post-truth era, that trust is not being replaced. Those that tell us not to believe anymore in science and in think tanks and in experts are not building a new epistemology in its stead. They’re simply demolishing it. Rhetoric replaces verification. What we do similarly to them is we are questioning state given truths. We are attacking those temples of power and knowledge, but we attempt to replace them with a much more imminent form of evidence production that socializes the production of that evidence.
Robert Mackey February 21 2020,
Homeland Security Algorithm Revokes U.S. Visa of War Crimes Investigator Eyal Weizman
EYAL WEIZMAN, an Israeli-born British architect who uses visual analysis to investigate war crimes and other forms of state violence, was barred from traveling to the United States this week for an exhibition of his work after being identified as a security risk by an algorithm used by the Department of Homeland Security.
Weizman, a professor at Goldsmiths, University of London, where his human rights research agency Forensic Architecture is based, frequently travels to the U.S. to lecture and exhibit work. Last year, Forensic Architecture was selected to take part in the Whitney Biennial and produced an investigation — in collaboration with Intercept co-founder Laura Poitras — of how a Whitney board member profited from the manufacture of tear gas used against civilians in a dozen countries, including at the U.S.-Mexico border.
But last week, as he prepared to travel to Miami for the opening of a major survey exhibition of Forensic Architecture’s work, “True to Scale,” at the Museum of Art and Design at Miami Dade College, Weizman was informed by email that he had been removed from a visa-waiver scheme and would not be permitted to board his flight.
“The revocation notice stated no reason, and the situation gave me no opportunity to appeal or to arrange for an alternative visa,” Weizman explained in a statement read at the Miami opening on Wednesday night.
“It was also a family trip. My wife, professor Ines Weizman, who was scheduled to give talks in the U.S. herself and our two children traveled a day before I was supposed to go,” the architect added. “They were stopped at JFK airport in New York, where Ines was separated from our children and interrogated by immigration officials for two and a half hours before being allowed entry.”
When he visited the U.S. Embassy in London to find out what happened, Weizman said in an interview, an officer told him that his authorization to travel had been revoked because “the algorithm” had identified an unspecified security threat associated with him.
As my colleague Sam Biddle reported in 2018, Homeland Security paid an automated machine learning firm, DataRobot, $200,000 that year to test “predictive models to enhance identification of high-risk passengers” at foreign airports, with the aim of developing a software algorithm capable of making real-time predictions in less than one second about who is a potential terrorist.
Weizman told The Intercept that the officer at the U.S. Embassy in London who denied him a visa said that he had no idea what triggered his rejection by the algorithm. “I don’t see what the system flagged up, but you need to help me figure it out,” the officer said. He then asked Weizman to supply the embassy with additional information, including 15 years of his travel history and “the names of anyone in my network whom I believed might have triggered the algorithm.”
Weizman refused to provide that information, given the fact that his work investigating state-sponsored human rights violations “means being in contact with vulnerable communities, activists and experts, and being entrusted with sensitive information.”
As Weizman pointed out in our phone conversation, the very nature of the type of open-source investigation he helped to pioneer — the painstaking work of collaborating online to verify and evaluate testimony and visual evidence of human rights abuses shared by witnesses — requires researchers “to create very varied and very diverse sets of networks,” putting them in contact with sources in places like Syria, Gaza, or Pakistan that a computer might be trained to view with suspicion. And, to a computer looking for suspect patterns of behavior, the interactions of a person posing a genuine security threat might be indistinguishable from the activities of an open-source investigator or a journalist.
“If there is an associative algorithm, it looks for relations between people and things: travel, patterns of communication,” Weizman said. “If it is associative, our open-source research will always be vulnerable to this sort of policing, where it’s not what you do, it’s the pattern of what you do that gets policed.”
A perfect example, Weizman said, was the kind of research his team did on the chemical attack in the Syrian town of Douma in 2018, which led to sophisticated architectural modeling of the site of the attack. (That work was also used by the New York Times in its visual investigation of the attack, which concluded that it had been carried out by the Syrian government.)
“We go online, we look at the effects of chlorine,” Weizman said. “After we look at that, we go to certain channels on YouTube that are operated by people on the ground, close to the resistance, who are uploading video. Sometimes we are DMing with people in Syria. We don’t necessarily go to Syria, but we are in touch with refugees and activists.”
Weizman discussed his approach to the investigation of the attack in Douma in an Intercept video report last year.
For another project, a new investigation of a 2015 shipwreck off the coast of Greece that took the lives of at least 43 migrants, mainly Syrian refugees, Weizman said his team contacted witnesses to the tragedy without ever asking those people if anyone else on the boat, or in their extended networks of friends, relations, or acquaintances back in the war zone, might have had militant links. “Who wants to ask when you are in touch with survivors of a shipwreck in the Aegean, who was on the boat?” Weizman said.
“This much we know: We are being electronically monitored for a set of connections — the network of associations, people, places, calls, and transactions — that make up our lives,” Weizman said in his statement to the opening in Miami he was unable to attend. “These networks are the lifeline of any investigative work.”
The lack of information about why exactly the computer software had barred Weizman from traveling to the U.S. led to speculation that the algorithm might have been gamed by false information provided to American authorities by his critics.
Another prominent open-source researcher, Eliot Higgins of Bellingcat, suggested in an email on Thursday that Weizman could also have been the victim of anonymous complaints to U.S. authorities from a cohort of online activists angered by his work implicating forces loyal to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad in chemical attacks. “Forensic Architecture certainly got their attention between their Douma and Khan Sheikhoun work, so they might have wanted to cause him problems,” Higgins speculated. “It’s rather like swatting.” Swatting is a form of harassment associated with online communities in which false reports to law enforcement are used to target victims.
As Higgins noted, the technique has been deployed previously by pro-Assad Twitter trolls and bloggers against reporters and activists who have documented war crimes by Syrian and Russian government forces.
In January, Oz Katerji, a British journalist who covered the war in Syria, reported that he was contacted by the counterterrorism unit of London’s Metropolitan Police force after allegations about him were phoned in to a confidential hotline. “They told me they believe the reports against me are baseless and malicious in intent, and there is no case against me,” Katerji wrote on Twitter. “They did however confirm to me that this false report was a result of the vindictive Islamophobic online trolling campaign against me for my reporting on Syria.”
Katerji also posted a screenshot showing that Vanessa Beeley, a pro-Assad blogger boosted by Russian state television, had encouraged her followers to report him and a list of other journalists and news outlets critical of Assad — including the BBC, Channel 4 News, and The Guardian — to the authorities for supposedly violating the U.K. Terrorism Act.
Katerji added that “one of the allegations against me was that I am a supporter of the White Helmets, a Syrian humanitarian medical organization partially funded by the U.K. Foreign and Commonwealth Office.”
As Muhammad Idrees Ahmad, a lecturer in digital journalism at the University of Stirling in Scotland, pointed out in an interview, there is evidence that similar efforts have been successful in the U.S. as well.
In 2016, Raed Al Saleh, the head of Syria Civil Defense — a Western-backed rescue organization, known for its White Helmets, that searches for survivors of bombings in rebel-held parts of Syria — was denied entry into the United States when he was due to accept an award in Washington. Video recorded by the rescue group was, for much of the conflict in Syria, one of the only sources of information about the impact of Syrian and Russian airstrikes on rebel-held territory. That led to an orchestrated campaign, featured heavily on Russian state channels, to discredit the group by claiming that it was an arm of the Islamist rebel groups.
After Saleh was barred from the U.S., another pro-Assad blogger boasted on Twitter that he had reported him and the group giving him the award to Homeland Security “and organized others to do so as well.”
Despite his exclusion from the U.S. Weizman explained that, in conjunction with the exhibition of Forensic Architecture investigations in Miami, his group plans to train local activists to apply its techniques to investigate “human rights violations in the Homestead detention center in Florida … where migrant children have been held in what activists describe as ‘regimented, austere, and inhumane conditions.'”
The ban on Weizman’s travel was denounced on Thursday by Margaret Huang, the executive director of Amnesty International USA. “Stopping Eyal Weizman from entering the United States does a grave disservice to human rights documentation efforts,” Huang said in a statement. “It would be ludicrous to suggest that Eyal Weizman poses a security threat, and it’s an embarrassment for the U.S. to bar him.”
“Invoking the results of an algorithm cannot disguise the spurious nature of this visa decision, and, in fact, it heightens our concerns about how the decision was taken,” Huang added. “This is ideological exclusion via algorithm, a troubling indicator of the bias and irrationality of the high-tech security state.”
The A.M. Qattan Foundation
Forensic Architecture - Assembled Practices
25 January - 2 April 2020
A. M. Qattan Foundation Cultural Centre
Curators: Yazid Anani and Shourideh C. Molavi
Based at Goldsmiths, University of London, Forensic Architecture focuses its work on investigating state and corporate violence and environmental destruction. Their research mobilizes architectural and urban data, physical traces, and human testimonies and is built upon a wide network of cooperating partners that includes the communities that experience and resist state violence as well as activists and lawyers.
Forensic Architecture at A.M. Qattan Foundation
The exhibition Forensic Architecture: Assembled Practices, co-curated by Yazid Anani and Shourideh C. Molavi, was inaugurated by A.M. Qattan Foundation (AMQF), Ramallah, and Forensic Architecture (FA), University of London, UK, at AMQF in Al-Tirah, Ramallah, on 25 January 2020.
Yazid Anani, curator of the exhibition and director of A.M. Qattan Foundation’s public programme division, highlighted that the showing of this exhibition in Palestine is of great importance, as it informs the Palestinian public about the methodology applied by the Forensic Architecture research group to expose state crimes and violence, using architecture, law, art, and other tools. "It carries the potential for making a significant contribution to the research conducted at Palestinian universities and by civil society organizations in Palestine in the fields of architecture, law, humans rights, and art―such as the projects architecture students at Birzeit University will undertake in the context of this exhibition," he stated.
Anani then explained why he considers the agency’s work very important, describing how it examines, and re-applies, the modern simulation technologies and tools that are utilized by states to repress, control, and monitor their citizens. The agency commutes these tools into means by which citizens can confront violent regimes and expose their crimes. FA’s work thus presents a paradigm shift and refutes post-colonial theories, especially the attempt to assert that "The master’s tools will never dismantle the master’s house."
"In this exhibition, we chose to show the work processes FA follows, revealing how they use a variety of methods that subvert the state’s forensic technologies," Anani said. They include the role of surveillance cameras in the contesting of police reports that misleadingly describe the circumstances surrounding the murder of African-American citizen Harith Augustus; an on-the-ground investigation of evidence gathered from aerial photographs, taken by the British and German military during WWI, to prove the existence of the historic Palestinian village al-Araqib in the Negev; and finally the utilization of facial recognition technology to detect and identify via media images the presence (and use) of gas shell canisters. "As Palestinians," Anani added, "we must learn from the experiences of others who struggle in the Global South and from cases where resistance has been able to expose crimes perpetrated by authoritarian regimes, holding them accountable for human rights violations. This is especially significant in light of the ongoing human rights violations and the violent acts that the Israeli colonial authorities are carrying out daily against Palestinians."
Exhibition co-curator and FA researcher Shourideh C. Molavi explained, "For our exhibition at the Qattan Foundation, we have chosen to display some of our interventions that were carried out in other places, in the hope that they may resonate with local forms of activism in Palestine and help deepen lines of solidarity and resistance across dividing borders."
Location → Palestine Israel
I.53 THE BEATING OF FAISAL AL-NATSHEH
DATE OF INCIDENT
Occupied Hebron, Palestine
IN PARTNERSHIP WITH
Breaking the Silence
In 2017, an Israeli soldier, now member of the NGO Breaking the Silence, confessed to have gravely beaten a Palestinian man. Following the Israeli state attempts to discount the account, we built a VR tool to collect and cross-reference testimony from the soldier and other witnesses.
I.45 HERBICIDAL WARFARE IN GAZA
DATE OF INCIDENT
2014 - Ongoing
Khan Younes, Gaza
Since 2014, Israeli military bulldozing of agricultural and residential lands along the eastern border of occupied Gaza has been complemented by unannounced aerial spraying of crop-killing herbicides. Piecing together farmer testimonies, satellite imagery, and drift analysis, we investigated the unique destructive signature of a single spraying event in April 2017, along the border in Khan Younes.
I.44 CONQUER AND DIVIDE
DATE OF INCIDENT
1967 - Ongoing
Occupied Palestinian Territories
IN PARTNERSHIP WITH
In 1967, Israel occupied the West Bank and the Gaza Strip. In the five decades that followed, the state of Israel has chipped away at Palestinian space through legislative, legal, and military means, restricting the freedoms of Palestinian civilians, and denying them their rights. In partnership with B'Tselem, we told that story through an interactive, scrolling cartography.
I.40 THE KILLING OF ROUZAN AL-NAJJAR
DATE OF INCIDENT
IN PARTNERSHIP WITH
The New York Times
Amid the chaos and violence of the Great March of Return, a young Palestinian medic is struck and killed by a sniper's bullet. Together with the New York Times we used photogrammetry, video analysis, and figure modelling to locate the victim among the crowd at the moment she was shot, and traced a line of fire back to a sand berm on the Israeli side of the border fence.
I.38 LETHAL WARNING: THE KILLING OF LUAI KAHIL AND AMIR AL-NIMRAH
DATE OF INCIDENT
Gaza City, Occupied Palestinian Territories
Two children died when an Israeli 'warning strike' hit a building in Gaza City. When the Israeli army shared videos of the attack, the strike that killed the teenagers had been removed. Why did the IDF manipulate their own footage? And what does the incident mean for the 'warning strike' policy?
I.26 DESTRUCTION AND RETURN IN AL-ARAQIB
DATE OF INCIDENT
2010 - Ongoing
al-Araqib, Negev/Naqab desert
Legal Process, Exhibition
The Village of al-Araqib
The Bedouin village of al-Araqib has been demolished over 120 times since 1954. Every time, the villagers return. Using aerial imagery and archaeological surveys, and in collaboration of local families, we provided evidence of ongoing inhabitation, against their dispossession by the Israeli state
I.19 KILLING IN UMM AL-HIRAN
DATE OF INCIDENT
Umm al Hiran, Negev/Naqab desert
Legal Process, Exhibition
A police raid on an ‘illegalised’ Bedouin village in the Naqab/Negev desert led to the deaths of a local man and an Israeli policeman. Police quickly blamed the man for what they called a ‘terror attack’. In fact, as we exposed, Israeli police had fired unprovoked on an innocent driver, causing him to crash into them.
I.15 THE BOMBING OF RAFAH
DATE OF INCIDENT
08.07.2014 - 26.08.2014
Rafah, Gaza, Occupied Palestinian Territories
Exhibition, Human Rights Report, Media
When an Israeli soldier was captured and taken into the tunnels below Rafah, the full force of Israel’s military was unleashed. Using smartphone footage and satellite imagery, we mapped the destruction as over two thousand munitions were fired into the city in a single day.
I.13 THE GAZA PLATFORM: ISRAEL'S 2014 OFFENSIVE
DATE OF INCIDENT
08.07.2014 - 26.08.2014
Gaza, Occupied Palestinian Territories
Over 2000 people died in under 2 months during the Israeli assault on Gaza. Working with local and international NGOs, we built a platform to map almost 3000 individual events, creating a public repository of testimony and data about the offensive—and a template for documenting future conflicts.
I.12 THE KILLING OF NADEEM NAWARA AND MOHAMMED ABU DAHER
DATE OF INCIDENT
Beitunia, West Bank, Occupied Palestinian Territories
When Israeli military police killed two Palestinian teenagers, the event was recorded by security cameras, US news teams, and photographers. Using that footage, our audio and image analysis exposed a tactic by which Israeli personnel disguise live rounds as rubber-coated ‘non-lethal’ munitions.
I.11 KNOCK ON THE ROOF: DRONE STRIKE IN BEIT LAHIYA
DATE OF INCIDENT
Beit Lahiya, Gaza, Occupied Palestinian Territories
United Nations, Exhibition, Media
UN Special Rapporteur on Counter Terrorism and Human Rights
An anti-tank missile, fired at the home of the Salha family, left just a small hole in the roof. The bomb that followed three minutes later destroyed the house, killing six people. We interviewed surviving family members and investigated the tactics of the ‘warning shot’.
I.3 THE USE OF WHITE PHOSPHORUS IN URBAN ENVIRONMENTS
DATE OF INCIDENT
27.12.2008 - 18.01.2009
Gaza, Occupied Palestinian Territories
Yesh Gvul, Michael Sfard Law Office
The 2008–2009 conflict saw the use by Israeli forces of white phosphorus, a toxic, flammable and corrosive airborne munition. We analysed the use and effects of the weapon in support of calls to make its use illegal, and presented our report to a 2012 UN convention.
I.2 THE KILLING OF BASSEM ABU RAHMA
DATE OF INCIDENT
Bil'in, Occupied Palestinian Territories
Legal Process, Exhibition
Michael Sfard Law Office, B’Tselem
An unarmed demonstrator was killed by a tear-gas canister fired across the West Bank barrier wall. The army denied it was intentional. We used footage from three cameras to prove that the soldier had intended to kill. Israeli authorities reopened the investigation, but no soldier was ever charged.
I.1 STOPPING THE WALL IN BATTIR
DATE OF INCIDENT
2012 - 2015
Battir, Occupied Palestinian Territories
Michael Sfard Law Office
Israel’s separation wall in the West Bank threatened to destroy historic Palestinian farmland. We supported human rights lawyers to build a pioneering—and successful—legal argument on environmental and heritage grounds.
A Conflict in Space
Reviewed by Yagil Henkin
Hollow Land: Israel’s Architecture of Occupation by Eyal Weizman Verso, 2007, 318 pages.
“All theory, dear friend, is gray,” said Goethe, “but the golden tree of life springs ever green.” In the world of Eyal Weizman’s Hollow Land: Israel’s Architecture of Occupation, the opposite is true: Theory erupts in technicolor, while life is still stuck in black and white. It is hardly surprising, then, that in Weizman’s world, when theory and reality collide, the former always comes out on top.
Weizman is an Israeli architect who lives in London and manages the Center for Research Architecture at Goldsmith College. He is also a left-wing radical who spends a considerable amount of time and energy exposing the alleged wrongdoings of the State of Israel. He has, for example, served on the board of directors of B’Tselem, the Israeli human rights organization, since 2008, as well as participated in a project titled “Decolonizing Architecture,” which seeks to assist the residents of the Palestinian villages of Beit Sahor, Bethlehem, and Beit Jalla to utilize more effectively the territories freed from Israeli presence. His book Hollow Land, published in 2007, is part and parcel of these political activities. Taking as its subject “the transformation of the occupied Palestinian territories since 1967,” it focuses on “the geographical, territorial, urban, and architectural conceptions and the interrelated practices that form and sustain them.” In over 300 pages interspersed with photographs, Weizman attempts to explain how “mundane elements of planning and architecture have become tactical tools and the means of dispossession”—in other words, how the Israelis have succeeded in subjugating the Palestinians through the calculated use of space.
Weizman marshals a wide array of evidence in support of his thesis. No aspect—however seemingly insignificant—of Israeli-Palestinian relations escapes his notice, and no association seems too strained. In the introduction, for example, Weizman recounts the story of the foundation of Migron, a Jewish outpost located five kilometers north of Jerusalem, as a stronghold that slowly formed around a cellular antenna, remarking that “the logic of cellular communication seems oddly compatible with that of the civilian occupation of the West Bank.” Later, he describes the settlements as a form of “vertical” control over the Palestinian population, on account of their frequently being perched on elevated areas overlooking Arab villages. He also offers a creative interpretation of the one-sided mirror at the Allenby crossing into Israel from Jordan, insisting that it serves as an attempt to trick the Palestinians into thinking that they are the masters of their own destiny—a kind of illusory sovereignty meant only for show.
The list goes on: Former prime minister Ariel Sharon is presented by Weizman as a predatory general/architect who orchestrated not only the construction of the settlements, but also the “design undertaken by destruction” of the Palestinian refugee camps, and both the security fence and the disengagement from the Gaza Strip represent, in Weizman’s telling, a paradigmatic shift from a method of control based on Israeli presence in Palestinian territories to one that seeks to dominate these areas “from beyond.” Weizman, it should be mentioned, thankfully avoids the usual trap of presenting Israel as a monolithic entity. Instead, he portrays it as a collection of governmental and sub governmental entities fighting amongst themselves, each promoting its own agenda with the assistance or opposition of the others—almost all of them, it goes without saying, being fundamentally malevolent.
This grab bag of speculations is firmly grounded in modern critical theory. Indeed, throughout the book Weizman cites such neo-Marxist, post-structuralist, and post-colonial heavyweights as Frantz Fanon, Antonio Gramsci, Gilles Deleuze, Felix Guattari, Edward Said, and Adi Ophir. Yet if the book’s radical appeal ensures its admission into the post-Zionist canon, its theoretical baggage inevitably weighs it down. Indeed, its barely concealed biases and distortions would irritate any reader, whatever his politics.
Walking Through Walls
The maneuver conducted by units of the Israeli military during the attack on the city of Nablus in April 2002 was described by its commander, Brigadier General Aviv Kochavi, as “inverse geometry,” which he explained as the re-organization of the urban syntax by means of a series of micro-tactical actions. During the attack, soldiers moved within the city across hundred-meter-long “over-ground-tunnels” carved out through a dense and contiguous urban fabric. Although several thousand soldiers and hundreds of Palestinian guerrilla fighters were maneuvering simultaneously in the city, they were saturated within its fabric to the degree that most would not have been visible from an aerial perspective at any given moment. Furthermore, soldiers did not often use the streets, roads, alleys, or courtyards that constitute the syntax of the city, as well as the external doors, internal stairwells, and windows that constitute the order of buildings, but rather moved horizontally through party walls, and vertically through holes blasted in ceilings and floors. This form of movement is part of a tactics that the military refers to in metaphors it borrows from the world of aggregate animal formation as “swarming” and “infestation.” Moving through domestic interiors this maneuver turns inside to outside and private domains to thoroughfares. Fighting took place within half-demolished living rooms, bedrooms and corridors of poorly built refugee homes, where the television may still be operating and a pot may still on the stove. Rather than submitting to the authority of conventional spatial boundaries, movement became constitutive of space, and space was constituted as an event. It was not the order of space that governed patterns of movement but movement that produced and practiced space around it. The three-dimensional movement through walls, ceilings, and floors across the urban bulk reinterpreted, short-circuited, and recomposed both architectural and urban syntax. The tactics of “walking-through-walls” involved a conception of the city as not just the site, but as the very medium of warfare – a flexible, almost liquid matter that is forever contingent and in flux.
According to geographer Stephen Graham, since the end of the cold war a vast, international “intellectual field” that he called a “shadow world of military urban research institutes and training centers” has been established in order to rethink military operations in urban terrain. This responds to the urbanization of insurgency. The expanding network of these “shadow worlds” includes schools, urban-research institutes and training centers, as well as mechanisms for the exchange of knowledge between different militaries such as conferences, workshops and joint training exercises. In their attempt to comprehend urban life, soldiers – the urban practitioners of today – take crash courses to master topics such as urban infrastructure, complex system analysis, structural stability, building techniques, and appeal as well to a variety of theories and methodologies developed within contemporary civilian academia. There is thus a new relationship emerging between a triangle of three interrelated components: armed conflicts, the built environment, and the theoretical language conceived to conceptualize them.
Following global trends throughout the last decade the IDF established several institutes and think-tanks in different levels of its command and asked them to re-conceptualize strategic, tactical and organizational responses to the brutal policing work that came to be known as “dirty” or “low intensity” wars. Notable amongst these are the Operational Theory Research Institute (OTRI) set up in 1996 and the “Alternative Team” set up in 2003. These institutes were composed not only of military officers but of civilian academics and technological experts. Two of the main figures affiliated to these institutes – Shimon Naveh, a retired Brigadier General, director of OTRI, and Aviv Kochavi, a serving officer – are extensively interviewed in the following pages.
The tactics of “walking through walls” that the military employed in the urban attacks on the refugee camps were developed, not in response to theoretical influences, but as a way of penetrating the previously “un-penetrable” refugee camps. Aviv Kochavi, then commander of the Paratrooper Brigade, explained the principle that guided the attack of the refugee camp of Batala and the adjacent Kasbah (old city) of Nablus:
“This space that you look at, this room that you look at, is nothing but your interpretation of it. Now, you can stretch the boundaries of your interpretation, but not in an unlimited fashion, after all, it must be bound by physics, as it contains buildings and alleys. The question is: how do you interpret the alley? Do you interpret the alley as a place, like every architect and every town planner does, to walk through, or do you interpret the alley as a place forbidden to walk through? This depends only on interpretation. We interpreted the alley as a place forbidden to walk through, and the door as a place forbidden to pass through, and the window as a place forbidden to look through, because a weapon awaits us in the alley, and a booby trap awaits us behind the doors. This is because the enemy interprets space in a traditional, classical manner, and I do not want to obey this interpretation and fall into his traps. Not only do I not want to fall into his traps, I want to surprise him! This is the essence of war. I need to win. I need to emerge from an unexpected place. And this is what we tried to do.”
“This is why that we opted for the methodology of walking through walls. […] Like a worm that eats its way forward, emerging at points and then disappearing. We were thus moving from the interior of homes to their exterior in a surprising manner and in places we were not expected, arriving from behind and hitting the enemy that awaited us behind a corner. […] I said to my troops, “Friends! This is not a matter of your choice! There is no other way of moving! If until now you were used to move along roads and sidewalks, forget it! From now on we all walk through walls!”
If moving through walls is pitched by the military as its “humane” answer to the wanton destruction of traditional urban warfare, and as an “elegant” alternative to Jenin-style urban destruction, this is because the damage it causes is often concealed within the interiors of homes. The unexpected penetration of war into the private domain of the home has been experienced by civilians in Palestine, just like in Iraq, as the most profound form of trauma and humiliation. Since Palestinian guerrilla fighters were themselves maneuvering through walls and pre-planned openings, most fighting took place in private homes. Some buildings became like layered cakes, with Israeli soldiers both above and below a floor where Palestinians were trapped.
Urban warfare increasingly depends on technologies developed for the purpose of “un-walling of the wall,” to borrow a term from Gordon Matta-Clark. As a complement to military tactics that involve physically breaking and walking through walls, new methods have been devised to allow soldiers not only to see but also shoot and kill through solid walls. The Israeli company Camero developed a hand-held imaging device that combines thermal imaging with ultra-wideband radar, which much like a contemporary maternity-ward ultra-sound system has the ability to produce three-dimensional renderings of biological life concealed behind barriers. Weapons using the NATO standard 5.56mm round are complemented with some using the 7.62mm one, which is capable of penetrating brick, wood, and adobe without much deflection of the bullet-head. Instruments of “literal transparency” are the main components in the search to produce a ghostlike (or computer-game like) military fantasy-world of boundless fluidity, in which the space of the city becomes as navigable as an ocean. By striving to see what is hidden behind walls and to move and propel ammunition through them, the military seems to have elevated contemporary technologies – using the justification of (almost contemporary) theories – to the level of metaphysics, seeking to move beyond the here and now of physical reality, collapsing time and space.
Academy of Street Fighting
Shimon Naveh, a retired brigadier general, was until May 2006 the co-director of the Operational Theory Research Institute. In an interview I conducted with him, Naveh explained the aims of the institute: “Jenin was a complete failure of the IDF, the damage that this destruction has caused the IDF is larger than what it caused the Palestinians [sic], it was commanded by extremely inexperienced officers who just panicked and stopped thinking.” He suggested that the IDF should further develop the kind of approach employed in Nablus and Balata. He saw his work as “making IDF actions more efficient, smarter… and thus more humane.” On the theoretical references the institute employs he said: “We read Christopher Alexander […] can you imagine? We read John Forester. […] We read Gregory Bateson, we read Clifford Geertz. Not just myself, but our soldiers, our generals are reflecting on these kinds of materials. We have established a school and developed a curriculum that trains ‘operational architects’.”
In a lecture I attended, Naveh presented a diagram resembling a “square of opposition” that plots a set of logical relationships among certain propositions relating to military and guerrilla operations. Indications such as “Difference and Repetition – The Dialectics of Structuring and Structure”; “‘Formless’ Rival Entities”; “Fractal Maneuver: Strike-Driven Raids”; “Velocity vs. Rhythms”; “Wahhabi War Machine”; “Post-Modern Anarchists”; “Nomadic Terrorists”, and so on, employed the language of French philosophers Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari.
In the interview, I asked Naveh: “Why Deleuze and Guattari?” He replied that: “Several of the concepts in A Thousand Plateaus became instrumental for us […] allowing us to explain contemporary situations in a way that we could not have otherwise explained. It problematized our own paradigms. […] Most important was the distinction they have pointed out between the concepts of ‘smooth’ and ‘striated’ space […] [which accordingly reflect] the organizational concepts of the ‘war machine’ and the ‘state apparatus.’ […] In the IDF we now often use the term ‘to smooth out space’ when we want to refer to operation in a space as if it had no borders. We try to produce the operational space in such a manner that borders do not affect us. Palestinian areas could indeed be thought of as ‘striated,’ in the sense that they are enclosed by fences, walls, ditches, roadblocks and so on. […] We want to confront the ‘striated’ space of traditional, old-fashioned military practice [the way most military units presently operate] with smoothness that allows for movement through space that crosses any borders and barriers. Rather than contain and organize our forces according to existing borders, we want to move through them.”
Naveh has recently completed the translation into Hebrew of some of the chapters in Bernard Tschumi’s Architecture and Disjunction. In addition to these theoretical positions, Naveh references such canonical elements of urban theory as the Situationist practices of dérive and détournement. These ideas were conceived as part of a general approach meant to challenge the built hierarchy of the capitalist city. They aimed to break down distinctions between private and public, inside and outside, use and function, to replace private space with a “borderless” public surface. Naveh made references to the work of Georges Bataille as well, who also spoke of a desire to attack architecture: his call to arms was meant to dismantle the rigid rationalism of a postwar order, to escape “the architectural straitjacket,” and to liberate repressed human desires.
These ideas and tactics reflected a general lack of confidence in the capacity of state structures to protect or further democracy. The non-statist micro-politics of the time represented in many ways an attempt to constitute a mental and affective guerrilla at the intimate levels of the body, sexuality, and inter-subjectivity, an individual in whom the personal became subversively political. As such, these theoretical positions offered a strategy for withdrawing from the formal state apparatus into the private domain. While these tactics were conceived to transgress the established “bourgeois order” of the city, with the architectural element of the wall – domestic, urban or geopolitical – projected as an embodiment of social and political repression, in the hands of the Israeli military, tactics inspired by these thinkers were projected as the basis for an attack on an “enemy” city. Education in the humanities – often believed to be the most powerful weapon against imperialism – has here been appropriated as the powerful tool of colonial power itself.
All this is not outlined here in order to place blame on this theory, its makers or the purity of their intentions or promote an anti-theoretical approach, but in an attempt to turn our attention to the possibility that, as Herbert Marcus suggested, with the growing integration between the various aspects of society, “contradiction and criticism” could be equally subsumed and made operative as an instrumental tool by the hegemony of power – in this case post-structuralist and even post-colonial theory by the colonial state.
According to Naveh, a central category in the IDF conception of the new urban operations is “swarming.” It refers to a coordinated joint action undertaken by a network form of organization whose separate units operate semi-autonomously but in general synergy with all others. The RAND corporation theorists credited with the popularization of the military implications of the term, David Ronfeldt and John Arquilla, claim that swarming was historically employed in the warfare of nomadic tribes, and is currently undertaken by different organizations across the spectrum of social political conflict – terrorists and guerrillas organization, mafia criminals as well as non-violent social activists.
In our interview, Kochavi explained the way the IDF understands and employs the concept: “A state military whose enemy is scattered like a network of loosely-organized gangs […] must liberate itself from the old concept of straight lines, units in linear formation, regiments and battalions, […] and become itself much more diffuse and scattered, flexible and swarm-like… In fact, it must adjust itself to the stealthy capability of the enemy […] Swarming, to my understanding, is simultaneous arrival at a target of a large number of nodes – if possible from 360 degrees […] which then dissever and re-disperse.” According to Gal Hirsh, swarming creates “noisy humming,” that makes it very difficult for the enemy to know where the military is and what is its direction of movement.
The assumption of low-intensity conflict, as articulated by Arquilla and Ronfeldt, is that “it takes a network to combat a network.” An urban combat is thus not the action of a living force upon a lifeless mass, but the collision of two networks. As they adapt, mimic and learn from each other, the military and the guerrilla enter a cycle of “co-evolution.” Military capabilities evolve in relation to resistance, which itself evolves in relation to transformations in military practice. However, claims for total breakdown of vertical hierarchies in contemporary militaries are largely exaggerated. Beyond the rhetoric of “self-organization” and “flattening of hierarchy,” military networks are still largely nested within traditional institutional hierarchies. Non-linear swarming is performed at the very tactical end of an inherently hierarchical system. Spatial non-linearity is achieved because Israel still controls all linear supply lines – the roads within the West Bank and those that connect it to its large bases within Israel proper, as well as the multiplicity of linear barriers constructed throughout it. Furthermore, “swarming” and “walking through walls” are successful when the enemy is relatively weak and disorganized, without an ability to coordinate resistance, and especially when the balance of technology, training and force is clearly on the side of the military.
The years spent successfully attacking the weak Palestinian organizations was no doubt one the reason for the incompetence that the same Israeli soldiers demonstrated when they faced in 2006 the stronger, better armed and well trained Hizbollah fighters in Lebanon. Indeed the two officers most implicated in the summer of 2006 events in Gaza and Lebanon are none other than two Israeli military graduates of OTRI, veterans of the Balata and Nablus attack in 2002, Aviv Kochavi (commander of the Gaza Division) and Gal Hirsh (commander of the northern Galilee Division 91). Kochavi, who commanded the summer 2006 attack on Gaza, stuck to his obfuscating language: “we intend to create a chaos in the Palestinian side, to jump from one place to the other, to leave the area and then return to it […] we will use all the advantages of ‘raid’ rather than ‘occupation.’” In Lebanon Hirsh called for “raids instead of occupation,” and ordered the battalions newly attached to his command and unused to the language he acquired at OTRI to “swarm” and “infest” an area. However his subordinate officers did not seem to understand what this was supposed to mean. Hirsh but was later criticized for arrogance, intellectualism and out-of touch-ness. Naveh, pondering the results, himself admitted in the popular media that “The war in Lebanon was a failure and I had a great part in it. What I have brought to the IDF has failed.”
The chaos was indeed on the Israeli side. Continuous fire and shelling by the increasingly frustrated IDF gradually cumulated villages and neighborhoods into sharp topographies of broken concrete and glass sprouting with twisted metal bars. Within this lunar landscape, the hills of rubble were honeycombed with cavities of buried rooms, which paradoxically offered more hiding places to the guerrillas. Hizbollah fighters, themselves effectively swarming through and between this rubble and detritus of wars, sometimes using an invisible system of tunnels, studied the maneuver of Israeli soldiers, and attacked them with anti-tank weapons precisely when they entered, organized and moved within Lebanese homes as they were used to from the cities and refugee camps of the West Bank.
Non-linear and network terminology has its origins in military discourse since after the end of WWII and was instrumental in the conception in 1982 of the US military doctrine of AirLand Battle which emphasized inter-service cooperation and the targeting of the enemy at its systematic bottlenecks – bridges, headquarters and supply lines – in attempts to throw it off balance. It was conceived to check Soviet invasion in Central Europe and was first applied in the Gulf War of 1991. The advance of this strand leads to the Network Centric Doctrine in the context of the Revolution in Military Affairs (RMA) after the end of the Cold War. Network Centric Warfare conceptualizes the field of military operation as distributed network-systems, woven together by information technology across the entire operational spectrum. This type of transformation, promoted by neo-conservatives such as Donald Rumsfeld, faced strong opposition within the US armed forces. This opposition recently accelerated in the context of American military failures in Iraq. The IDF is similarly, since the early 1990s, undergoing institutional conflicts in the context of these transformations. In the context of these internal conflicts, a special language based on post-structuralist theory was used to articulate the critique of the existing system, to argue for transformations, and to call for further reorganizations. As Naveh explained: “We employ critical theory primarily in order to critique the military institution itself – its fixed and heavy conceptual foundations […].”
One of the internal conflicts within the IDF, which was conceptual as much as it was hierarchical, was articulated in the context of the debate that followed the closing down of OTRI in the spring of 2006 and the controversial suspension of Naveh and his co-director Dov Tamari. This took place in the context of the change of staff that followed the replacement of Chief of Staff Moshe Ya’alon with his rival Dan Halutz. After dismantling OTRI Halutz set up an alternative institute for “operational thinking” which was based on the model of a similar department Haluz previously set up within the Air Force. Naveh understood his dismissal as “a coup against OTRI and theory.”
The military debate reflects upon political questions. Naveh, together with most of his former colleagues at OTRI, supported the Israeli withdrawal from the Gaza Strip as well as the Israeli withdrawal from South Lebanon prior to its actual undertaking in 2000. He is similarly is in favor of withdrawal from the West Bank. In fact, his political position is in line with what is referred to in Israel as the “Zionist left.” His vote alternated between Labor and Meretz parties. Similarly, Kochavi enthusiastically accepted the command over the military operation for the evacuation and destruction of Gaza settlements, and regardless of the atrocities he was accused of in Gaza is similarly understood as a “leftist” officer. According to Naveh, Israel’s operational paradigm should seek to replace presence in occupied areas with the capacity to move through them, and produce in them what he called “effects,” which are “military operations such as aerial attacks or commando raids… that affect the enemy psychologically and organizationally.” The new tactics are meant to maintain security domination in the Palestinian areas evacuated, and their development was seen in fact as a precondition for withdrawal. Withdrawal is understood within the IDF as depending on Israel’s capacity to cancel it in emergency situations it could itself define. This undoubtedly undoes much of the perceived symmetrical nature of borders, embodied by the iconography of West Bank Wall, and by all the recent diplomatic rhetoric that would like to regard whatever polity remains (fragmented and perforated as it may be) on the other side of this Wall as a Palestinian state. Following this logic Naveh claimed that “whatever line they [the politicians] could agree upon – there they should put the fence [Wall]. This is okay with me . . .but as long as I can cross this fence. What we need is not to be there, but […] to act there. […] Withdrawal is not the end of the story.” In this respect, the large “state wall” is conceptualized in similar terms to the house wall – as a transparent and permeable medium that could allow the Israeli military to “smoothly” move through and across it.
A comparison between the attacks in 2002 on Jenin and Nablus would reveal the paradox that renders the overall effect of the leftist officers even more destructive. A hole in the wall may not be as devastating as the complete destruction of the home, but considering local and international opposition, if the occupation forces were not able to enter refugee camps without having to destroy them as they did in Jenin, they would most likely not attack refugee camps, and definitely not as often as they do now that they have found the tool to do so. Instead of entering a political process of negotiation with Hamas, military confidence is finding a solution for the government to avoid politics.
In siege warfare, the breaching of the outer wall signaled the destruction of the sovereignty of the city-state. Accordingly, the “art” of siege warfare historically engaged with the geometries of city walls and with the development of equally complex technologies for approaching and breaching them. Contemporary urban combat, on the other hand, is increasingly concerned with methods of transgressing the limitations embodied by the domestic wall. In this respect, it might be useful to think of the city’s (domestic) walls as one would think about the (civic) city wall – as operative edges of the law and the condition of democratic urban life.
According to Hannah Arendt, the political realm of the Greek city was guaranteed by these two kinds of walls (or wall-like laws): the wall surrounding the city, which defined the zone of the political; and the walls separating private space from the public domain, ensuring the autonomy of the domestic realm. “The one harbored and enclosed political life as the other sheltered and protected the biological life process of the family.” The very order of the city relies thus on the fantasy of a wall as stable, solid, and fixed. Indeed, architectural discourse tends to otherwise see walls as architecture’s irreducible givens. The military practice of “walking through walls” – on the scale of the house, the city or the “state” – links the physical properties of construction with this syntax of architectural, social and political orders. New technologies developed to allow soldiers to see living organisms through walls, and to facilitate their ability to walk and fire weapons through them, thus address not only the materiality of the wall, but also its very concept. With the wall no longer physically or conceptually solid or legally impenetrable, the functional spatial syntax that it created – the separation between inside and outside, private and public – collapses. Without these walls, Arendt continues, “there might have been an agglomeration of houses, a town (asty), but not a city, a political community.” The distinction between a city, as a political domain, and a town (here, the antithesis to the city must be understood as the refugee camp) is based on the conceptual solidity of the elements that safeguard both public and private domains. Agamben’s well-known observation follows the trace left by Arendt: in the camps, “city and house became indistinguishable.” The breaching of the physical, visual, and conceptual border / wall exposes new domains to political power, offering thus a physical diagram to the concept of the “state of exception.”
When Kochavi claims that “space is only an interpretation,” and that his movement through and across the built fabric of the city reinterprets architectural elements (walls, windows, and doors); when Naveh claims that he would accept any border as long as he could walk through it, they use a transgressive theoretical approach to suggest that war and fighting is no longer about the destruction of space, but rather about its “reorganization.” If a wall is only the signifier of a “wall,” marking scales of political orders, un-walling also becomes a form of rewriting – a constant process of undoing – fueled by theory. If moving through walls becomes the method for “reinterpreting space,” and if the nature of space is “relative” to this form of interpretation, could this “reinterpretation” kill?
If the answer is “yes,” then the “inverse geometry” that turns the city “inside out,” shuffling its private and public spaces, and that turns the idea of a “Palestinian State” outside in, would bring about consequences for military operations that go beyond physical and social destruction and force us to reflect upon the “conceptual destruction” of political categories that they imply.
 On such a military conference organized in 2002 by the Faculty of Geography at Haifa University see: Stephen Graham, “Remember Falluja: Demonizing Place, Constructing Atrocity,” Society and Space, 2005, Vol. 23. pp. 1-10; and Stephen Graham, “Cities and the ‘War on Terror’,” International Journal of Urban and Regional Research, Vol. 30.2 June 2006, pp. 255–276
 Yedidia Ya’ari and Haim Assa, Diffused Warfare, War in the 21st Century, Tel Aviv: Miskal – Yediot Aharonot Books and Chemed Books, 2005 [Hebrew] pp. 9-13, 146.
 Eyal Weizman and Nadav Harel, interview with Aviv Kochavi, 24 September 2004, at an Israeli military base near Tel Aviv [Hebrew]; video documentation by Nadav Harel and Zohar Kaniel.
 Zuri Dar and Oded Hermoni, “Israeli Start-Up Develops Technology to See Through Walls,” Ha’aretz, 1 July 2004; Amir Golan, “The Components of the Ability to Fight in Urban Areas,” Ma’arachot 384 (July 2002): 97; also see Ross Stapleton-Gray, “Mobile mapping: Looking through Walls for On-site Reconnaissance,” the Journal for Net Centric Warafre C4ISR, 11 September 2006.
 “With the growing integration of industrial society, these categories are losing their critical connotation, and tend to become descriptive, deceptive, or operational terms. […] Confronted with the total character of the achievements of advanced industrial society, critical theory is left without the rationale for transcending this society. The vacuum empties the theoretical structure itself, because the categories of a critical social theory were developed during the period in which the need for refusal and subversion was embodied in the action of effective social forces.” Herbert Marcuse, One-Dimensional Man, Studies in the Ideology of Advanced Industrial Society, Boston Mass., Beacon Press, 1991
 David Ronfeldt, John Arquilla, Graham Fuller and Melissa Fuller, The Zapatista “Social Netwar” in Mexico, Santa Monica, Ca.: RAND, 1998.
 Gal Hirsch, On Dinosaurs and Hornets: A Critical View on Operational Moulds in Asymmetric Conflicts, RUSI Journal (August 2003), p .63
 Arquilla and Ronfeldt, Networks and Netwars, p.15
 “War […] is not the action of a living force upon a lifeless mass but always the collision of two living forces.” Carl von Clausewitz, On War, p. 77
 On this, see Ryan Bishop, “‘The Vertical Order Has Come to an End’: The Insignia of the Military C3I and Urbanism in Global Networks,” in Ryan Bishop, John Phillips, and Wei-Wei Yeo, eds., Beyond Description: Space Historicity Singapore, Architext Series, London & New York: Routledge, 2004.
 Hannan Greenberg, “The Commander of the Gaza Division: The Palestinians are in shock,” Ynet 7 July 2006 http://www.ynet.co.il/.
 Amir Rapaport, “Dan Halutz is a Bluff, interview with Shimon Naveh,” Ma’ariv, Yom Kippur Supplement, 1 October 2006.
 Halutz did not directly confront the theoretical concepts produced at OTRI. The General Staff’s Operational Concept for the IDF is still rooted in OTRI’s theoretical doctrine of systemic operational design. See: Caroline Glick, “Halutz’s Stalinist moment: Why were Dovik Tamari and Shimon Naveh Fired?,” Jerusalem Post, 17 June 2006 and Rapaport, “Dan Halutz is a Bluff”. Currently Naveh is employed by US Marine Corps Development Command as senior mentor to their operational experiment “Expeditionary Warrior.”
 Hannah Arendt, The Human Condition, Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1998, pp. 63-64.
 Arendt, The Human Condition, pp. 63-64.
 Giorgio Agamben, Homo Sacer: Sovereign Power and Bare Life (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1998), p. 188.
Extending Co-Resistance: An Interview with Eyal Weizman
Chapter from Assuming Boycott: Resistance, Agency, and Cultural Production (eds. Kareem Estefan, Carin Kuoni, Laura Raicovich), OR Books, 2017
Kareem Estefan: Like other boycotts and protest actions predicated on collective withdrawal from events and institutions, the BDS movement is generally considered to wield a negative form of agency. The cultural and academic boycott of Israel, in particular, is said to obstruct—or, its opponents would argue, censor—cultural production that is supported by the Israeli government or organizations complicit in the state’s colonial violence. While it is no doubt true that BDS has impeded certain cultural events from proceeding, such a perspective overlooks the more significant fact that a cultural boycott engenders new conversations about the political stakes of art, in and beyond the context of Palestine/Israel, which otherwise would not take place. A boycott campaign launched against an exhibition supported by the Israeli Ministry of Culture, far from shutting down all conversation, will redirect the energies of mounting an art show toward the difficult labor of thinking and talking about the connections between cultural and political policies, redirecting discourse about the symbolic politics of representation—what art depicts, and how—to debates about the political effects of representation—what art does, and in what context—in normalizing or resisting segregation and colonization. From this perspective, the cultural boycott of Israel is a demonstration of extraordinary positive agency: the power to shape conversations about culture that bring the long-repressed rights, demands, and analyses of Palestinians to the forefront.
Speaking at a panel on the meaning of BDS in the Vera List Center’s “Assuming Boycott” series last year, the architect and political theorist Eyal Weizman invoked the concept of “co-resistance,” referring to acts of civil disobedience undertaken in West Bank villages like Nabi Saleh and Bi’lin, where Israeli and international solidarity activists have joined Palestinians in weekly nonviolent protests of the occupation. Co-resistance is one way to frame adherence to the BDS guidelines that underscores the active engagement that solidarity entails, even when it means declining an invitation to speak at a university or deciding not to make art commissioned for a major exhibition. In the context of a boycott campaign, co-resistance unsettles the binary of action and non-action, instead channeling creative social energies from one field of action to another. With this in mind, I asked Weizman how more cultural platforms could become sites of co-resistance, pursuing an analogy he introduced at his “Assuming Boycott” talk: BDS as a form of withdrawal and production akin to the general strike.
Eyal Weizman: I support the BDS movement. It is a form of civil action directed at Israeli colonial practices and simultaneously at those Western governments, above all that of the United States, which support nearly all of Israel’s actions and continually reward the state with unparalleled financial, diplomatic, and cultural support. It has become popular in part because, at its most basic level, it turns non-action into a form of activism. This helps people living in the United States or Europe to avoid institutional relations with Israel; however, the demand that it poses on people closer to and more involved in the issue is different. Withdrawal needs to be complemented with other avenues for action. Wherever BDS cuts off or impedes a relation with a state institution, the movement should find—perhaps even create—new forums for solidarity and cultural production.
One of my favorite parts of the PACBI guidelines makes the distinction between cohabitation and co-resistance, explaining that in a situation of structural violence, mere cohabitation maintains the status quo. Along these lines, I think that the academic and cultural boycott needs to be seen as an intervention in the production of knowledge, rather than simply a series of obstructions. Since taking up the call of BDS, I have started lecturing locally only in association with select, committed human rights organizations, such as Zochrot, Yesh Din, Al Haq, or the Regional Council of Unrecognized Villages of Negev, and through the Decolonizing Architecture Art Residency (DAAR) studio in Beit Sahour, in which I’m a partner. These groups promote new means to understand and creatively grapple with the ongoing social, political, and spatial effects of Israeli colonization, and given the way the Israeli government persecutes them, they need support.
Once we understand it as a movement channeling intellectual and political energy away from Israeli institutions, BDS becomes part of a wider spectrum of political actions that block non-democratic and unequal platforms and open democratic platforms for co-resistance. It is a matter of forging communities of practice, wherein action produces political constituencies and radical subjectivities among those who withdraw from the state. Of course, withdrawal is in itself action—a good example is the general strike. Consider theories of the general strike from the early 20th century, like those of Rosa Luxemburg, in which the strike is not only a form of non-action or a means to avoid work; its purpose is also to build solidarity, steal back time, and make space for other forms of living. A strike is labor directed to new ends: it opens up sites for organization and contributes to resistance, resilience, and the communal production of knowledge. It is also an important stage in the process of revolution and political transformation. The strike already has a great tradition in the Palestinian struggle. In the first intifada, for example, strikes led to the closures of schools, and informal academies popped up in the very places—garages, workshops, shops—that were shut off from the outside world, including the Israeli economy.
The challenge for the BDS movement is to find and create platforms that are egalitarian and democratic—to provide alternatives to the forms of culture and politics that exist. So, if we consider theories of the general strike as a withdrawal and an interruption, we should also ask, where is the site of creation in BDS? How do we move from a stage of undermining Israel’s legitimacy by applying the force of withdrawal to a next step of building alternative, egalitarian spaces?