Settler Colonial Securitism: Israeli Surveillance and Control Regimes at Airports and Mega-events

Note: This was originally a chapter written for an edited collection several years ago. That project appears to be dead in the water. So here it is. It’s over 7,000 words long. Might be easier as a PDF and the pdf is consistently formatted. Also this chapter appeared online a few years ago under another author’s name and has even been cited as by that author. Oh well.

Dedicated to the memory of the late riot grrrl, patchouli enthusiast, and drinking buddy Sarah Van Goey. May those privileged to know her remember and carry her love. Thanks to Helga Tawil-Souri for feedback on this chapter, without which it would have been completely incoherent, instead of just mostly so, and to Uri Gordon without whose encouragement this would not have been written at all.


Terrorism is a fearsome symbol, connoting irrational violence and conjuring up images of sinister, bearded aliens throwing bombs and seizing innocent (white and Western) hostages. – Edward Herman & Gerry O’Sullivan (1989)

John Collins writes that in its processes, “settler colonialism did much to bring about a globalised world of permanent war in which there is no longer an ‘outside’ (if there ever was),” (Collins, 2011; 173). “Not accidentally,” he writes, “settler states (primarily the United States, Israel and apartheid South Africa) were leaders in the thirty-year development of an entire industry devoted to the study, prevention, and combating of ‘terrorism’. Today’s US-led Global War on Terrorism, which shares with neoliberal globalization ‘the unbounded surface of the earth as [its] territorial frame of reference’ would have been impossible without the discursive and ideological space constructed through the ‘terrorism’ industry,” (ibid). I here explore this ‘terrorism industry’ in one such settler colonial context, Israel/Zionism, and its relevance in two highly securitised locations where there are no clear boundaries of ‘inside’ and ‘outside’—mega-events and airports—even as each also acts as a gated community (The seeming contradiction being indicative of the continual negotiations of and between geo-, bio-, and necropolitics, an examination of which is beyond the scope of this chapter).

Both mega-events and airports are prefigurative spaces in that they are prophetic of control regimes that expand beyond the physical boundaries of the airports and the temporal boundaries of the mega-event. This becomes especially important when ‘innocent’, ‘suspect’ and ‘guilty’ have no fixed definition at the securitised airport or mega-event, though local conditions may impart more innocence, suspicion or guilt on particular status groups or individuals. Israel’s experience suppressing Palestinian and Lebanese resistance is a key source of techniques and technologies used to negotiate innocence, suspicion and guilt at these sites. The Israeli surveillance and control techniques and technologies deployed at mega-events and airports translate settler colonialism to other political geographies or, as Collins (2012) argues, assists in their colonization.

Airports and mega-events are analytically useful in that they are cites of intense oppression without regular insurgency. While insurgencies erupt at both airports and mega-events on occasion—political violence, hijackings, fan celebrations and riots, etc., they are best understood as cites of coordinated mobility and consumption. It is this purportedly apolitical status that opens up the question of criminalisation and prosecution of everyday behaviour explored below. I suggest that the universal gaze of suspicion and guilt in comprehensive surveillance regimes is an organization of power that can be framed, with a nod to Pierre Clastres, as The State Against Society.

The chapter is organised in two main parts. First is an overview of Zionist securitism and settler colonialism’s attempts to eliminate Palestine’s indigenous populace. I look at this through the lens of a ‘pacification industry’, the trade in the theories and technologies of inequality management that assist in the repression of resistance and criminalised populations around the world (Johnson, 2012; Halper, pending). Second is the practice of criminalising suspect, disruptive, or unwanted persons under the risk analysis and comprehensive surveillance regimes found at airports and mega-events and these institutions acting as roll-outs for systems later deployed more broadly. I examine Israel’s export of pacification industry technologies to China for it preparations for the 2008 Summer Olympic Games, a brief sampling of other examples, and the export of comprehensive surveillance systems to airports worldwide to connect the political geography between parts one and two.

Through these two themes I explore both settler colonialism’s elimination of indigenous populaces and the overlap between erasing political resistance and socio-cultural nonconformity in ‘clean’ spaces. One quick word on terminology. Many of the materials surveyed use ‘terror’, ‘terrorism’, and ‘terrorist’ in ways similar to how most governments use the terms. This refers primarily to armed actions by “selected, relatively small-scale terrorists and rebels, including some genuine national liberation movements” and leaves out analogous state actions altogether (Herman & O’Sullivan, 1989; xii). I do not subscribe to this understanding. Terrorism is a tactic, not ethic, whether deployed by states, groups, or individuals from the political economic Right, Centre or Left. Like the terms ‘militant’, ‘armed’ and ‘nonviolent’ it describes a little about the tactic in question, but nothing about towards what end or goal it is deployed nor the ethical base for its deployment, by far the more important questions.

A Settler Colonial Security Industry

Israel targets Palestinians for surveillance and control no matter whether they are conscious antisystemic actors as, in Patrick Wolfe’s paraphrasing of Deborah Bird Rose, “to get in the way of settler colonisation, all the native has to do is stay at home,” (Wolfe, 2006; 388). Wolfe (2006; 387) writes that settler colonialism is guided by a “logic of elimination,” that it “destroys to replace,” (388). Elimination need not be physical destruction. Since 1948 Israel has tried to create “Israeli Arabs” as a status group within its borders. This attempts to displace the native population’s indigeneity and articulate Palestinians instead through the settler society. Australia’s “Stolen Generations”—the abduction of indigenous children for rearing in the White settler society—are another example of elimination without physical destruction.

Wolfe continues, “In short, elimination refers to more than the summary liquidation of Indigenous people, though it includes that. In its positive aspect, the logic of elimination marks a return whereby the native repressed continues to structure settler-colonial society,” (Wolfe, 2006; 390). Ahmad Sa’di (2011; 83) elaborates on this writing that the “The size, natural growth, structure, migration, and spatial distribution of the indigenous population and the settlers are of fundamental importance to the functioning – and even the very survival” of settler colonial regimes. Indeed the indigenous population is the single most important element shaping settler societies. The indigenous—in this case Palestinian—structuring of settler society is clearly seen in the development of Israeli security apparatuses.

Zionist colonisation’s first decades saw largely unorganised or small-scale organised resistance from indigenous Palestinians. Early Zionist settlements “had not provoked the enmity of the [peasantry] who were less concerned with the identity of the landowners than with the availability of employment opportunities,” (Shafir, 1996; 86). The Second Aliya (wave of Jewish immigration) between 1904 and 1914 brought ‘Hebrew labour’ programs and significant displacement of Palestinians from jobs and lands, leading to more organised resistance. The first settler security forces—Bar Giora which quickly morphed into Hashomer—turned to guarding in response “to the escalation of Palestinian hostilities after the Young Turks’ Revolt in July, 1908 and, specifically, to the subsequent attempt of villagers and Bedouins in a number of locations in the Lower Galilee to reverse Jewish land purchases,” (Shafir, 1996; 138). As the resistance to, subversion of, and attacks on the colonists became more organised, the colonisers in turn began to further organise security forces. The colonisers formed the HaganahHashomer‘s successor and the Israel Defence Force‘s precursor (IDF)during British colonial rule in response to the 1920 uprising, along with Ta’as its military production branch. It developed into a more formal paramilitary organization after the next Palestinian uprising in 1929, its forms again shaped by the relationship with Palestinians, and first developed counterinsurgency teams and built frontier surveillance systems—the Special Night Squads and homa umigdal (‘wall and tower’) settlements respectively—during the 1936-39 Arab Revolt (Johnson, 2012; 6). Indigenous resistance has guided the structuring of the Israeli military and security apparatuses and industries continues ever since. Neve Gordon notes that in Israel,

after telecommunications, [homeland security (HS)] is the second-largest high-tech subsector in terms of numbers of companies. Interestingly, in terms of the number of HS/surveillance companies and the revenues these companies accrue, there is no comparison between Israel and countries like Ireland, Taiwan and India, all of which have enjoyed a similar high-tech boom but have not developed an HS within their high-tech industries. Only two other countries appear to have such robust HS and surveillance high-tech sectors: the United States and the United Kingdom. The difference between Israel and the other newly established high-tech capitals reflects the impact of the internal forces and processes that led to the creation of Israel’s HS industry (Gordon, 2011; 158).

Palestinian resistance—armed and unarmed, from Marxist to Islamist to nationalist—not only structures the Israeli military and HS industry, it is also its laboratory and proving ground. As Gordon writes, “According to Ran Galli, corporate vice-president of major campaigns for Elbit Systems, ‘No other country has Israel’s extensive hands-on experience in fighting terror, including the development of new systems, testing them in real-time and adapting and fine-tuning following feedback from performance in the field,’” (Gordon, 2011; 162)

Gordon’s interview with Yossi Pinkas, vice-president of Nemeysco, further elaborates on the laboratory. Pinkas notes that Israeli firms can “check the products on the ground to see if they resolve the issue – solutions mean technology, doctrine, and system. After 9/11 everybody began buying technologies … We have already made the mistakes and through our mistakes we learned to produce a general solution, one that unites the different systems … We learn from our own experience in the West Bank and Gaza as well as Lebanon and employ it in order to improve the products and services,” (Gordon, 2011; 162).

Zionism—settler colonialism in Palestine—produced military and security apparatuses that can be best understood as anti-Palestinian technologies. As noted above, the technology’s history as ‘battle proven’ is a selling point. Settler colonialism’s logic of elimination guides these industries as they produce and test tools to suppress Palestinian resistance. The following sections examine two of the many fields in which Israeli arms and security industries are active: risk analysis through profiling and comprehensive surveillance at airports and in preparations for mega-events.

Settler Colonial Securitism Takes Flight

Klauser, November and Ruegg, note that airports serve as “test beds for further societal applications and developments of preprogrammed control technologies,” (2008; 110). Mark Salter concurs, writing that “airports have long been laboratories for new strategies of both technological and social control,” Further, “Public and private authorities have taken advantage of the liminal character of airports to conduct policing and border functions, which take place inside the state but at the margins of the law,” (Salter, 2008a; xi). Indeed airports are increasingly authoritarian spaces. Airports as “test beds” lends gravity to Alistair Gordon’s conclusion that:

Antiterrorist measures turned the airport into an electronically controlled environment rivalled only by the maximum security prison. It was more there mere coincidence that the architects responsible for some of these fortified terminals had also designed penitentiaries. Both the airport concourse and the cell block used similar kinds of logic. Interior and exterior spaces were under twenty-four-hour surveillance from electronic eyes, motion detectors, and video cameras. Both inmates and passengers moved through narrow checkpoints, where personal screenings were administered with metal detectors and body searches. Only the duration of incarceration differed (Gordon, 2004; 238).

The airport as an incarcerating space is relevant throughout this section which focuses on two developing trends in surveillance and control technologies at airports: risk analysis and management and comprehensive surveillance regimes. I look at how these “counterterrorism” security regimes are deployed along the lines of systemic alterity and their logic of universal guilt and suspicion.

Salter notes that “Risk management has become the governance touchstone of the post-9/11 world, arising in the academic fields of sociology and criminology, and the private fields of insurance and policing,” (2008b; 20). Whitaker elaborates that in this “official security discourse” of “risk analysis: resources are limited; 100 per cent security is impossible; the rational response is to analyse the risk levels of potential threats and deploy resources proportionately,” (2011; 372). In risk analysis “businesses, governments, and airport authorities must plan for failure and allocate resources, procedures, and policies according to the probability and impact of certain unavoidable risks. […] Risk is then, mitigated, avoided, transferred, or accepted according the abilities and environment of the authority,” (Salter, 2008b; 20).

Risk management and risk analysis have been around—outside the insurance industry—for some time and are partially attributable to rise of terror/counterterror in Western political discourse. Herman and O’Sullivan note that “One segment of the security industry that grew rapidly in the wake of the new terrorist threat of the 1970s and 1980s was political risk analysis. This proved to be such a growth industry that in 1980 a trade group was formed in the United States called the Association of Political Risk Analysts,” (Herman & O’Sullivan, 1989; 122). Yet it was only in “the aftermath of 9/11, [when] the [U.S.] federal government’s chief fiscal and program watchdog, the U.S. Government Accountability Office, recommended the country allocate its security resources on the basis of a risk-management approach,” (Lahav, 2008; 82). A broader look at risk analysis and management vis-a-vis counterterrorism discourse is beyond the scope of this chapter. I here focus on risk analysis at the individual level at airports, or passenger profiling. The conclusions cannot be extended to all discussions of risk analysis and risk management. As Salter notes,

Security risks are both unpredictable and adaptive. Both criminal and terrorist groups are able to change tactics and strategies based upon the preventative approaches taken by the airport. […] With environmental hazards, facility design, apron accidents, of aviation safety, there is a relatively robust scientific consensus on the probability and impact of events. However, there is no such database for criminal and terrorist activities that can act as a reliable predictor for the future. In short, the risk-management system attempts to quantify and ranks dangers that are unquantifiable and cannot be ranked. Not only are terrorists and criminals adaptive in a way that the physical environment or aircraft part is not but also the political risk of terror attacks is openly and actively contested, (2008b; 21)

Whitaker writes that in behavioural profiling of risk, “high accuracy in prediction is not the required standard from a security and policing perspective. What is being measured is risk, itself more a matter of statistical probability than of certainty,” (2011; 374, emphasis in original). Behind the compiling and analysis of data to determine risk “is a further assumption: the selection of what data to compile, and the analysis of this data, presupposes prior guidelines, or pre-existing models – what to look for and why it matters,” (ibid., 2011; 373 emphasis in original). In addition to Salter’s reservations about the predictive ability of behavioural profiling noted above, the “prior model contains the expectations that the analyst brings to the collected data,” (ibid.; 375) and “reproduces in its own workings the same ideological colour of the larger society that gave rise to it,” (ibid.; 383). In many states, especially but not exclusively in the Global North, the “ideological colour” includes systemic White supremacy and the “Clash of Civilisations” political doctrine of ‘The West’ vs. ‘The Islamic World.’ The “expectations the analyst brings” include racism, anti-Blackness and xenphobia. Whitaker warns of “the impact on individuals falsely identified as high risk, or the impact on entire communities that are, in effect, singled out as suspect on the basis of the correlation of high risk with a minority of individuals from that community,” (2011; 374). The risk analysis through behavioural profiling regime implies a certain universal (potential) guilt, though not all are equally (potentially) guilty. In risk analysis through behavioural profiling, the question is not whether you will perpetrate risky or dangerous behaviour, it is assumed that you will. The answer it seeks is the likelihood that you will perpetrate such behaviour this time.

Israeli airport security features passenger profiling as an important part of a multilayered security system. This has tremendous implications in a settler state. As a 2007 op-ed in the daily Haaretz observed, “Every traveler passing through Ben-Gurion International Airport recognises the scene: Arab passengers, citizens of Israel, are automatically pulled aside for security checks, some of them degrading, which sometimes last for hours,” (Haaretz, 2007). This is what Adey (2008; 146) sees as how the “contemporary surveillance and security machine acts as a mesh or sieve that sorts wanted from unwanted and trusted from distrusted identities.” Further, “airports actually work to make the differences by sorting passengers into different modalities,” (ibid.). The Israeli airport not only adheres to the systemic alterity of Palestinians, it helps to shape it.

Israeli expertise in passenger profiling is actively exported and informs many of the broader trends of political risk analysis at airports. For example, ICTS International, a private security firm established in 1982 by former members of El-Al security and Israel’s General Security Service, handles security at Amsterdam’s Schiphol Airport and developed “the Advanced Passenger Screening system used by most North American Airlines,” (Whitaker, 2011; 379). Its screening concepts are “widely in place in many European airports,” (ibid.). Boston’s Logan Airport uses—and the U.S. Transportation Security Administration now promotes—a passenger profiling system “directly inspired by Israeli advisors,” (ibid.). In 2005 Israel agreed to Help Russia “set up an aviation security system similar to the one that it has,” (Melman, 2005). The export destinations continue ad infinitum.

Another key part of airport security systems is the ‘comprehensive surveillance regime’. These regimes are not literally comprehensive. The budget needed for truly panoptic surveillance equipment and analysis would quickly put airports out of business. As Klauser, November and Ruegg note—referring specifically to Geneva International Airport but broadly applicable, “the airport is not homogeneously under surveillance but rather selectively monitored, dividing its surface into hierarchically-organised areas of control,” (2008; 115). This surveillance creates specific categories of both persons and space (ibid.; 107). Klauser, November and Ruegg’s case study is especially valuable for how it looks at the application of a surveillance regime, closed circuit television (CCTV), beyond the counterterrorism paradigm. At “Geneva International Airport,” they write, “cameras are used to monitor the microscale behaviour of previously identified, arriving ‘passengers of risk’ within publicly accessible arrival zone of the airport. In [their] interviews, examples of closely monitored ‘individuals of risk’ ranged from members of the Hell’s Angels and religious sects to supposed members of human trafficking rings, criminals and terrorists,” (ibid.; 111).

Looking at surveillance beyond passengers and luggage is vital due to the shifting nature of airports. Salter notes that the “profits derived from retail space are increasingly important to private or public-private airports. In one example, the private British Airport Authorities ‘has raised the amount of revenue derived from unregulated commercial sources from 49.5 % in 1984/85 to 71.5% in 1998/99. Airports are thus pressured to generate profit from nonaviation sectors,’” (Salter, 2008b; 7). In addition to retail revenue, airports are increasingly being made destinations themselves. Jarach explains that in addition to hotels and conference and meeting facilities,

the airport has to become an “event organiser” with an autonomous image able to stimulate complementary demand in off-peak periods during the day or the year. Frankfurt airport in Germany opened a disco inside the Terminal building, while Amsterdam Schiphol launched a casino in the transit area. [..] Malpensa airport, more sporadically, has been organising music concerts inside new Terminal 1’s walls. The relevance of this service diversification in terms of direct and related additional influxes of income is fairly evident: for instance, enthusiasts, disco-lovers and gamblers have the potential to generate demand for retailing and food services, (Jarach, 2001; 124).

Illustrating “more generally the joint production of airport security between public and private actors,” airport surveillance regimes seek to both identify “dangerous” and “risky” individuals “and exclude commercially unattractive people from the airport area,” (Klauser, November and Ruegg, 2008; 114). Klauser, November and Ruegg’s survey of Geneva International Airport is worth quoting at length.

As a result, CCTV operations are not only aiming at the reduction of criminal behaviour in order to create a safe airport but also at the exclusion of individuals whose behaviour is considered to be inappropriate in the finely polished marble landscape of the airport. The repressive functionality of CCTV (i.e., to neutralise, control, and avoid specific individuals and behaviours) and the creative functionality of CCTV (i.e., to produce a commercially appealing environment) are thus intrinsically related. […]

Despite the airport’s function to receive and accommodate the general public, its publicly accessible parts cannot be understood as “public” in the sense of open, democratically shared, public space. On the contrary, within the picture of a safe, trouble-free, and presentable airport, not every social group has its place. Publicly accessible airport sections are thus restricted to clearly designed social groups, which are only accommodated as long as they are not classified to be “undesirable.”

To provide a symptomatic sample of this ambivalence, it is worth looking at two examples, including skateboarding youth, one one hand, and homeless people, on the other hand. In fact, camera operators did not describe these social groups to be of risk, in that they would need to be especially monitored to prevent luggage theft, for example. They were on the contrary exclusively seen as disturbing elements to the airport’s reputation as both a prestigious national port of entry and as a nice place to go shopping, (Klauser, November and Ruegg, 2008; 117, emphases in original).

They note this points to an overlapping and sometimes contradictory surveillance regime whereby unlike the security forces, “the busy shops, cafés, and restaurants do not consider arriving or departing passengers as border-crossing individuals but rather as potential customers. They even seek to attract additional clients to the airport who do not have any intentions of leaving by plane,” (ibid, 118). Thus do ‘the dangerous’ and ‘the undesirable’ come together as disruptive of the airport’s status as a node of mobility, a national entry gate, and a site of capitalist accumulation. Like risk analysis through behavioural profiling, comprehensive surveillance regimes assert a universal application of scrutiny. All are deserving of scrutiny, the only question is what level of scrutiny is appropriate for each category of surveilled person. On the whole, these categories will reflect racist and gendered group status in broader society. And as David Lyon notes, the “common promotional refrain, ‘if you have nothing to hide, you have nothing to fear,’ is […] vacuous. Categorical suspicion has consequences for anyone, ‘innocent’ or ‘guilty’ caught in its gaze,” (cited in Adey, 2008; 146).

CCTV and other systems used to realise these surveillance regimes are a field of Israeli prominence. NICE Systems, for example, won surveillance contracts for airports in, amongst others: Bangkok, Dallas/Ft. Worth, Los Angeles, New Orleans, Ottawa, Shanghai, Sydney, Toronto, and Washington, D.C. NICE’s technological base stems directly from settler colonial security experience. It was founded in 1986 by “former IDF personnel putting their intelligence knowhow to civilian use and converting military technologies into communications infrastructures,” engineers who had worked as a team under David Arzi, later to become NICE’s CEO (Globes, 1999). They “sought to commercialise the logging and recording software they had developed as part of the international operations” of the IDF in Lebanon and elsewhere (ibid). NICE’s early sales were mostly in the military sector. A large ‘civilian’ business developed from it which now dominates its activities. Due to its success in the ‘civilian’ sector, NICE spun off its entire communications intelligence division in 2003 and now focuses on a mix of customer service and surveillance systems.

Verint Systems too relies heavily on the IDF’s surveillance and intelligence engineering branches for its technological development. Verint—a subsidiary of the Israeli firm Comverse with headquarters in the U.S. and its main research and development centre in Israel—has won airport surveillance contracts in Kansas City, Kuala Lumpur (despite no diplomatic relations between Israel and Malaysia), Orlando, Paris, Vancouver, and Washington, D.C. and elsewhere. Numerous other Israeli firms such as Vigilant, Elbit Systems, and Magal Security Systems too provide surveillance systems for airports. All of these firms, as noted in Gordon’s interview with Yossi Pinkas, use Israeli “experience in the West Bank and Gaza as well as Lebanon” to develop the surveillance and control technologies then exported to other authoritarian systems. The next section details repression involved with international mega-events and looks at how some of these same surveillance and control regimes are deployed to ‘clean’ mega-event spaces from “commercially unattractive” and “risky” persons.

Settler Colonial Surveillance Takes the Field

Like airports, mega-events are are moments of heightened international attention to host countries and cities and sites of universal suspicion and contestation. The civic and nationalist pride involved involved in mega-event pageantry allow for the suspension of rights under the rubric of a collective sacrifice to put the community’s best face forward. The heightened attention is also recognised as a moment of opportunity to bring focus to grievances by dissidents and antisystemic agents, some of whom are created through forced displacement by the mega-event itself. They are places where new surveillance and control technologies are first introduced. The massive mobilizations involved in ‘securing’ mega-events, like more formally declared wars, “cease to be constrained by time and space and instead become both boundless and more or less permanent,” (Graham, 2010; xv). Alternately put, these regimes of surveillance and control are put in place for a passing event, but establish a new norm that persists afterwards.

‘Security’ has been a public aspect of Olympic Games preparations for decades. The 1972 attacks at the Munich Games by the Palestinian Munazzamat Aylūl al-aswad organization and the 1996 bombing at the Atlanta Games by Right-wing United States militant Eric Rudolph—along with the petty crime concerns when millions of wealthy international tourists converge—provide much of the context for the historical securitisation of the Olympics. Adjustments were made to this framework after the September 11, 2001 attacks. Security preparations in Athens (2004), Beijing (2008), and London (2012) were heavily ‘War on Terror-ised’ though only Beijing is explored here.

The Centre on Housing Rights and Evictions (COHRE) in 2007 detailed severe levels of oppression accompanying international mega-events like the FIFA men’s World Cup and Summer Olympic Games. “The desire to show off a city and make it an attractive tourist destination is often accompanied by […] clean-ups of public areas facilitated by criminalisation of homelessness and increases in police powers,” (COHRE, 2007; 200). Common results are “displacements and forced evictions prompted by gentrification” that are “accelerated by the Olympic Games.”

Some 720,000 people were forcibly evicted in Seoul and Inchon prior to the 1988 Olympic Games, while conservative estimates show at least 1.25 million people have already been evicted in Beijing in the lead up to the 2008 Summer Olympic Games […] Furthermore, thousands of people were evicted or relocated in Barcelona (1992), Atlanta (1996) and Sydney (2000) and Roma were evicted from their settlements [in] Athens in relation to the 2004 Olympic Games. […] In Atlanta, it is estimated that 30,000 people were affected by displacement due to Olympics-related gentrification and the associated escalation in housing costs, with specific examples of over 4,000 people being displaced from just one housing community,” (COHRE; 197).

The Chinese government framed preparations for the August 2008 Summer Olympic Games in the starkest language possible to justify the dramatic escalation of securitisation of the built environment and crackdowns on dissent. Prior to the Olympics The People’s Daily—an official voice of the Central Committee of the ruling Communist Party of China—stated that, “As far as China is concerned, the international situation and the political environment is becoming increasingly complicated by the day, and the dark clouds of terrorism on our borders are a fact that cannot be ignored.” (Asia Pacific News, 2008) The “dark clouds of terrorism on our borders” referred to uprisings that preceded the Olympics in Tibet and Qurighar (East Turkestan). The uprisings demonstrated “that the Beijing Olympics is facing a terrorist threat unsurpassed in Olympic history.” To address this, China constructed “the most strict prevention and control system in Olympic history, adopting a series of security measures rarely seen,” (ibid.).

The act of ‘securing’ Beijing prior to and during the Olympics involved a mobilization of forces on par with a major international war. These included 100,000 commandos, 100,000 police officers, 200,000 security guards and 600,000 volunteers to patrol the streets (Chan, 2008). Thousands of video cameras and others surveillance systems were installed throughout Beijing and others host cities and throughout the national railway infrastructure. Hebei province, which surrounds Beijing, set up checkpoints “on all roads leading into the capital” almost three weeks before the Olympics began. The Hebei provincial government stated that “our police must firmly attack and wipe out those who seek to dominate and endanger others” and that “We must prevent any person with ulterior motives from entering Beijing and we must prevent any dangerous or illegal materials from entering Beijing,” (Watts, 2008).

While security firms from all over the world competed and won Olympic security contracts, a number of them went to Israeli firms, this despite the U.S. State Department intervening with the Israeli Foreign Ministry to restrict ‘homeland security’ and military exports to China (and greatly enriching U.S. homeland security firms participating in Olympic bids), (Melman, 2008a). NICE Systems’s first Olympics-related contract was awarded in April 2006. Its press release announcing the contract uses the depoliticised language of a shadowy, unnamed enemy to bridge between the GWOT and the Beijing Games. The video surveillance contract was awarded “following mounting security concerns worldwide and in preparation for the 2008 Olympics,” (NICE, 2006). The system is designed to “spot suspicious packages,” and “detect unauthorised entry” while automatically alerting authorities. Two weeks prior, Verint Systems announced it has won a “several million dollar” contract for a networked video system “designed to enable security personnel to proactively detect threats before they escalate,” (Verint, 2006). Both NICE and Verint won further contracts throughout 2007 and 2008 for integrated surveillance and security systems in preparation for the Olympics. NICE won a video surveillance contract for the Qinghai-Tibet Railway, the main infrastructural artery connecting Beijing to what was at the time a very restive Tibet and Lhasa. Jerusalem based DDS-Security joined NICE and Verint in landing important surveillance and control contracts. In December 2007 it won a contract to provide access control technology to some 2,000 doors throughout Beijing’s various Olympic buildings and complexes.

City and national security officials—in order to more concretely confront the “dark clouds of terrorism”—turned to International Security and Defence Systems (ISDS), a “multinational consultancy and system integration group in the security and defence fields” based in Nir Tzi (ISDS website). ISDS were counterinsurgency consultants for the governments of South Africa, El Salvador and Guatemala during the 1980s, Chile under Pinochet, Zaire under Mobutu, and Paraguay under Stroessner (Schmid & Jongman, 2005; 585, Herman & O’Sullivan 1989; 135-6). More important than counterinsurgency experience throughout the Global South are the histories of ISDS personnel in the suppression of Palestinian and Lebanese resistance to Israeli military occupation. Promotional materials declare that “ISDS brings over 20 years of real world experience” to “counter-terrorism.” The firm’s head Leo Gleser “served for over 30 years in the Israeli Defence Forces (IDF) as a member of the Special Elite Counter-Terrorism Units of the IDF, an operative in the Israeli Security Agency (ISA) and a Sky Marshall with EL AL Airline” and all “ISDS personnel are former members and instructors in select counter-terrorism units, ISA, Mossad or other intelligence and special security units,” (Smith & Wesson, 2003).

ISDS first won several small contracts from Chinese security firms, “Mainly for holding seminars and study days,” according to Gleser (Melman, 2008a). But a “turning point came in March 2008, following several terror attacks, including a suicide bomber’s attempt to blow up an aircraft and an attack on a bus in Shanghai. Alarmed, the Chinese government realised that it needed help from overseas after all. Gleser was asked to provide know-how and situation reports about international terror, mainly regarding threats of extremist Muslim groups in Asia,” (ibid.).

The threat of insurgency by militant Uighur and Tibetan groups—Islamist and nationalist, armed and unarmed—seeking to use the spotlight of the Olympics to bring an international eye to their plight concerned the Chinese government. The threat of nonviolent spectacle was especially distressing. As Gleser told Haaretz, “The Chinese fear, among other things, that some demonstrators’ group might try to take advantage of the worldwide attention to carry out a non-violent but provocative act to disgrace the Chinese organisers,” (Melman, 2008a). Further efforts equipping security personnel to prevent “especially distressing” spectacles were carried out by the Israel Police (Mishteret Yisrael) and Border Police (Mishmar HaGvul) in May and June of 2008.

The approximately six-week course was held in Israel for about 20 selected officers of the People’s Armed Police Force, to use Israeli experience to train them for possible scenarios involving terror and civil disturbances at the Games. The training involved, among other things, how to neutralise terrorists with their bare hands, how to deal with a crowd that riots on the playing field, and how to protect VIPS and remove demonstrators from main traffic arteries. […]

For purposes of training, the Kiryat Eliezer soccer stadium in Haifa played the part of the Bird’s Nest Olympic Stadium in Beijing. The officers learned how to take over a hijacked bus and identify a car rigged with explosives, and trained with M-16 rifles and Jericho pistols. Although the main focus of the training was to give the Chinese police the tools necessary to handle terrorist attacks, they also learned how to handle mass civilian demonstrations (Lis, 2008).

Elsewhere, ISDS assisted the securitising of the 2000 Sydney Olympics and the 2004 Athens Olympics. ODF Optronics sold surveillance systems to South Africa for the 2010 FIFA men’s World Cup. Israel Aerospace Industries sold unmanned aerial vehicles to the Rio De Janeiro police to help pacify the favelas in the run up to the 2014 men’s World Cup and 2016 Summer Olympic Games. Controp provided surveillance systems to Greece for the 2004 Athens games and the Israeli government chipped in by sending Border Police to help train their Greek counterparts. Magal Security Systems provided perimeter detection and other surveillance systems to Equatorial Guinea and Gabon for the 2012 AFCON football championship. Vigilant provided networked surveillance recorders for the 2004 Republican National Convention in New York City. Aeronautics Defence Systems’ Skystar 300 aerostat was used to surveil the 2006 G-8 conference in Moscow. An exhaustive list would greatly accelerate deforestation.

In the end, Beijing police set up three protest zones—all miles away from Olympic sites—during the 2008 Olympics but denied all of the 77 applications made for their use. Some would-be protesters were preemptively incarcerated based upon their applications for protest that were eventually denied anyway. These included Zhang Wei, who was “jailed for 30 days after applying to protest about her home being destroyed in the Olympics development,” (Watts, 2008) and Wu Dianyuan and Wang Xiuying, who were sentenced to “reeducation through labor” also for protesting their displacement (Foster and Spencer, 2008).

Settler Colonial Securitism Takes a Hike?

This chapter has laid out the development of Israel’s security apparatuses in the context of settler colonialism, investigated comprehensive surveillance and risk analysis regimes at airports and mega-events, and noted how Israeli settler colonialism is used to securatise airports and mega-events. I’ll end with a few more observations about these surveillance regimes and possibilities for antisystemic movements.

In behavioural profiling as well as video surveillance, faces are “territories to monitor,” (Klauser, November & Ruegg, 2008; 107). And as the “airport is an exception to normal urban spaces and a laboratory for testing wider schemes of social control,” (Salter, 2008b; 23). These surveillance regimes exemplify what Henry Giroux calls the “politics of disposability,” a “new form of biopolitics marked by a cleansed visual and social landscape in which the poor, the elderly, the infirm, and criminalised populations share a common fate of disappearing from public view,” (Giroux, 2006; 23). The disposable and criminalised populations targeted by capitalism and White supremacy share, though differently, their exclusion with Palestinians under settler colonialism. Wolfe writes that “it is difficult to speak of an articulation between colonizer and native since the [settlers’] determinate articulation is not to a society but directly to the land,” (Wolfe, 1999; 2). Indeed, Palestinians are so much ‘surplus humanity’ under Zionism.

This exercise has attempted not only to look at systemic relations and surveillance regimes, but also to elucidate linkages, nodes of connectivity where antisystemic agents can engage. Under Palestinian leadership, hundreds of foreign solidarity activists coordinated their flight arrivals to break the increasingly strict closure regimes Israel deploys against the occupied Palestinian territories. Some two hundred activists were prevented from flying to Israel at all, three hundred and ten—including some non-activists—were questioned upon arrival, one hundred and twenty-four were detained, and dozens more made it through to join allies in Ramallah in the West Bank, (Blumenkrantz, Khoury and Kubovich, 2011). This innovative action challenged both Israel’s apartheid policies and the multilayered airport surveillance regime.

Many pending events offer similar possibilities. Brazil’s progressive Workers’ Party governments are likely to oversee the 2014 FIFA men’s World Cup and 2016 Summer Olympic Games. Antisystemic organisers can challenge the securitisation of mega-events and Israeli apartheid by joining the Palestinian boycott, divestment and sanctions movement and dissuading Brazilian officials from employing Israeli surveillance and security firms. The fight against behavioural profiling comprehensive surveillance regimes can be linked with the struggles against systemic White supremacy and Islamophobia. The list is virtually endless. Just as ‘terror’ and its derivatives are largely vacuous terms with regards to goals and aims, so too are the techniques and technologies described above. How do surveillance regimes and risk analysis resolve purported dangers? They don’t, not even a little. These regimes intend to preserve a deeply unjust and unequal status quo as best they can, to manage and not resolve the purported threat. Doing anything more is beyond their capability. And herein lies the room to posit alternative visions.


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