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.

Introduction

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.

Bibliography

Adey, Peter (2008) “Mobilities and Modulations: The Airport as a Difference Machine,” in Politics at the Airport edited by Mark Salter, 145-160. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press.

Asia Pacific News (2008). “China vows to boost Olympic security,” July 13. Accessed 11 October 2011 at http://www.channelnewsasia.com/stories/afp_asiapacific/view/360095/1/.html

Blumenkrantz, Zohar, Jack Khoury and Yaniv Kubovich (2011) “124 pro-Palestinian activists arrested at Ben-Gurion Airport,” Haaretz, October 7. Accessed 15 January 2012 at http://www.haaretz.com/print-edition/news/124-pro-palestinian-activists-arrested-at-ben-gurion-airport-1.372376

Chan, John (2008). “China’s Olympic security measures reveal a regime under siege,” World Socialist Web Site, 22 July. Accessed 11 October 2011 at http://www.wsws.org/articles/2008/jul2008/olym-j22.shtml

Collins, John (2011) “A Dream Deterred: Palestine from Total War to Total Peace,” in Studies in Settler Colonialism: Politics, Identity and Culture edited by Fiona Bateman and Lionel Pilkington, 169-185. Hampshire, UK: Palgrave MacMillion.

Collins, John (2012) Global Palestine. New York: Columbia University Press.

COHRE (2007). Fair Play for Housing Rights: Mega-Events, Olympic Games and Housing Rights. Geneva: COHRE.

Foster, Peter and Richard Spencer (2008). “Beijing Olympics: Chinese pensioners punished after applying to protest.” The Telegraph, 20 August. Accessed 14 October 2011 at http://www.telegraph.co.uk/sport/olympics/2590024/Beijing-Olympics-Chinese-pensioners-punished-after-applying-to-protest.html

Giroux, Henry (2006) Stormy Weather: Katrina and the Politics of Disposability. Boulder: Paradigm Publishers.

Globes (1999) “Benny Levin—Nice Systems,” 26 December. Accessed 12 October 2011 at http://www.globes.co.il/serveen/globes/docview.asp?did=380960

Gordon, Alistair (2004) Naked Airport: A Cultural History of the World’s Most Revolutionary Structure. New York: Metropolitan Books.

Gordon, Neve (2011) “Israel’s emergence as a homeland security capital,” in Surveillance and Control in Israel/Palestine: Population, territory and power edited by Yasmeen Abu-Laban, David Lyon and Elia Zureik, 153-170. London: Routledge.

Graham, Stephen (2010) Cities Under Siege: The New Military Urbanism. London: Verso Books.

Halper, Jeff (pending manuscript) [tentative title] Globalised Palestine.

Haaretz (2007) “Clipping El-Al’s wings,” 9 August. Accessed 15 January 2011 at http://www.haaretz.com/print-edition/opinion/clipping-el-al-s-wings-1.229696

Herman, Edward and Gerry O’Sullivan (1989) The “Terrorism” Industry: The Experts and Institutions That Shape Our View of Terror. New York: Pantheon Books.

ISDS (International Security and Defense Systems) website. Accessed 12 October 2011 at http://isds.co.il/Home.htm

Jarach, David (2001) “The Evolution of Airport Management Practices: Towards a Multi-point, Multi-service, Marketing-driven Firm.” Journal of Air Transport Management 7, 2: 119-125.

Johnson, Jimmy (2012). Fragments of the Pacification Industry: Exporting the tools of Inequality Management from Israel/Palestine. Beit Sahour, Palestine: Alternative Information Center.

Klauser, Francisco, Valérie November and Jean Ruegg (2008) “Airport Surveillance Between Public and Private Interests: CCTV as Geneva International Airport,” in Politics at the Airport edited by Mark Salter, 105-126. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press.

Lahav, Gallya (2008) “Mobility and Border Security: The U.S. Aviation Systems, the State, and the Rise of Public-Private Partnerships,” in Politics at the Airport edited by Mark Salter, 77-103. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press.

Lis, Jonathan (2008). “Israeli police trained Chinese counterparts prior to Olympics.” Haaretz, 29 September. Accessed 29 September 2008 at http://www.haaretz.com/hasen/pages/ShArt.jhtml?itemNo=1024878

Melman, Yossi (2005) “One topic, Israel and Russia see eye to eye,” Haaretz. Accessed 21 July 2010 at http://www.haaretz.com/print-edition/features/on-one-topic-israel-and-russia-see-eye-to-eye-1.156823

Melman, Yossi (2008a). “Israeli security expert takes pride in his role at the Olympics.” Haaretz, 8 August. Accessed 20 July 2010 at http://www.haaretz.com/print-edition/news/israeli-security-expert-takes-pride-in-his-role-at-the-olympics-1.251402

Melman, Yossi (2008b) “Defense Ministry continues to ban security exports to China.” Haaretz, 21 August. Accessed 12 October 2011 at http://www.haaretz.com/print-edition/features/defense-ministry-continues-to-ban-security-exports-to-china-1.252391

NICE Systems (2006) Press release, 17 April. Accessed 25 February 2011 at http://www.nice.com/content/beijing-metro-selects-nice%E2%80%99s-next-generation-security-solutions-enhance-safety-and-security-

Sa’di, Ahmad (2011) “Ominous Designs: Israel’s strategies and tactics of controlling the Palestinians during the first two decades,” in Surveillance and Control in Israel/Palestine: Population, territory and power edited by Yasmeen Abu-Laban, David Lyon and Elia Zureik, 84-98. London: Routledge.

Salter, Mark (2008a) Introduction to Politics at the Airport edited by Mark Salter, ix-xix. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press.

Salter, Mark (2008b) “The Global Airport: Managing Space, Speed, and Security,” in Politics at the Airport edited by Mark Salter, 1-28. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press.

Schmid, Alex P. and A.J. Jongman (2005) Political Terrorism: A New Guide to Actors, Authors, Concepts, Data Bases, Theories and Literature. Piscataway, New Jersey: Transaction Publishers.

Shafir, Gershon (1989 [1996 ed.]) Land, Labor and the Origins of the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict, 1882- 1914. Berkeley, CA: University of California Press.

Smith & Wesson (2003) Press release, 23 June. Accessed 13 October 2011 at http://ir.smith-wesson.com/phoenix.zhtml?c=90977&p=irol-newsArticle_Print&ID=543983&highlight=

Verint Systems (2006) Press release, 30 March. Accessed 3 June 2011at http://verint.com/corporate/releases_view.cfm?article_level1_category_id=7&article_level1_id=479&pageno=3&year=2006

Watts, Alex (2008) “Beijing: A Protest-Free Zone?” Sky.com, 20 August. Accessed 23 September 2011 at http://news.sky.com/home/world-news/article/15082849

Whitaker, Reg (2011) “Israel’s emergence as a homeland security capital,” in Surveillance and Control in Israel/Palestine: Population, territory and power edited by Yasmeen Abu-Laban, David Lyon and Elia Zureik, 371-385. London: Routledge.

Wolfe, Patrick (1999) Settler Colonialism and the Transformation of Anthropology: The Politics and Poetics of an Ethnographic Event. London: Cassell.

Wolfe, Patrick (2006) “Settler Colonialism and the Elimination of the Native,” Journal of Genocide Research, 8(4): 387-409.

Anti-Blackness and Israeli Police Training

Rania Khalek on 4 December 2015 published an article on Electronic Intifada – a site I too write for – titled “US cops trained to use lethal Israeli tactics.” The Facebook lede for the piece was “The Chicago police officer who killed Black teen Laquan McDonald belonged to an Israeli-trained department.” The following critiques Khalek’s article which is bad on its own merits but also stands in for a lot of reporting on the linkages between Israeli training and local oppression, including a piece of my own earlier reporting (Here, an article offering some of the same bad analysis as Khalek published on the same website six years ago. The concluding paragraphs especially share a flaw I will get to below.).

khalek article

Screen capture from the EI facebook article posting

Khalek links together the numerous U.S. police training sessions from Israeli police and trips to Israel with the methods U.S. cops use to kill Black people (presumably shooting but it isn’t made clear). Khalek then mentions viral videos of police killings and terms them snuff films. She goes on to note how these training trips serve to recruit ideological supporters for Zionism.

Khalek then points to regressive ideological formations that tie together varieties of population criminalization. She then ties together Palestinians in Palestine and Black people in the U.S. as “disposable” people in need of “warehousing” according to the Israeli and U.S. regimes. Towards the U.S.’s goals Khalek notes about Israeli training, “Who better to learn from than a state with decades of experience occupying and warehousing a population that has been deemed disposable?”

Khalek’s article contains a lot of facts yet is fundamentally flawed and the aforementioned Facebook lede is misleading at best.

There are indeed linkages between agencies of sovereign violence (police, military, intelligence, etc.) in the United States and Israel. For example, how a large segment of Washington D.C. patrol cops keep their lights flashing at all times is the direct result of travel to Israel by former and current D.C. police chiefs Charles Ramsey and Cathy Lanier. It is the adoption of an Israeli policing tactic of high visibility policing.

Yet contrary to Khalek’s thesis there is no clear linkage between Israeli training of Chicago cops and the murder of Laquan McDonald nor other Black people.

U.S. sovereign violence has two basic premises, indigenous removal and African slavery. Alternately put, harming Black people is a raison d’être of U.S. policing. What could Israel – especially as a subordinate partner of empire – teach that would lead to increased anti-Black violence in a country premised on anti-Blackness? At most there can be slight variations in practice through adopting techniques of Israeli anti-Palestinian violence as with D.C. cops deploying the perpetually flashing lights of some Israeli police patrols.

The examples Khalek offers are “American police behaving as fully militarized occupying forces in poor Black neighborhoods,” resistance against which “are met with suppression tactics nearly indistinguishable from Israel’s occupation regime.” But that has always been the case, including prior to any Israeli training. It has been so widespread for so long that already in the 1970s the U.S. had a popular tv show called S.W.A.T. dramatizing the increased militarization of police. Before Israel was teargassing Palestinian demonstrators, the U.S. was teargassing and fire-hosing Black demonstrators, the technological transfer in this instance going from the U.S. to Israel.

The article also imagines the training as unidirectional. The Khalek makes use of the war on drugs to make the case yet neglects that the U.S. is the largest – by a vast margin – trainer of police forces in the world. The U.S. has a special focus on training foreign polices and militaries in drug interdiction and suppression. One anti-drug force that has received a lot of U.S. training is Israel’s. Yet U.S. training is not something that motivates even slightly Israel’s ongoing ethnic cleansing of Palestine. It is the material relations and ideological formations of Zionist settler colonialism in Palestine that premise anti-Palestinian violence. That the United States provides the technological backbone (arms provisions, etc.) of Israeli sovereign violence and that Israel is wholly dependent on U.S. political and material support does not change this even a little bit. To argue otherwise is to argue apart from the material history and to decenter U.S. anti-Blackness as an antagonism fundamental to U.S. history and mislocate it in part in Palestine.

This is the damning error in my earlier article as well, to imagine the was a time when U.S. police violence was ever not an occupying army in encounters with Black people. This reflects a failure to grasp the insights of both critical race theory and Afro-pessimism, the latter even more than the former elucidating the fundamental antagonism between U.S. sovereign violence (the monopoly of legitimate violence, to paraphrase Max Weber) and Black people.

Where the author talks about “viral snuff films” of police executions of Palestinians and Black people there is a real opportunity to discuss the false solidarity and pseudo-empathy in the mass consumption of imagery portraying violence against Black people and Palestinians. The mass consumption of images of anti-Blackness is a real thing and causes real harm, not to mention it plays to the worst aspects of “witnessing” as solidarity. Khalek’s use of the term “snuff film” would set the stage to discuss the libidinal economy of anti-Blackness. Jared Sexton describes the libidinal economy as, “the economy, or distribution and arrangement, of desire and identification (their condensation and displacement), and the complex relationship between sexuality and the unconscious” comprising “a dispensation of energies, concerns, points of attention, anxieties, pleasures, appetites, revulsions, and phobias capable of both great mobility and tenacious fixation.” Thus looking at viral images of harming Black or Palestinian people as “snuff films” is a horrifying yet accurate path to engage the libidinal economy of anti-Blackness, the ways that progressives consume Black death as a means of purported anti-racism.

Instead Khalek reads this as learning from Israel again, or seems to, it really isn’t clear what she’s pointing to in this segment if at anything at all. Like much of the article (and my previous engagement of the topic) Khalek lists things along side each other as if certainly connected without demonstrating any linkage. That Avi Dichter has a quote that seems prophetic does not matter if the fulfilled prophecy pre-dates his vision as with the militarization of U.S. police beginning in the 1960s with the various “wars on…”, a process entirely independent of Israeli training.

The author professes concern with anti-Black violence yet the unidirectional focus means it does not even briefly tough on how, to quote a recent article by Zoé Samudzi, “Afro-Palestinians [sit] at the intersection of Zionism’s anti-Palestinian sentiment and global anti-Blackness?”

The one useful piece of the article is the “Churning out Zionists” subsection (though I also appreciate Khalek characterizing militant street actions in Ferguson and Baltimore as “resistance”). The author looks at how visits between agents of sovereign violence help to build ideological relationships. In other words, police trainings are small parts of normalizing settler colonialism as foreign policy. Yet even here the author’s myopic focus makes it appear that this too is unidirectional and some kind of foreign manipulation, rather than a space of mutual affirmation. As if the billions in military sponsorships, trainings on advanced U.S. technologies and trainings of various Israeli police and military do not perform the same task so much so that Israel as a whole is a client state, even if at times a petulant one.

The technological transit throughout empire and between settler colonies is not incidental and is important. Investigations can identify spaces for joint struggle and nodes for disruption. But shallow readings like the one in the linked articles by Khalek and myself-six-years-ago lead to only superficial solidarity. The interactions themselves are outrageous enough without arguing a false causality and there are places of causality, they’re just not to be found in Khalek’s article.

The Apocalypse’s Apocalypse and Post-Apocalyptic Visions of Sunshine and Blessings

This posts stems from a conversation with Kyle Johnson after we watched Mad Max: Fury Road together. Thanks to Linda Quiquivix , Zoé Samudzi and William Copeland for feedback on the idea and draft to help make it vaguely coherent. In thinking about worlds I leaned heavily on Frantz Fanon’s Wretched of the Earth and Frank Wilderson’s Red, White and Black even where not cited directly. None of the above can be blamed for what follows. After completing the draft a couple of friends put me onto this great recent CBC conversation which also covers parts of what is below. Special thanks to Cass Chen who was a wonderful friend, host and conversationalist while I scribbled.

George Miller’s 2015 film Mad Max: Fury Road takes place in a post-apocalyptic Australia. Like most apocalypse/post-apocalyptic stories Fury Road comments on the present through envisioning a dystopic future. The film opens with news clips framing the violence to follow as descended from resource wars and global warming. Resource extraction and climate change are ready topics for exploring the end of the world and it is no surprise to find them as common topics for apocalyptic storytelling in cinema, novels, television and comic books. In settler colonies these stories comment upon today’s problems while neglecting that another apocalypse, one suffered by the indigenous population, pre-dates the story. Exploring post-apocalyptic storytelling with this in mind challenges settler colonial normativity and further opens up the world’s end to decolonizing visions.

Ending Othered Worlds

Fury Road, Brian K. Vaughn & Pia Guerra’s comic book Y: The Last Man and Robert Rodat’s tv series Falling Skies all offer different causes to the apocalypse. Fury Road is unspecific but points towards ecological destruction through climate change and resource wars. Y: The Last Man‘s apocalypse is an unspecified illness or curse that simultaneously kills all the mammals with a Y chromosome (in an unproduced script, Vaughn lays the blame with a U.S. biological weapons attack on China). Falling Skies‘s end of the world comes from extraterrestrial invasion.

Fury Road further comments on climate change and monopolization of resources as a means of centralizing authoritarian, patriarchal power. It follows a group of people through a mostly empty wasteland as they seek the “green place” while they are hunted by those who control the resources. Y: The Last Man narrates Agent 355 and Dr. Allison Mann as they seek to find a cause and cure for the plague that killed all terrestrial mammals with the Y chromosome but for Yorick Brown and his monkey Ampersand. The authors focus on patriarchy, Israeli militarism and market violence. While it is is a global story, it starts in the United States and most of its key plots points take place in three settler colonies, the United States, Israel and Australia, before departing to Japan and France later on. Falling Skies looks at the Second Massachusetts, an irregular militia comprised of survivors of the extraterrestrial Espheni conquest that killed 90% of Earth’s human population as they seek to overthrow Espheni rule and restore the United States. Falling Skies affirms American exceptionalism, laments how the U.S. strayed from the perceived ideals of early republic and takes a geocentric view of the universe in its firmly conservative critique of the present.

These stories offer three different critiques of the present from three different political views and are produced in three different mediums in two different settler colonies. Yet all are representative of a genre of post-apocalyptic storytelling that does not contemplate that the lost U.S. and Australian societies are premised upon settler genocides against the native populations. The closest any of the three comes and the closest the overwhelming preponderance of the genre come is when Y: The Last Man briefly discusses Israeli civil disobedience against Israeli bulldozing of Palestinian houses as part of developing the Israeli character Alter. One notable exception is Mel Gibson’s film Apocalypto which engages a pending colonial apocalypse only to justify it. Another is District 9 where some references are made yet are mediated by the white South African hero.

Settler colonialism, the establishment of the stories’ lost worlds, is an anti-native apocalypse and, in the United States, Canada, South Africa, Brazil and Rhodesia, also an anti-Black apocalypse. The racializations of Black and native are mostly different but were simultaneously constructed through the same colonizing events. Both are products of settler colonialism. Settler colonialism builds the settler’s world – the anti-Black world – by destroying the native world and does so in a 1:1 ratio. Every acre created of coastal British/American Virginia is one acre less of Powhatan Tsenacommacah. Every dunam of Israel is one less dunam of Palestine. Settler colonialism through eliminating sovereignties and populations and creating regimes of gratuitous violence brings about the end of a world. It is sometimes even named as such as when Palestinians refer to the accelerated 1947-1949 period of Zionist ethnic cleansing and the establishment of the Israeli settler state as the Nakba (‘catastrophe’).

That we settlers comprise an anti-native apocalypse means that all our cultural production is apocalyptic, is the product of an ongoing apocalypse, including post-apocalyptic visions. John Grisham’s The Firm is an apocalyptic novel of legal corruption. Miley Cyrus’ “Wrecking Ball” is an unrequited love anthem of the apocalypse. Strictly Ballroom is a film about apocalyptic cross-cultural and cross-class ballroom dancing and romance. Almost all of Danielle Steel’s opus are apocalyptic love story books. Only Miley Cyrus’ career of those four actually feels like a sign of the apocalypse but all are inherently apocalyptic as products of settler colonialism. What the intended post-apocalyptic stories Fury Road, Y: The Last Man and Falling Skies unknowingly narrate is a prior apocalypse experiencing an apocalypse itself, the apocalypse’s apocalypse. The destruction of the settler colony provides the post-apocalyptic wasteland the protagonists navigate.

Elizabeth Povinelli describes settler normativity as the “organization of sociality on the basis of the naturalness of a civilizational displacement.” Alternately put, anti-native genocide, quashing of native sovereignties and, in some settler colonies, African slavery are the fabrics that weave together and underline all settler colonial discourse and relations. Settler everyday life is the anti-native and anti-Black apocalypse but for we settlers, it is just life. In this read Furiosa and Max are settler revolutionaries fighting Immortan Joe and the settler capitalists over control of stolen Aborigine land and resources. This is why it is unsurprising that Falling Skies and Y: The Last Man both fail to engage the anti-native apocalypse despite making numerous references to the early U.S. republic, a time when even normative settler discourse knows (but always remembers to forget) that Indian Removal programs were aggressively underway in some way, shape or form.

It is hard to imagine dystopic settler stories being otherwise for settler colonialism, like all organizations of power, builds the world it inhabits. In settler colonialism’s world settler colonialism – the anti-native and anti-Black apocalypses – is near impossible to see as it is our very frame of reference. A challenging thing about normativity is it’s paradigm paradox: From what frame of reference can we observe our frame of reference? When settlers imagine the end of the world then, we imagine it as synonymous with the end of the planet or species and not the end of settler colonialism’s world. But stories consciously narrating the apocalypse’s apocalypse could describe the end of that world. They can offer a new frame of reference and play a role in subverting and disrupting settler colonial power and discourse.

The World is Ending! Hooray!

Settler storytellers explore all kinds of fascinating, entertaining and illuminating scenarios to describe the end of the world. The Terminator and The Matrix stories look to the artificial intelligence singularity. Deep Impact ends part of the world with a comet collision. The Walking Dead comic book, tv series and a long-running series of George Romero’s of the Dead films narrate a zombie apocalypse. The Wayward Pines book trilogy and tv series look at apocalypse through divergent evolution and On the Beach‘s apocalypse happens through nuclear war. None of the above reflect on the anti-native and anti-Black apocalypses.

Potentially even non-anthropocentric ones can be told. For example there is Vitamin Z – a yet to be made film documenting the multiyear boon in slow-moving, uncoordinated, easily obtainable, though quite bitey, prey for carnivores and scavengers that follows the zombie apocalypse and restores their populations to pre-capitalist/pre-colonial population levels. I hope Keith David or David Attenborough is available to narrate!

But what about when the end of the world is the apocalypse’s apocalypse? Frank Wilderson notes that, “The Slave needs freedom from the Human race, freedom from the world. The Slave requires gratuitous freedom.” Indeed, settler colonialism’s world of dispossession and gratuitous violence not only can end, but should. Stories of the end of this particular world need not be burnt skies and genocide. In narrating the end of an apocalypse they may well tell the opposite: clean air, vitality and an end to gratuitous violence and suffering. The end of settler colonialism’s world can be sunshine and blessings, little children laughing and singing silly songs, lovers dancing or any other beautiful thing. These are legit post-apocalyptic visions when describing an apocalypse happening to a prior apocalypse when combined with Black and native liberation. So are ones less polarly optimistic or romantic.

The material world stories of the whole or partial end of settler rule in Zimbabwe, Liberia and South Africa are decidedly complicated and frequently tragic. Settler colonialism is not the only wronging world in play as Black feminism’s intersectional resistance teaches. Yet stories consciously telling the apocalypse’s apocalypse can offer a discursive break, a frame of reference separate from settler colonialism’s dispossession and gratuitous violence. As Frantz Fanon wrote, “To break up the colonial world does not mean that after the frontiers have been abolished lines of communication will be set up between the two [colonial and decolonized] zones. The destruction of the colonial world is no more and no less than the abolition of one zone, its burial in the depths of the earth.” Stories telling the end of this world can be part of the shovel.

None of this is to argue that post-apocalyptic and apocalyptic stories cannot be robot apocalypses, nuclear holocausts or extraterrestrial invasions. They are frequently insightful, critical, imaginative and even beautiful. But such visions can still adopt a frame of reference not dependent upon settler colonialism’s dispossession and gratuitous violence and recognize that the anti-native and anti-Black apocalypses have long been happening. In doing so stories of the apocalypse’s apocalypse can obliterate a world that has it coming.

A few words on Marek Edelman

An obituary from a few years back for Marek Edelman just came across the timeline on the book of faces. Edelman remains an inspiration for reasons political, moral and symbolic. He is most known as a leader in the Warsaw Ghetto uprising against the Nazis but from early years was a Bundist and fought for Jewish liberation as part of universal liberation. He did not fight for assimilation but specifically as a Jew for universal liberation. The Bund is one of several salient examples that show particularist and and universalist struggles are not polar, but can easily be intertwined.

Edelman continued his revolutionary activism through out his life including sending a statement in August, 2002 addressed to “commanders of the Palestinian military, paramilitary and partisan operations – to all the soldiers of the Palestinian fighting organisations”. The statement has big problems but also tremendous power in where he addresses Palestinian armed groups as peers and also positions them as ‘partisans’, a term carrying considerable weight coming from a legendary anti-Nazi partisan resistance fighter. Thus it infuriated Zionists coming as it did during a hot summer of the Second Intifada.

One thing he said elsewhere has always struck me and stuck with me.

“We knew perfectly well that we had no chance of winning. We fought simply not to allow the Germans alone to pick the time and place of our deaths. We knew we were going to die. Just like all the others who were sent to Treblinka…. Their death was far more heroic. We didn’t know when we would take a bullet. They had to deal with certain death, stripped naked in a gas chamber or standing at the edge of a mass grave waiting for a bullet in the back of the head…. It was easier to die fighting than in a gas chamber.”

In this phrasing he captures all kinds of dignity amongst the shoah‘s horror. Paulo Freire wrote in Pedagogy of Freedom that “unfinishedness” is a defining human characteristic. Edelman affirms this when he says, “We fought simply not to allow the Germans alone to pick the time and place of our deaths”. May he rest in power and long may we lift his name.

The Anti-Black Geography of Revitalizing Detroit

The following essay leans heavily on—though cannot be blamed on—the works of Saidiya Hartman, Jared Sexton and Frank Wilderson despite me citing only one directly. Thanks to Kristian Davis Bailey and Lester Spence for critical feedback towards making this screed coherent.

It seems that every day brings a new story about Detroit’s “revitalization”. The Huffington Post, New York Times, Washington Post, NGOs and others point to new construction, new restaurants opening, the rehabbing or demolishing of old buildings, foundation and capitalist investment in the city and gentrification as starting a new chapter in Detroit’s history. Mayor Mike Duggan even has a “Housing and Revitalization Department” and Wayne State University hosts “Detroit Revitalization Fellows”. The narrative goes something like: “Until recently Detroit was an urban wasteland left destitute by deindustrialization, corrupt and incompetent governance, neglect and white flight but all that is changing. A new Detroit is being built and you can be a part of it!” Both this narrative and the processes it describes contain a fundamental anti-Blackness. They are premised on interrelated white capitalist accumulation, the commodification and erasure of Detroit’s Black geography, and Black social death.

The Revitalization of Detroit

A major part of ‘revitalizing Detroit’ is creating spaces for white fantasy. This is commonly done through describing the existing, living Black geography as a “blank canvas” for white gentrifiers, capitalists, politicians and academics to make of what they may. Leading gentrification figure and author Toby Barlow wrote in the New York Times in 2009 that “Detroit right now is just this vast, enormous canvas where anything imaginable can be accomplished.” Dan Gilbert, Lebron James’s boss and owner of predatory lending firm Quicken Loans, is lauded as a champion of revitalization for moving Quicken’s headquarters to downtown Detroit and bringing so many newcomers to the city to work for him. Gilbert both markets subprime mortgages then chairs the “Blight Task Force” that demolishes empty houses, many of which are foreclosures caused by his firm. He can both blight and fight blight. Gilbert maintains a detailed model of downtown Detroit which only lights up buildings after he purchases them which more or less embodies this entire essay. His actions with the Blight Task Force mostly take place in Detroit’s low-income neighborhoods but he also played a role in the 2013 mass eviction of working class Black seniors and disabled people from the Griswold building downtown. With the removal of Black tenants perhaps Gilbert can now light up the Griswold building on his model. It has been ‘revitalized’.

Gilbert, the Ilitch family, and other billionaires are leading the charge but white petty capitalists and merchants are also joining in. Numerous on Crain’s Detroit’s annual “20 in their 20s” lists view Detroit as a “blank canvas”. Some new arrivals found small capitalist enterprises like the Parker Street Market that replicate what Black Detroit social movements have been doing, except reimagined for accumulation purposes rather than community prosperity. Typical to how white supremacy inverts relations, community prosperity is often imagined as white accumulation through ‘socially conscious’ capitalist enterprise. The Parker Street Market is emblematic of the small scale ‘entrepreneurs’ exploring fantasies in Detroit they could not realize at such relatively low expense in wealthier, whiter geographies. Enterprises like the much ballyhooed Whole Foods Detroit do like Parker Street but on a vastly larger scale. The Black social movements are scarcely noted, often erased entirely, while white capitalists are toasted. To the degree that Black Detroiters are acknowledged it is as Jon Moy wrote about Shinola. Shinola is an extraordinarily expensive retail and assembly shop located in the Cass Corridor, a neighborhood now marketed as ‘Midtown’, and is itself part of turning the Cass Corridor into Midtown. Moy writes, “Shinola and other entrepreneurs market themselves as white knights, swooping in to save the noble savages.” Here one’s politics might be positioned by whether one can tell the difference between shit and Shinola.

When former Governor Jennifer Granholm convened a panel to restructure Detroit schools she asked them to treat schooling children in a district around 90% Black like a “blank canvas”. Detroit’s schools were at the time, as they continue to be, under Emergency Manager (EM) rule, run by a technocrat with extraordinary powers appointed by the governor. EMs replace the decision making power normally allocated to elected officials (leaving the actual power of U.S. elections for another time). Democrat and Republican governors appoint Emergency Managers (EMs) to run the schools and city no matter decisions made by Detroit’s Black electorate (as they’ve done with most majority-Black cities and towns in Michigan). Black people make up around fourteen percent of Michigan’s populace and nearly half have been subjected to Emergency Manager rule, compared to less than one percent of white Michiganders. Detroit’s schools or city government have been under EM rule for over fifteen years now. The decisions of Black Detroiters simply do not matter and are erased. Emergency Management is a more politically palatable action than the phrasing used in 2004 by a white suburban politician describing a need to “suppress the Detroit vote.” Detroit politics are a “blank canvas” for the state’s white political leadership to inscribe their Emergency Management experiment upon. The ‘blank canvas’ term is now less in use than in past years due to push back from Detroiters continually emphasizing that they actually exist but the concept persists largely unperturbed.

Detroit’s Black geography is fungible to outside real estate speculators, a new petty landlord class (a place where there is a significant measure of Black capitalist participation), the fantasists and the property hoarders like John Hantz, Gilbert and others. They buy up houses, buildings and plots in any low-cost neighborhood. They know nothing of the neighborhoods because Black neighborhoods do not matter to them apart from a vision of capital accumulation. The speculators seek a quick turnaround anywhere and future profits around the current periphery of gentrification. The landlords seek higher rents (more easily accomplished with white renters who receive higher wages). The hipster fantasists do their entrepreneuring (gag!) while bringing a higher police presencethey want Detroit grime but not Detroit crime. The hoarders seek to create an artificial scarcity so as to drive up all prices. Detroit’s Black geography is fungible to white capitalist accumulation and it is explicitly the city’s Blackness that makes it so.

By an overwhelming margin Black Detroiters bear the brunt of these and related oppressive actions. The population embodies the Detroit purportedly in need of vitalizing, of adding life to, for anti-Blackness dictates that Black people are socially dead. It is mostly Black people who are being foreclosed upon and evicted, who are having their votes invalidated by EMs, who are having their water shut-off and then their kids removed due to no water service, whose neighborhoods become playgrounds for real estate speculators. But Black suffering as a negative is a rare topic of discussion in such matters and condemnation of these actions outside of Detroit too is rare. For how can the socially dead suffer? Indeed in most conversations it is the Black working class and the, in Frantz Fanon and Huey Newton’s positive understanding, Black lumpenproletariat who are said to be responsible for the consequences of white supremacist capitalist policies rather than racial capitalism being the cause. Inside racial capitalism it can hardly be otherwise. It is official policy so it is as Saidiya Hartman said, “No crime can occur because the slave statutes recognize no such crime.” There is no more telling example of Hartman’s phrasing than the 2010 collaborative reality television and police murder of Aiyana Stanley Jones on Detroit’s East Side. She was a young girl sleeping in her bed when police and a reality tv crew burst through her door and killed her while exercising a warrant. There has been no accountability and the cop that murdered her is back at work disciplining Black bodies for the state.

The Devitalization of Detroit

Large scale disinvestment and the underdeveloping of Detroit began in the 1960s after highway construction helped facilitate white flight to the suburbs. Highways constructed for the imperial war effort in the 1940s paved the way for white relocation to suburbs ever further north across 8 Mile road and to the city’s west. The population shift was triggered by accumulation from industrial production during the war, the automobile industry and the arrival of vast numbers of Black migrants from the South. In the case of the construction of the Chrysler Freeway (I-75 and I-375), this was accomplished by paving over the remains of Black Bottom and Paradise Valley, neighborhoods comprising the cultural, political and economic core of Black Detroit demolished by Mayor Cobo. Alternately put, white flight was in part realized in driving over an intentionally dislocated and disoriented Black civil society and geography. The erasure described above is not new. It was tried through physical demolition as with Black Bottom and with real estate redlining from the moment Detroit’s Black population began rapidly expanding.

Industrialists, CEOs and boards of directors closed and relocated manufacturing plants away from the increasingly Black city. Others used automated production not to enhance the workforce but instead to deskill (so as to pay lower wages and reduce bargaining power) and replace (so as to pay no wages and face no bargaining power) workers. Many did both. With the removal of jobs came the removal of the sector serving those employees and employing others. The managerial and most of the white working class followed those jobs and fled the rapidly arriving Black population that, for a few decades, continued to grow. Whites increased their flight in response to the 1967 Rebellion, commonly called ‘the riots’. In the late 1980s the Black population started to leave too, this not counting the disappeared tens of thousands continually sent off to prisons all over the state. Meanwhile successive neoliberal local and state administrations have sold off and given away control of city assets, most recently Belle Isle.

The ‘revitalization’ narratives note some of the above but do so with minimal critique of the racist, capitalist policies that made it this way. Detroit’s problems didn’t simply happen, they were and are being engineered and are the predictable results of both corporate and government policies (to the degree that it is useful to separate them). Further, they note these problems but ignore positive action by Black residents and every solution not offered by the elite. This is due to another aspect of anti-Blackness, the social death of slavery.

Rather than being a blank canvas the actually existing Detroit is a canvas painted over and again, beginning with French and later British settlers killing and expelling the local Ojibwe population and establishing a slaveholding settler colony. How is today’s Detroit, a near inverse of the original settler colony, with its block parties, vibrant social movements, mosques, churches, restaurants, clubs, numerous annual festivals, its own dances, musics and other cultural production in need of revitalization? Of needing an injection of life? Because it is Black metropolis. As Hartman, Orlando Patterson, Frank Wilderson and others have illustrated, Blackness to White America is social death, is a marker of a fungible commodity rather than humanity. For White America adding ‘matter’ to ‘Black lives’ is almost redundant as it disavows Black life in the first place.

Black life in Detroit is unrecognizable to the planners of the New Detroit. Detroit the existing, living city simply isn’t to the elite, so long as it is a Black city. Revitalization is the influx of young white people and investments by white capitalists. Devitalization—a geography of social death and an unuttered word—is the process by which Detroit became a Black metropolis. Detroit is said to be in need of revitalization and that revitalization imagines a geography devoid of humans, a “blank canvas”, because the social death of Blackness imagines Black residents not as individual people but as fungible markers of white accumulation. These narratives show a total and aggressive contempt for the Black metropolis, its people and social movements. But “revitalization” is not treated as problematic no matter the massive harm it’s causing because, to repeat Hartman’s phrasing, “No crime can occur because the slave statutes recognize no such crime.”

Mr. Monk and the Toxic Masculinity

This essay is dedicated to the wonderful Alla Palagina who generously shared countless episodes of Monk with me and with whom I initially discussed this episode after we watched it in early 2011. May she rest in power.

Adrian Monk could represent an alternative masculinity. His clumsy, fumbling, mumbling, constantly terrified competence as police detective stands in stark contrast to the chest-puffing, misogynist, homophobic normative masculinity that pervades popular culture. Instead of embracing his competence though, Monk constantly aspires to normative masculinity. A telling episode is 2006’s “Mr. Monk and the Astronaut”.

Wagner prepares to murder Raphelson

Wagner prepares to murder Raphelson

“Mr. Monk and the Astronaut” begins with famous astronaut and test pilot Steve Wagner (Jeffrey Donovan) drugging Joanne Raphelson (Brianna Brown), a former Vegas showgirl he once dated and whom he severely beat and hospitalized several years earlier. Raphelson planned to reveal the beating in a tell all biography.

Wagner is a confident, charismatic white alpha male predator. And he has an airtight alibi for Joanne’s murder having been in planetary orbit at the time of Joanne’s death. He charms the police, Monk’s personal assistant Natalie and the children in Natalie’s daughter’s class when both he and Monk go to present on career day. Monk is the only one who believes he killed Joanne.

Children mock Monk at the career day then proceed to terrorize him with laser pointers. Hijinks ensue and afterwards he confronts Wagner in the hallway. Wagner uses aggressive physicality to cower Monk then tells him, “You’re a flincher, you’ll never stop me. Because when the chips are down when it really counts, you are always going to flinch.” This, combined with Monk’s panic about the laser pointers sets up the episode’s final confrontation.

Wagner makes Monk flinch

Wagner makes Monk flinch

Wagner ridicules, questions and challenges Monk’s masculinity throughout the episode. Monk confesses to his psychologist, “When I look at a manly man like Steve Wagner, I just feel weak. I just feel so inadequate. I know he’s guilty, but I’ll never be able to prove it.” Here Monk affirms Wagner’s perceptions as well as Wagner’s masculinity. This violent misogynist represents the manhood to which Monk aspires.

Monk is steadfast in the face of laser scopes

Monk is steadfast in the face of laser scopes

The films concludes with Monk confronting his fear and placing his body in front of a jet Wagner is piloting to prevent its takeoff. Monk remains steadfast in front of the plane even when soldiers arrive with (for some reason) laser scope rifles which cover him much like the earlier laser pointers. Wagner is taken into custody from the plane. As he is being handcuffed Wagner makes eye contact with Monk and gives him an acknowledging nod, validating his manhood. Alternately put, the episode resolves with Monk receiving validation of his own manhood through the toxic masculinity of the “manly man” he succeeded in incarcerating.

Murderer of women gives Monk a nod of approval

Murderer of women gives Monk a nod of approval

Monk is not exceptional in embracing toxic masculinity to validate the manhood of its male characters. The episode in question does not invent it but is does represent yet another exchange in and (re)production of normative patriarchal discourse.

“Mr. Monk and the Astronaut” (season 4, episode 14) originally aired on 3 March 2006 to around 5.65 million households in its initial airing.

The Interview – Two Deeply Unpleasant Hours of Cinema Paradisbro

The Interview

dir. Evan Goldberg & Seth Rogen
112 min | 2014
Columbia Pictures, L Star Capital, Point Grey Pictures

the-interview-poster1

Evan Goldberg and Seth Rogen’s latest film The Interview was bound to get some attention even before its distributor, Sony, was hacked and the ensuing debacle with alleged threats from North Korea (DPRK). A film this racist would get attention regardless. Unfortunately due to the publicity around the Sony hack many more people will likely be subjected to The Interview and the attention won’t be as negative as it deserves. What follows includes spoilers if you believe something already rotten can be spoiled.

The Interview opens with an othering scene of a young North Korean girl singing about destroying the U.S. before an audience of dignitaries prior to a missile launch. The othering completes with a series of shorts news clips about North Korean ruler Kim Jong-un (Randall Park) being the next Hitler before introducing Dave Skylark (James Franco).

We meet Skylark as a tabloid news host interviewing Eminem in a scene that kicks off nearly incessant gay jokes. Skylark is the kind of guy with no qualms about breaking into caricatured Black Vernacular English as ‘comedy’ nor any idea about why anyone would have such qualms. Pressured by producer Aaron Rapaport (co-director Seth Rogen) to due serious journalism, Skylark comes up with the idea of interviewing Kim Jong-un as a bridge. Rapaport will get serious news and Skylark will get sensational ratings.

Rapaport is the sober foil to Skylark’s unfiltered and hyper stream of consciousness. He’s shamed for his tabloid work by a fellow journalism school grad who now works for 60 Minutes. Rapaport’s sophistication is juxtaposed next to Skylark’s visceral racism and sexism. But they both due caricatured Korean accents. They both immediately ogle Agent Lacey’s (Lizzy Caplan) breasts. They both constantly make gay jokes. While Skylark is the dense one, the juxtaposition between he and Rapaport is one of tone only. So when at the end when Skylark says to a puppy, “Guess who’s going home to America where they don’t eat doggies” and Rapaport doesn’t let him finish he is not disapproving, merely hurrying him along.

Sook (Diane Bang) and the North Koreans are introduced with a soundtrack is only slightly less ominous than Darth Vader’s “Imperial March” in Star Wars, just in case they weren’t sufficiently othered earlier. When we meet Sook she is immediately objectified in the familiar way of cinema, with a cut pan up her body. The body pan opens up women’s bodies to the male gaze and orients, or given the aggressive and regressive Dragon Lady stereotyping in this case orientalizes, viewers to objects instead of characters.

Lacey then recruits Rapaport and Skylark in a plot to assassinate Kim. Skylark is convinced to go along with the plan by Lacey’s breasts, bangs and glasses (which are as close as The Interview gets to Lacey’s character development). Any justifications are secondary to Skylark’s pursuit of sex. The rationalizations eventually put forward are concentration camps, a hungry population, a nuclear threat and totalitarianism. These are never explored nor are their reflections in the United States but for Kim quickly stumping Skylark near the film’s climax with a retort about the U.S.’s mass incarceration regime.

The only character with any depth is Park’s Kim. He is a vulnerable tyrant with daddy issues and the initial portrayal is only half-bad. But as the film goes along any charisma or depth gets strained out of the narrative. As the final confrontation kicks off and assassinating Kim gets underway the film moves from boring to boring and bloody with the othered North Koreans being mowed down à la Rambo and similar Cold War tripe about evil Asians. The White Hero Skylark rousing North Koreans to rise against Kim is as ridiculous as the Russians chanting “Rocky! Rocky!” at the end of Rocky IV. Indeed Reagan-era Hollywood is where The Interview’s heart is. It aspires to be a Cold War buddy comedy and even offers the Scorpians’ “Wind of Change” as the credits roll.

Rogen and Goldberg’s idea of humor is something like “wacky” combined with racism, gay jokes and an obsession with anuses and inserting things into them. They do not contact a DPRK embassy to set up the interview, instead a wacky path including the Olympic Committee and a Rapaport trip to China ensues. There is a wacky drone strike that kills a tiger. Rapaport is wackily racist to the DPRK official on the phone. Ad infinitum.

The Interview has virtually no character development but plenty of overacting. It has a few quick montages – some with short clips some with jump cuts – that serve no purpose. It is aggressively sexist, homophobic and racist. The Interview is a comedy without any. I did chuckle once during a fight scene near the end of the movie. Rapaport is fighting a television worker who bites off one of his fingers. Then Rapaport bites off one of the other guy’s fingers. Then the guy bites off another of Rapaport’s fingers. That third one was a little funny.

Despite all of this The Interview has already found an audience. In addition to Seth Rogen’s dedicated following of people who think “Because I Got High” was robbed at the Grammys, U.S. nationalists are also up in arms about Sony’s pause on distribution. The nationalists are presenting The Interview as something to do with free artistic expression or fighting oppression. Not incidentally, neither of these audiences is up in arms about the multitude of racist emails released by the hackers nor about how vigilantes or cops kill Black women and men every twenty-eight hours. It has nothing to do with free artistic expression. Free expression does not mean an obligated audience and The Interview has not earned one.

Not distributing The Interview was both ethically and artistically the right decision but Sony has gone ahead with it anyway. Don’t see it. For the $6 Sony is charging to stream it you can find better ways to spend two deeply unpleasant hours. You could buy two bottles of soy sauce and drink them slowly. You could buy a roll of industrial tape and use it to remove body hair. You could buy a gallon of bland ice cream and see how long you can sustain brain freeze. All of these are better than watching The Interview.

A Punch Line. A White Supremacist Contortion.

This article examines U.S. public awareness of mass incarceration of Black people through the stories told on police procedural television programs. Though not quoting directly when focusing on mass incarceration and White supremacy I am informed by lectures and writings on prisons and racism by Angela Davis, George Jackson and Mariame Kaba. Please see their works for in depth analysis of prisons and White supremacy and Kaba’s Project NIA (or related efforts across the continent) for ways to take action to end the injustice described in this essay.

The punch line is a common exercise in storytelling beyond comedy. Punch lines are occasionally educational but much more often they depend on what the audience already knows. For this reason they are at least as telling of the audience as they are of the storyteller. This essay examines a particular punch line common to cop shows, with a focus on a 1987 episode of Hunter, that of the comeuppance of neo-Nazis by the police when the neo-Nazis are to be incarcerated in the U.S. prison system and thus, alongside people of color. Further, this essay also looks at what this punch line says about public awareness of and support for the mass incarceration of Black people and how normative White supremacist discourse contorts it into a purported anti-racism.

Bad tv

Bad tv

The Hunter episode “Bad Company” (Season 3, Episode 11 – 10 January 1987) begins with a group of white men and women robbing a Los Angeles gun store and killing the store owner. Police arrive in short order and a shoot-out between the cops and robbers ensues. Two of the robbers are injured, one killed and the other slightly wounded. The wounded party is Angela (Lar Park-Lincoln) who is transferred into the custody of Detective Sergeants McCall (Stepfanie Kramer) and Hunter (Fred Dryer) upon release from the hospital. We soon find out Angela is the daughter of Brother Hobarts (Dean Stockwell), the head of the National Aryan Order, a White nationalist militia on the outskirts of Los Angeles.

Hunter and McCall transport Angela to another location. En route they engage her on her ideology, telling her she is off base as they attempt to turn her snitch. She replies, accurately but against normative liberal White supremacist discourse, that White nationalism is “what America is all about.” She continues while elucidating a fairly mainstream – if a little cartoonish so as to indicate viewers shouldn’t identify with with Angela too strongly – racist narrative “The right of decent Americans to defend their way of life against freeloaders and subversives and the mud races. I mean it’s nothing personal guys, but you’re on the wrong side.”

Villians all

Angela explains to McCall and Hunter why her version of White supremacy is better than theirs.

 

Hunter and McCall are captured by the National Aryan Order during the trip when the group rescues Angela from police custody. Up to this point Angela is still loyal to the Aryan National Order. McCall and Hunter do not manage to recruit her until one group member murders her love interest (who is also a neo-Nazi). Now betrayed, albeit not ideologically, Angela helps the cops escape and the group is eventually joined by other police who proceed to stop Brother Hobarts and crew from carrying out a planned attack. Hunter confronts Brother Hobarts, who is by this time in bracelets, and delivers the punchline “you Brother Hobarts are going to prison. Half the men you meet there belong to those mud races you were talking about. They’re gonna like you.”

Fuck the police

Hunter gives Brother Hobarts his comeuppance by using racism to fight racism. Wait, what?

This is a somewhat common punch line in cop shows. The Law & Order episode “Prejudice” (Season 12, Episode 10 – 12 December 2001) ends with the incarceration of a racist white man. As the prosecutors prepare leave the office at the episode’s end, District Attorney Nora Lewin (Diane West) says, “Wonder if Burroughs will still have a problem with minorities when he gets to prison and finds out he is one.” In the CSI episode “World’s End” (Season 10, Episode 19 – 22 April 2010), Nick Stokes (George Eads) says to a white supremacist suspect he is interrogating, “But you know what, I’m gonna do you a favor, since you like to whoop so much ass. I’m gonna have the warden put you in with some African-Americans, so they can give you an up close and person lesson on race relations.” There are several other examples.

The Racial Caste System As Anti-Racism

These punch lines mean to show the police and the mass incarceration of Black and other people of color as possible tools against racism rather than as baselines of systemic White supremacy. These punch lines are only given meaning by an audience who will understand them as the comeuppance of racists rather than as an affirmation of the racist order of things. For this to work without souring an audience that largely believes it isn’t racist or, at least, not about prisons and crime, Black criminality must be understood to as a matter of fact rather than as a matter of racial caste formation or, in other words, Black folk must be understood as criminals rather than mass incarceration being understood as the criminalization of Black people. Were it the other way around the shows would be (probably) canceled as the audience would (probably) receive the punch line as cruel cynicism rather than anti-racist comeuppance. (I use probably in parentheses because with White supremacy you can never be too sure that something horrifying actually will be taken as going too far even when problematized.)

For example the pilot episode of 21 Jump Street aired four months after the Hunter episode discussed above. It’s opening scene features a wealthy white family of four seated around the dining room table for a meal when two young Black men with shotguns break through the glass of the patio doors and lay siege to the family. This introductory scene of one of the most successful cops shows is anchored with Black criminality. The 21 Jump Street pilot offered nothing novel but affirmed what was already common knowledge; that Black people were dangerous criminals, the conclusion of which is that the prisons must be full of such criminals.

21 Jump Street kickstarts its franchise with Black criminality

21 Jump Street kickstarts its franchise with Black criminality

The crudest neo-Nazi articulations fall far enough outside of White supremacist normativity for the mainstream public, especially though not quite exclusively the mainstream white public, to reject them. So long as mass incarceration of Black and other people of color is not understood as a racial caste system the public receives punch lines like those above as Black criminality being just desserts for neo-Nazis who get locked up.

An Inversion Version

What this essay describes is one example of White supremacy’s incredible discursive flexibility. The Hunter, Law & Order and CSI episodes described above contribute to normative discourse a perfect inversion of the racial caste system. Mass incarceration of people of color is a baseline of White supremacy. Yet the punch line to these stories is one where said systemic baseline is re-imagined as an anti-racist tool against individual white supremacists while the enforcers of the baseline (the police and prosecutors) relish in their enlightened anti-racism to a produce a feel good moment for the audience. The contortion is horrifyingly impressive.

These punch lines demonstrate another thing. This essay focused on the Hunter episode for a reason; it aired in 1987. United States liberals – largely unfamiliar with the radical Black tradition that produced critical prison analysis decades ago – are ‘discovering’ mass incarceration as a phenomenon of a racial caste system since the 2010 publication of Michelle Alexander’s tome The New Jim Crow. But the Hunter audience over two decades before that book had to understand that the United States fills its jails in a wildly disproportionate manner with Black folks, otherwise the punch line doesn’t work.

Point being, White America knows and been knowing, it’s just not considered a problem. Mass consciousness is not critical consciousness when embedded in normative oppression. That the broad contours of an oppressive system are common knowledge might, however, offer opportunities for organizing. The same knowledge in a framework rejecting Black criminality, mass incarceration and White supremacy produces a very different discourse. To assist with efforts to produce a liberatory discourse please visit the “Resources” page on the Project NIA website.

American ‘Moral Bankruptcy’ and Israel Policy

Harvard University Professor Stephen Walt published an essay on 22 July in The Huffington Post titled, “AIPAC Is the Only Explanation for America’s Morally Bankrupt Israel Policy.” The piece focuses on how much the U.S. political leadership supported the recent Israeli assault on the Gaza Strip and its attacks throughout the West Bank. In Walt’s analysis, this support stems exclusively (or at least overwhelmingly) from what he and University of Chicago Professor John Mearsheimer famously call “The Israel Lobby”. The article’s title uses “AIPAC” (the American Israel Public Affairs Committee) as shorthand for those organizations working to shape U.S. political discourse on Palestine including a variety of Christian and Jewish Zionist groups like Christians United for Israel, Anti-Defamation League, the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations and others. These organizations are the “explanation for America’s impotent and morally bankrupt policy,” and are why this policy is “so at odds with [America’s] professed values.” As he and Mearsheimer do in their book, Walt also points to how U.S. policy on Palestine is profoundly against the U.S. national interest.

Walt’s analysis in the article and the Israel Lobby thesis more broadly are fundamentally flawed. Rather than refute specific points in Walt’s article I’ll instead lay out a different framework in which we can read the United States’ Israel policy. First I’ll concede all the facts in Walt’s article and The Israel Lobby, including those that are wrong. They are important but for the purposes of this essay they are largely immaterial. I fully agree that there are well organized lobbying groups and political organizations that are influential in both the details and fervor of the United States’ Israel policy. While their political donations may pale in comparison to, for example, the pharmaceutical and insurance industries or trial lawyers, they are impressive in their ability to mobilize bases for political action including letters to congressschmucks and the media, outreach to public officials and more (including, sometimes, voting). Their mobilizing acumen is matched by few lobbying efforts. All that being said, the basis and broad contours of the U.S. policy were already shaped long before Theodore Herzl was born.

Walter Benjamin wrote in 1940 that, “The tradition of the oppressed teaches us that the ‘emergency situation’ in which we live is the rule. We must arrive at a concept of history which corresponds to this. […] The astonishment that the things we are experiencing in the 20th century are ‘still’ possible is by no means philosophical. It is not the beginning of knowledge, unless it would be the knowledge that the conception of history on which it rests is untenable.” Gayatri Spivak, Edward Said, bell hooks and others have made the point similarly or better in the time since. Benjamin was writing specifically about European fascism including that of Nazi Germany. One concrete example, though he didn’t use this one himself, is that Nazism can only be astonishing if we refuse to listen to the Nama and Herero people of Namibia against whom the prior German regime genocided in the Südwestafrika settler colony. The “tradition of the oppressed” includes tools of analysis about and histories of resistance against European fascism that predated fascism on the European continent. For this essay, “the tradition of the oppressed” has a lot more to say about the United States’ “morally bankrupt [Israel] policy” than The Israel Lobby and related essays and clarifies what the country’s “professed values” actually mean. Put briefly, the Israel Lobby thesis suffers from the mistaken premise that U.S. history is something other than a horror story. Recontextualizing the Israel lobby and U.S. policy provides not only better understanding, but also more opportunities for transformative change.

Settlers Apart, Settlers Together

Like Israel, the United States is a settler colony. Both simultaneously establish themselves and eliminate indigenous sovereignty along with, in one way or the other, indigenous populations. Reductively put, every five acres of the United States is five acres less of Turtle Island.* The elimination is carried out through physical extermination, expulsion, disarticulating native indigeneity (for example trying to make Palestinians into ‘Israeli Arabs’ or removing indigenous children to raise them in the settler society) and more. In the United States, Canada, Israel, New Zealand and many other settler colonies, combinations of all of the above are used to ends certainly no less ‘morally bankrupt’ than the U.S.’s Israel policy. To the point of this essay, settler colonies recognize each other and use that recognition to build solidarity.

The Myths & Facts website is a project evolved from the Myths and Facts texts AIPAC began publishing in the 1970s. In the website’s “The U.S.-Israel Special Relationship” series, Eli Hertz notes “the affinity between Israel and the United States draws on the fact that both countries are democracies and share a host of other enlightened values, including a similar defining ethos as nations of immigrations,” (After a time, all settler societies call themselves ‘nations of immigrants’ and not ‘nations of settlers’). He continues, “both nations were built by waves of refugees or persecuted immigrants who sought religious, political, or economic freedom.” U.S. President Barack Obama made a similar appeal to U.S.-Australian solidarity during a 2011 address in Darwin, Australia.The bonds between us run deep. In each other’s story we see so much of ourselves. Ancestors who crossed vast oceans – some by choice, some in chains. Settlers who pushed west across sweeping plains. Dreamers who toiled with hearts and hands to lay railroads and to build cities. Generations of immigrants who, with each new arrival, add a new thread to the brilliant tapestry of our nations.” A more crude (honest?) version is that of former Israeli ambassador to Australia Naftali Tamir. In a 2006 interview calling for closer cooperation between Australia and Israel Tamir said, “Asia is basically the continent of the Yellow race. Australia and Israel do not belong to it – we basically belong to the White race.” Further, “Israel and Australia are like sisters in Asia. We are located in Asia but without the characteristics of Asians, our skin is not yellow nor are our eyes slanted.”

In addition to calls for solidarity with other settler societies based on the mere fact of being settlers themselves, settler discourse also points to other settler colonies to determine who will be allowed to join the colony. Walt’s Harvard University colleague George Borjas writes in The Washington Post, “While the United States has proven cautious about addressing [what kind and how many immigrants does it want], several other ‘nations of immigrants’ (including Canada, Australia and New Zealand) have far more proactive approaches to immigration: They have devised systems that are designed to favor people who will contribute economically to the country and who will assimilate quickly.” Borjas’ 2001 article is predated by around a century by the various anti-Asian policies that South Africa, Australia (under the banner of “White Australia”), the United States (especially in California) and Canada (especially in British Columbia) developed to restrict Asian immigration. Marilyn Lake and Henry Reynolds examine in depth the how the various White settler colonies’ anti-Asian policies influenced each other in their 2008 volume Drawing the Global Colour Line: White Men’s Countries and the Challenge for Racial Equality. Judd Yadid offers a liberal version in a 2013 Haaretz article about Australian Jewish hostility to South African Jewish immigration. “Those Australian Jews that criticize the influx and eccentricities of their South African brethren should show more empathy, and be mindful of the fact that they themselves are the offspring of immigrants. In fact, the entire non-indigenous population of the great southern land were once newcomers.” Yadid’s examination looks beyond Australian Jewish prejudice against South African Jews to critique Australia’s racist immigration policies. Yet by the article’s end he manages to use a critique of xenophobic racism to declare permanent settler colonialism. Most mainstream and liberal migrant justice discourse in settler colonies does this, again under the banner of ‘nation of immigrants’.

This mutual recognition that ‘they are like us’ amongst White settler colonies breeds frequent solidarity and joint political action. A full accounting of such actions would narrate a significant part of the 20th century but a few examples of this Settler International in action are in order. In numerous United Nations General Assembly votes on the question of Palestine, Israel is nearly alone in voting against the resolutions. Among the very few countries that regularly vote the Israeli side are Australia, Canada and the United States. The United States and Israel were two of the few countries that supported settler rule in South Africa nearly until the end. Both supported the apartheid regime with arms and trade assistance while Israel also contributed troops for combat fighting. John Collins – whose engagement of Benjamin heavily influences mine above – in his book Global Palestine narrates how the famous 1948-49 Berlin Airlift was carried out by “a who’s who of settler colonialism,” (United States, Australia, Canada, New Zealand, South Africa and the UK, the latter managing settlement in Northern Ireland and Southern Rhodesia). The list goes on.

Settler colonies, apart from the secular far Right-wing, rarely pronounce or conceive of their solidarity in phrasings openly recognizing indigenous removal and doing so is unnecessary. Settler colonialism is an organization of power like capitalism, patriarchy or White supremacy. Its power is not just political and geographic, but also discursive producing a settler normativity – what Elizabeth Povinelli described as the “organization of sociality on the basis of the naturalness of a civilizational displacement.” It need not be spoken or even consciously thought in hegemonic discourse. It is basic to settlers’ understanding of the world, often too basic to notice. A common example in the United States is the popular NFL football team the San Francisco 49ers. The original ‘forty-niners were populist genocidaires. The historical formation of the ‘forty-niner is inextricably tied to genocide and the conquest of California’s indigenous populace. Yet the football team is discursively divorced from the practices of the actual ‘forty-niners.

Indigenous removal is so basic to the settler cosmology that its daily celebrations of the genocidaires – on currency, in street, school and team names, on monuments, in holidays, etc. – pass unnoticed. Settler normativity is as much part of foreign policy as it is domestic as noted above in the appeal to fellow ‘nations of immigrants’. Settler colonialism is a baseline of U.S. policy, whether foreign or domestic. Without the Israel Lobby, it’s still difficult to imagine the United States being predisposed to solidarity with an indigenous people against another White settler colony when it has resisted doing so in every other case, even if eventually taking somewhat critical positions on Southern Rhodesia, Northern Ireland and South Africa.

Last, when settler rule in Palestine does fall, it will be the first modern example of settler rule falling when the settlers formed a majority of the population in the colony for any amount of time. That should be (Beautifully! Wonderfully! Literally!) unsettling to other settler societies, even those where settlers are the vast majority of the population.

Moral Bankruptcy and the American Tradition, or, the U.S. is a Shithole and They Made it That Way

The United States’ “professed values” range from ‘freedom’ to ‘democracy’ to ‘equality’ and similar phrasings. This is sleight of hand. The “morally bankrupt” Israel policy is representative of American policy as the “tradition of the oppressed” indicates.

Since the settler colony broke from its British sponsor in 1776, the United States has averaged just under 1.4 military deployments per year. Most are not large scale invasions and some, like evacuations, are easily or plausibly defensible. But most are not. A great many are bald interventions on behalf of U.S. business operations threatened by local demands for control of resources.

As noted above, the very premise of the United States is Indian Removal, one of two sine qua nons of the settler colony’s existence. And every year more land is colonized for mineral extraction, new housing developments and other reasons. Native children continue to be disarticulated from their indigeneity, abducted by the state to be raised in the settler society. Native political prisoners languish in U.S. prisons while the settler society creates native fetish objects as sports mascots and costumes or celebrates the genocidaires themselves.

The other sine qua non of U.S. history is African slavery, the labor of which built the nation’s wealth. Beyond stolen labor, U.S. tradition imagines Black bodies as infinitely fungible as Jared Sexton, Saidiya Hartmann, and others have described. Slaveowners attempted to turn enslaved Black people into whatever tool they needed followed by nonconsensual medical experiments and forced sterilization. As just one example today, prison labor programs where a wildly disproportionately Black prison population works for menial wages in fields that – by and large – won’t hire a convict upon release. Mass incarceration itself is part of a racial caste system targeting Black people as George Jackson, Angela Davis, Mariam Kaba and others have demonstrated.

One effect of White Supremacy and settler colonialism is a lower life expectancy for Black and indigenous people. For the present population, the 4.3 years average difference in life expectancy amounts to over 167 million total years collectively stolen from Black people. The discrepancy for the much smaller native population still amounts to over 5.7 million years stolen. These are quantities of years normally reserved for geologic or evolutionary discussions. Lest this be thought unintentional, the lack of accountability for the murders of Black people is an affirmation of stolen life. Indigenous dispossession and African slavery are in fact mutually constitutive as Andrea Smith illuminates.

The United States is by law, homophobic and transphobic (some aspects of which are being reformed under the banner of assimilationism).

The United States is officially anti-working class. One conspicuous element is immigration policy where working class people from other nations – especially Black and Brown people – find it nearly impossible to get visas.

U.S. economic policy is designed to facilitate wealth accumulation by those who already have it.

To make an exhaustive list would assume a naivety neither most proponents of the Israel Lobby theory nor other readers possess. The point is that “moral bankruptcy” is the default American position. Even those benefits that do accrue to people of color, the working class and middle class are largely predicated on exploitation abroad or on another group at home. Moral bankruptcy is a didactic and clumsy yet perfectly accurate description for American history.

In addition to settler colonialism, other fundaments of American policy, foreign and domestic, are capitalism, patriarchy and White supremacy. The U.S. prefers Israel to Palestine for reasons of Israeli wealth against Palestinian poverty (capitalist normativity, more about which in the next section). For having a more familiar articulation of patriarchy (often celebrated as gender liberal Israelis vs. gender conservative Palestinians). For Israel being dominated by Ashkenazim (Jews of European ancestry) and thus White, whereas Palestinians are people of color (White supremacist normativity). All of these are in step with American history and U.S. policy towards other nations. Only an untenable conception of American history produces the popular Israel lobby thesis.

American Foreign Policy With and Without The Lobby

The United States has a history of supporting regressive regimes that had no specific lobby of note. As with the previous section, there is no need for an exhaustive list. There are volumes upon volumes filled with critiques of U.S. support for regressive regimes including Eduardo Galeano’s The Open Veins of Latin America, Noam Chomsky’s Deterring Democracy and numerous others.

For decades the United States was the prime sponsor of the successive Duvalier regimes in Haiti. The U.S. was a key player in the 1953 anti-Mossadegh coup in Iran and the prime sponsor of the ensuing Shah regime. Before Israel was even a state the United States was sponsoring the brutal Saudi monarchy. The U.S. has supported regressive regimes in Central America for well over a century. The U.S. was a strong supporter of the Mobutu regime in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. The U.S. supported the Nicaraguan Somoza regimes right up until the end and then spent the ensuing decade sponsoring the reactionary Contra militia against the Sandinista regime (against which it still intervenes).

In none of these examples was there a specific lobby in Washington comparing in size or scope to the Israel Lobby yet the U.S. still aggressively supports regressive policies. There were capitalist forces pushing for these policies generally, some with a more specific focus than others. For example, Mossadegh’s democratic socialist policies would have reigned in U.S. and British profits, especially in the petroleum industry. Fruit companies lobbied for support to regressive forces Central America in response to labor uprisings in and peasant mobilization against agribusiness. Various capitalist lobbies support Nicaragua policy in response to the Sandinista’s democratic socialist policy platform.

Capitalist interests are key drivers of U.S. foreign policy and always have been. They have been most aggressive in supporting regressive policy when anti-capitalist, or even liberal, regimes and resistance movements seeking to reign in capitalism were present. This fits with with Israel policy too. When the U.S. first began serious intervention in support of Israel the Palestine Liberation Organization was dominated by groups that ranged from democratic socialist to communist.

In the case of the United States belatedly and partially opposing settler rule in South Africa, it did so only under great pressure domestically and internationally. Even then only against the more crudely racist apartheid legislation and settler legislative rule. However capitalism and settler colonialism in South Africa are intertextual. The United States supported only ending settler legislative rule and the settler capitalist class remains a tremendous political force today. Opponents of ending settler rule framed the ANC, Black Conscious Movement and others as communist or socialist revolutionary organizations (with some accuracy!) to couch their opposition in terms other than explicit White supremacy. The PLO too was frequently discussed as socialist, communist or, more commonly, affiliated with or sponsored by China or the U.S.S.R.

Capitalism, like settler colonialism, is a fundamental U.S. political framework and Israel is a neoliberal capitalist state. That is part of their “shared values” and it is a reason the U.S. is partisan to Israel.

Who Defines the National Interest?

U.S. national interests in Southwest Asia aren’t easy to pin down. They vary wildly depending on who is making policy. For example, many political science Realists decried the U.S. invasion of Iraq. They said it would be counterproductive to U.S. interests in the regime. But recall the headline several years back: “Exxon. Biggest. Profit. Ever.” John Dewey said “Politics is the shadow cast on society by big business.” In that light, the war was very much in the national interest as defined by the oil lobbies close to the G.W. Bush Administration. So who is casting the biggest shadow at any given moment? That defines “national interest” as much as anything else.

In the case of Israel we’ve seen the U.S. bring its client state to heel on numerous occasions when the ‘national interest’ as defined by those in power was threatened. The U.S. in 2006 denied Israel Aerospace Industries export licenses for certain systems thereby disqualifying it from a South Korean US$1.5 billion AWACS tender, by default giving Boeing the contract as the only other bidder.

When China sent Harpy unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) it purchased from Israel in 1994 back to the country for upgrading in 2004, the U.S. intervened and prohibited Israel from sending back the UAVs, upgraded or not, despite them not containing U.S. technology and Israel no longer owning the machines. This is particularly notable because Douglas Feith and Paul Wolfowitz – both prominent far Right supporters of Israel – led the campaign of pressure.

Israel Aerospace Industries won a contract in 1998 to sell its Phalcon AWACS system to China in a deal worth over US$1 billion, but under U.S. pressure, not only cancelled the deal but paid China a $350 million cancellation fee.

The Israel Lobby and the Israeli state lobbied vigorously against the Reagan Administration’s decision to sell AWACS systems to Saudi Arabia in what was then the largest – by dollar value – arms export in U.S. history. But Reagan, Secretary of State Alexander Haig and former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger all pushed through the sale. In the end, they even took away the ‘pro-Israel’ position by couching the sale of one of the world’s most advanced weapons systems to Saudi Arabia as beneficial to “the security of Israel and peace itself.” Time and time again, especially around the arms trade, the United States disregards Israel’s wishes and even intense efforts by the Israel Lobby.

Broad general support with occasional disciplining is about what we would expect for a client state (this is being admittedly reductive). Examining the successes and failures of of the Israel lobby paints a clearer picture of the U.S. national interest as defined by those who actually enforce it. In the view of those who define the U.S. national interest, Palestinian liberation is simply a secondary or non-issue, hence the Israel Lobby’s near uniform success on anything related to Palestinian liberation.

All of the above is without even considering Israel’s actual role in U.S. empire as a regional heavy, bulwark against progressive Arab nationalism, conduit for U.S. arms sales to unsavory clients, subsidy for the U.S. arms industry and more (a topic for an essay to come). Israel is an important client state and that has a lot to do with U.S. support.

But the Israel Lobby does matter

All of this is to say that, contrary to the Israel Lobby thesis, AIPAC is not the only explanation for America’s morally bankrupt Israel policy. Moral bankruptcy is the U.S. default position and defining policy agenda. The United States historically shows tremendous support for other White settler states, no matter the size of any lobby. The United States historically shows tremendous support for colonizers over the colonized. The United States historically opposes revolutionary social movements whether at home or abroad, especially those led by people of color and indigenous people. The United States historically supports its clients states no matter what they do. The United States historically supports wealthier states over poorer ones (or movements representing working class liberation). There is nothing aberrant about the United States’ Israel policy with the exception of its ferocity.

The lengths the U.S. goes to in order to defend Israeli policy are indeed a little unusual. The ferocity is at a level normally reserved for anti-communist, anti-Black, anti-feminist and other domestic and foreign policies that threaten normative organizations of power. Here, finally, this seems to be the Israel Lobby at work. This is not to minimize the importance of the Israel Lobby. It is directly involved in shaping oppressive policy and discourse even if it is not fundamental to policy direction. Further, it is well-funded and almost competently organized (I won’t belabor the point but significant resources can mask a lot of incompetency. For example see every well funded public or private bureaucracy anywhere on the planet and The Peter Principle.). It is also a consciously ideological colonizing effort making it an important voice in settler colonialism. The Israel Lobby matters and it matters a lot. It is not, however, “the only explanation for America’s morally bankrupt Israel policy.” In my reading, it is not even a main reason. It is just one of several articulations of settler solidarity practiced by the U.S., unusual only in it vociferousness.

AIPAC and related groups cannot and should not be ignored. But addressing AIPAC should be couched in ways that also address the U.S.’s funamentally regressive politics. It’s true that one or more aspects of settler rule did fall in Southern Rhodesia, South West Africa, and South Africa and that, at a very late date, the U.S. did come around to opposing aspects of settler rule in these colonies. Perhaps this can be done with Palestine too. Walt and Mearsheimer’s Israel Lobby advocates for such a course by playing into American exceptionalism and locating the U.S.’s Palestine policy as anomalous.

But there is nothing exceptional about the U.S.’s Israel policy. Recognizing this, coming to a tenable conception of history, opens up possibilities for joint struggle and resistance, coalition building and movement growth in ways that are not possible otherwise (as groups like the United States Palestinian Community Network, INCITE! Women, Trans and Gender Nonconforming People of Color Against Violence, Malcolm X Grassroots Movement and others have been doing for some time). A tenable conception of history sharpens our ability to understand and organize against oppressive policies.

* Turtle Island is a term several indigenous nations – especially though not exclusively those in the northeast towards the Atlantic – use for what the settler societies and European geography call North America. I use it as an example of one common name of many, not to privilege the term over other indigenous geographies.

Review: A Land Without People

A People Without A Land (2014)

78 min

Dir. Eliyahu Ungar-Sargon

http://www.withoutaland.com

A shorter version of this review was originally solicited by a better website but what I wrote was shit. Luckily my own website here has no standards at all and an audience of around four unlucky browsers who just saw Star Wars for the first time and couldn’t remember C-3PO’s name to accurately google the droid and thus are subjected to the following ramblings. What follows is based on the original review but takes some aspects of the film as points of departure to discuss topics in but not unique to A People Without Land.

APWAL Title

Eliyahu Ungar-Sargon’s latest film, A People Without A Land, provides another entry into cases made for Palestinian liberation as a one-state solution. Ungar-Sargon describes himself as a “Jewish Rebel” on his website. Indeed in previous documentaries Ungar-Sargon has examined male circumcision and Jewish fetishization of the Shoah from, if you’ll forgive the bad pun, ultra-unorthodox angles. In A People Without A Land he compiles interviews with progressive Palestinian activists, Israeli liberal Zionists, radical right- and left-wing Israelis, stock footage, music and journalistic footage to present his case.

The film largely follows hegemonic liberal discourse from early Zionism through the Oslo years towards a two-state solution in the first third, starts the story over with a historical track towards a one state solution in the second third, then prosthyletizes liberal nationalism for the remainder. The film starts with with Zionism’s generative context in 19th century Central and Eastern Europe and initially follows Zionist settlement in Palestine through the Nakba (1947-49 war in Palestine), Naksa (Six Day War) and into the Oslo Process years through the second intifada and Operation Cast Lead. It narrates Zionist settlement, the mass expulsion of Palestinians from 1947-49, the conquest of the remainder of Palestine in 1967 and Israeli settlement and oppression of Palestinians in the West Bank, Jerusalem and Gaza Strip through the present. A People Without A Land concludes making a case for a one-state solution in Palestine. Through all this the film shoots through a critical, to one degree or another, lens.

A significant strength when compared to most Palestine documentaries is the narrative space allotted to refugees and the Right of Return, a topic frequently ignored or given only lip service despite most Palestinians being refugees. As important is how Ungar-Sargon engages refugeedom no matter where the refugees are located, including those who are citizens of Israel, a refugee population close to discursively erased in all liberal and most non-Palestinian radical discourse. A People Without A Land even briefly explores Right of Return’s more practical aspects in a late sequence where it documents activists and architects from Miska Committee, Decolonizing Architecture and Zochrot discussing the reestablishment of Miska, a Palestinian village depopulated during the 1947-49 ethnic cleansing of Palestine. In fact this is basic to the film in that it is bookended with scenes from Lifta, another depopulated Palestinian village. Other strengths include a skeptical eye towards the Peace Process and Palestinian Authority (the latter topic part partially subverted by having Saeb Erekat as a protagonist).

Except…

Yet the film leaves much to be desired narratively, historically and conceptually. The filmmaking is unremarkable but for Ungar-Sargon’s poor decision to include over thirty subjects in a film just seventy-eight minutes long. This works out to a new character every two and a half minutes or so. These characters range from far Right-wing Israelis to left-wing Palestinian advocates for decolonization. Ungar-Sargon offers nothing to bridge either the widely divergent political viewpoints nor the far too numerous subjects making the film frequently incoherent. It’s like someone’s “Israel-Palestine” youtube playlist.

For example, in one segment West Bank settler Ari Abramson says, “Most Palestinians do not recognize Israel’s right to exist.” Ungar-Sargon then refutes with Bethlehem resident Samer Kokaly — who supports one state — saying that Israel has a kind of right to exist. The film unambiguously supports a one-state solution so what’s the point of this segment? Leaving aside that there is no such thing as a “right” to settler rule in Palestine, it is out of place in a film explicitly rejecting Israel’s premise. There is a possible logic behind this scene to which I’ll return below.

In it’s final third the film variously advocates for and against a one-state solution. That Ungar-Sargon’s film advocates for a one-state solution is only clear because he very explicitly says so at the very end. Key interviewees Gershom Gorenberg and Gershon Baskin state their objection to one state in terms, too much hatred and all that familiar tripe, not so different from that offered by Right-wing Israeli geographer Arnon Soffer (Why is he interviewed at all? And why would the filmmakers celebrate his attendance at a screening?!) or, for that matter, George Wallace in his day. Both Gorenberg and Baskin are earlier posited as critics of Israeli repression of Palestinians so their advocacy for settler rule is still posited as some type of solidarity, not the crude racism it is.

A People Without a Land also includes historical misconceptions. At the very beginning Zionism is introduced as a Romantic Nationalism akin to others in Central and Eastern Europe from whence it came. This is true enough. But Ungar-Sargon narrates this as being fundamental to Israeli dispossession of Palestinians. One subject notes that, due to the European Romantic nationalist movements amongst which Zionism was conceived, Zionism is “not gonna jump to Thomas Jefferson and become a civic form of nationalism” akin to French and British nationalism. This framework is both wrong, and wrong again. Israel has proven decidedly Jeffersonian — as in how Jefferson conceived and enacted his aggressively anti-Native policies — in its relations to the indigenous Palestinian population. Settler-Indigenous relations are formed primarily in the actual spaces of colonization, not in praxes in the settlers’ place of origin. This framework also ignores the role of Western European colonialism played in expanding rights for citizens of the metropole, specifically the mass extraction of wealth from the colonies and the discursive formation and racialization of colonized Others juxtaposed with the colonizing Us. Alternately put, to the limited degree that Western European nationalist movements were ‘civic’ — movements advocating a state belonging to those who lived there instead of a specific group — they in no way meant states belonging to all those ruled by the state. It is just a brief segment but is a common misconception based in a colonial historiography. More importantly, it introduces Zionism by disconnecting it from from Zionism’s actual formative processes of colonization.

What kind of state?

The actual case made for one-state is also not obviously preferable. But for Omar Barghouti briefly mentioning that any state should be generally non-oppressive, A People Without Land offers the state itself as a solution. Yet states, in Weber’s conception the monopolists of legitimate violence, have been a leading cause of death, misery and oppression since their inception. Surely two egalitarian states recognizing Right of Return, social and economic democracy, gender liberation and so on would be preferable to one shitty state if for some reason the options were so limited. As one segment mentions briefly, there is just one state now and it is a nightmare. To argue for one state itself as the solution is to offer a bizarre quantitative theory of the state. The end of settler rule (aka: Apartheid or, as we say in Hebrew, Hafrada) in South Africa meant certain concrete political and civic gains. But in some ways, many indigenous South Africans are little better off because the terms of ending settler rule divorced civic and economic policy.

In A People Without Land Rabbi Asher Lopatin pitches one such one-state dystopia when he argues that Israelis and Palestinians should be able to buy houses anywhere inside Palestine. At first glance this sounds egalitarian. But Israeli per capita income is twenty times the of Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza, a disparity that grows significantly once adjusting Israeli GDP per capita between Jews and Arabs and yet again when including Palestinian refugees in Lebanon, Syria and Jordan. Most Palestinians could not buy houses at the prices most Israelis could. Thus a theoretically non-discriminatory real estate market turns out to be a recipe for further Palestinian dispossession under the banner of a one-state liberal democracy. So one-state, fine. But what kind of state? A People Without Land doesn’t hint at anything decent despite many interviewees (Ghada Karmi, Ali Abunimah, Omar Barghouti, Jeff Halper, Ariella Azoulay, Eitan Bronstein, etc.) making more concrete and liberatory pitches elsewhere.

The one-state pitch is also based on the two-state solution being declared dead for reasons of impracticality. Thus settler rule in Palestine is merely impractical, not unethical. That the solution should be through states at all is far from obvious but with few counterhegemonic discussions of the No State Solution towards Palestinian sovereignty at the present it’s a forgivable omission.

A One-State Solution for American Jews

A fundamental problem with A People Without Land comes from the overall impression it makes. With so many Ashkenazi narrators and the Yiddish soundtrack it feels like a film made for a liberal American Jewish audience. This is the only way the segment with Abramson and Kokaly mentioned above makes sense. It’s kind of like saying, “See American Jews? Palestinians do recognize Israel’s right to exist.” This also explains why Ungar-Sargon includes Liberal Zionists like Baskin and Gorenberg who support settler rule. Their critiques of Israeli policy are not uniquely insightful. Any of the Palestinians interviewed could have offered the same. They serve no purpose but to inject more Jewish voices to narrate Palestine to American Jews. Liberal American Ashkenazi Jews, like any other subgroup of white Americans, tend to be racist. Using Liberal Zionist narrators and recognizing Israel’s mythical right to exist appeals to this sensibility. This is not fighting fire with fire. Fighting oppressive politics with oppressive politics is just oppressive politics. This angle affirms the idea that American Jews should have some special place in Palestinian liberation or things Israel-Palestine simply because they feel a connection. American Jewish participation in the American settler colony is far more relevant and important than any opinions Americans Jews have about Palestine and the Israeli settler colony. This is not to say American Jews shouldn’t learn and act against U.S. support for Israel in the context of the U.S. Settler Empire, merely that A Land Without People only makes sense inside the White Supremacist context privileging the place of American Jews in discourse on Palestine.

Many more Palestinians narrate the latter half of the film, the part narrating liberation, which is a welcome turn. Yet Ungar-Sargon still frequently injects narrative Israeli — almost exclusively male Ashkenazim — control. In the segment examining reconstituting Miska, an unnamed Palestinian participant critiques such control. She notes, “Try not to put [Israelis and Palestinians] in symmetry. Why me as a Palestinian from Miska has to have the agreement of the Israelis surrounding me?” Indeed, why should the terms of Palestinian liberation be subject to Israeli veto? Yet Ungar-Sargon follows with an Israeli response about exactly why Israelis should have just that veto.

Borderline worth watching

Bookending the film with ethnically-cleansed Palestinian villages and the lengthy treatment of Palestinian refugees and the Right of Return should not warrant mention because it is simply a proper way to do things. But Palestinian refugees are so aggressively marginalized that Ungar-Sargon’s film is uncommon in this regard. His skeptical view of the Peace Process and Palestinian Authority are also solid turns for audiences unfamiliar with the radical Palestinian tradition.

Yet the film is hard to recommend. Were it just my political quibbles it would be one thing, but the narrative lacks all coherence and no single idea, not even its central topic of a one-state solution, is meaningfully elucidated. This stands in sharp contrast with the lengthy explorations of Ungar-Sargon’s earlier Generation Gap. A tighter focus with fewer narrators would make A People Without Land a valuable educational tool and much better film even if political problems remained. Instead the film feels like Ungar-Sargon filmed a lot of great footage and tried to fit a bit of it all into a single narrative instead of some of it into a coherent one.