Palestine Forum

Contents

To go directly to each piece click on the title links in the contents list below.

  1. Working Group on War on Genocide
  2. Preamble
  3. The Algorithmically Accelerated Killing Machine
    Lucy Suchman
  4. Land, People, and Palestine: Lessons From Jewish Genetics
    Noah Tamarkin
  5. Resistance is Fertile: No Reproductive Justice Without Freedom for Palestine
    Michal Nahman, Sigrid Vertommen, Rodante van der Waal, Rishita Nandagiri, Elif Gül, Weeam Hammoudeh, and Fatimah Mohamied
  6. An Ode to Gazans
    Jess Bier
  7. Mapping a Catastrophe
    Christine Leuenberger

Working Group on War on Genocide

The working group on war on genocide includes:

  • Vivian Choi
  • Zheng "Vincent" Li
  • Michal Nahman
  • Anne Pollock
  • Amit Prasad
  • Misria Shaik Ali
  • Maka Suarez
  • Lucy Suchman

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Image Source: Christine Leuenberger, Banksy in Bethlehem, 2024.

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Preamble


The Mission of the Society for Social Studies of Science (4S) is to foster interdisciplinary and engaged scholarship in the social studies of science, technology, and medicine across the globe. We are also a diverse, international academic association with multiple sensibilities, faiths, and histories, and our members have been appalled by human suffering, including the killing of civilians in Palestine and Israel.

On November 5, 2023, 4S Council met and discussed the devastating situation in Palestine and Israel. The Council condemns the crimes of war being committed by the Israeli army in Gaza, including the destruction of homes and hospitals. We rebuke Israel’s bombardment of Gaza which has led to the loss of more than 32,000 Palestinian lives, 13,000 of whom are children and Hamas’s Oct 7th attack on Israeli settlements surrounding the Gaza strip that led to the loss of 1,200 lives of Jewish and non-Jewish Israeli residents. We mourn all of these losses. Settler colonialism is never an even process and marginalized Jewish people have long been those given housing along the borders. We are aware that neither the Israeli state nor Hamas act independently, and that the US military-industrial complex and government are deeply enmeshed and facilitative of this uneven and unequal war.

At the meeting it was agreed upon that the plausible genocide unfolding in Gaza is – and as this inaugural Forum will show – fundamentally an STS issue.

At the meeting Council voted to form the Working Group on War and Genocide (WGWG), acknowledging the role STS can play in uncovering and highlighting issues and impacts of war, genocide, occupation, and militarism, and in this deeply concerning moment, the assault on Gaza. Discussions at the 4S Business Meeting and other occasions in the following days of the Honolulu meeting reinforced the sense that there was a need for an STS forum exploring these vital themes.

As such, our inaugural effort as the WGWG is the Palestine Forum with contributions from scholars with a diverse range of expertise and experience. From technologies of war (Lucy Suchman), contestations of indigeneity (Noah Tamarkin), reproductive injustices (Michal Nahman, Sigrid Vertommen, Rodante van der Waal, Rishita Nandagiri, Elif Gül, Weeam Hammoudeh, Fatima Mohamied), and An Ode to Gazans (Jess Bier). We are mindful of how few Palestinian voices are present in the forum and would like to emphasize that the WGWG endeavors to forefront those voices in future forums and conversations. Yet we are also mindful of the additional burden of doing so for Palestinians who are under conditions of such duress.

We hope this forum will reinvigorate discussions and contributions from STS and 4S scholars on war and genocide. Understanding, examining, and critiquing the politics of science and technology is a foundation of STS as a discipline and 4S as an academic society. The current war on Gaza forefronts the violent practices and complexities of settler colonialism, the complicity of the United States’ military industrial complex, the insidious and growing prevalence of AI, and the impacts of bombing and starvation on Palestinian bodies, lives and society. We cannot imagine a more appropriate intervention and the necessity of STS scholarship and solidarity than this moment.

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The Algorithmically Accelerated Killing Machine
Lucy Suchman, Professor Emerita, Lancaster University, UK

On 11 January 2024, the International Court of Justice (ICJ) opened proceedings on charges of genocide brought by South Africa against Israel’s operations in Gaza. Israel, on its side, frames its military operations in Gaza as self defense and a justifiable response to the massacre of Israeli civilians by Hamas on 7 October 2023. In the media coverage on Israeli operations in Gaza, one investigative report stood out for those of us who have been following developments in the algorithmic intensification of military killing machines, a story of Israel’s AI-enabled targeting system named Habsora, or the Gospel.

Headlined ‘A mass assassination factory: Inside Israel’s calculated bombing of Gaza,’ the report draws on sources within the Israeli intelligence community who confirm that Israeli Defense Force (IDF) operations in the Gaza strip combine more permissive authorization for the bombing of non-military targets with a loosening of constraints regarding expected civilian casualties. This policy sanctions the bombing of densely populated civilian areas, including high-rise residential and public buildings designated as so called ‘power targets’. Official legal guidelines require that selected buildings must house a legitimate military target and be empty at the time of their destruction; the latter has resulted in the IDF’s issuance of a constant and changing succession of unfeasible evacuation orders to those trapped in diminishingly small areas of Gaza. These targeting practices are presumably facilitated by the extent and intensity of the surveillance infrastructure in the Occupied Palestinian Territories (see Anthony Lowenstein’s The Palestine Laboratory). Moreover, once Israel declares the entire surface of Gaza as a cover for Hamas tunnels, all of which are assumed to be legitimate military targets, the entire strip becomes fair game for destruction.

A direct corollary of this operational strategy is the need for an unbroken stream of candidate targets. To meet this requirement, Habsora is designed to accelerate the generation of targets from surveillance data, creating what one former intelligence officer (quoted in the story’s headline) describes as a mass assassination factory. Most notably, the Israeli bombardment of Gaza has shifted the argument for AI-enabled targeting from claims to greater precision and accuracy, to the objective of accelerating the rate of destruction. IDF spokesperson R Adm Daniel Hagari has acknowledged that in the bombing of Gaza the emphasis is on damage and not on accuracy. For those who have been advancing precision and accuracy as the high moral ground of data-driven targeting, this admission must surely be disruptive. It shifts the narrative from a technology in aid of adherence to International Humanitarian Law (IHL) and the Geneva Conventions, to automation in the name of industrial scale productivity in target generation, enabling greater speed and efficiency in killing. As the intelligence sources acknowledge, moreover, Israel’s operations are not indiscriminate but are deliberately designed to create ‘shock’ among the civilian population, under the premise that this will somehow contribute to Israel’s aim of eliminating Hamas.

Israel’s mobilization of algorithmic intensification to accelerate target production should be understood within a wider technopolitical context of so-called network-centric warfare. A project dating back to the 1990s, with roots in the cybernetic imaginary of the Cold War, data-driven warfighting promises a technological solution to the longstanding problem of ‘situational awareness’ as a prerequisite for the perpetuation of military logics. As National Defense Magazine observes of the various proposals for networked warfare what all these concepts have in common is the vision of a truly networked battlefield in which data moves at the speed of light to connect not only sensors to shooters, but also the totality of deployed forces and platforms. Data here are naturalised, treated as self-evident signs emitted by an objectively existing world ‘out there,’ rather than as the product of an extensively engineered chain of translation from machine readable signals to ad hoc systems of classification and interpretation. And contra the idea that it is the demonstrated value of data that leads to surveillance and data gathering, data-driven operations are mandated by investment in those infrastructures. The on-faith investment in surveillance and data gathering, in other words, feeds a desire to rely on data for decision-making, however questionable the provenance and chains of inference.

All of this occurs in a context of Israel’s economic commitment to establishing itself as a leading purveyor of high-tech military technoscience, not least in so-called AI-enabled warfighting. For both Ukraine and Israel these wars are an opportunity to boost their arms sales. Battle-tested systems are easier to sell, and US venture capital firms like Eric Schmidt’s Innovation Endeavors, and companies like Palantir, are lining up to be part of the booming weapons industry. Yet enormous questions remain regarding the validity of the assumptions built into these systems about who comprises an imminent threat and the legitimacy of their targeting functions under the Geneva Conventions and the laws of war. We know that these platforms require continually updated datasets sourced from satellite imagery, drone footage and other surveillance data monitoring the movements and behaviour patterns of individuals and groups, including cell phone tracking, social media, and intercepted communications. But we don’t know how data is validated or what assumptions are built into categories like military objects or persons of interest and their designation as legitimate targets. The evidence from Gaza, where at the time of this writing Palestinian casualties are approaching 30,000, including over 10,000 children, and roughly 70% of Gaza’s buildings and critical infrastructure are destroyed, is that the gospel of AI-enabled precision and accuracy is a confabulation.

On the 26th of January the International Court of Justice ruled that the charge of genocide brought by South African was plausible and ordered Israel to ensure the protection of Palestinian civilians. Insofar as the Court’s orders have any force, they must surely preclude the automated acceleration of unrestrained and criminal acts of killing. While the masters of war enjoy their short-term profits through the promise of technological solutions, critical voices, including a growing number inside Israel, agree that only an immediate ceasefire and unconditional release of hostages can re-open the path to a political solution.


An earlier version of this piece was posted here and reposted here.

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Land, People, and Palestine: Lessons From Jewish Genetics
Noah Tamarkin, Cornell University, United States

In this moment when more than 32,000 Palestinians in Gaza have been killed by Israeli military forces, I am struggling to make sense of these horrific numbers of devastated lives, of condensed destruction on a massive scale in a very small place. Entire families have been totally wiped out. Palestinians who have managed to survive have been displaced multiple times over and denied food and water, leaving them on the cusp of the kind of famine familiar from earlier colonial histories. Hospitals, schools, and those who work in them have been targeted and destroyed. South Africa, where my ethnographic research on the politics and uses of genetics is based, has asked the world to make sense of this as an instance of genocide that can and must be stopped before it goes any further. The United Nations International Court of Justice, to whom South Africa made their case, did not disagree: they ruled that this is a plausible case of genocide that warrants further investigation, and that Israel must take action to prevent it.

But there is a counter-narrative that circulates widely, one that links the kinds of deep histories that genetic ancestry research seeks to investigate with blood-and-soil ethnonationalism. There are variations, but the common theme is that Israel is only doing what is necessary to survive, and survive it must: the world must stand behind its actions because to do otherwise would result in the destruction of Israel, and therefore the destruction of the Jews. Some iterations of this Zionist narrative go a step further: they argue that Jews are indigenous to the land of Israel, so their rights to that land are unassailable, while Palestinians have no such rights. Following these arguments, an increasingly loud and powerful narrative holds that supporting Palestinians or proclaiming anti-Zionism is by definition antisemitism. In these narratives, Israel and Jews are interchangeable, a naturalized link between land and people that the existence of Palestinians threatens to disrupt.

For many months now I have followed these arguments across social media feeds. One that I’ve seen invokes past empires (from British to Babylonian) to demonstrate that there has never been an independent Palestinian state, but in contrast, there were once kingdoms of Israel and Judea and thus precedent for the contemporary state of Israel as a Jewish state. Another, seeking to negate the argument that Israel is a settler colonial state, contrasts the lack of ancient European texts found by Europeans who went to America (because they were colonisers) with the ancient Hebrew manuscripts found in Israel (because they’re indigenous). At stake in these arguments is whether Jews or Palestinians are the true indigenous people and therefore the ones on the right side of history.

There is a lot to unpack in each of these assertions beyond their crude anti-historicism in service of a difficult-to-defend political position. To do so, I turn to my research on indigeneity and Jewish genetics, two technologies of belonging that in my work have primarily been linked by the genetic knowledge produced by Lemba South Africans.

In short, Lemba people are Black South Africans who long held that they are Jews by descent; genetic studies published in the 1990s and early 2000s set out to determine whether this could be genetically substantiated. Those studies found evidence of Y-chromosome Lemba links to other Jews (Spurdle and Jenkins 1996; Thomas et al. 2000). Lemba leaders then defied the expectations of those who assumed they would attempt to use the results to appeal to the Israeli state for recognition and emigration by instead interpreting these studies as proof not only of their distinct ethnic existence in South Africa—significant because apartheid policies had not recognized them as such—but also as proof that Jews are African and that Lemba people were therefore indigenous African Jews (Tamarkin 2020).

Crucially, Lemba leaders’ understandings of indigeneity dismissed ideas of a single origin in favor of a dynamic process of becoming indigenous through centuries of movement and links to land that have shaped who they now are. In this rendering, one can be indigenous to more than one place, and more than one people can be indigenous to a single place. This understanding of indigenous stands in stark contrast to the social media posts that position Jewish indigeneity in Israel as both singular and original, thus negating Palestinian links to the land and justifying their dispossession.

Because Lemba leaders’ understanding of indigeneity leaves open the possibility of legitimate, relational claims among different peoples, one might then imagine space for both Palestinian and Jewish indigeneity in Palestine/Israel. But it’s important to consider that Lemba leaders’ understandings of capacious indigeneity in South Africa stop short of including white descendants of colonial settlers as indigenous peoples, though they have also established links to South African land. This is because the relationality that foundationally defines indigeneity is that between colonizers and the people whose land they occupied: indigeneity emerged as a political concept and a group identity in the twentieth century in response to hundreds of years of colonial oppression (de la Cadena and Starn 2007; TallBear 2013).

Therefore, I take two lessons from Lemba leaders’ understandings of Jewish indigeneity. The first is to decenter Israel as the primary Jewish ancestral place. This might mean centering Africa instead as they do, or it might mean, following Daniel Boyarin (2023), decentering both Israel and Jewish indigeneity in favor of diaspora as the constitutive past and the future for Jews everywhere. The second lesson is to take seriously that an understanding of indigeneity as a colonial relation renders it impossible to locate Jewish indigeneity in a Zionist project because although today we can see that Zionism includes many Mizrahi, or Middle Eastern Jews, it emerged as a movement among European Jews who enacted it as a settler colonial project (Pappé 2008, see also Weitzman 2017). Zionism as a settler colonial project unmistakably reverberates in the destruction of Gaza that the world has been witnessing and in the illegal settlements in Palestinian territories that contemporary Israeli settlers have continued to advance.

Following from Lemba leaders’ links between indigeneity and genetics, it’s instructive to consider Jewish genetic ancestry research alongside these analyses of indigeneity and settler colonialism. Lemba interpretations of their genetic studies have been consequential for them and for understandings of African indigeneity, but they haven’t been consequential for subsequent Jewish genetic research. Studies that have aimed to characterize Jewish genetic diversity and to map Jewish origins haven’t included Lemba DNA among their Jewish comparative samples (see for example Ostrer and Skorecki 2013). I point this out because genetic ancestry research is not only shaped by the questions researchers pose and the statistical methodologies through which they investigate their hypotheses; it is also just as profoundly shaped by how the so-called populations it seeks to account for are defined and named (Fullwiley 2008; Fujimura and Rajagopalan 2011). Lemba genetics has not reshaped Jewish genetics because the starting point for Jewish genetic ancestry research is continually an a priori definition of who is, without question, a Jew to whom others (like the Lemba) might be compared (Abu El Haj 2012). This, alongside locating Jewishness in biology, racializes Jews.

The primacy of linking land and people becomes clear when considering that a major focus of large scale Jewish genetic studies has been to understand the origins of Ashkenazi Jews and their genetic relationships to various others: other Jews, and others understood as non-Jews whose relative genetic similarity to or difference from Ashkenazi and other Jews is considered to be an important tool through which to define and place Jews in the present and the past. In these studies, Ashkenazi Jews are at once paradigmatic Jews and potentially the group that would interrupt the naturalized links between Jewish people and the land of Israel if they are found to be too European and not Middle Eastern enough. These studies have been contentious among geneticists precisely because of disagreements among their authors about what the data says about where Ashkenazi origins primarily lie. But their debates ultimately miss the point that genetic definitions of peoplehood naturalize racialized colonial logics.

Debates among geneticists about how to interpret Jewish genetic studies can attune us to the high stakes for naturalized links between land and people. We would also do well to remember that any appeal to genetic understandings of peoplehood is a racializing move. Defining Jews as a race has already led to one genocide. I fear that current appeals to Jewish indigeneity are now being mobilized in service of another.

Another version of this essay was later published here in: The Conversation.

Citations

Abu el-Haj, Nadia. 2012. The Genealogical Science: The Search for Jewish Origins and the Politics of Epistemology. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

Boyarin, Daniel. 2023. The No-State Solution: A Jewish Manifesto. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press.

de la Cadena, Marisol and Orin Starn. 2007. Indigenous Experience Today. London: Berg.

Fullwiley, Duana. 2008. The Biologistical Construction of Race: ‘Admixture’ Technology and the New Genetic Medicine. Social Studies of Science 38(5): 695-735.

Fujimura, Joan and Ramya Rajagopalan. 2011. Different Differences: The use of ‘Genetic Ancestry’ Versus Race in Biomedical Human Genetic Research. Social Studies of Science 41(1): 5-30.

Ostrer, Harry and Karl Skorecki. 2013. The Population Genetics of the Jewish People. Human Genetics 132(2): 119-27.

Pappé, Ilan. 2008. Zionism as Colonialism: A Comparative View of Diluted Colonialism in Asia and Africa. South Atlantic Quarterly 107(4): 611-633.

Spurdle, Amanda and Trefor Jenkins. 1996. The Origins of the Lemba ‘Black Jews’ of Southern Africa: Evidence from p12F2 and Other Y-Chromosome Markers. American Journal of Human Genetics 59(5): 1126-33.

TallBear, Kim. 2013. Native American DNA: Tribal Belonging and the False Promise of Genetic Science. Minneapolis, MN: University of Minnesota Press.

Tamarkin, Noah. 2020. Genetic Afterlives: Black Jewish Indigeneity in South Africa. Durham, NC: Duke University Press.

Thomas, Mark G. et al. 2000. Y Chromosomes Traveling South: The Cohen Modal Haplotype and the Origins of the Lemba—the ‘Black Jews of Southern Africa’. American Journal of Human Genetics 66(2): 674-86.

Weitzman, Steven. 2017. The Origin of the Jews: The Quest for Roots in a Rootless Age. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.

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Resistance is Fertile: No Reproductive Justice Without Freedom for Palestine
Michal Nahman, Sigrid Vertommen, Rodante van der Waal, Rishita Nandagiri, Elif Gül, Weeam Hammoudeh, Fatimah Mohamied

On 27 October, Raneem Hejazi was eight months pregnant when her aunt’s apartment was hit by an Israeli military airstrike. Unlike her aunt and six other family members, Raneem survived the strike, but her arm was crushed, and her legs were broken and badly burned. An ambulance managed to rush her to the overcrowded Nasser Hospital in Khan Yunis, in the South of Gaza, which is being deprived of electricity, water and antibiotics. Dr. Mohammad Qandeel decided that an emergency caesarean section was needed. With cell phones illuminating the operating table, the medical team managed to save the life of Raneem and baby Maryam - for now, because with a critical lack of food due to deliberate prevention of food aid by Israel, shelter and clean drinking water, it is unclear how Raneem and her family are supposed to survive, let alone live and thrive.

In the current military onslaught in Gaza perpetrated by the Israeli State, which lives count and who is considered a human? Just as it has done historically, contemporary STS must engage with this injustice and the wider socio-technical context that is structured by necropolitics. As Wynter, Weheliye and others have illustrated, the politics of life is delineated by the practices of making and unmaking the ‘human’. In a recent Special Issue of Catalyst, on Colonial Lineages of Reproduction, John Gillespie asks whether the category of ‘woman’ is even possible for Black women. We adopt a rather more hopeful frame of ‘reproductive justice’ as developed by Black feminists to think about the potential to resist oppressive structures that tend to eradicate life in the name of ‘nations’, ‘states’ an imperialism. The reproductive justice framework (Ross and Solinger), as established by Black feminists and women of colour since the mid-nineties, advocates for the right to have children, not have children, and raise children in safe and healthy environments.

Sadly, Raneem’s dystopian birthing story, above, is not unique. Israel’s genocidal attacks (so named by the ICJ and international scholars of genocide) on Gaza is specifically targeting health care and life-supporting facilities (and see Lucy Suchman’s piece on the contradictions of AI in targeted indiscriminate bombing) and by extension reproductive rights, health, and justice. According to United Nations Women, 37 mothers are killed every day, while (at the time of writing in November 2023) the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), there are approximately 50,000 pregnant people in Gaza, of whom 5,500 are expected to give birth in the coming month. All of them are at grave risk amid unseen and atrocious levels of violence while medical care, food, and water are still largely blocked from entering the Gaza Strip. Lack of micronutrients produces a serious risk to pregnant and lactating people, especially to half of Gaza’s pregnant population that suffers from anemia. Often, mothers have no safe place to go, lacking access to clean water and food, which affects their ability to breastfeed and care for themselves and their newborns. With residential areas and medical facilities as central targets, women are forced to deliver their babies in cars, in the streets, and in overcrowded shelters where the risk of infection and the spread of disease is high.

According to the updates from the 1st of March 2024, there have been 30,000 Palestinians killed in Gaza so far since October 7, approximately 11,500 of them were children. Also 33 of the 1.200 Israelis who were reportedly killed on October 7 were children, and 40 children were taken hostage by Hamas. All life is sacred, and humanity is not a numbers game. There are heartbreaking stories of unfinished love, life and dreams behind each of these losses. But one death does not justify another. And at the time of writing this the Israeli Defense Forces continue to kill and there is a planned attack on Rafah the ‘safe haven’ on the eve of Ramadan.
Israel’s assault on Palestinian life and reproduction, did not start on October 7, but fits a decades old pattern of reproductive injustice. Since the early 2000s, Israel has intensified its regime of closures, forcing many Palestinian women to give birth at military checkpoints, as they are not allowed to pass to go to the hospital in time. The maternal mortality rate in Palestine, 28.5 per 100.000 live births, is eight times higher than in Israel, where it stands at 3.4.

Israel is known internationally as having adopted remarkably pronatalist policies since (and even before) its creation in 1948, aimed at encouraging high birth rates by offering financial incentives for reproducing large families, welfare benefits for (working) mothers, high child allowances and generous subsidies for assisted reproductive technologies including in vitro fertilisation, egg donation and surrogacy. However, critical scholars (Yuval Davis, 1989; Kanaaneh, 2002, Weiss , 2002; Nahman, 2013, Hasso, 2022, Vertommen, 2016) have been arguing for decades that Israel’s pronatalism is selective, and mostly designed to benefit its European-descended Jewish Israeli citizens and not Palestinians who are framed as a demographic threat. Antinatalist actions were documented against Ethiopian Jewish Women in Israel who were disproportionately prescribed with the controversial contraceptive Depo Provera without their proper consent, and against Mizrahi, Yemenite and Balkan Jewish families upon settlement in Israel in the early 1950s, of whom thousands of babies and toddlers were reportedly kidnapped and housed in transit and absorption camps. Palestinian citizens inside Israel are often restrained by colonial realities from exercising their reproductive rights equally, although legally speaking they are entitled to the same fertility treatments as Jewish Israelis. There is a racialized logic embedded in the selective pronatalism of the state.
The intentional attack on present and future Palestinian life and reproduction has been termed a genocide in the making by scholarly experts and UN officials, and a reprocide by Palestinian feminists. This unfolding genocide is only the latest and most obvious iteration of Israel’s stratified pronatalist regime, which, according to critical scholarship (Shalhoub-Kevorkian, 2015; Abdo, 2011; Nahman, 2013; Vertommen, 2015.), is sedimented in a century old Zionist settler colonial logic of demographic replacement, aimed at creating and maintaining a Jewish demographic majority in a Jewish state at the expense of Palestinian life.

There is a political and moral urgency to understand the Palestinian Question through the lens of reproductive justice. Reproductive justice means allowing all Palestinians, from the river to the sea, to build and rebuild the infrastructures of life and social reproduction they need to live a life worth living, free from bombs and colonial dispossession. There can be no reproductive justice when it does not count for everyone, Jewish and Palestinian people alike. There can be no reproductive justice without a free Palestine. We must speak out against all forms of racism, including islamophobia and antisemitism. Considering that many of us work in countries whose governments are explicitly complicit in the ongoing colonial occupation and genocide of Palestinians by offering moral, political and material support, the time to show unwavering solidarity with Palestinians in matters of life and reproduction, is now. Our resistance is fertile. Let us commit ourselves to continued protest.

A longer version of this piece was written as a statement that gathered over 400 signatures, and was published here.

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An Ode to Gazans
Jess Bier, The Netherlands

We’re genociding again. You can take an alternative tour online. The rubble keeps growing. My timeline is full of dead babies. I can’t look but can’t stop scrolling. I can’t find Godzilla, so maybe I’m Godzilla again. Some of the babies lost their hands before they knew they had hands. There are so many names it will take generations to read them out loud in the city square. Some of the babies didn’t know they had names either, but we learn them and remember.

What does one do on such an evening? I check on my children’s beds, confirming their general un-blown-up-ness, frames uncollapsed, mattresses intact. Here they are, our babies. I kiss their foreheads, but it doesn’t wake them like I’d hoped. For the first time ever they are determined to sleep until morning. I leave the room like I’ll see them again. It’s more than many families get. Stumbling on my way to the stairs, I drop my phone and dead babies spill out all over the carpet.

A dead body is a fact. A dead baby is an imperative. They are an indictment of those among us who delay, who unsee, who hide in plain sight, who sigh in sadistic relief. We gave ourselves professorships but don’t bother to figure out what we’ve made everyone miss. Now our articles and panels can’t un-kill a single baby, not these. The world will forever be deprived of the fact of their laughter. I hope there’s an alternate universe, or some plane of reincarnation where all of those babies live on having never heard of us. I would step through a wormhole to that world without blinking twice, carrying our babies on my hip.

It's always effective to blame people for their own genocide, given they can’t talk back by definition. But someone always crawls out from underneath the pile. Someone always holds their breath in the back of the closet. Sometimes there are millions. The living people of Gaza brandish their phones, throwing their cries round the world, farther and braver even though all hope, all surprise has already been murdered. Day and night Palestinian parents lift up their dead babies so that someone might agree that once here, a baby grew, chubby with dimples.

What kind of digital human zoo is this? Why are they being forced to bear witness to their own killing? How do I wash a dish or fart or do absolutely anything when Gaza has gone so long without bread or passports or internet or a quiet that didn’t mean complete obliteration? At this point the IDF have massacred so many Gazans it’s stadiums full of dead babies. There’s one in every seat, the stairways overflowing, a baby stampede.

How is that a phrase it’s possible to conjure let alone make happen? How many bits must a Palestinian baby be blown into before it becomes human? Meanwhile all of us ineffectual non-Gazans are somehow still living. We routinely forget to care for each other, ourselves, babies, children, adults, elderly. Now stadiums of Gazan babies are coming for us, and it’s not a joke. It’s a Houthi fleet doing 20 knots northwest, and I’m not sad for once.

Babies, children, adults, elders, Gazans, Yemenis, living and dead suddenly or in stages: these are the invisible ships for those of us who do the least, though we could achieve the most. They’re a portent we look at without seeing. The invisible ships are a myth of sorts, a coat of white lacquer over another genocide that’s still happening. Supposedly it began as Joseph Banks, the botanist for Captain Cook, approached the coast of Australia. Their ship provoked little reaction from the locals, who aggravatingly kept living. Banks couldn’t believe it: How can people ignore this wonder of civilization? How dare they continue walking, gathering, fishing, chuckling to themselves? Motivational speakers still cite the invisible ships as evidence of indigenous people’s alleged indifference to supposed progress. So obviously it’s a projection on the part of the white Europeans.

The thing is, the aboriginal people didn’t need the ships, those pale-ass grim reapers. They only had to lift their woomeras, their own lightweight technological marvels. Woomeras are flat pieces of sculpted wood, a hole in one tip for the end of a spear. They’re used to extend the arm of a warrior like a lever, to throw spears ever farther. I wonder if Banks came close enough to see the woomeras at first, or if he turned one over in his hand only after deciding to decimate those who made it, to steal the food they had invented and only give it back after he had eaten it.

The settler progressives among us grew up with this selective sight. We don’t see bomb trails whispy in the sky. We don’t see the spears in our own hands even once. Our luck was made for us from centuries of congealed blood. We don’t have to continually look to the sky in terror. We’ve learned to count before looking, to rely on the facts instead of having them detonate all over us. So how would we recognize a genocide even if it’s coming for our necks? A genocide isn’t a fact at all but a sanitized pile, an exclusively rational evolution, growth without mind-bending mutation or beautiful perversion. From afar you can tell because after a few weeks it’s quiet and clean and hardly in the news except to say they must have deserved it.

But how do you know it’s a genocide anyway? Other white people keep asking me this. I’ve known for ages and it’s not from looking at facts. After all, a fact says This is in the world. See it? but some of us went all the way to a new continent and didn’t even see a woomera. A woomera is not a fact at all, but better: so precise and lightweight and potentially unraveling of everything. But it just looks like a flat stick if you’re too sure-footed on the deck of your stupid ships.

I too have paid my moderate dues. I made facts, followed in their bloody footprints. I kept trying to let the facts speak for themselves, but I was too busy sobbing. Now some of us have been fighting for years, meaning one one thousandth the effort of your run-of-the-mill Palestinian mechanic or accountant or nurse’s aide. And here it is despite everything. And who are we to the babies and grownups of Gaza if anything, except for the assholes who keep making this happen?

The thing about statehood is that Palestinians first had to prove they no better than some unexplained us whose boundaries kept shifting around them. And so far they’ve desperately failed at being inferior. They brought emotions and when we couldn’t feel they brought reports and legal cases and expert statements and observations. Palestinians carved facts out of olive wood, but we graded them down because they were too beautiful, too brown, too true. Their woomeras launched spears that flew too fast, too far past every new checkpoint and border and spy net we set up.

What would the internet say if someone massacred 30,000 cats? Every time I edit this text there are 10,000 more. I can’t even envision that many. I demand a world where cats and Gazans can all go on living as they want to be. Palestinians already know how to hold up a phone like a woomera for TikToks, to generate electricity in a rainy camp with an old charging cord and a stick of gum, to seek out 4G on the beach, to fabricate cat videos from piles of dust. But somehow some of us keep trying to teach them stuff they wouldn’t need if we just let them be.

Liberalism is a force field of protection against woomeras, spears, stones, phones, and piles of the dead wrapped in the white sheets from their own hospital beds. Humanitarianism is a throttle, a gate, a method of crowd control: the need to strive for accuracy, to go genociding just the right amount. Don’t forget to debate the missile as it explodes in your mouth. When the boot’s on your neck, take note of the tread. Count those bullets as they barge their way in.

The liberal worldview only makes sense if you consider its overlap with the worldview of the settler, whose only facts are the bomb and the fear of its absence. X dead Palestinian children are a liberal impossibility, not because they couldn’t be counted, but because the number keeps going up. Once they’re all dead then we’ll be sure to find out how many babies there once were. Otherwise how will the settlers make the right trophies?

Meanwhile the liberals and fascists keep doing it. One is the firing squad, the other the blindfold. One is the rocket, the other the chalked message Kisses from the New Jersey! One claims Palestinians don’t exist but then climbs through their windows with an axe in each hand. The other looks at Palestinians as oversized babies who keep crying at their own execution for some reason.

So there’s fascism and humanitarianism and liberalism all tangled up in a love triangle with mass death caught in the middle. For some of us these facts are within us, our very meat and earth. How many facts are just disembodied numbers fleeing us? I should learn to carve a woomera. Or maybe not—I've already taken so much from people I murdered before I could meet them.

I was born a settler colonist, then fled backwards to Europe, trying to avoid the next genocide like we evaded the last, by sheer poverty and luck. We ran so hard we rounded the world and started chasing. Now back on the mothership, I blame the Holocaust for the abysmal Dutch deli culture. In Amsterdam the bagels are all frozen and unboiled. Their holes take like the memory of genocide as it happens. You can get fresh bagels in Jerusalem if Israel lets you in, but they taste like rubble. These days we’d never get in anywhere, but no matter where I grew up the IDF would let me carry one of their machine guns around at school, in the mall, on the bus, as long as I pointed it away from myself and towards the right kind of baby.

Without liberalism how are we supposed to know anything? You can’t knowledge your way out of a genocide. Some ignorance, once manufactured, is irreversible. You first have to realize that your skin and their skin is connected even if they only ever see each other through a screen or a shroud. For those who get that far, or were already there for ages, here are some realizations about facts, for what it’s worth, dedicated to all Gazans wherever you are:

Facts always have an edge. No one puts in all the work of making facts about things that are fine as they are. Liberals want you to understand that your death won’t be nearly as bad for them as you seem to think. They want you to piece a human form back together from the pulverized cloud of your house. I’ve been there. I know how to count and tally. I’d just much rather the people were simply alive again, would prefer to bless their lives instead of their memories.

Facts have direction. They are a vector. The IDF claimed Hamas burned babies, committed sexual assault, but wasn’t that them, wasn’t that us? My baby throws my phone against a wall. I let her douse it in the bath. To think of all that joy just gone from the world. Beheaded babies are not a fact that counts. The number of heads is irrelevant. They are a reminder, not this is in the world but rather we will burn our own house down as long as you’re in it. A beheading asks liberals to stop peeking, to look away on pain of being next.

Facts are made not to feel or relate or contextualize or envision. When some count babies and others terrorists, what does the number matter? Facts justify their crimes like a murderous local sheriff: He’s dead because he needed killing. Or: it’s not a killing if he was always already dead to us.

Facts aren’t on the ground, but within it. They’re down there in the Earth with Rachel Corrie and Ghassan Kanafani and every other assassinated genius and unmade woomera and depopulated Palestinian village. In Palestine the Israeli bulldozers turn facts over and over in the ground until they’re indistinguishable from each other, bone and stone and granules of dirt, little brown refuse bullets. Facts don’t count how much earth there is, they tamp it down and walk on it.

Facts are those old bones we stand on. Gaza is the new field of bones that progressives walk on. How many dead bodies does it take to fill in the site for an Israeli road, a stadium to host Eurovision, a plaza named after some town from the Bible or Germany? How many city parks are mass graves greened over, flattened evidence of lynching? The bodies of the enslaved still hold up the buildings they made everywhere these days. Facts are an outlet store. They are wormholes that connect time and space, that circulate soon-to-be-refuse of their own making.

Facts reproduce reality, but just a little bit differently. They cleave what is self-evident from what is impossible. No matter what happens, it’s impossible now to have a world with enough Palestinians in it. Entire family trees felled. Entire orchards. Entire arboretums ungrown. Entire indigenous cultivars, no more corn no potatoes no tomatoes no olives no peanuts no rice, only dead babies to plant in rubble from bombs made in that suburb right there over by your uncle’s trailer.

Facts are a task, a chore, another damned thing to do. Palestine has more than its share of woomeras. But sometimes people just want to go to the store or school or buy a used car. Sometimes people don’t want to keep drawing Handala forever in the margins of their notebooks. Sometimes people don’t want to have to go on remembering, or even just to forget for a short time and then feel the shock of coming back into it: Handala how’d you get so old? Darwish why so sad? Kanafani where did you go? Muhammad ad-Durra why are you resting your head against your dad?

Facts are nothing like Handala, the cartoon refugee child the represents all Palestine, who isn’t a fact but rather an uncountable emotion. Handala is everything the facts try to keep standing out in the rain. Handala is holding his own hand. Handala has less reason than ever to turn around. Handala you've grown and grown but we never let you count past ten. Handala put some shoes on I said, while wearing your shoes. Oh Handala, it’s not your fault we took you from your parents’ living room in the dark of morning.

Handala I wish for you a childhood of irreverent joy and gleeful stupidity, not these bent and broken rebar, crooked I-beams reaching up at an off angle. I wish for you a long life of everything, doing whatever you want and it’s none of my business. I wish you could grow old enough to zip up your own baby’s tiny puffy jacket while they kiss your head because it’s there, and they can. And that you’ll know they’ll still be there tomorrow with all of their limbs and joyful giggles.

Handala, where is your woomera? Did you leave it in the tent in the rain, or under your bed in the building that used to be there this morning? Didn’t your parents tell you not to leave the house? I see, your home left you instead. Handala why are you standing there in your underwear in the sun, chained to all those grown-up Palestinian men? Have you spent your entire childhood in prison, all seventy plus years of it? What was it for again, or will we still not tell?

Oh Handala where are your hands. I searched for them under the pile of yesterday's flattened apartment blocks. But I see so many of hands down here and all of them are yours, decades of lost wealth, unborn futures and unmade beings. We can't seem to gather all of them out no matter how many broken slabs we shift. We can’t possibly make pairs out of all the lonely limbs. If only the Earth could spit out all of this new dirt it never wanted. Handala where are all the rest of the Palestinians? I could’ve sworn they were right here until we showed up. Oh Handala, Handala come back.

A body is not actually a fact but its remainder or precipitate, a notice that someone has left the building. I can’t seem to hold any amount of dead babies in my thoughts. My friends are on fire. But it's presumptuous to call them friends. I write them emails that say things like, Apologies for this genocide I keep doing. I can't possibly send enough sim cards this month, but here I am standing in the aisle of some upscale grocery store complaining about bagels and marveling at the price of olives.

I’ve stopped tallying, stopped factualizing. But I won’t forget the babies as I keep on doing things, however pointless. We always despaired anyway and somehow this is still worse. I just wanted so badly to be wrong about everything. But all of the dirt, mounds, babies, adults, bodies and minds and poets and soil and apartments, the actually living humans and nonhumans: none of us forget. I remember one thing for certain. It isn’t enough, not the key to reincarnation, but I keep remembering even so: Palestine grows back again and again. It shouldn’t have to, but it does. Some babies grow up in the air some grow green shoots from the ground. The less you give them, the taller they get, the more nutrients they infuse into the air, the more oxygen. This memory is a woomera of sorts, a slim, flexible, uncountable, semi-invisible condition of living. A condition that was made and can be unmade today if we want. Something I don’t understand even as it hangs from my belt.

Above all I remember a word. We’re not supposed to say this word in the classroom, at events, in books, on TikTok, on the phone, or at home even quietly amongst ourselves over a deck of cards. Liberals won’t utter it but still somehow they can’t get it out of their mouths. It’s not a fact but an oath, this word, its letters form even where there’s no breath. A we continues around it, begins again, forming and reforming in prison, banned, fired, uninvited, unpublished, not a tree but a carefully cultivated strand of wood extending its limbs, un-extinguished, extending us all like a lever. Because despite the threats the genocide the pretend beheadings, there is one fact that matters. Because the fact is, nobody, no one, not a single one of any of us or them or the in-betweens, not a single unborn or living or dead or transitioning being, not a one of us has forgotten Palestine yet.

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Mapping a Catastrophe
Christine Leuenberger, Cornell University


The absolute catastrophe that has been unfolding in Israel/Palestine is of an unimaginable scale. The suffering, destruction, and inevitable long-term detrimental consequences on peacebuilding for generations to come is unfathomable. Over the course of many years conducting research in Israel/Palestine I have experienced two wars between Israel-Gaza. The Israeli government called them Operation Pillar of Defense in 2012 and Operation Protective Edge in 2014 respectively; to declare them "wars" would have had legal ramifications that the Israeli government did not want (Rivital and Cohen, 2014).  In 2014, whilst missiles were aimed at Jerusalem, people stayed home, waiting out the war wearily in their living rooms and seeking shelter in their "safe rooms" upon the sound of the red code alarm; in Gaza, on the other hand, exhausted mothers, with no respite from bombing and no safe shelter, told their children that when there is a bombing raid they should all go to the same room so they may die together. At the time, amid mental and physical exhaustion, people would assure one another continuously, "this will not last much longer – one or two days," "there will be a ceasefire by Friday, I am sure." Yet, Friday turned into another Friday and yet another Friday. This was 2014, and the war lasted 50 days. As the current war enters its 7th month since October 7th, 2023, I wonder whether, amid the mental and physical exhaustion that comes with living through a state of war, hope for a ceasefire, for respite, for peace still lives on? Then again, I know it does; in 2014 when I asked my local friend Adara despairingly: "There is no hope, is there?," she turned to me reproachfully: "I live here. I cannot afford to give up hope."

What brought us to this pivotal, historical, and destructive moment is multifaceted and complex. It is traceable to colonialism, Zionism, nation-building, and ethno-nationalism; land rights, land annexation and occupation; orientalism, racism, and othering; and borders, walls, fences, and policy failures. What brought us to this point also has to do with maps and the imagined communities and territorial imaginaries they conjure up. The focus of this contribution is on maps and how they create particular geopolitical imaginaries and hegemonic narratives that may serve some and not others.

Maps have long been used as tools to pursue various political projects; they have helped create states, spatial imaginations, and national identities. Map-making in Israel/Palestine powerfully reveals the interlinkages between cartography and politics. How to delineate these territories has been subject to continuous controversy; Israeli and Palestinian protagonists have used maps to make various geopolitical claims. Within Israel, map-makers have historically used two different and opposing geopolitical visions to construct national maps.

After the 1967 war and Israel’s occupation of the West Bank and Gaza , the pre-war territorial consensus gave way to "map wars" waged by various governmental and non-governmental organizations (Leuenberger and Schnell 2010).1 Israeli organizations that are part of the "peace camp" produced maps that draw attention to such issues as Israel’s occupational strategies in the Occupied Palestinian Territories (oPts), its non-compliance with international law, and the need for the recognition of Palestinians’ right to their historical lands and human rights. They map the territories according to international law, challenge dominant "hebraized" (Maoz and Golan, 2001; Falah, 1996) geopolitical mappings, and emphasize the largely erased Palestinian-Arab topography of the land. "Peace camp" advocates also argue for the feasibility of the long-favored two-state solution to solve the Israeli-Palestinian impasse.

Conversely, the Israeli political right (Marsden, 2023; Arian et. Al., 1992) has historically made maps that are constituted by two different yet complementary discourses: the "national-religious" as well as the "secular expansionist" discourses (Leuenberger and Schnell 2020). Advocates of the "national-religious" discourse tend to emphasize Jewish rootedness in what is considered "Greater Israel" and encourage settlements of what are thought to be the Biblical lands of the Jewish people. Consequently, they tend to "hebraize" and "judaize" (Zink 2009) the territory, while delegitimizing Palestinian land claims. Advocates of the "secular expansionist discourse," on the other hand, campaign for a ‘territorially plump’ Israel for its national security and defense and oppose Palestinian statehood citing the "security primacy" (Konrad 2014). The center-right Likud party frequently invokes the "secular expansionist" discourse; its ideological goals have long included settling and annexing territory for security purposes. To do so has always gone hand in hand with claiming these territories as part of what some consider to be Jewish ancestral lands.

Such diverse geopolitical concerns are indicative of the ever-increasing political fragmentation of the Israeli populace; the political right is pitted against the political left (Shalev 2014), and the national- religious and the ultra-orthodox against the secular segments of society. Already in 2004, Israel had become a sectarian society, undermining Israel’s "social integration, collective identity, and the legitimacy of its institutions potentially [putting] an end to the era of Zionist ideology, by replacing Zionism with alternative ideologies, either particularistic in nature (such as Jewish-religious) or more universal in nature (such as post-Zionism or anti-Zionism)" (Yuchtman-Yaar and Shavit, 2004: 345). In the decades since, there has been shift towards the "Jewish-religious" ideology and the political right-wing.

By 2015, some of Israel’s most notable commentators declared the death of the two-state solution. At the same time, the political and defense establishment as well as the media became dominated by a new elite; they advocated for the redemption of the "Promised Land" and the alleged superiority and legitimacy of the Jewish project to settle the land, invoking the Bible as evidence. At the same time, orientalist, and racist beliefs about "others," particularly Palestinians (Levy, 2015), are propagated in public discourse, the media and school textbooks (Bar-Tal and Teichman, 2009; Peled-Elhanan, 2023). The "othering" of Palestinians has been enhanced by the walls, fences, and other closure mechanisms that separate Israelis from Palestinians across the West Bank, Israel, and Gaza (see e.g. Hallaq 2003; Jones at.al, 2016; Leuenberger 2014; UNOCHA 2023; Hasson, 2019). Such infrastructures of division help create, maintain, and enforce a "sectarian consciousness" (Shirlow, 2003), and provide the condition for dehumanizing and delegitimizing narratives of the ‘other’ to appear ever more plausible; a precondition for discrimination, exploitation, expulsion, killings, and genocide (Bar-Tal, 2000).2

Israel’s socio-political fragmentation and shift to the political right thus transpired alongside the delegitimization of Palestinians. It is within this cultural context, in 2022, that the mayor of the historically liberal city of Tel Aviv warned that Israel was heading toward a fascist theocracy (Staff 2022). In 2018, the new "nation state law" (Hostovsky Brandes, 2018) defined the Israeli state as representing the Jewish people only. Given Israel’s multi-ethnic make-up such an exclusivist definition of the state undermines its democratic nature. Yet, the desire for a Jewish state seems to increasingly trump concerns over the loss of democracy, especially if democracy would mean sharing political power with non-Jews.

The move to the right has to do with demography too. The ultra-Orthodox, Orthodox, and traditional religious, who historically have been on the political right, have significantly higher birthrates than the secular segments of society. Also, an increasing percentage of youth describe themselves as right wing (CSIS, 2022). The fact that younger generations have had little or no exposure to Palestinians has only contributed to their hardened attitude towards them. Consequently, the current Israeli government coalition, which is coined as "the most right-wing government in Israeli history" (Marsden, 2023), increasingly represents an ever-greater popular majority that concurs on several political issues, ranging from support for settlers in the Occupied Palestinian Territories (oPts) to the desire to re-occupy and re-claim Gaza (Frenjek, 2023). Moreover, large scale external events, such as the first and second Intifada (the Palestinian uprising against Israeli occupation) in 1987-1993 and 2000-2005 respectively, boosted the move to the right and increased political polarization. After the attack by Hamas on Southern Israel on Oct 7th, 2023, the shift to the right only accelerated, and the left pro-peace camp became further marginalized.

Nevertheless, dissenters from the dominant right-wing political stance persisted within Israel. Numerous organizations, intellectuals, and Knesset members critique current Israeli government policies (JSTreet; Peace Now; Betselem; Gisha; Ir Amin; Wiener 2023; Spitzer-Resnick, 2023; Barak, 2024; Serhan, 2024). Peace and security, they say, is only possible with a negotiated territorial settlement with the Palestinians. They advocate for the "peace camp" vision within Israel and in Washington DC. However, such critical voices and narratives are silenced and persecuted in Israel and elsewhere as critics are accused of either antisemitism or of being "self-hating Jews" (Finlay, 2005).

Despite Israel’s increasingly polarized politics, the support of the US (the largest supplier of Israeli foreign aid) has more recently bolstered the interests and concerns of the Israeli right-wing, thereby providing legitimacy to their claims. Indeed, American public discourse on Israel/Palestine has been largely shaped by Israeli right-wing priorities. A case in point is the 2020 "Trump peace plan," officially entitled "Peace to Prosperity: A Vision to Improve the Lives of the Palestinian and Israeli People," that included two "conceptual" maps that envisaged the contours and borders of the State of Israel and a proposed State of Palestine to allegedly solve the "Israeli-Palestinian conflict" (The White House 2020).

Drawing maps and borders of Israel/Palestine had always been contentious. In fact, after the 1993 Oslo Accords , Israeli political parties largely refrained from publishing maps as they could become the basis for negotiation and compromise over land claims with the Palestinians.3 Indeed: "no formal, clear maps delineating Israel’s future borders and the borders of a future Palestinian state were [ever] presented to the public" (Keinon, 2020). Yet, the White House under the leadership of then President Donald Trump unveiled maps as part of the "Trump peace plan."

After the plan’s announcement at a White House Press conference on January 28, 2020, both Israeli and Palestinian experts agreed that, what was often referred to as, the "Deal of the Century" (the DoC), was crafted in "a Jewish-Israeli-house" and passed onto allies at the White House. Indeed, the plan was produced by Israeli-US political protagonists known for their alliances to the Israeli political right-wing. Yet, by outsourcing the drawing of potentially contentious maps to the White House, the Israeli administration could get its geopolitical vision cartographically realized as it represents "the territory that Israel feels it can live with" (Keinon, 2020).

The Trump plan relies on the "national-religious discourse" as it emphasizes Jewish historical rootedness in the land. It also is aligned with the "secular expansionist discourse" as the plan’s defining parameter is Israel’s security, which is used to justify Israel retaining 30% of the West Bank (Leuenberger 2023). Moreover, throughout the negotiations of the Trump plan and its maps, "the Palestinian side was kept in the dark" (Falah, 2020, 52; Arieli, 2020; Isaac and Khalilieh, 2020). Consequently, according to the Israel human rights organization Betselem, the DoC was "like a Swiss cheese, with the cheese being offered to the Israelis and the holes to the Palestinians" (Betselem 2020).

Experts denounced the Trump plan a policy failure and as a result the US lost the already little credibility it might have had as an ostensibly neutral negotiator (Sanger 2020). The plan failed not only because Palestinians were excluded from what should have been a multilateral negotiation, but also because scientific and diplomatic experts were sidelined in favor of a closed circle of political insiders. Yet, despite its inadequacies, the Trump plan and its maps will inevitably become a starting point of any future peace talks (Sher and Cohen, 2020; Malley and Gordon, 2020).


In the aftermath of the failed Trump plan, the Israeli political establishment was focused on normalizing relations with other Arab countries, rather than addressing the Palestinian issue. Indeed, the Palestinian issue seemed to have been contained and managed. It became largely invisible in the Israeli political sphere until Oct 7th, 2023 (Mekelberg, 2024). The attacks by Hamas on Southern Israel on that day, killed over 1,200 Israelis, shocked the world and profoundly traumatized an Israeli public whose collective psyche still reels from memories of the Holocaust, historical persecution, and the resultant siege mentality (Bar-Tal and Antebi, 1992). On Oct 8th Noah Efron (2023) wrote:


"most of us are dumb from the shock of it all, and the horror. It is a moment of strange and awkward quiet. Soon it will pass. There will be a counter-attack on Gaza that will produce its own tragedies, and there will be fights here and abroad about how much counter-attack is too much, or too little Soon, maybe already by the time you read this, the quiet will be gone, the fighting will have started, in Gaza and among ourselves. But for a brief moment, at least, we can see these things now."


The subsequent Israeli revenge attack on Gaza (Lustick 2023), justified in terms of the need to eradicate Hamas, has killed over 35,000 Palestinians, displaced the majority of its population, and reduced a large portion of the besieged enclave to rubble. Some speak of urbicide, domicide, genocide, ethnic cleaning, expulsion, educide (Jack, 2024; Wintour, 2023; Teibel and Staff 2023; Inlakesh, 2023; International Court of Justice 2024), others speak of self-defense, antisemitism, and historical justice.


At this pivotal moment the US administration under President Biden came out to stand side-by-side with Israel’s most right-wing government in its history (The White House 2023). Dissident voices within US policy circles were sidelined (Gramer, 2023), while military aid flowed to Israel with or without Congressional approval. Yet, former Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barack (2024) points out that the smoke screen of legitimacy behind which the current Israeli government is pursuing its policies may fool Israel’s closest ally, the US. Barack suggests that Israel’s current Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu may possibly acquiesce to some US demands, however, concerned that his far-right coalition might abandon him as a result he "will whisper to his far-right allies: 'Don’t leave. I fooled Obama, I fooled Trump, and I will fool Biden, too—and we will survive. Trust me!'" (Barak, 2024). With Biden increasingly facing a political backlash and with his electoral support dwindling, efforts have been made to repair the immense damage that unconditional support of the Israeli government campaign in Gaza has done to US legitimacy as a presumed bastion for upholding international law, human rights, and democratic governance (Kurtzer-Ellenbogen, 2024).


US support for Israel’s war on Gaza should also be assessed in light of the settler imaginings that the war has enabled. In January 2024, various right-wing and settler organizations, ranging from The Samaria Regional Council to the Nachala Movement Israel, organized the Conference for the Victory of Israel – Settlement Brings Security: Returning to the Gaza Strip and Northern Samaria (Yalon, 2024). The venue brought together far-right sympathizers, including many public figures, Knesset members, and ministers of the current coalition government. Speakers advocated for re-settling Gaza and transferring Palestinians from the Strip through "voluntary emigration." The location of the proposed new Jewish settlements in Gaza were marked on an oversized map (Fig 1).
 


Fig. 1 Image, Author's own.

Given the participation of far-right ministers and members of the current governing coalition at the conference, a report from the Foundation for Middle East Peace (2024) suggests:


"We can no longer look at this as some kind of fringe phenomena. Even if the idea [of settling Gaza] sounds far-fetched right now, we have to realize that over time, Israel has developed a tradition of beginning with what seem like extreme policies on the margins and [them] then creeping into the mainstream. I would expect that this government over the next number of years will make efforts to increasingly legitimize the idea of Israel occupying the Gaza Strip and rebuilding settlements, and then little by little, try to lay the groundwork to do it."


The groundwork for resettling Gaza is already ongoing in terms of establishing new facts on the ground as well as in terms of territorial visions. Facts on the ground such as the building of roads, such as "Highway 749" that is to divide Gaza, is under way and commentators point out that "There is no doubt that the Israeli army is preparing to stay here for a very long time. This kind of road is not paved for two months only" (Middle East Eye, 2024; see also Morris et.al. 2024; Kenney-Shawa, 2024). Also, an Israeli real estate company that builds settlements in the West Bank, posted images of Israeli settlements transposed onto the devasted Gaza landscape, advertising beach houses along the seafront at pre-sale prices (Fig 2) (Collard 2023). After it caused international media outrage and condemnation, the company claimed that the post was satirical and took it down. Nevertheless, such territorial imaginaries align with campaigns for resettling of Gaza.
 


Fig. 2 Author: Collard 2023.


The resettlement of Gaza has strong support amongst Israeli settlers who were forced to leave the Strip as part of the Israeli government’s disengagement plan from Gaza in 2005 (UN: The Question of Palestine, 2005; Roy 2005); for these settlers this is yet the best opportunity to return. Indeed, at the Conference for the Victory of Israel many speakers noted that this was an opportune time to get what they termed "historical justice" and to reclaim the "Promised Land" that the Israeli government had abandoned in 2005. For them, a return of Jewish settlements to Gaza meant security and victory (Dostri 2023). As settlers are planning for the return to Gaza, and ministers draw on both the Bible as well as the security mantra for justifications to do so, signs with the message "Return to Gush Katif" (a Jewish settlement abandoned in Gaza in 2005) have been hung on billboards across Israel. For this burgeoning social movement dedicated to reclaiming Gaza, the new Gaza map (see Fig 1) indicating new Jewish settlements and a "hebraized" landscape provides for a new expansionist territorial vision of the long hoped for "Greater Israel" (Segal, 2023). At the same time, the Palestinian-Arab topography becomes erased.

Maps have often been a prerequisite for establishing facts on the ground. They have served to erase people, conquer territories, and shape national imaginations. The Israeli weather map exemplifies the cartographic erasure of the Palestinian territories; it represents Israel from the River to the Sea with both Gaza and the West Bank incorporated into Israel’s national territory. Indeed after 1967, the Israeli Knesset decided to eliminate the Green Line, the internationally recognized 1949 armistice line between Israel and the Palestinian Territories, from Israel’s official maps. As a result, many Israelis do not know the Green Line’s location nor its legal status under international law. In a public imaginary in which Gaza has long been subsumed under the map of the whole of Israel, the disappearance of the Palestinians, their topography and their history could be swift if the international community were to let that happen.

In the 21st century, and at a time when minority and indigenous rights have become the talking points of intellectual circles, it is arguably time for Western politicians to act to uphold the values and rights embedded within international law, human rights, and democracy. In doing so, they would find partners for peace both in Israel’s civil society and in numerous organizational initiatives that have worked for peace, territorial equity, and human rights ever since the 1990s; and they would also find partners for peace in Palestinian society that have been planning for a two-state solution since the 1993 Oslo Accords (Leuenberger 2013; Leuenberger and El-Atrash 2014; 2015). However, in the meantime, the ever-growing global backlash to the catastrophe unfolding in Israel/Palestine, including the emerging voices from the Global South that are standing up for international law and human rights (Shidore and Ford 2024; Gbadamosi, 2024), may yet reconfigure dominant geopolitics. Hope may be faint, but, as Adara insisted in the midst of war in Jerusalem, to give up hope is not an option. 

    

Endnotes

1. At the end of the 1967 war between Israel and its neighboring states Egypt, Jordan, and Syria, Israel more than tripled the territory under its control, occupying the West Bank, East Jerusalem, Gaza, the Sinai Peninsula, and the Golan Heights. According to international law, the Palestinian Territories continue to be under Israeli occupation as Israel’s border can only be determined through peace negotiations and not through annexation. The UN Security Council and the International Court of Justice (ICJ) also maintain that all Jewish settlements in occupied territories contravene international law and the Fourth Geneva Convention (which prohibits the transfer of civilian populations into occupied territory). UN Resolution 242 also emphasized the inadmissibility of acquiring territory by war and emphasized the necessity to address the refugee issue, amongst other issues. For further information see the resolution at https://unispal.un.org/unispal.nsf/0/7D35E1F729DF491C85256EE700686136. Accessed May 20, 2021.

2. While infrastructures of division have historically created "sectarian consciousness," the use of technologies of war strengthens such sentiments by lowering feelings of responsibility, increasing possibilities for technologically mediated crime, and insulating perpetrators from the consequences of their own actions (Gusterson, 1991; Warburg, 2003; Petley, 2003; Hagan and Rymond-Richmond, 2008).

3. The Oslo Accords divided the Palestinian Territories into different territorial zones, including Zones A (under full Palestinian control), B (under Palestinian civil control and Israeli military control) and C (under full Israeli military control). The assumption was that full territorial control over all zones would eventually be transferred to the Palestinian Authorities. For the territorial delineation according to the Oslo Accords see UNOCHA Reference Map WB and Gaza 2006. https://www.ochaopt.org/content/reference-map-wb-and-gaza-2006. Accessed June 1, 2021.


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