State-Sanctioned Terrorism?

March 9, 2011

Diagram: Conventional Warfare vs. IDF Tactics

In his “Lethal Theory”, Eyal Weizman canvasses the tactical approaches of the Israeli Defense Force (IDF) as well the claims of the IDF that such tactics have their theoretical basis in – and are legitimised by – architectural theory.

Weizman concentrates on the Battle of Nablus in 2002, Palestine, where, in order to successfully combat the Palestinian guerilla fighters situated within and defending the Kasbar of Nablus, the IDF employ new and somewhat unconventional strategies to surprise their enemy. Eschewing all traditional routes of passage (doors, windows, streets, alleys) the IDF instead confine their path to the internal private space of homes, accessed via a sizeable blast to one wall, ceiling or floor. This activity is theoretically legitimised by reference to architectural theory; discussions with the IDF’s Brigadier General Aviv Kokhavi are replete with references to Deluze and Guattari, Tschumi and the Situationists.  Here, however, these broadly leftist calls for a breakdown of established boundaries between public and private and for an attack on the established hierarchy are oddly repositioned in favour of the fist of state power exercised by the IDF.

Irony aside, there is little new about the appropriation of respected theory to legitimise political action, the Nazi’s appropriation of Nietzsche is a famous example of such practice. There is also little that is new in the concept of using unconventional tactical methods in war to achieve an element of surprise (military commanders have been described as using unconventional methods since commander Hannibal’s surprise tactics in 182BC). The most sinister element in the IDF’s tactical methods lies in the fact that they knowingly pursue a tactical method that results extremely high civilian casualties; that they utilise the private domain as their thoroughfare.

The fact that this method has been employed is, in a sense, not surprising. With the advent of new communication tools and the general shift from rural to urban across the globe, warfare is increasingly messy and unpredictable: more often situated in cities and more often involving politicised citizens as major players, rather than merely members of the military. It is understandable that, in this new paradigm, more civilians may be involved and casualites may be higher. What is not acceptable, however, is the targeting of the civilian domain by military institutions. What this amounts to is a form of Terrorism. IDF Brigadier General Aviv Kokhavi’s expressed intention for the 2002 Battle of Nablus was that the IDF “enter the city…kill members of the Palestinian resistance and then get out” (Weizman, p56), in the meantime wreaking destruction to over 50% of private homes in the old city and killing and injuring countless Palestinian civilians (Weizman p57). The violation of the private domain to such an extent is doubtless a form of Terrorism which is no more legitimated by the appropriated architectural theories of Deluze and Tschumi than it is by the reality that the IDF is itself fighting Palestinian terrorism in the form of Hezbollah. Israel cannot criticise Hezbollah nor take the higher moral ground when they themselves are deploying Terrorist tactics, and this should have repercussions for their unequivocal support from the USA.

Finally, it is perhaps worth noting that the confinement of violence to the private sphere of the home has the outcome of appearing “more humane”, “more elegant” and “less messy” (Weizman, p58) despite its disturbing realities, as it is largely concealed from the public. This is perhaps analogous to the oppression and violence inflicted upon women and other minorities in the private sphere throughout history, often legitimated though the employment of philosophical and religious rhetoric.

_Marnie Morieson

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