Academic journal article Borderlands

The 'Right' to Maim: Disablement and Inhumanist Biopolitics in Palestine

Academic journal article Borderlands

The 'Right' to Maim: Disablement and Inhumanist Biopolitics in Palestine

Article excerpt

All this gnawing at the existence of the colonized tends to make of life something resembling an incomplete death. (Frantz Fanon, A Dying Colonialism, p. 128)

I. A Catalogue of Suffering

It is as yet unclear what the summer of 2014's carnage in Gaza will be known as, remembered as, or named. And it may remain unclear for quite some time.

The tally is in (though ever-evolving) after 51 days of Operation Protective Edge.

The United Nations reports that 2,131 Palestinians were killed during Israel's offensive, including 501 children; 70 percent were under the age of 12. Two hundred and forty-four schools were shelled and one was used as a military base by Israeli soldiers (OCHA 2014; Kasrils 2014).

The Ministry of Health in Gaza recorded 10,918 people injured including 3,312 children and 2,120 women. (ii)

The Palestinian human rights organization Al Mezan documented at least 10,589 houses damaged or destroyed of which 2,715 were completely flattened (Al Mezan 2014). (Later reports state 18,000 homes were destroyed, including high-rise apartment buildings (Avni 2014). Eight hospitals--resulting in six being taken out of service--46 NGOs, 50 fishing boats, 161 mosques, and 244 vehicles were also hit. Eighty percent of Gazan families currently have no way to feed themselves and are completely dependent on aid (Kasrils 2014).

Amnesty International reported that at least 13 health facilities and 84 schools were forced to close (Amnesty International 2014; Taylor 2014a).

Doctors Without Borders/Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF) had difficulty reaching populations that needed assistance given the severity of the bombing, fuel shortages that grounded more than half of the ambulances, and depletion of supplies (Doctors without Borders 2014). A number of hospitals were damaged, contravening the Geneva Convention which considers civilian hospitals to be protected during wartime, including Gaza City's el-Wafa Rehabilitation Center in Shijaiyah, which had been targeted at least six times and has been severely damaged; its 15 disabled and elderly patients finally managed to be evacuated (Amnesty International 2014; Alashi et al. 2014).

This is what is meant by the residents of Gaza being 'under siege', a commonly used refrain meant to obscure much of this detail; I have resorted here to a somewhat polemical deployment of empirical information in part to counter this tendency to obscure the specifics of the occupation. Gaza is also claimed to be the most densely populated place on earth, and also the world's largest 'open air prison'. Belying these tidy descriptions are what Allen Feldman calls the 'new forms of imagery, discourse, war, security and state rights being carved out of the bent backs of Palestinian civilians' (Feldman 2014). One of the biopolitical aspects I have been tracking are the permeating relations between living and dying that complicate or test Michel Foucault's foundational mapping, in this case, the practice of deliberate maiming. I argue that Israel manifests an implicit claim to the 'right to maim' and debilitate Palestinian bodies and environments as a form of biopolitical control and as central to a scientifically authorized humanitarian economy. I further demonstrate the limitations of the idea of 'collateral damage' that disarticulates the effects of warfare from the perpetration of violence. Finally, I note that the policy of maiming is a productive one, as a form of weaponized epigenetics and through the profitability of what I call a speculative rehabilitative economy.

How is the practice of maiming manifested? Medical personnel in both Gaza and the West Bank report a notable 'shoot to cripple' phenomenon, In Ramallah, Dr Rajai Abukhalil speaks of an increasing shift from 'traditional means' such as teargas and rubber coated metal bullets used to 'disperse' protests to '[...] firing at protestors' knees, femurs, or aiming for their vital organs' (Blumenthal 2014a), As a continuity and intensification of the practice of breaking the arms of stone-throwers in the first Intifada, shoot to cripple attempts to preemptively debilitate the resistant capacities of another Intifada, the next Intifada, In Gaza, the Israeli Defense Forces used flechette shells, While these are not 'expressly forbidden under international humanitarian law in all circumstances', nevertheless they are considered inappropriate for densely populated areas as they explode upon impact into thousands of tiny steel darts (Sherwood 2014; Withnall 2014). …

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