'Intelligent discontent is the mainspring of civilization.' -- Eugene V. Debs

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

The Occupation as Part of a Global System of Border Control 

Someone, perhaps it was the ubiquitous Sasha, asserted that if people from Mexico attempted to force their way across the border with the US, the US would respond with force equal to, and possibly even greater than, the force used by Israel against Palestinians on Sunday. I tend to disagree with him for several reasons, primarily because of the economic relationship between the US and Mexico as well as the social unrest that it would ignite within the US itself, particularly in states like California, Arizona, New Mexico and Texas. But he has revealed an important aspect of the occupation that deserves more than the scant attention that it commonly receives, with the recognition of it limited to academia and international providers of security services.

Sasha has implicitly associated the occupation with broader issues of global border contral, and despite his Zionist stance, he is correct in doing so. It is an emerging narrative of the occupation that is as important as the dominant one regarding the conflict between Zionists and Palestinians for the land of Palestine. There is, in fact, a frightening symmetry between the evolution of the occupation and international methods of border control, so much so that the occupation often serves as a testing ground for policies and technologies utilized elsewhere, especially in the US. Prior to the mid-1990s, there was a time when the occupation took a somewhat more benign form in terms of the intrusiveness of social control measures and technologies, but, in the immediate aftermath of Oslo accords, Israel commenced the installation of a system of border checkpoints that has culminated with the ongoing construction of what critics have called the Apartheid Wall, as well as the militarization of daily life. The part of this process that gets ignored, possibly because it is contrary to the tendency of many around the world to hold Israel solely responsible for the abuses of the occupation, is the effort to integrate these measures into other border control situations.

One of the most obvious examples of this process was the attempted construction of a border fence, known as the Secure Border Initiative network, or SBInet, by the US along the border of the US and Mexico, cancelled last fall. Not surprisingly, the US looked to Israel in 2006 for its construction before abandoning the project:

For the SBInet project, the Boeing/Elbit consortium proposed the radical idea of 1,800 towers equipped with cameras and motion detectors stretched across the border. For possibly the first time ever, the words Israel and border are in the same sentence and it doesn't have anything to do with its own borders. The talent and expertise that Elbit Systems (NASDAQ ELST) has employed for years in protecting Israel's borders will now be put to use on US borders to keep Americans safe.

Kollsman Inc., an American-based subsidiary of Elbit, has been selected as a member of the winning consortium by the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) for the Secure Border Initiative (SBI) to supply technology to identify threats, to deter and prevent crossings, and to apprehend intruders along the US borders with Canada and Mexico.

Kollsman, headquartered in Merrimack, New Hampshire, is a development, manufacturing and support organization providing advanced electro-optical and avionics systems to the commercial aerospace, military and homeland security markets. The company's expertise includes enhanced vision systems, flight displays, head-up displays, thermal imaging systems, fire control systems, and advanced security and surveillance solutions.

The Secure Border Initiative is the latest attempt by the United States government to use technology to secure its borders, stop smuggling, and prevent illegal immigration. After September 11, illegal immigration is not just seen as a social problem, but also a national security issue. A unique aspect of this initiative was that Homeland Security gave the bidders total freedom to create new ideas of how to apply both new and old technology to secure the US borders.

Except that it is not really accurate to say that the US looked to Israel, as the consortium of corporations involved in the aborted construction of the fence, Boeing and Elbit, are transnational, with both companies listed on US stock exchanges. Accordingly, it is more appropriate to say that transnational corporations, many headquartered in the US and Israel, have utilized the occupation as an experimental testing ground for technologies with an anticipated global application. Given the proliferation of surveillance cameras and airborne surveillance in the United Kingdom to the extent that it is considered the most surveilled society among industrialized countries, I would not be surprised to discover that UK corporations are playing a prominent role in this effort as well. Of course, the deployment of technologies originally developed for border control for the purpose of mass surveillance shouldn't surprise anyone. Hence, the occupation, and the technologies associated with its imposition, are part of a global, transnational corporate effort to maintain the separation of the poor of the Global South from the wealthy of the Global North and monitor virtually every aspect of our daily lives. In this respect, Chicano activists in California have much in common with the Palestinians enclosed within the occupied territories, and they have supported the actions of Students for Justice in Palestine at the University of California, as most recently expressed through the support of MECHA for the Irvine 11.

Furthermore, as you may recall, the US engaged in extemporaneous forms of occupation inspired border control within Iraq during some of the most intense periods of Iraqi resistance. Starting in late 2003, the US partitioned Iraqi cities, creating, in the words of Robert Fisk, a controlled populace. By August 2004, Toufic Haddad described US methods as synonymous with those of the occupation:

. . . the use of aggressive techniques of urban warfare with an emphasis upon special units, house to house searches, wide scale arrest campaigns (almost 14,000 Iraqis are now in prison), and torture; the erecting of an elaborate system of watchtowers, military bases, check-points, barbed wire, and trenches to monitor, control, and restrict transportation and movement; the clearing of wide swaths of land next to roads; the use of armored bulldozers to destroy the homes of suspected militants; the razing of entire fields from which militants might seek refuge; the heightened relevance of snipers and unmanned drones; and the attempted erecton of collaborator networks to extract information from the local populace about resistance activities -- both military and political.

Accordingly, an ethnic, sectarian emphasis upon the nature of the conflict in Palestine, while appealing to those seeking to organize among nationalistic Americans seeking to avoid US culpability in the actions of Israel, doesn't come close to addressing the real dimensions of the struggle.

Meanwhile, in regard to Europe, the occupation is consistent with an ideological belief in the necessity of rigorous border control to prevent the entry of people characterized as culturally dangerous. The governments of Italy and France are expressing alarm over the possibility of an influx of North Africans in the absence of Gaddafi's willingness to interdict them, but such xenophobia is not a recent development, as demonstrated by periodic statements by German politicians about the purported inability of Turkish immigrants to adopt German values, as if this matters. Several years ago, Behzad Yaghmaian spent two years in Europe interviewing Muslim immigrants, many of them imprisoned within refugee camps, and published a book about what they told him, Embracing the Infidel. In this book, he humanizes his subjects while exposing an impersonal system of social control across the European continent that restricts them to ghettoes and refugee camps. In a sense, the police methods of stopping people for their identity cards, detaining them and incarcerating them in refugee camps evokes a bygone era, one that predates the accelerated technological modernization connected to the occupation and US military operations in lesser developed countries, but it retains the cultural superiority and xenophobia at the heart of this project. Last week, the suppressed brutality of it erupted on the streets of Athens, as right wing Greek mobs attacked the undocumented.

Labels: , , , , , , , , , , , ,

This page is powered by Blogger. Isn't yours?