On “The Palestine Laboratory”

A large part of Israel’s economy and global influence are dependent on its military-technology complex that not only fuels the ongoing genocide in Gaza but is also exported to facilitate oppression around the world. In this thorough 2023 book, journalist Anthony Loewenstein makes explicit how Israel’s military industrial complex profits exorbitantly from exporting technologies “battle-tested” on occupied Gaza and the West-Bank.

Accessibly written and well researched, the book forms a solid and convincing primer on how Palestinian occupation is one of Israel’s most powerful exports and how the ‘start-up nation’ is build on suppressing millions of Palestinians.

Especially now, after more than 122 days of Israel’s unrelenting killing and destruction, it is imperative to understand not only its genocidal intentions but also how Israel succeeds, in one seamless movement, to also economically and geopolitically profit from exporting its methods and technologies of occupation, surveillance, suppression, and destruction.

Where most countries attach great importance to an image of respecting human rights in their weapons export, Loewenstein shows how Israel does not need such limitations as it can use a range of powerful private companies, e.g. Elbit or NSO group, to support whatever regime is willing to pay.

Through several in-depth case studies, Loewenstein expertly draws together the connections between Israel’s oppression of Palestinians and how these very same technologies are subsequently marketed and sold to repressive regimes throughout the world. These case studies range all the way from guns, drones, surveillance cameras using facial recognition, the infamous Pegasus software spying on peoples smartphones, use of AI, scraping and surveilling social media platforms.

The different Chapters move through the past 50 years of Israel’s history and show how its technologies have maintained repression and facilitated destruction in countries such as apartheid South-Africa, South Sudan and Myanmar, as well as propping up despots such as Pinochet and Ceausescu.

European countries have also benefited greatly from Israel’s military-industrial complex. One clear example is Frontex’s use of Israeli drones in the Mediterranean: “The EU has partnered with leading Israeli defense companies to use its drones, and of course years of experience in Palestine is a key selling point.” In 2023 at least 2500 people drowned, killed by the EU’s repressive border regime.

Moreover, the Netherlands is deeply implicated in Israel’s military-industrial complex, trading weapons and technologies such as fighter jets and drones. See more here and here.

The detailed case studies lead inevitably to what seems to be the central thesis of the book: that Israel succeeds in extracting a double profit from the suppression of different populations.

Israel profits from suppressing and surveilling Palestinians through occupying their land and ensuring the security of its settler-colonial state. At the same time, through using this occupation as a “laboratory” and testing ground for new technologies, it is also able to extract a second financial and geopolitical profit by exporting these technologies to other regimes that, subsequently, suppress and surveil another population.

Of course, the book is not without its limitations. Loewenstein outlines clearly the dehumanising and repressive impact on Palestinians. Their perspectives are, however, not centered and, ultimately, this book is more about the geopolitical and economic power Israel is able to wield through its technology sector, and how this power has grown historically.

See, for example, this report from Amnesty and this photo essay from Al Jazeera, both on the daily reality of checkpoints in the West Bank. Loewenstein’s Palestine Laboratory forms a good geopolitical and historical context to these testimonies.

Finally, published in May 2023, well before Hamas’ attack on October 7th, the book does not analyse these past four months of atrocities, though it certainly does offer important historical context. If you are looking for insight how Israeli tech and security companies profit from and contribute to the ongoing genocide, one great resource is No Tech for Apartheid, an organisation of workers organising against ‘Project Nimbus’, Amazon and Google providing technology to the Israeli military and government.

See The Palestine Laboratory at Verso Books.

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