Antony Loewenstein, The Palestine Laboratory: How Israel Exports the Technology of Occupation Around the World (Verso 2023), 272pp. Antony Loewenstein, The Palestine Laboratory: How Israel Exports the Technology of Occupation Around the World (Verso 2023), 272pp.

The Palestine Laboratory is a chilling but important investigation into Israel’s use and marketing of arms and surveillance technology, finds Michael Lavalette

Around the globe, people have watched with horror at Israel’s barbaric destruction of Gaza and the huge human toll it has taken. As I write, the death toll has climbed over 11,500 (though with clear recognition that that figure will climb significantly when the bodies are recovered from under the rubble).

Whilst the world takes to the street to demand a ceasefire and an end to the horror, the Israeli armed forces and the Israeli defence and technology industrial sector have used the attacks on Gaza as an excellent opportunity to market their goods. On 22 October, Israel released video footage of its Maglan commando unit deploying a new 120mm mortar bomb called the ‘Iron Sting’, made by Elbit Systems and advertised on its website. It would seem that there is money to be made from the murderous attack on Gaza, and Elbit thought this was too good an opportunity to miss.

Israel using footage of their ‘weapons in action’ to boost their arms industry and arms sales post-conflict is nothing new. In 2014, Israel used its attack on Gaza to highlight and sell its ‘spike drone rockets’. Whilst in 2008-9, during ‘operation Cast Lead’, it showcased the ‘Eitan’ drone as a ‘world leading’ unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV as they are called).

In his excellent new book, Anthony Lowenstein explores the myriad ways that Israel ruthlessly exploits its occupation of Palestine to showcase, and then sell and export, all manner of military hardware, surveillance technology, cyber-warfare technologies and policing techniques. And unlike other arms manufacturers the world over, the Israeli defence industry is not shy of showing footage of their weapons in action: killing Palestinians, destroying homes and devastating neighbourhoods. This allows the weapons to be described as ‘battle tested’, and what better evidence do you need than military footage of the weapons in action.

Technology of occupation

Lowenstein is an investigative journalist from Australia. Born into a secular Jewish family, he was raised as a ‘soft Zionist’; a supporter of the state of Israel as a place of safety and security for Jews in case of rising anti-Semitism. In his introduction, he describes the change that took place in his thinking when he first arrived in Israel and saw for himself the reality of the apartheid system.

He was struck not just by the legal system that discriminates against Palestinians, but by the daily, routinised surveillance and policing of Palestinian communities. He describes the ‘securitisation’ of Israeli interaction with and control over Palestinian life.

To give one example, the Qalandiya check point lies between Jerusalem and Ramallah. It has always been an unpleasant crossing into the West Bank. There are always long lines of people waiting to be checked and there is always a heavy military presence.

I first used this crossing in 2004 and it involved passport checks, turnstiles (like football turnstiles but deliberately smaller so you have to squeeze through) and lots of soldiers. But since 2004, the technology of surveillance has moved on. Now you enter an enclosed area, where soldiers are behind thick blast-proof windows. They shout at you through booming microphones and instruct you to place your bags on moving conveyors and X-ray machines. You have to show your passport at a window, you still have to go through the turnstiles, and all the time you are being filmed and instructed to ‘go here’, ‘go there’, ‘move’. Lowenstein uses Qalandiya as an example of the dehumanising impact of new security on Palestinian life. But Qalandiya is also used by Israel as an example of their ‘security product’, as it positions itself as a leader in the ‘global security industry’.

However, it’s not just weapons and the security industry that boom in apartheid Israel. Lowenstein also traces the Israeli state’s use (and misuse) of social media, of their involvement in espionage and phone-hacking technologies.

As if this wasn’t bad enough, Lowenstein reveals the countries to which Israel sells its military hardware and security technology. Perhaps not surprisingly, Israel’s customers are amongst the most brutal dictatorships around the globe. They were happy to sell to the military juntas in Latin America in the 1970s and 1980s. They did deals with apartheid South Africa. And today, repressive regimes and right-wing populist governments the world over line up to buy Israel’s battle-tested technologies of oppression and destruction.

Lowenstein’s book is well researched and well written, though at times a little depressing to read given the scale of the horror the Israeli industrial-military complex unleashes on the world. It’s definitely worth reading.

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