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Tested on Palestinians, sold to the world

The Palestine Laboratory, Antony Loewenstein
2023, Verso Books/Scribe Publications

Reviewer: Shayma S

Antony Loewenstein is an independent journalist, bestselling author, filmmaker, and co-founder of Declassified Australia. He’s written for The Guardian, The New York Times, The New York Review of Books, and many others. His latest book is The Palestine Laboratory: How Israel Exports the Technology of Occupation Around the World.

The Palestine Laboratory is the winner of the 2023 Walkley Non-Fiction Journalism Prize, and deservedly so. It is an in-depth study in the form of a slim, crisply written interrogation of the various, industrial-level crimes of the Israeli state, in cahoots with Western powers like the US.

From Rwanda to Romania to Guatemala to Colombia – the sheer volume of the export of Israeli weapons that have destabilized governments and provided ammunition (literally) to genocides is horrifying in scope.

Israel’s natural affiliation with supporting dictatorships and funding massacres is another major aspect that has been covered in the book in detail.

It is a meticulous study, yet not too dense for the interested reader to understand. It is divided into the following major chapters: “Selling Weapons to Anybody Who Wants Them”, “September 11 was Good for Business”, “Preventing an Outbreak of Peace”, “Selling Israeli Occupation to the World”, “The Enduring Appeal of Israeli Domination”, “Israeli Mass Surveillance in the Brain of Your Phone” and “Social Media Companies Don’t like Palestinians.”

Some of the broad issues addressed early in the book include how Israel’s image has suffered in recent years, with more and more Jewish acknowledgement of the Israeli apartheid project, pre-testing violence and surveillance, and the broader trends of Zionism globally.

The global web of human rights violations

Chile, Nicaragua, Colombia, Shah’s Iran, Indonesia under Suharto, Romania, Haiti, Paraguay, Argentina, Lebanon, Afghanistan, Guatemala, Sudan and South Sudan, Myanmar and Sri Lanka – all have something in common, Israeli assistance of horrifying and dehumanizing autocratic violence.

To take three major examples – From 1965-66, under the authoritarian rule of General Suharto, Indonesia killed hundreds of thousands in an anti-communist purge; Nicolae Ceausescu (coincidentally, famously anti-Semitic), began his dictatorial rule of Romania in 1965; and for over 29 years, the Duvalier family – “Papa Doc” Duvalier and “Baby Doc” Duvalier – mass-murdered and exiled political opponents in Haiti until their regime’s collapse in 1986.

Israeli support for the Shah of Iran, its murky role in the fall of Salvador Allende in Chile, and its support for the junta in Chile and Argentina are also covered.

Where the US Congress stopped the American government from directly intervening or destabilizing governments, Israel supported the police forces of Guatemala, El Salvador, and Costa Rice during the Cold War, offering its covert support where the American regime could not openly work its way.

Finally, Loewenstein also covers the axiom that Israel first battle-tests its technology in occupied Palestine and then exports it to the world, using it a marketing strategy – hence the Laboratory. From Hasbara, to Elbit Technologies – everything that you need to know about Israel’s technological investments can be found in this book in the form of an overview, from the lens of a reporter.

A self-reflexive beginning

Loewenstein, a long-time reporter in Palestine since the early 2000s, recounts early in the book his own familial history with violence and displacement, and his efforts to realize and understand the complicity of even liberal Jews in the myth-making around Israeli occupation. His grandparents fled Nazi Germany and Austria as Jewish refugees in 1939.

In Australia, he was raised in a liberal Zionist home. Initially, he writes, he believed in the two-state conflict but realized soon that the constant dehumanization and occupation of Palestine makes it impossible to image a Jewish state that would respect the sanctity of Palestinian life. As he writes: “Today I support a one-state solution to the conflict where all its citizens can live equally. My evolution in the last twenty years mirrors the growing global awareness of what Israel has always been and where it’s headed.”

The transactions of Israeli warfare

In simple terms, Israel supplies arms to fuel repression, and in exchange, the repressive regimes support Israel on a global stage when needed. Outfits like NSO help Israel fulfil its foreign policy goals, even as in the last two decades, Israel’s global image has taken a hit a fair bit.

Autocrats round the world deploy the surveillance techniques perfected and tested by Israel to fulfil their own domestic designs, fuelling the global arms industry as well. Of course, this spikes even more in times of immense crisis: as Loewenstein puts it, 9/11 was good business for Israel.

Additionally, there are even more complex global relationships, such as that of Germany-Israel, the former of which is simultaneously driven by some kind of Holocaust guilt, but also a modern streak of racism of neo-Nazism, to fund Israeli apartheid.

Other relationships explored include India and Israel, the replication of Apartheid South African Bantustans in the West Bank, and how post-Apartheid Africa now sees Israel differently as Israel’s apartheid model has become far more apparent.

Hi-tech dehumanization

From the Heron drone used by the EU which is used to monitor and track migrant boats in the Mediterranean, to the Hermes drone at the US borders to keep track of the US-Mexico border, have all been tested on Palestinians.

As Loewenstein argues in a podcast on the same book, AI-fuelled drones were justified by arguing that they would be more ‘surgical’ in nature and reduce collateral damage, but they have done quite the opposite, causing widespread damage.

Additionally, Loewenstein writes on facial recognition technology deployed in Palestine, and the Israeli NGO Pegasus software which has been used to hunt down and even kill dissidents around the world.

In short, Loewenstein’s book is a must-read for anyone looking to understand the many strands of Israeli occupation and apartheid, from students of politics to anyone else who wishes to understand the various levels at which the Zionist project works from mass surveillance to outright violence.

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