Tuesday, January 9, 2024

Review: The Palestine Laboratory

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The Palestine Laboratory: How Israel Exports the Technology of Occupation Around the World Antony Loewenstein, 2023, Verso Books/ Scribe Publications 

Reviewed by Owen Hsieh, Jan. 9, 2024

“The economy abandoned oranges for hand grenades” - An Army Like No Other: How the Israel  Defence Forces Made a Nation – Haim Bresheeth-Zabner 

In May 31st of this year, Antony Loewenstein, an independent journalist from Australia wrote a  history of the Israeli arms and surveillance industry examining how their products are ‘battle tested’ in Gaza and the West Bank and sold across the world.  

The Palestine Laboratory was published only a few months  prior to Hamas’ Operation Al Aqsa Flood and Israel’s swift  and brutal response, which has been likened to a second  Nakba. Loewenstein and The Palestine Laboratory have since garnered a lot of public interest with the title being catapulted to the best-seller list.

Israel is in the top ten weapons dealers in the world, its arms exports surged in 2021 by 55% to be worth  approximately US$11.3 Billion. The production and export  of arms is Israel’s leading export and a mainstay of its  economy.

The state of Israel has repeatedly demonstrated it will sell weapons to anyone who wants them, including pariah states such as: Apartheid South Africa, Suharto’s Indonesia, or Chile under Pinochet. Israel has approved every defence  export since 2007 without exception. 

The Israeli arms industry is guided by a philosophy summed up by the former head of Israel’s Defence Export Control Agency, Eli Pinko,  quoted at a private conference in 2021:  

“It’s either civil rights in some country or Israel’s right to exist. I would like to see each of your face  the dilemma and say: ‘No, we will champion human rights in another country.’ Gentlemen it doesn’t work.” 

This can be understood by looking at Israel as playing a role of minor partner for US Imperialism and  as ‘sheriff’ for the Middle East. Where the US has preferred covert support in lieu of public backing, Israel has been able to act as its proxy and provide the material and technical support to states in  official disfavour.  

“With Reagans war on communism, and Washington’s partnering with right-wing death squads from  Nicaragua to Honduras and El Salvador to Panama, Israel’s role was viewed as indispensable in providing both weapons and on-the-ground experience.” 

“Israel Supported the police forces of Guatemala, El Salvador and Costa Rica during the Cold War  when the US Congress had blocked the had blocked US agencies from officially doing so.” 

Loewenstein has used WikiLeaks cables and a variety of other sources to uncover information which  highlights the role that Israel has played in global politics, gaining insights and information that is usually secreted and hidden from public oversight, subject to national security censorship in Israeli  state archives.

Loewenstein has taken many notes from the other notable histories of the Israeli Defence Forces,  including Rise and Kill First: The Secret History of Israel's Targeted Assassinations by Ronen Bergman and has catalogued a wealth of other information including the role of Israeli military contractors in  patrolling and monitoring European borders to maintain Fortress Europe, and selling spyware such  as Pegasus to some of the world’s worst human rights abusers such as Bin Salman, the Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia, who used Israeli software to track and murder the dissident voice of the Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi. These secondary narratives in The Palestine Laboratory deserve a feature length  history in and of themselves.