Review: ‘The Palestine Laboratory’

By Samaya Argüello

As the world waits for an International Court of Justice response in South Africa’s genocide case against Israel, a passage in Antony Loewenstein’s newest book The Palestine Laboratory: How Israel Exports the Technology Occupation Around the World springs immediately to mind. In it he lamented that, “The worst-case scenario, long feared but never realised, is ethnic cleansing against occupied Palestinians, or population transfer, forcible expulsion under the guise of national security”. This is a scenario that may be playing out in Gaza at this very moment, as the world watches the systematic destruction of Gaza through social media.

How then, did Loewenstein arrive at such an astute prediction? How could such a scenario occur? In his book, which won the prestigious Walkley Book Award last year, Loewenstein explores the ways in which Israel’s occupation of Palestine not only furthers the interests of successive Zionist governments in realising a greater (larger) Israeli State – but crucially how this realisation benefits other States and international companies, who enable Israel’s occupation of the Palestinian people via payment for Israeli exported surveillance technologies and weapons.

Loewenstein’s expertly researched book demonstrates how States and companies have been willing to pay Israel large amounts of money for surveillance technologies such as drones, facial recognition software and spyware, as well as weapons.

He argues that their worth to customers are two fold: First that the products come with applied knowledge in that they have been successfully road-tested first over Israel, Palestine and the Occupied Territories. Secondly, the export of such ‘crucial’ technologies makes Israel’s defence industry indispensable in the wider international community.

The central premise of the book is that Israel uses Palestine as a testing ground for weapons and a space to make money off human suffering. Indeed, the book explores how Israel and other interested parties, such as the European Union, rely on the export of war technologies from Israel to shape and safeguard their own borders, and how their own national security interests have become inextricably tied to the occupation of Palestine.

The book is replete with examples of this, such as when the EU entered into a US$91 million partnership with Airbus, Israel Aerospace Industries and Elbit to monitor the Mediterranean against asylum seekers and refugees through the use of drones and other surveillance technologies.

In 2020, India was one of Israel’s biggest purchasers of weapons and it has used Israeli-made drones to surveil its Kashmir population.

The very close relationship between the United States and Israel is also explored early on in chapter two where Loewenstein argues that the events of 9/11 amplified the pro-Zionist lobby and counter-terrorism rhetoric in a way that was highly beneficial for both countries. Increased military and defence spending between the US and Israel enabled faster privatisation of the occupation of Palestine and demonstrated that war can be good business.

Countries such as Mexico and Saudi Arabia, and intelligence networks such as the US National Security Agency, also actively partner with Israeli companies to ‘data mine’ and conduct covert cyber-surveillance against journalists, human rights activists and dissenters.

Chapter seven delves into the murky relationship between social media organisations such as Meta, TikTok and ‘X’ (formally known as Twitter) and specialist pro-Israeli groups which advocate for the suppression or removal of social media content deemed critical of Israel, or deemed to be supportive of Palestine. Providing countless examples of censorship of Palestinian content on social media, Loewenstein argues that pro-Israel lobby groups are shaping the narrative of occupation worldwide, all with the support of these international companies.

Loewenstein argues that over the decades, the State of Israel has sold weapons and military technology and supported multiple brutal regimes from 1950’s Burma, to paramilitary forces in El Salvador and Guatemala, to Iran under the Shah. Israel makes a lot of money from actively supporting destablisation and occupation forces, funneling this money back into its own defence landscape with very little international pressure on it.

As we surpass one hundred days of unbridled bloodshed in Gaza, it is pertinent to reflect on Loewenstein’s closing insights: “Israel has sold so much defence equipment to so many nations that it hopes to insulate itself from any political backlash to its endless occupation”. Nowhere has this been more evident than the international community’s inability to enforce an immediate ceasefire in Gaza to prevent further suffering and loss of life.

The Palestine Laboratory: How Israel Exports the Technology Occupation Around the World is a must read for those wanting to understand how the oppression of Palestinians is intertwined with the export of military technologies worldwide. It also offers part of the answer for those asking, ‘why hasn’t the international community done more in Gaza?’ Loewenstein convincingly tells us to pay closer attention to the role of other States in enabling the illegal occupation of Palestine.