Simulating the Contact Zone: Corporate Mediations of Violence in Israel, Palestine and Beyond

By Shimrit Lee
Submitted to Session P4832 (The Cultural Politics of Violence, 2017 Annual Meeting
Cultural Studies;
LCD Projector with Audio Patch or Speakers;
This paper examines the corporate production of the “contact zone” by Israeli arms companies as a way of legitimizing and marketing state violence to a global audience. Focusing specifically on crowd control simulations staged at international defense expositions including the Parisian Eurosatory in 2016 and the biennial Israel Defense Exhibition (ISDEF) in 2015, I demonstrate how Israeli arms companies fantasize a specific “contact zone” described by Mary Louise Pratt as “the space of colonial encounters,” in which a relationship between colonizer and colonized is established usually through conditions of coercion, radical inequality and mechanisms of exclusion. 

Departing from the contact zone described by Michael Taussig as a space in which magical realism sustained ritualistic torture of the colonized at the hands of the colonizer, I demonstrate how the Israeli arms industry, and by extension, the state itself, puts forth a fantasy of a contact zone based on liberal rationalism, and above all, technofetishism. Through simulation, Israeli companies theatrically produce scenes in which high-tech “civilization” conquers and defeats low-tech “barbarism,” reflecting a fantasy of technological superiority, objectivity and control. The simulation is a “speech-act” in which the state absorbs violent actions into narratives of global “securitization,” effectively obscuring Palestinian nationalist narratives while gaining the complicit tolerance of a corporate audience invested in the perpetuation of a globalized “war on terror.” Further, while Taussig conceives of a “colonial mirror” where the colonizer mimics the savagery imputed to the savage through myth, rumor, and fantasy, crowd control simulations create a savagery devoid of identity or narrative. Rather, the simulation of an imagined savagery allows Israel to gaze into a different imperial mirror, one in which they are aligned with global, neoliberal superpowers.

I conclude with a consideration of how the simulation’s “speech-act” is interrupted in telling ways. I draw primarily on Rania Jawad’s ethnographic work documenting the weekly protests by residents of the Palestinian village of Bil’in in their struggle against Israeli confiscation of their land. In these contexts, soldiers are unable to follow the clean scripts of crowd control simulation and are instead forced to enact and engage with the theatrics of Palestinian protestors. I demonstrate the ways in which Israeli fantasies of control thus fail to map onto the contact zone, creating a remainder that exceeds the neat objectified representation of risk and value that simulation creates.