In July 2014, Israel dropped leaflets into Shujaiya, a densely populated residential neighborhood in Gaza City, warning that the IDF would be attacking soon and residents should evacuate. 11 artillery battalions—at least 258 artillery pieces—rained down over 7,000 explosive shells (nearly 5,000 were within seven hours), alongside a ground assault supported by armored cavalry, helicopters firing rockets, and F-16s firing bombs.
“The only possible reason for doing that is to kill a lot of people in as short of a period of time as possible,” said one senior U.S. military officer quoted by Al Jazeera America. “It's not mowing the lawn. It's removing the topsoil.”
On July 20, nearly one hundred people were killed in Israel’s attack. Eran Efrati, a former Israeli soldier, was arrested days later after sharing details gleaned from interviews with soldiers there who claimed the military was deliberately targeting civilians as “punishment” and “retribution” of the deaths of fellow Israeli soldiers.
The IDF took to Twitter that day. In one thread, it insisted the assault was necessary because Shuja’iya was a “neighborhood for civilians, fortress for Hamas terrorists.” Earlier, the IDF had tweeted “Days ago, we warned civilians in Shuja'iya to evacuate. Hamas ordered them to stay. Hamas put them in the line of fire.”
The phrase “mowing the lawn” has long been used as shorthand for Israel’s strategy towards Gaza: bursts of horrifying violence—collective punishment of Palestinians for Hamas operations—followed by periods of “calm” where survivors are left to clear the rubble and bury dead civilians, rebuilding increasingly less of their ailing infrastructure while Israel commits to deepening its occupation, expanding its settlements, and bolstering its apartheid regime.
The latest assault on Gaza, as well as every other, is part of a strategy that has worked well for the state of Israel for a long while now. Outright genocide—depriving Palestinians of political rights, segregating Palestinians into ghettos, rounding them up into camps, and systematically killing as many as possible over the years—is supposedly out of the question. Instead, it has settled for a slower sort of violence—segregating Palestinians into open-air prisons and strangling their access to clean water or electricity or food so that Palestinians can be “put on a diet” while enduring successive waves of military campaigns that continue mowing the lawn.
There are two components of this strategy worth focusing on given the—as of this column’s completion—looming threat of yet another invasion: water and technology.
On the second day of Israel's latest bombing campaign against Gaza, it cut off water access for 2.4 million people. Six days of bombing followed before Israel announced it would “resume” water access to just the southern strip of Gaza. The northern strip—where over a million people are trapped—has been given an evacuation order as Israel bombs hospitals, homes, warehouses, and key infrastructure, and so will not have its access “resumed.” Nonetheless, the damage has already been done.
For starters, it's unlikely the water supply can actually be “resumed” if the numerous campaigns launched against Gaza since 2008 are any indicator. In May 2021, an 11-day Israeli bombing campaign on Gaza Strip destroyed water pipes and power lines, leaving water pumps, desalination plants, and waste facilities in desperate need of repairs and unable to operate as sewage and waste spilled into the streets and the water supply.
Palestinians are digging wells near the sea in the wake of Israel's bombardment of Gaza, drinking from the territory’s only aquifer which is not only increasingly depleted, but contaminated by seawater and sewage, and in some cases drinking from IV bags. The bombing has shut down Gaza’s only power plant, cut power lines, ruptured water pipes, and left waste facilities inoperable. Again. On top of all this, Gaza’s water has already been undrinkable for decades thanks to the Israeli bombing campaigns that have effectively sabotaged the supply, constant power shortages, perpetual displacement and encroachment, outright destruction of water processing and distribution infrastructure, over-extraction of water resources, water pollution, and an ongoing blockade that prevents humanitarian aid from bringing in more supplies.
Israel Military Orders 58, 92, 158, and 291, issued between 1967 and 1968, give absolute control over all issues concerning water issues in the West Bank and Gaza to the Israeli army, prevent the construction of any new water installations without a permit at risk of confiscation, allow arbitrary rejection of applications for said permits, and nullify any previous arrangements concerning water resources. In 2017, fifty years after the first of these proclamations, Amnesty International reported some 90-95 percent of Gaza’s water was “unfit for human consumption.”
Freshwater transfers from the West Bank, along which the Jordan River runs, could ameliorate this situation, but they are prohibited. Instead, Mekorot, a state-owned Israeli water company, has been allowed to cultivate its own expansive water system that redirects the vast majority of these resources to Israel and its illegal settlements in the West Bank. Additionally, the Israeli army uses military training and exercises as a pretense to displace Palestinians in the West Bank and take control of water sources, leaving many rural communities with no access to water. A May 2023 report reveals Israelis enjoy 247 liters of water a day per person while Palestinians use 82.4 liters per person, but in rural communities that number plummets to 26 liters (“much like the average in disaster zones”). In 2020, the report finds, Israelis consumed ten times the water Palestinians in the West Bank did despite having a population that is only three times larger. Ninety-two percent of Palestinians store water in rooftop containers in the event of shortages.
Technology is central to the efforts of Israel to preserve its apartheid regime, advance its genocidal policies, and avoid flak for either. The most obvious examples to start with are the actual weapons themselves.
One journalist shared a photo of a missile that had hit Gaza, which had a sticker showing it was created by Woodward, an arms manufacturer located in Fort Collins, Colorado. Since the photo circulated, the arms manufacturer seems to have gone dark on social media. This tracks with the Pentagon’s decision to divert weapons meant for Ukraine to Israel, among them thousands of 155-millimeter artillery shells—last used by Israel last to “mow the lawn” in 2014 when it invaded Gaza. In a recent Washington Post op-ed, Josh Paul—former director of the State Department's Bureau of Political-Military Affairs—reveals that he resigned his position because it became clear U.S. arms would be given to Israel despite its long track record of killing civilians.
“Sure enough, Israeli requests for munitions started arriving immediately, including for a variety of weapons that have no applicability to the current conflict. These requests deserved the attention we would pay to any large arms package, and I urged a frank discussion,” Paul wrote. “My urging was met with silence — and the clear direction that we needed to move as fast as possible to meet Israel’s requests.”
Israel spent $23.4 billion on its military in 2022, about 4.5 percent of its GDP—per capita, it has become the second-largest spender on its military ahead of America but behind Qatar. As Al Jazeera reports, the last few years (2018-22 specifically) have seen weapon imports ($2.7 billion from America and Germany over that period) eclipsed by weapon exports ($3.2 billion to 35 countries). The past few years, in fact, have seen record arms sales for Israel, so this begs the question: What is driving that boom in Israel exports? As Antony Loewenstein reveals in his book The Palestine Laboratory, it is the occupation of Palestine.
“Palestine is Israel's workshop, where an occupied nation on its doorstep provides millions of subjugated people as a laboratory for the most precise and successful methods of domination. Israel as the ideal ethnonationalist model is reliant on being able to commercialize this message,” Loewenstein writes. “Although some countries want Israeli arms or technology just to spy or disrupt dissident behavior and have no interest in building their own ethnoreligious entity, many others buy into the myths about Israeli racial supremacy and want to emulate it in their own countries. Israel's defense industry is amoral because that's how it grows. It will sell to anyone except for official enemies like North Korea, Iran, or Syria.”
The growth of Israel's military-industrial complex is seen as a great success, creating a valuable asset with little political or financial cost that ensures it will enjoy geopolitical and economic centrality for years to come. As the planet’s climate worsens and states respond by ghettoizing themselves, building “higher walls and tighter borders, greater surveillance of refugees, facial recognition, drones, smart fences, and biometric databases,” they will turn to countries like Israel that have had practice occupying, dominating, and when the need arises, outright killing unruly elements of the population.
To take one small but expansive example, look at the largest military contractor in Israel: Elbit Systems. Elbit provides 85 percent of the Israeli drone and land-based equipment, but 80 percent of its market is outside of Israel, meaning it is both integral to the domestic industry of training technology on Palestine as well as to the global industry of importing surveillance and control tech in anticipation of social unrest.
Early in his book, Loewenstein talks with Andrew Feinstein, a former South African politician turned journalist who studies the global arms trade. In 2009, Feinstein shared that at the Paris Air Show, the world’s largest aerospace industry and air show exhibition, he saw a promotional video showcasing killer drones Elbit tested in Gaza and West Bank—the video itself featured a drone assassination.
This, however, did not stop Elbit from advertising its drones, nor from enjoying at the time its then-greatest increase in profit, nor from taking advantage of the 2014 Gaza War and the 2018 Great March of Return to market its “battle-tested” arms further, nor selling the drones to countries since, nor from winning military contracts with countries like the United Kingdom.
Elbit Systems has been important at home in other ways. In 2002, it won a contract to build a “smart” fence between Jerusalem and the West Bank as part of its illegal separation barrier. In 2009, Norway’s government pension fund divested from Elbit Systems because of the “unacceptable risk of contribution to particularly serious violations of fundamental ethical norms.” In 2017, Israel began building a new Gaza wall that would include above- and below-ground barriers for which Elbit Systems would provide electronic sensors. In Gaza, it has deployed ground-based robots and explored autonomous armored vehicles, both remotely controlled and packed with cameras, sensors, and weapons.
These border control systems have found eager clients overseas, specifically in America’s own workshop: its border with Mexico. The Intercept reported on a $26 million contract with the Customs and Border Protection agency to install 160-foot surveillance towers “capable of continuously monitoring every person and vehicle within a radius of up to 7.5 miles.” Ten of them would be placed across the Tohono O'odham reservation, along Arizona's border with the Mexican state of Sonora.
In an interview with Bobby Brown, senior director of Customs and Border Protection at Elbit Systems of America, Brown told the Intercept that the ultimate goal was to “expand not only to the northern border, but to the ports and harbors across the country.”
Water and technology are central for a few reasons.
First, it is hard to deny the intentionality of their design or the insidiousness of their use in Palestinian apartheid and genocide. Israel controls the water Palestinians need, stealing it, poisoning it, and selling some back to them. Israel exports technology that is developed by occupying and terrorizing Palestinians, selling it to other countries wishing to do the same to their subjects or inspired to do so by Israel’s track record. Second, as the periods of mowing the lawn and “calm” cycle over and over, these two tend to get overlooked.
With regards to water, the system is insidious not only for its direct consequences but for its indirect ones. Explicitly, it imposes strict, inhumane quotas on Palestinians whom it occupies, seizes and overexploits their water sources for itself, and denies access to as well as sabotages water infrastructure—stealing and poisoning most of what exists, then selling scraps at exorbitant prices back to Palestinians. Implicitly, it muddies the discussion and expectations as we talk about Palestinian water as if it is each particular crisis that denies the Palestinians water instead of Israel’s commitment to this genocidal strategy. Just as calls for ceasefire without the end of the occupation, apartheid, and genocide miss the mark, so too do calls for access to water that do not start with the recognition that Israel enjoys total control over Palestine’s water and has long used it to slowly poison and kill as many Palestinians as possible.
With regards to technology, the growth of an industry that directly profits from occupation at home and abroad, again there is a depravity and immorality that is hard to confront. That Israel has grown its arms sector into an indispensable node in the global industry by testing its weapons on an occupied population is of no concern to countries that have already occupied or are anticipating an occupation of some population. Whether it be clients in the form of governments, police departments, border agencies, or militaries, such relationships create armies of eyes that will look away when Israel continues its occupation—and who look on with inspiration before bringing the lessons back to bear at home.