Kuntsman & Stein- Digital Militarism

Kuntsman, A. and Stein, R.L. (2015) Digital Militarism: Israel’s Occupation in the Social Media Age. Stanford University Press: Stanford, CA.

In their book, Digital Militarism: Israel’s Occupation in the Social Media Age, Adi Kuntsman and Rebecca Stein historicize and analyze how digital literacy and militarism function together and through each other. This book pulls from three dominant fields of scholarship: liberation technology, cyber wars and cyber conflict, and Israeli militarism. Kuntsman and Stein find fault in each of these literatures and use the Israeli case to add to discussions about counter-hegemonic potential of social media, displaced forms of violence, and the everydayness of militarized projects. In order to explain and defend this large theoretical critique, they offer the term digital militarism, or the role of digital communication platforms and practices by both state and civilians to engage with military operations, specifically the Israeli occupation of and violence in the West Bank and Gaza (6-7).

Using viral events and media narratives to track and analyze the history of state and civilian social media in times of conflict, Kuntsman and Stein ultimately argue for the normalization of digital militarism and therefore the normalization of the occupation. Each chapter addresses this rise in normativity in a different way. In chapter two, Kuntsman and Stein track the use of social media during military operations by examining how different social media platforms were used for disseminating knowledge by the Israeli state since 2006. Twitter, Facebook, and even YouTube were tools for state public relations and for dispersing information. With this increase of state social media came an increase of civilian social media both in positive and negative response to the state’s military action. In chapter three, a Facebook album of a soldier showing pictures of her with blindfolded detainees is used to address Israel’s public secret, or “something that is known, but concealed, understood but protected”, of military violence (43). The soldier’s Facebook album visualized state military violence and yet, as Kuntsman and Stein discovered, the national controversy surrounding the album was not about the actual display of violence, but on security and privacy in the digital age. Matters of security and privacy served to distract Israeli from their shared public secret and normalize the physical means of Israeli occupation. This leads readers nicely to chapter four where other strategies of distraction from military violence are discussed. Following incursions in Gaza in 2012, social media was inundated with pictures of military violence and death (particularly of Palestinians). However, social media debates of suspicion and authenticity of circulating photos not only served to deflected attention to Israeli military violence, but also to obfuscate the Palestinian victims.

To that end, each chapter builds on the previous one and ultimately shows the integration and normalization of state violence and the military occupation in the final chapter. Social media is a tool for both the state and civilians and, while it can be a platform for criticism, it is largely used to cultivate a national collective of patriotic militarism and denial of occupation. Kuntsman and Stein repeatedly specify Jewish Israelis as the focus of their analysis and members of this national collective, but never address or defend this specification. While “Jewish Israeli” describes the majority, it does not describe every citizen or even every IDF soldier and perhaps would have served their analysis by including and cross comparing the social media use of other non-Palestinian/non-Jewish social groups. This book is polemical to say the least. Although their analysis of social media across platforms is compelling and rich, Kuntsman and Stein are boldly asking Jewish Israelis and supporters of the state to critically look at the role social media in normalizing violence and ultimately denying the respect of life (and death) to Palestinians.

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