On Forensic Architecture
Eyal Weizman. Forensic Architecture: Violence at the Threshold of Detectability. Zone Books, 2017.
The video begins with a voice-over delivering grim news. On the fifteenth of May, 2014, Nakba Day, 17-year-old Nadeem Nawara was fatally shot during a protest in the town of Beitunia, near Ramallah. Grainy CCTV footage records a young man as he walks alone beyond the shadow cast by a storefront’s overhang. There’s the sound of a gunshot, and the body crumples. From the perspective of a different camera, people rush to the man’s aid. The video cuts to a third vantage and reprises the last few seconds; again, with the same urgency, several men rush to help the victim, including several journalists wearing bulletproof vests. Dozens of Palestinian teenagers have similarly been killed or wounded by Israeli soldiers and other security personnel in the West Bank in recent years. From local TV news footage there’s a siren, then an ambulance arrives. Most of those killings have taken place off camera and a very small number are investigated. Yet these Nakba Day killings were captured by security cameras installed outside a nearby shop, by television cameras filming the protest (including CNN footage marked warning: disturbing video), as well as by other activists present. A still photograph shows a scrum of more than a dozen young men gathered around the victim, most of them wearing keffiyehs, their faces contorted by desperate cries. Ziem Nawara, his father, found the fatal bullet inside Nadeem’s school bag.
This all unfolds in minute one of a fifteen-minute video that reconstructs the events of that May afternoon. It is a collage of professional, security, and handheld camera footage; still images; sound recordings, including gunshots, and their visualization as waves; and interviews with a variety of experts, including an Israeli ballistics specialist. All of it serves to illustrate the sequence of events, and discover how it happened.
This is the work of Forensic Architecture, a loose association of architects, academics, filmmakers, and artists, based in London, who have combined their skills and tools to investigate the events of May 15, 2014. Was Nadeem Nawara’s death intentional? Who was responsible? What could we learn from the incident about the frequency of deaths at peaceful protests?