In an earlier post, ‘The politics of a lethal name‘, I outlined some initial thoughts on my nascent PhD project. With the comprehensive exams and the PhD proposal now out of the way I’m officially what they call in North America ‘ABD’: all but dissertation! Which means that all (sic) I have to do is research, write, edit, re-research and re-write my dissertation!
Today thus marks a special day for my project. Late this evening I arrived in Tel Aviv for the initial phase of my fieldwork. This is not quite true because I was also here at the start of last year – but that was just a short trip to set this one up, an exercise in preliminaries! If all goes according to plan I will be here for the next two months or so. The purpose of this trip, first and foremost, is to conduct interviews with Israeli military lawyers, and specifically those working in the International Law Division (ILD) of the Israeli Defence Force (IDF). Officially they are known as Judge Advocates (or JA’s for short) and they are specialist lawyers trained in military law who work for – but are independent from – the IDF. Their job description is complex and, responding to changes in the conduct of warfare, it changes over time. I don’t want to give too much away or pre-empt too much at this point but suffice it to say that I am in Tel Aviv to enquire after the role of Israeli military lawyers in targeted killing operations. I want to know what they do, how they do it, and how they understand what it is that they do. I’d like to find out if – and how – their role has changed and what events, episodes or people provoked such changes. Last, but my no means least, I want to try to understand the effects of the military lawyer, to think about the ways in which their work might – or might not – have rhetorical, discursive, political, militaristic or other impacts and implications.
My broader aim is to write a genealogy of targeted killing, and to do so with special reference to the figure of the military lawyer. It isn’t exactly a comparative study (and you’ll see why over time), but my project links three different sites and institutes – or proponents if you will – of targeted killing policy. I’m here in Israel to investigate the first: the Israeli Air Force (IAF) and IDF. Later in the year I will be doing much the same thing in the U.S. where the U.S. Air Force (USAF) will be the focus and after that I’ll be (back) in the U.K. to do some research on the Royal Air Force.
You can reasonably expect much more dedication from me in terms of blog posts as I very much intend to use this space as a way to organise my thoughts on this research. Writing more frequently also seems like a good goal – if not a resolution (!) – which will hopefully go some way toward actually writing the thesis. With a year of research ahead of me I must admit that the whole experience of arriving in Israel for ‘independent’ research is more than a little daunting. The D in ABD is a big D it turns out, and one that cannot be taken lightly – especially when dealing with such sensitive issues as targeted killing. You can thus also reasonably expect a certain measure of honesty and vulnerability as I try to grapple with these problems.
But when I say that it has been a stormy start to the fieldwork, I don’t mean it like that! First thing on the agenda is to find a place to live, because (for me) all good things begin with a good home. Second thing is to buy some wellington boots – or perhaps exchange my flip flops for something a little more – well – waterproof. Even in spite of the snow in Jerusalem last year, my geographical imaginary faults me once again. GEOG 101: it snows in the Middle East and it floods in Tel Aviv.
See! That’s a motorway lane and not a river, by the way.
Thanks to those who joined me last year, and welcome to those who join us for the next!