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Al-Haq launches first Forensic Architecture Investigative Unit in Palestine

Jerusalem24– Leading Palestinian human rights organization Al-Haq is launching a Forensic Architecture Investigative Unit, the first of its kind in Palestine, in partnership with Forensic Architecture.

According to Eyal Weizmann, founder of Forensic Architecture, the group “uses architecture as an optical device to investigate armed conflicts and environmental destruction, as well as to cross-reference a variety of evidence sources, such as new media, remote sensing, material analysis, witness testimony, and crowd-sourcing.”

Al-Haq held a press conference at the A.M. Qattan Foundation in Ramallah on Saturday officially launching the unit and presenting the results of their first joint investigation with Forensic Architecture, examining the Israeli attack on a fertilizer factory in Gaza in May 2021 that contaminated groundwater and agricultural fields and left nearby residents with health problems.

“The Shelling of Khudair Warehouse: Chemical Warfare by Indirect Means” is a 14-minute film that details the methodology and findings of the investigation.

Rula Shadid, Program Director of Monitoring and Documentation at Al-Haq, explained that Al-Haq was approached by Forensic Architecture because of their “very good documentation” of events in Palestine since 1979.

After a one-year long consultation with experts at Birzeit University, Al-Haq decided they had the capability of pressing forward with the project. Al-Haq hopes to host and train students from the university with the aim of furthering the development of the program.

With the Forensic Architecture unit, Al-Haq will supplement its current mission of documentation with analysis and dissection of crime scenes, a “very important step up” for Al-Haq, according to Shadid. These analyses and investigations constitute what is called secondary evidence and are instrumental in bringing cases to international courts of law like the International Criminal Court (ICC).

“That’s exactly what made this more appealing,” Shadid told Jerusalem24. “Not only is this going to serve advocacy on a different level, but it is also going to be used in litigations – not only that Al-Haq does, but also other organizations. […] Therefore it is something that we definitely cherish and think is very important.”

Rula Shadid speaks at the Al-Haq Forensic Architecture Investigative Unit launch at the A.M. Qattan Foundation in Ramallah on 28 May 2022. [Credit: Noelle Mafarjeh/Jerusalem24]
The investigative unit will complement the work and research of existing Palestinian NGOs, pressing for legal accountability and serving public advocacy.

The unit was also created with the purpose of counteracting the “rapid, extraordinary use of technology by the occupation.” Shadid explained that with the evolving rapidity of the availability of information, Palestinian NGOs have to match the pace of the Israelis.

This is in addition, Shadid said, to it just “being a cool thing to do.” The use of architecture in forensics and law remains a fairly new concept, and one that is likely to elicit interest in Palestine – especially as the project’s origins lay in research and practice on settler-colonial and military violence in Palestine.

Shourideh Molavi, Postdoctoral Research Fellow and dedicated Israel-Palestine researcher for Forensic Architecture, says that in their 10 years of work, Forensic Architecture have applied the experience acquired conducting investigations “with and on behalf of communities in Palestine” to expand the scope of their work “to include state and corporate crime and neocolonial violence in other parts of the world.”

The launch of the Forensic Architecture unit at Al-Haq is “a kind of political dream”, said Molavi, that fulfills the aim of capturing and documenting violations from a Palestinian perspective and “in the service of an anticolonial, national liberation strategy.”

The investigations Forensic Architecture has conducted in the past, Molavi said, are also “an invitation” to share in the organization’s methodologies, techniques, and findings.

“There is a lot of work ahead,” said Molavi. “As tired as we are, this is just the beginning.”

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