LONDON — Last year, Israeli police officers raided a Bedouin village in the Negev desert called Umm al-Hiran. The Israeli authorities said that during the raid a villager had purposely run over an Israeli officer, killing him. They called it a terrorist attack. The villager died at the scene. Silent police helicopter footage seemed to show his car accelerating into the officer.
Forensic Architecture uncovered a different story.
You may recall Forensic Architecture from headlines a few years back. It investigated the killing of two Palestinian teenagers in the West Bank. Local and international media crews were on hand when the teenagers were killed. Security cameras recorded the shootings. At first, Israel’s minister of defense said the teenagers had been throwing Molotov cocktails at Israeli soldiers, despite security footage showing otherwise. The minister said the footage had been doctored.
Forensic Architecture combed through the videos and social media posts. Using architectural rendering software, it pieced together a computer model of the site and tracked the trajectory of the bullets. That pinpointed the soldier who fired them and the weapon he used. Comparing acoustic signatures, Forensic Architecture then matched the fatal shots to the distinct sounds of live ammunition, contradicting the military’s claim that only rubber bullets had been fired. All this contributed to Israeli officials reversing themselves, and charging the soldier with manslaughter.
A survey of Forensic Architecture’s work is now on view at the Institute of Contemporary Arts in London, through May 6. A collaborative of designers, filmmakers, coders, archaeologists, psychologists and others, based at Goldsmiths, University of London, Forensic Architecture acts more or less like a detective agency. It partners with groups like Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch. Its funders include the European Research Council. And its investigations are whodunits. Eyal Weizman, an Israeli-British architect, is the group’s founder and resident Columbo.