The Blurring Politics of Cyber Conflict : A Critical Study of the Digital in Palestine and Beyond

Abstract: This thesis explores how the politics of cyber conflict redefine violence, sovereignty, and territory in and through cyberspace. It does this by studying how the digital mediates different facets and experiences of conflict and security in Palestine. Through a comprehensive and context-informed approach, this research theorizes cyber conflict as a phenomenon spanning beyond the conventional sites, agencies, and categories of international cybersecurity and warfare. Paper I analyzes the game scenarios of international and national cyberwar exercises to understand how military strategists envision cyberwar and normalize the idea of cyberspace as a domain of warfare through the creation of simulacra of war. Paper II develops a disembodied perspective on the violence of cyber conflict by highlighting its harmful informational aspects through a reflection on how these have affected the process of knowledge production during the fieldwork of this dissertation. Paper III engages with the Palestinian national strategy for cybersecurity (and the lack thereof) to disentangle infrastructural/informational elements of the cyber/digital sovereignty narrative and reveal its emancipatory potential for actors other than the state. Paper IV interrogates the extent to which Israeli and Palestinian policies and strategies articulate cyberspace in territorial terms and reproduce its diverse spatial realities of annexation, occupation, and blockade in cyberspace. Paper V examines the relationship between conflict, technology, and freedom to critique the inclusion of internet access into the agenda on human rights by analyzing the political dynamics of connectivity in Palestine. Paper VI unravels how the video game's augmented reality of East Jerusalem constructs a spatial imaginary of the city that, by erasing the Palestinian urban space from digital representation, neutralizes the experience of play through a diminished reality. Paper VII explores how algorithms rearticulate security practices by making Palestinian users and contents hyper-visible to surveillance while also creating an aesthetics of disappearance through the erasure of Palestine from cyber and digital spaces. Through this comprehensive empirical approach, this research also contributes to cybersecurity scholarship by problematizing the epistemological relevance of traditional categories and thresholds of warfare and security for shedding light on the blurring politics of cyber conflict. Besides revealing the inadequacy of framing conflict in cyberspace as only an issue of warfare and security, the study of cyber conflict in Palestine also shows how the construction and operationalization of these narratives ultimately affect political life and individual liberties via (the seizure of) the digital.