Why We Should Be Alarmed That Israeli Forces and U.S. Police Are Training Together

Black and Palestinian activists speak out about a dangerous pattern.

Domenica Ghanem June 6, 2018

Israeli forces crack down on a protest against U.S. President Donald Trump's announcement to recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, near Beit El Checkpoint in Ramallah, West Bank on January 09, 2018. (Photo by Issam Rimawi/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)

Razan al-Naj­jar is the lat­est vic­tim in Israel’s onslaught of Pales­tini­ans to go viral. The 21-year-old nurse was shot dead by a sniper. Her only weapon? A wad of med­ical gauze. She’d been treat­ing pro­tes­tors who’ve been ral­ly­ing for their right to return to homes they were expelled from as refugees.

In 2015, Black and Palestinian artists and activists released a video and statement of Black-Palestinian solidarity in the face of state-sanctioned violence.

Unfor­tu­nate­ly, the death of anoth­er unarmed civil­ian is hard­ly even news to Palestinians.

May 14, the day the Unit­ed States moved its embassy to Jerusalem in sym­bol­ic sup­port of rec­og­niz­ing the city as Israel’s cap­i­tal, was also the blood­i­est day in this recent wave of demon­stra­tions. In just one day, at least 50 Pales­tini­ans were killed and 2,400 more injured by the Israeli mil­i­tary. (Oth­er counts put those fig­ures even higher.)

This isn’t an anom­aly. In this lat­est wave of demon­stra­tions, Israeli forces have killed dozens of unarmed pro­test­ers and wound­ed thou­sands more. And they’re not apologizing.

The vio­lence has addi­tion­al­ly trou­bling impli­ca­tions for the Unit­ed States — and not just for its for­eign pol­i­cy, but at home. That’s because U.S. police forces actu­al­ly train exten­sive­ly with the Israeli mil­i­tary. In fact, hun­dreds of fed­er­al, state, local, and even some cam­pus law enforce­ment depart­ments across the coun­try have trained in some capac­i­ty with the Israeli forces now gun­ning down Pales­tin­ian pro­test­ers in droves.

Some notable ones include the Chica­go police, respon­si­ble for shoot­ing and killing 17-year-old Laquan McDon­ald. The Bal­ti­more police too, who were respon­si­ble for killing 25-year-old Fred­die Gray. And the St. Louis depart­ment, which was deployed in Fer­gu­son when protests erupt­ed after police killed 18-year-old Michael Brown — prompt­ing Pales­tini­ans halfway across the world to begin tweet­ing advice for min­i­miz­ing injuries when police deploy tear gas.

U.S. police depart­ments are sent to Israel, or some­times Israeli forces come to the Unit­ed States, under the pre­tense of counter-ter­ror­ism training.

Appar­ent­ly that train­ing includes learn­ing the ben­e­fits of skunk water” — a liq­uid devel­oped by Israel that’s used to break up anti-occu­pa­tion protests like the ones occur­ring right now. After protests in Fer­gu­son, the St. Louis depart­ment start­ed stock­pil­ing the stuff.

And that now infa­mous NYPD Mus­lim sur­veil­lance pro­gram? The NYPD Intel­li­gence Divi­sion Chief respon­si­ble for that one got the idea from a sim­i­lar pro­gram used to spy on Palestinians.

It begs the ques­tion of whom the U.S. police con­sid­er terrorists. 

The for­mer head of Shin Bet (Israel’s inter­nal secu­ri­ty ser­vice) Avi Dichter — who has advo­cat­ed drop­ping heavy bombs on civil­ian-occu­pied Gaza apart­ment build­ings—believes there’s an inti­mate con­nec­tion between fight­ing crim­i­nals and fight­ing ter­ror­ists.” He calls these threats crim­iter­ror­ists.”

But this isn’t a one-sided trans­fer of tac­tics. Dichter likes to think of the war on ter­ror and the war on drugs in the same cat­e­go­ry. And when Israeli forces vis­it the Unit­ed States, they also receive train­ing from our police forces on the drug war tac­tics that have tar­get­ed Black and brown communities.

And just as well-doc­u­ment­ed as the U.S. police killings of Black Amer­i­cans are the Israeli mil­i­tary killings, tor­ture and sur­veil­lance of Pales­tin­ian adults and chil­dren.

Take 15-year-old Mohammed Tami­mi. He was shot dur­ing a protest and had to have part of his skull removed. He was then tak­en by Israeli forces in the mid­dle of the night, and beat­en into con­fess­ing that they didn’t shoot him in the face, despite med­ical records and eye­wit­ness accounts prov­ing otherwise. 

Of course, this sto­ry has an end­ing that Black Amer­i­cans can also relate to — those in uni­form will rarely be held account­able by the government.

While these con­nec­tions may be new to some, the activists fight­ing both against the occu­pa­tion of Pales­tine and for Black lives are not strangers to how their strug­gles are linked.

In 2015, Black and Pales­tin­ian artists and activists released a video and state­ment of Black-Pales­tin­ian sol­i­dar­i­ty in the face of state-sanc­tioned vio­lence. And the Move­ment for Black Lives plat­form includes demands for the U.S. to divest from the occu­pa­tion of Palestine.

The move­ment is tak­ing root in many cities. In Atlanta, the group #ATLis­Ready released a list of demands fol­low­ing the police killings of Alton Ster­ling and Phi­lan­do Castile — the first call­ing for the ter­mi­na­tion of the Atlanta Police Department’s involve­ment in Israeli train­ing pro­grams. And Jew­ish Voic­es for Peace launched Dead­ly Exchange,” a cam­paign to end the shar­ing of the worst prac­tices of policing.

And now, these move­ments are start­ing to notch some vic­to­ries. Durham, North Car­oli­na recent­ly became the first city to ban train­ings of U.S. police by the Israeli military. 

The suc­cess of Durham’s train­ing ban, spear­head­ed by Demil­i­ta­rize from Durham2Palestine, is even more extra­or­di­nary when you con­sid­er the efforts of both the pow­er­ful pro-Israel and police lob­bies to crack down on Black and Pales­tin­ian-led activist organizations.

While the joint forces of the Israeli mil­i­tary and the U.S. police are a ter­ri­fy­ing and often­times dead­ly affront, a joint Black and Pales­tin­ian force for good is emerg­ing as quite pow­er­ful itself. And as the death toll ris­es here and in Gaza, it’s need­ed now more than ever.

This arti­cle was joint­ly pro­duced by In These Times and For­eign Pol­i­cy In Focus.

Domeni­ca Ghanem is the media man­ag­er at the Insti­tute for Pol­i­cy Studies.
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