In many cities across the United States the image of the friendly cop on the beat has been replaced by intimidating, fully armed military-style troops. Israel has played a large part in this transition. The militarization of US law enforcement has been driven by the creation of various homeland security initiatives and billions of dollars of surplus military-grade equipment donated to local departments since 9/11. Thousands of high-ranking sheriffs and police from agencies large and small, from New York to Washington, D.C, Orange Country and Oakland to St. Louis, have traveled to Israel for privately funded seminars in what is described as counter-terrorism techniques.
Since 2002, the Anti-Defamation League, the American Jewish Committee’s Project Interchange and the Jewish Institute for National Security Affairs have sent police chiefs, assistant chiefs and captains on fully paid rips to Israel and the Palestinian occupied territories to observe the operations of the Israeli national police, the Israeli Defense Forces, the Israeli border police and the country’s intelligence agencies. The training also includes meetings with officials from Israel’s Shin Bet, the security agency behind surveillance, as well as the torture and targeted assassinations, of Palestinians in both Israel and the occupied territories. The fact that thousands of American police officers have been trained by Israelis, thus the burgeoning of violent military-like tactics used against ordinary Americans, is only one link in a long chain of deadly exchanges between the two countries. Over 100 Minnesota law enforcement officers attended a 2012 conference organized by the Israeli consulate in Chicago and conducted by the Israeli police. The neck technique taught by Israeli trainers was incorporated into the Minneapolis police manual.
The growing Israeli role in shaping the American security state has allowed Israel to push its political priorities past its traditional stronghold over the US Congress to individual cities and city councils across the country. Even if some of the Israeli tactics, which are currently applied by the US police, are discontinued under the collective chants of ‘Black Lives Matter,’ Israel, if not stopped, will continue to define Washington’s security priorities because their relationship is much stronger and deeper than anyone ever imagined possible.
According to Jewish Voice for Peace, the oppression goes both ways: “One of the most dangerous places where the US and Israel converge are in exchange programs that bring together police, ICE, border patrol and FBI from the US to soldiers, police, border agents and the like from Israel. In these programs, ‘worst practices’ are shared to promote and extend discriminatory and repressive policing practices that already exist in both countries, including extrajudicial executions, shoot-to-kill policies, police murders, racial profiling, massive spying and surveillance, deportation and detention, and attacks on human rights defenders.
These programs transform Israel’s 70 years of dispossession and 50 years of brutal military occupation into a marketing brochure for ‘successful’ policing. According to Stefanie Fox, Jewish Voice for Peace’s deputy director, “Under the banner of counterterrorism training, high-ranking police and immigration officials visit checkpoints, prisons, settlements, police stations, and other key sites that are central to Israel’s policy of occupation and apartheid.”
Police exchanges with US officers are premised on Israel’s experience with terrorism and its security forces handling of continued risks. Israel began its campaign of ethnic cleansing when in 1948 it forced the expulsion of over 750,000 Palestinians from their homes. It continued in 1967 during the Six-Day war when Israel seized control of the West Bank, Gaza, East Jerusalem and the Golan Heights. Since then it has maintained its occupation, including building illegal Israeli settlements on Palestinian lands, itself a violation of international law.
Now, the same security forces accused of mistreating its citizens and stateless Palestinian subjugates are training American police. Israel is trying to get the US to see the world as divided into camps of good and evil, and they want to tighten the US commitment to Israel all the while claiming it is on the front lines of fighting terror. The whole project is a political project, and that may be the intended outcome.
Looking at the recent riots in Minneapolis, it is hard not to agree with Israeli author and peace activist, Jeff Halper, himself a native of Minnesota, when he claims “that people around the world are being ‘Palestinianized’ while their governments and law enforcement agencies are ‘Israelised’ when citizens exercise their democratic right to challenge injustice. With over 70 years of experience suppressing Palestinians who happen to be the ‘wrong’ ethnicity, Israel has developed a culture of militarism that has become the envy of authoritarian regimes around the world, including some which claim to be democracies.”
My book Israeli and Palestinian Voices: A Dialogue with Both Sides, now in its third edition, can be found here: