In many cities around the US the image of the friendly copy on the beat has been replaced by intimidating, fully armed military-style troops. Israel has played a part in this transition. From traffic stops that target Black drivers to checkpoints that target immigrant communities, to police murders of Black, Brown and disabled people, police officers cause daily harm across our nation.
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 police departments since 9/11, but that is only part of the story.
At least 300 high-ranking sheriffs and police from agencies large and small, from New York to Orange County and Oakland California, have traveled to Israel for privately funded seminars in what is described as counter-terrorism techniques. Since 2002, the Anti-Defamation League (ADL), 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 trips to Israel and the Palestinian Occupied Territories to observe the operations of the Israeli national police, the Israeli Defense Forces, the Israeli Border patrol and the country’s intelligence agencies.
The most tangible evidence that the training is having an impact on American policing is that both countries are using identical equipment against demonstrations, according to a recent report by Israeli human rights organization B’Tselem and photographs of such equipment taken at demonstrations in Ferguson and Oakland and Anaheim, California. Over 10,000 American officials have trained with Israeli police and military units. The St. Louis Police Department that killed Michael Brown and initially placed Ferguson under siege trained with the Israeli military. For more information see Israel’s Export of Occupation Police Tactics in the third edition of Israeli and Palestinian Voices: A Dialogue with Both Sides.
In a slap at Israel, the City Council of Durham, North Carolina, voted unanimously to bar its police department from taking part in “military-style training” programs abroad. The council “opposes international exchanges with any country in which Durham officers receive military-style training since such exchanges do not support the kind of policing we want here in the City of Durham,” read the resolution voted on April 18, 2018 in a 6-0 vote.
The coalition of groups that brought forth the petition included Jewish Voice for Peace (JVP) and various civil rights groups. JVP has a project named Deadly Exchange, aimed at ending such exchange programs. “Abolishing police exchanges between Durham and Israel is a step toward true community safety that cares for people’s needs and is not modeled after occupation and apartheid.”
Responding to this resolution, the ADL’s Washington, D.C. regional director, Doron Ezickson wrote that “Far from training that helps the police terrorize Black and Brown communities, ADL’s law enforcement programs, including those in Israel, are designed to equip officers with the knowledge, understanding, and sense of accountability necessary to help safeguard all of our communities and ensure that our civil rights and liberties are rigorously protected.”
Unless, of course, you are a Palestinian or a Person of Color.
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