How Israeli Occupation Fuels America’s Police Brutality

Israeli Border Police YAMAS training.

On June 25, just barely over two months on the job as the UK Shadow Secretary of State for Education, Rebecca Long-Bailey was sacked for spreading an “anti-semitic conspiracy theory.” Labour had been racked by years upon years of anti-semitism allegations from inside and outside the organization, and the new leader of the party, Keir Starmer, strived to immediately stamp it out where his predecessor Jeremy Corbyn had been perceived as dragging his feet. The conspiracy theory Long-Bailey had been accused of spreading? A quotation deep in a celebrity interview in The Independent that she had shared online, where British actress Maxine Peake had said that the strangulation technique used to kill George Floyd had been taught to police officers by members of the Israeli military. While it hasn’t been proven that Derek Chauvin, the now-infamous Minneapolis police officer, had himself been trained by any Israeli Defense Force soldier in the method that would later kill Floyd, the basis of the accusation, that Israel has had a hand in helping train the present-day tactics of American police, has been a decades-long, thoroughly documented, and widely publicized program.

The program that has been deemed by the Jewish Voice for Peace as the “Deadly Exchange” began in 2002, the year following the September 11th attacks and when the War on Terror was in its infancy. Representatives from American police departments large and small, beginning with officers from New York City and Los Angeles, travelled to Jerusalem to prepare for potential counter-terrorism operations. The threat of al-Qaeda seemed to be around every corner and there seemed to be no better candidate to learn from on how to deal with such threats than the State of Israel. At the time, the IDF had been embroiled for two years in the Second Intifada and, when the summer of 2002 rolled around, had just completed Operation Defensive Shield, a massive military operation against the combined forces of Fatah, Hamas, and Islamic Jihad. Israel had been in the long-standing business of suppressing uprisings against its occupation of Palestine, and American police officers wanted to transfer this expertise in policing an occupation zone in the West Bank to policing the city streets of middle America. 

Mickey Levy, the former Chief of the Jerusalem Police, was clear in the connections he sought to create between the experiences of Israeli police and American police. Levy would tell The Washington Post in 2005, “We are a little nation that has paid with blood for our experience. We don’t want the American people or the American police to pay as we have.”

Years passed. Israeli Prime Ministers came and went. Ariel Sharon, who himself had been found personally liable by Israeli courts for the massacre of thousands of Palestinian and Lebanese civilians at Sabra and Shatila, was replaced by Ehud Olmert, who during his administration would go on to oversee the killing of almost a thousand Palestinians in Gaza during Operation Cast Lead. While settlements in Gaza were forcibly dismantled, settlements in the West Bank continued to be built. As human rights violations reported to be the responsibility of the Israeli government mounted, the scope of these police exchanges with Israel increased in size and scope, going from visits with former Israeli local police chiefs to being trained by the highest echelons of the Israeli military.

The Anti-Defamation League, a Jewish organization dedicated to fighting anti-semitism that predates the establishment of Israel, began organizing many of these trips, with detailed itineraries and stacked to the brim with training exercises. One itinerary from 2016 includes meetings with former officials from the Shin Bet, Israel’s internal security service that is notorious among human rights watchers for its history of using physical and psychological torture on detainees, those detainees sometimes being Palestinian doctors and journalists. American police officers on the trip would then meet with IDF officials directly in charge of parts of the occupation of Palestine, like Colonel Ron Gertner who oversees Hebron in the “Samaria and Judea District”, which is the Israeli government’s term for Palestine’s West Bank. Hebron has been the site of extensive violence under Israeli occupation, with many instances of IDF soldiers over the years shooting unarmed Palestinian civilians.. Sometimes police officers met with Israeli officials directly responsible for human rights violations, like Nitzan Nuriel, a former IDF commander who personally gave orders during the First Intifada to beat Palestinian detainees. 

The rapid development of ties between the Israeli military and American police departments has been a symptom of the larger police militarization trend in the United States. Beginning in 1990, the administration of President George H.W. Bush created the 1033 Program within the Department of Defense. The program was ostensibly designed to help fight the War on Drugs and assist local law enforcement in their endeavors. It allowed the military of the United States, at the time involved in globe-spanning conflicts in Panama and Iraq, to transfer any excess equipment to American police departments who request it, as long as it was deemed “suitable for use” by said law enforcement agencies. This program allowed for a massive pipeline of army equipment to police departments large and small that would, in any other situation, find its place on the streets of Mosul or Kandahar, used by occupying U.S. soldiers. 

Oxford, Alabama, a town of no more than 22,000 people, received a Puma, an armored infantry fighting vehicle equipped with machine guns, anti-tank guided missiles, and a grenade launcher. Snoqualmie, Washington, the small quaint town where much of Twin Peaks was shot, received a BAE Caiman, a mine-resistant vehicle that has seen extensive use during the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and presently in the civil wars in Yemen and Libya. Ohio’s Department of Natural Resources received 240 M16 rifles, the service rifle of many NATO countries. Questions have been raised around the country about why local police departments, or even any police department at all, needs these kinds of weaponry, and excuses by spokespeople typically fall back onto “being prepared” for something, however nebulous that explanation may be. The idea of a total civil insurrection or guerilla warfare campaign might be more of a veritable topic of discussion in Israel rather than on the streets of North Dakota, but Israeli police departments and military officials continue to offer their training, their so-called much needed expertise, to American law enforcement officers, and those back in the States are more than willing to come along for the ride.

One thing is made clear throughout all of these trainings, meetings, and exercises: direct correlations are made between the Palestinians the Israeli government are suppressing through all means military, and criminals that the American police will be suppressing back home. While the threat of an al-Qaeda squad attacking New York City or Los Angeles might have been a terrifying one the year after 9/11, that threat exists in no real way any longer. The so-called threat, a threat that some Senators and Congressmen in the United States insist that only the military can handle, is criminals and protesters on the streets. US police, including the Minneapolis Police deemed completely irreformable, are not being taught by community organizers with foreign perspectives, but rather by occupying troops attempting to destroy a nation-state. Is it any wonder then that American officers may take these lessons home with them?

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