Israel and the U.S. — Deadly Exchanges
Notes from presentation by Beth Harris to Palestinian dinner organized by the Upper New York Conference Task Force on Peace with Justice in Palestine/Israel, June 1, 2017
I would like to honor the memories of two dear friends of this community, Joan Overman and Shifa Mukahal, who passed in January 2009, may their souls rest in peace. Joan, who lived in Corning, NY, and Shifa, who lived in Bethany, Palestine, dedicated their lives to reaching across borders of religion, ethnicity and geography to create community. The last time I saw Shifa before she died, she gave me this beautiful, traditional Palestinian dress, which I am wearing tonight to honor our friendship. Poverty, the militarized checkpoints around her neighborhood, and fear of the Israeli soldiers at the checkpoints prevented her from getting the health care she needed and cut her life short.
I come to you today as a member of the Ithaca chapter of Jewish Voice for Peace and the national JVP to share our new campaign, Deadly Exchange, and to invite you to join us. I am so pleased that we have members of Jewish Voice for Peace-Syracuse Jewish Voice for Peace-Syracuse, who are organizing one of the first events in our national campaign, which we will announce at the end.
In Jewish Voice for Peace, we are disturbed that both the United States and Israeli governments appeal to our concerns for the safety of our families and communities to justify violence against others who are portrayed as dangerous outsiders—due to their race, ethnicity, religion or national origins. We are told that perpetrating violence toward people of color, Muslims, immigrants and Palestinians will protect us and our nations.
In a 2015 study, young black men, 15 to 34, were nine times as likely to be killed by police in the United States than other demographic groups; 5 times white men of same age. We also see this racist, dehumanizing approach to policing in individual cases across the country. For example, the police killing of 12-year-old Tamir Rice, who was shot seconds after the police arrived outside a youth recreation center. His 14-year-old sister was pushed to the ground, handcuffed and put in a police car, when she tried to help her dying brother. No charges were brought against the police for this unprovoked killing.
In Palestine, children who are shot by Israeli soldiers and settlers are left helpless on the ground to die. Last year, in 2016, 35 Palestinian children were killed by Israeli soldiers in the West Bank, during the same period 1 Israeli child was killed by a Palestinian. During the 50-day Israeli Operation Protective Edge in Gaza in 2014, Israeli soldiers killed over 2000 Palestinians, including over 500 Palestinian children, according to UN statistics. Just under half of the children were killed while seeking shelter or in their homes, along with other members of their families when their homes were bombed. During the same 50-day period, 72 Israelis, including 1 child, were killed by Palestinians. 67 were Israeli soldiers.
During this Israeli military operation, our New York Governor Cuomo went to Israel to show his support for Netanyahu and the Jewish Israelis. He didn’t find it necessary to even mention the Palestinians killed, wounded and left homeless during the operation—needless to say, there was no mention of the 500: 1 kill ratio for children.
Palestinian parents fear that can’t protect their children, and their children doubt they can survive into adulthood. This is also true for many children of color in the United States. When Trump was elected president, these fears escalated. Crying, my five-year-old grandniece in Seattle, who is Black, asked her mom if they would have to move far away to be safe. Children of my Muslim friends feared that the new president would expel their families for their only home, since he so often said Muslims should not be allowed in our country because they are a threat to our security.
On the other hand, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu welcomed Trump’s election, an opportunity to intensify their deadly partnership. One example of this partnership, is the exchange programs that bring together police, ICE, border patrol, and FBI–from the United States– with soldiers, police, and border agents–from Israel. In these programs, “worst practices” are shared to promote and extend discriminatory and repressive policing 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.
As a Jewish organization dedicated to the safety and justice for all peoples, Jewish Voice for Peace has decided to draw the line at these exchanges. From the US to Israel, we know that the path to safety for all is in building joint struggles for justice and showing up to protect and defend one another. That’s the exchange–between people’s movements and communities, rather than policing–that we must grow.
Who are participating in the exchanges?
Thousands of the highest-ranking police officials and law enforcement executives in cities, along the border, and on college campuses across the country have participated in the exchange programs, which are promoted as opportunities for U.S. law enforcement to learn counterterrorism tactics from the Israeli military and police. US police are being trained like soldiers for combat, by a military that considers the entire Palestinian population as their “enemy.” A few examples of participation in exchange programs:
In Ithaca, Kathy Zoner, Chief of the Cornell University Police Force, was the first police chief of an American university to attend an “Experience Israel Training Tour” to learn about Israeli counter-terrorism and security measures. According to Zoner, the experience “tied in nicely with our jobs here of keeping the campus safe from external threats.” The number of terrorist incidents in Ithaca has remained at zero.
The relationship between the New York Police Department (NYPD) with Israel’s occupation forces is perhaps the most extreme. They have actually opened in office in Israel to maintain daily contact.
Bomb squad members from cities along the U.S.-Mexico border have travelled to Israel in an effort to improve techniques and tactics for dealing with illegal immigrations and IEDs.
In April 2017, Police executives from six regional police departments studied counter-terrorism efforts in Israel. The organizers from the Anti-Defamation League reported that the police heard firsthand from Arab-Israelis, IDF commanders, a survivor of a suicide bomb bus attack, residents of a kibbutz on the Gaza border, police experts and scholars including representatives of the Israel National Police, the Israel Defense Forces and in Bethlehem, the Palestinian Police Authority.
Who didn’t they hear from?
- Palestinians made homeless from Israel’s house demolitions;
- Palestinian children who have been stolen from their homes in night raids, interrogated, tortured, and incarcerated in adult prisons far from home for throwing stones;
- Palestinian parents whose children were killed by Israel’s bombs and bullets and Palestinian children who became orphans during Israel’s invasions of Gaza.
- They didn’t hear about the hardships of Palestinians in Gaza remaining under blockage for 10 years, causing less than 10% of the water to be drinkable and access to less than 6 hours a day of electricity.
Israel’s military and police tactics, honed in the occupied Palestinian territories, should not be a model of U.S. policing. International human rights groups have condemned shoot-to-kill policies and extrajudicial killings of Palestinians. Israel markets itself as an expert in counterterrorism, promoting its expertise in using racial profiling and mass surveillance, excessive force and other tactics to maintain control of Palestinians under occupation. We do not want Israeli police to intensify their own repressive tactics based on Israeli counterterrorism techniques.
JVP media coordinator Naomi Dann and War Resisters League field organizer Ali Issa write, “(C)lose ties between defense industry companies and security forces in Israel have created a norm where the arms industry is vastly profiting from the militarization of policing, surveillance and suppression of protests.” There is a similar pattern in the United States, which is the leading arms exporter in the world. Due to the fact the US does not always keep track of the number and location of arms transfers, no one even knows who is killing whom with these weapons, but we do know that the manufacturers are making a killing regardless of who dies.
Who are these terrorists supposedly threatening our lives?
- Native Americans and environmental activists protecting their land and water from being contaminated mining and transportation of fossil fuels have been called jihadists.
- The refugees trying to come to the United States are called terrorists These are men, women and children trying to find security and economic survival in the United States, often after US military interventions have devastated their communities, and provisions of trade agreements have forced small farmers off their lands.
- The youth in the Black Lives Matter movement are called domestic terrorists because this movement trying to protect themselves and their communities from racist predatory policing tactics. State legislatures are trying to criminalize protest in US cities as domestic terrorism.
And who are the primary targets of Israel’s counter-terrorism tactics?
- Palestinian children throwing stones at armored tanks and soldiers in riot gear who are invading their neighborhoods and villages,
- Palestinian human rights defenders, farmers and shephards protesting their land being confiscated for Israeli military exercises and the building of Jewish only-farming communities.
- Palestinian professionals and civil society leaders organizing nonviolent strategies of boycott and divestment to achieve their fundamental rights.
I am sad to say that the organizers of the exchanges between Israel’s military and US policing forces are predominantly U.S.-based Jewish organizations. including the Anti-Defamation League, the American Jewish Committee, the Jewish Institute for National Security Affairs, and AIPAC, among others. Jewish Voice for Peace believes that civil rights organizations and Jewish communal institutions have no business participating in further endangering those subjected to and resisting Israeli and US oppressive and discriminatory policies. ICE and FBI agents should not be trading tips with an occupying army. We also believe so called progressive cities must end their participation in these deadly exchange programs.
How will we take action?
- Our first phase of action will focus on making connections. This means raising awareness about these “deadly exchanges” by creating coalitions and networks and educating the bases of our organizations. We are doing this tonight!
- As we continue building partnerships and analysis, we’ll also start the legislative component of the campaign: introducing resolutions at the local level or otherwise demanding action from city and county governments.
- Our collective research and partnerships will help to determine the ongoing strategies of the campaign.
It is not enough to end the deadly exchanges: we must become communities of mutual support that cross borders meant to isolate struggles for justice. One example is the successful hunger strike of Palestinian prisoners, victims of mass incarceration through the imposition of an arbitrary system of military justice. Despite the Israeli government’s attempt to isolate the prisoners from their families, communities, and even other prisoners, the strike spread throughout the Israeli prison system, with over 1500 prisoners participating, across political factions, creating a unified set of demands. They deprived their own bodies of sustenance to get the world’s attention, which inspired solidarity demonstrations throughout Palestine and solidarity fasts around the world. Aarab Barghouti, the son of strike leader Marwan Barghouti and a college student in California, began the “salt water challenge” as a social media campaign to spread solidarity with the Palestinian prisoners across the globe, which included JVP chapters and Arab celebrities.
The creation of the Sumud Freedom Camp, inspired by the Standing Rock encampments in North Dakota, is another example of a recent solidarity community. In the South Hebron Hills, Palestinians from the Sarura village were accompanied by Palestinian activists, Israeli activists and Jews from the Diaspora to return to their homes. Fadel Amer hosted the first Iftar (breaking-the-fast) meal on the first night of Ramadan in his Sarura home for the first time in twenty years. Afterwards the IDF demolished the camp, destroying everything, but camp still persists, replanting olive trees and preparing for other villagers to return.
- Campaign by Youth Against Settlements to Open Shuhada Street in Hebron, joined by Veterans for Peace and Israel’s Breaking the Silence, and to return the Palestinian names to the streets in their neighborhoods, supported by Rabbis for Human Rights
- Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement, Palestinians from the Occupied Territories, inside Israel and around the world with Peace activists to boycott and divest from institutions and corporations that provide the infrastructure for Israel apartheid system of governance, profit from killing and mass incarceration and destroy our environment.
Standing together can take many forms within the United States:
- The men who risked and lost their lives when defending two teenage girls in Portland from a white supremacist, anti-Muslim attacker.
- Showing up at airports around the country to protect against the travel ban against people from Muslim countries.
- Creating sanctuary churches.