Credit: Faiz Abu Rmeleh/Anadolu Agency
The known murder of George Floyd by the hand of a Minneapolis police officer, occurred on May 25th 2020, shed light on systematic racism and frequent acts of violence against black people by members of the law enforcement in the USA. In fact, Floyd’s death has driven thousands of people to march in the streets not only for Floyd’s justice, but for all the cases of racism committed by the US authorities, most of whom have been left unpunished: between 2013 and 2019, the American police killed 7666 people, according to data compiled by Mapping Police Violence (a research and advocacy group). Although this kind of brutality is something which is not spoken enough about, we shouldn’t be that surprised.
Since the early 90s, hundreds of law enforcement officers, including police officers and agents from the FBI, CIA, and Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), have participated to a special training program which consisted in police exchanges in Israel, or summits within the US sponsored by Israeli lobby organisations. However, the program, managed by the Anti-Defamation League (ADL), is mainly focused on how the Israeli law enforcement deals with the threat of terrorism, an issue that has gained greater importance in the years following the 9/11 terrorist attack. This bond between the USA and Israel has been raising many controversies, in fact, many claim that it encourages American law enforcement to adopt harsher policies, sharpen racial profiling and police brutality (often called “a selective use of aggression”). All these methods, which stand as threats for international human rights, are commonly used in Israel against Palestinians, widely known as longtime victims of Israel’s frequent violence and killings.
Therefore, under pressure of a coalition of progressive organisations, including several groups affiliated with the pro-Palestinians Boycott, Sanctions and Divestment movement, some US police departments withdrew from the exchange training program. One of these, in Durham, North Carolina, banned the training after a petition by activists that gathered more than 1,400 signatures amid days of global protests sparked by Floyd’s murder. Before Durham, in December 2018 Vermont State Police and Northampton Police Department (Massachusetts) had decided to cancel their participation after several accusations against the ADL program.
As a result, in 2018, ADL told Haaretz that the “weeklong seminar enables participants to study how Israel works to thwart terrorism within its framework of a democratic and multicultural nation” and that “participants meet with senior officials from both Israeli and Palestinian law enforcement to learn about the challenges that they face and how they overcome them”. In its defence, it also added that “the assertion that American-Jewish institutions are responsible for rising levels of police brutality and racism against people of color in the United States because of this program is patently false, and neither helpful in dealing with the racial challenges facing this country nor in solving the complex Israeli Palestinian conflict.”
Despite this statement, it is not so difficult to find remarkable similarities between strategies and techniques used both by Israeli and US authorities. One of these is surely the most currently argued: the knee-on-neck technique. In fact, photographs taken in March have shown Israeli forces taking similar positions over unarmed protesters nearby the Al-Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem’s Old City. Israel, in turn, denied it by assuring that its officers are not trained to use knee-to-neck techniques. Nevertheless, during the last weeks of protests in the USA, American authorities used tear-gas against peaceful protesters, mass arrested dissidents, detained lawmakers and targeted journalists: all these tactics are easily attributable to the ones frequently used by Israel forces against Palestinians.
We cannot forget that cases of police violence have not only occurred in America in the past few weeks: another tragedy, closely related to Floyd’s murder, happened in Jerusalem and caused the death of Iyad Hallak.
Iyad Hallak, a 32-year-old Palestinian affected by autism, used to pass Israeli police every day to reach his special needs school in Jerusalem’s Old City. On the morning of 30 May 2020, the Israeli border police shot him to death as it believed that Hallak had a pistol, but, as a matter of fact, it was not true. He was actually unarmed. This unjustified killing left his family and community in grief and pointed out the harshest reality that Palestinian men and women must face every day. Iyad died as innocent, sentenced to be victim of a regime of occupation.
Luckily for us, there is some good news: Palestinian Americans are not going to tolerate this. As the existence of the US training program with Israel became widely-known, the US Campaign for Palestinian Right claimed that the sources of US police’s racist and repressive policing tactics are to be found in Israel training, raising their voice alongside the African American community during Black Lives Matter protests. In addition, the national committee for the pro-Palestinian Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions movement (BDS) expressed its support for “Black Lives Matter”,by stating that they stand in “solidarity with our Black brothers and sisters” who are calling for justice after “the latest wave of insufferable police murders of Black Americans”.
At this point, it is evident that these recent events are teaching us one fundamental thing, that we are hopeful to remember: it is time to demand justice for all minorities, no matter where they are from. We are all connected in some way.
Anna Nardone (Università di Bologna)