Legacies of State Violence and Black-Palestinian Solidarity

In the wake of Trump’s victory, the world waits with trepidation for what 2017 will bring to U.S. domestic and foreign policy. The future is uncertain for Palestinians and Black Americans, whose parallel struggles have become increasingly highlighted in the last few years.

Four weeks into Israel’s attacks on Gaza in 2014, protesters in Ferguson held signs claiming solidarity with Palestine. In turn, Palestinians took to Twitter to advise Ferguson protesters on how to deal with tear gas, underscoring the similarities in their struggles. This past August, the Movement 4 Black Lives published a platform stance that calls for the U.S. to cut military expenditures in Israel and explicitly demands divestment from companies profiting from the Israeli occupation. Such acts of solidarity have made vital inroads. But now with Trump at the helm, we have yet to see how this will deter the progress we have collectively made in altering the discourse.

As the President-elect, Donald Trump’s divisive rhetoric will soon translate into legislation.

Trump’s vows to restore law and order project a troubling vision of the future for many Americans.

In a Fox News event, Trump said he would reinstate the “stop-and-frisk” policy,  despite it being ruled unconstitutional for disproportionately targeting the Black community. It is important to note that these procedures echo the tactics used at Israeli military checkpoints,  which Trump has praised as an exemplary model for security, claiming, “Israel has done an unbelievable job, and they’ll profile. They’ll profile. They see somebody suspicious. They will profile.”

Despite the controversy regarding what the President-elect says he will change, the danger for many social justice movements lies in what policies he will preserve to maintain a certain status-quo of domination. Over the past ten years, the U.S. has granted over $38 billion in aid to Israel. Trump has ensured that Israel will continue to receive related military funding, effectively subsidizing increased militarized violence on Palestinian bodies. In the same decade, Black Americans have witnessed a similar increased militarization in the police forces within their communities.

What can be seen is that ongoing acts of state-sanctioned violence indicate direct and deliberate collusion between the U.S. and Israeli police forces. Post-9/11 American police have looked to Israel’s militarized tactics as an exemplary model to quell unrest and maintain control, exchanging strategies and equipment. The result has been the use of tear gas, heavy machinery during protests, and deaths of unarmed civilians, mirroring the violence that pervades the everyday life of Palestinians.   

Since systematic cooperation between these two colonial forces prevailed long before the arrival of Trump’s administration and will prevail beyond his term, we need to assess the future of the Movement for Black Lives and the Palestinian Liberation Movement. The priority should be understanding and exposing the present level of collaboration between the two states. Being vigilantly aware of the connections between U.S. and Israeli state violence will further strengthen a shared liberation effort.

Concerted State Violence from the US to Israel

When demonstrations ignited following Mike Brown’s death, armed police met protestors with brutal tactics. Using tear gas, “triple chaser” canisters, and stun grenades, police officers were prepared to silence civil unrest with military-style force. Standing in front of a line of military tactical vehicles, one protester shouted, “You gonna shoot us? Is this the Gaza Strip?”

The parallel tactics used by the St. Louis Police Department (SLPD) and the Israel Defense Force (IDF) were no coincidence. In fact, the tear gas and stun grenades used in Missouri are the same as those used by the IDF, and the same long-range acoustic devices (LRAD), which are  ear-damaging military sound cannons, have been used from Ferguson to Gaza.  This equipment is manufactured by the US-based companies Combined Tactical Systems and Defense Technology Corp, which directly profit from the militarization of US and Israeli police forces. The shared manufacturer points to a larger profit-driven relationship between the Israeli and American military industrial complexes.

Three years before the Ferguson protests, then St. Louis County Police Chief Tim Fitch travelled to Israel for a week-long Israeli training camp, with the intention of adopting their crowd-control strategies for application in the US police department. Nearly every major US police department has sent high-ranking officers to Israel for lessons in occupation enforcement—officials from Baltimore, Florida, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, California, Arizona, Connecticut, New York, Massachusetts, North Carolina, Georgia, Washington state, and DC.

Various pro-Israel groups sponsor these trips for police officers across the nation, providing thousands of top officials with all-expenses paid trips to Israel and stateside training sessions with Israeli military and intelligence officials. The Anti-Defamation League has provided trips to over 700 police officers through their “Extremist and Terrorist Threats” course, and has shared these Israeli tactics to over 45,000 officers in their “Law Enforcement and Society” program, which is required training for all new FBI agents. Similarly, the Jewish Institute for National Security Affairs (JINSA) organizes trips and training sessions whereby officers are flown to Israel, returning with Israeli tactics that are then integrated into the training routines of other officers back home for application in the U.S.

The increase in police brutality within the U.S. is directly linked to “the Israeli trainings that the Department of Homeland Security is giving all American police officers,” according to political commentator John Miranda. Since trainings ramped up in the mid-2000s, US police forces have become increasingly militarized. Militarization initially escalated after the 1033 Program, which transfers excess military equipment to civilian law enforcement agencies and has provided $5.1 billion of military equipment to over 8,000 local law enforcement agencies from 1997 to 2014. In conjunction, the U.S. has a well-documented history of enlisting retired military veterans to join police forces, bringing with them military “shoot-to-kill” instincts.

While the “shoot-to-kill” policy of the U.S. police gains notoriety, similar tactics are being used in Israel, according to Amnesty International and the UN. As Israeli political leader Yair Lapid stated, “Don’t hesitate. Even at the start of an attack, shooting to kill is correct. If someone is brandishing a knife, shoot him.” Like the excessive force aimed at Ferguson protesters, Israel has historically justified its use of excessive force as necessary for its self-defense. For the past 68 years since the 1948 Nakba, Israel has been under a “state of emergencythat has resulted in “the establishment of military tribunals to try civilians, prohibitions on the publication of books and newspapers, house demolitions, indefinite administrative detention, extensive powers of search and seizure, the sealing off of territories and the imposition of curfews.” These laws are predicated on the assertion of terrorism prevention.

It is these “counterterrorist” measures that the U.S. seeks to replicate. After September 11, Israeli military trainings have dramatically escalated. Director of JINSA’s Law Enforcement Exchange Program (LEEP) and former assistant FBI director Steve Pomerantz told The Jerusalem Post, “Israel’s security agencies are always on the forefront on the fight against terrorists. Israel is the best at dealing with terrorism and we want to learn from your experience.” Tammy Gillies of the Anti-Defamation League has similarly aligned US and Israeli efforts against terrorism, stating that “the mission to Israel is a tremendous opportunity for American law enforcement professionals to learn from their counterparts in the Middle East, draw from the latest developments in terrorism prevention and bring these methods back home to implement in their communities.” Gillies thus establishes Israel as the force of law and order in the Middle East, the necessary overseer and peacekeeper to domesticate the dangerous, abject Arab bodies.

The narrative of “counterterrorism” simultaneously legitimizes Israeli military force against civilians while deeming Palestinians pathologically dangerous, a group that must  be controlled with brute force. In aligning themselves with Israel, the U.S. reproduces the inherently racist framework of the colonial project that, in this instance, marks Brown bodies as antithetical to the American values of freedom and equality. Time and again, Israeli defense authorities legitimize their “counterterrorism” measures to justify their occupation, which includes overt and systematic violence against Palestinians. The tactics and events in Palestine are not isolated. These hegemonic forces are similarly being deployed in the U.S.—just as Palestinian bodies are criminalized, Black bodies are deemed deviant and violent. “Counter-terrorist” claims uphold a larger, transnational system of racism.

Trump has promised to “liberate” the country from “crime and terrorism and lawlessness.” This heavy-handed “law and order” rhetoric ensures security for some and ensures violence for others. Like the Apartheid Wall in the Occupied Territories, the wall proposed along the Mexican border appeals to an old, otherizing narrative. The militarization of US and Israeli police forces feeds that same narrative, underpinning an expansive system of white supremacy that directly benefits those in power.

Unified Resistance from the U.S. to Palestine

With this understanding, the Palestinian Liberation Movement and the Black Lives Matter Movement intentionally disrupt the “law and order” framework. From thrown rocks to shut down freeways, these liberation efforts have openly questioned the beneficiaries of a militarized police force. Recently, combined efforts have put these issues on the international agenda, proliferating upwards from university student groups, to community organizing, to the Bernie Sanders platform. The recent BLM platform stance actively supports the BDS Movement, condemns Israeli killing of Palestinians, and has brought the term ‘genocide’ to the forefront of American political discourse. These small discursive steps should not be diminished, and strategies like these will be critical as we look forward.

2017 marks the 50th anniversary of the Naksa, or “setback,” marking Israel’s conquest of the West Bank and Gaza that dispossessed the Palestinian people. Since 1967, Israel has maintained its stronghold and expanded settlements in the occupied Palestinian territories; during this time, US foreign policy toward Israel has not wavered in financial and rhetorical support. Fifty years of occupation has left Palestine with little optimism for the future.

With the inauguration of Trump and the anniversary of the Naksa, 2017 reminds us of shared histories of control and repression.  For Black Americans, a Trump presidency is an extension of a long legacy of systemic domination that has stretched through slavery, Jim Crow, ghettoization, and the mass incarceration era. In this legacy, Trump has offered no substantive policies towards addressing the demands of M4BL or protecting their right to protest. Meanwhile, Israeli settlers continue to occupy Palestinian land, and Trump has pledged “maximum military, strategic and tactical cooperation from the United States.”

And yet, 2017 also marks fifty years of solidarity claims between Palestinians and Black Americans. After the 1967 Naksa, the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) published a newsletter expressing overt support of the Palestinian Liberation Movement. In the 1970s, Black activists  published “An Appeal by Black Americans Against United States Support of the Zionist Government of Israel.” Public figures over the decades, such as Malcolm X, Jesse Jackson, and Angela Davis, have voiced the crucial importance of recognizing the struggle for Palestinian human rights as one that reflects their own fight.

Today, solidarity extends beyond verbal support. Black and Palestinian activists have joined together in the BDS movement with a common campaign against G4S, a company that provides technologies for prisons in the United States and Palestine. Following pressures from the campaign, Columbia University, Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, United Methodist Church, and United Church of Christ all divested from G4S. Their stances have sent a ripple-effect of similar responses across the globe.

The united resistance between the M4BL and Palestinian liberation movement can change public discourse in a way that policy cannot. Joint efforts have the power to reinscribe the terms of the future, as they have done and are doing.  As the U.S. and Israel conspire to push ethnocidal policies, it would serve these movements to be equally vigilant and strategic in response. Looking towards the future, there is much to gain by invoking the bonds between the two struggles.


Jada Bullen and Marie Helmy are Fall 2016 Interns at The Jerusalem Fund and Palestine Center.

The views in this brief are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect those of The Jerusalem Fund.