Last Friday, after an estimated 30,000 Palestinians gathered for the “Great Return March,” Israeli military snipers fired live ammunition into the crowd of unarmed protesters. The Israeli military killed 18 Palestinians, shot 773, and injured over a thousand. Video shows military snipers shooting one Palestinian demonstrator in the back as he fled. Israel claims it was defending itself, but both international and Israeli human rights groups say that the government’s public boasting of having issued an open-fire order before the march indicates Israel’s violent response to the demonstration was premeditated. Human Rights Watch called the killings “calculated.” The Israeli human rights group B’Tselem issued a statement a day before the massacre stating that shooting unarmed protesters was illegal under international law.
Senior Israeli officials who unlawfully called for use of live ammunition against Palestinian demonstrations who posed no imminent threat to life bear responsibility for the killings of 14 demonstrators in Gaza and the injuring of hundreds on March 30, 2018.
— Human Rights Watch
Israel’s massacre of Palestinian protesters is just the latest in their long record of depriving Palestinians of the right to freedom of assembly. The Great Return March was held on Land Day. Land Day marks 1976 demonstrations held by Palestinians with Israeli citizenship against Israeli expropriation of their land. The Israeli military killed four unarmed demonstrators. Israeli police killed two unarmed demonstrators.
With this track record, US police departments have nothing to learn from the Israeli police or military nor should they be aiding armed forces that engage in serious deprivations of human rights. Yet, many US police departments participate in “counter terrorism” exchanges with the Israeli police or military. Given the human rights record of most US police departments we know these exchanges can only be an exchange of worst practices, such as police killings, racial profiling, and repression of dissent. Neither the US police nor Israeli police and military need the other to encourage their wanton disregard for human rights, but such collaboration can only exacerbate the problem.
Activists are pushing pack. Jewish Voice for Peace launched its Deadly Exchange campaign. As they explain:
One of the most dangerous places where the regimes of Trump and Netanyahu converge is in exchange programs that bring together police, ICE, border patrol, and FBI from the US with soldiers, police, border agents, etc. from Israel. In these programs, “worst practices” are shared to promote and extend discriminatory and repressive policing in both countries. These include extrajudicial executions, shoot-to-kill policies, police murders, racial profiling, massive spying and surveillance, deportation and detention, and attacks on human rights defenders.
At the national level, Jewish Voices for Peace is gathering petition signatures asking the Anti Defamation League (ADL) to cease hosting the National Counter Terrorism Seminar, one of the exchanges. In cities where police do participate in exchanges with the Israeli military, activists are demanding they cut ties. In Durham, North Carolina activists are pushing for the city to pass a resolution condemning such exchanges and barring police from participating in them. Jewish Voice for Peace-Metro DC launched Occupation Free DC, which targets the Metropolitan Police Department (MPD)’s participation in such exchanges.
Defending Rights & Dissent has endorsed Occupation Free DC. Other endorsers include civil and human rights groups like Black Lives Matter DC, Black Youth Project 100, Stop Police Terror Project DC, Montgomery County Civil Rights Coalition, the DC Chapter of the National Lawyers Guild, and the Justice for Muslims Collective.
The MPD has its own history of human rights deprivations. Notoriously, the department engages in jump-outs, a ramped up version of stop and frisk in which officers jump out of unmarked police cars with guns drawn. Terrence Sterling, Javon Hall, Ralphael Briscoe were all killed by MPD officers. Their killers have never been brought to justice. During Trump’s Inauguration, MPD officers attacked protesters with chemical irritants and projectiles. They encircled and illegally arrested over 200 people, some of which still face felony charges.
Although Defending Rights & Dissent is a domestic civil liberties organization, we recognize the threat of allowing police departments to train with known human rights abusers. In the past, we’ve opposed programs like Urban Shield which brings US police together with human rights abusers like Bahrain, which viciously repressed Arab Spring protesters, and Israel. Israel has continued to deprive the Palestinian people of the most basic of human rights. US police are frequently criticized for acting like an occupying army. Training with an actual occupying army will only further this mindset by our own law enforcement.
Last week’s massacre of unarmed Palestinian protesters, further illustrates how any collaboration between occupying soldiers and US police is a deadly exchange.