By Benay Blend
In her latest book, “Freedom is a Constant Struggle: Ferguson, Palestine, and the Foundations of a Movement” (2016), Angela Davis places Palestine at the center of a globalized discourse of liberation. Her words are more important now than ever as activists are rising up in an American Spring after the murder of George Floyd by the Minneapolis police.
As Palestinians once again tweet suggestions for how to deal with tear gas to their American compadres, the links between the two countries could not be closer than they are now.
Long before the creation of the state of Israel, this country, along with its police force, was a genocidal, racist state. Indeed, according to a joint statement written by the Pueblo Action Alliance and the All African People’s Revolutionary Party—New Mexico, the modern institution of policing originated from slave patrols and settler militias in the 18th and 19th centuries. In the present day they are carrying on this tradition of “control[ing], criminaliz[ing], and brutal[ing] African and indigenous peoples on stolen land.”
Nevertheless, as Miko Peled notes, both Israel and the United States were founded on the same principles, so it should “come as no surprise that good relations exist between” the two countries, including the exchange of law enforcement.
As Nora Barrows-Friedman reported, last year, Anoka County (North Minneapolis) Sheriff James Stuart traveled to Israel to learn “counterterrorism” techniques, sponsored by the Israel lobby group Jewish Institute for National Security of America (JINSA). Since the inception of JINSA’s Homeland Security Program (HSP) shortly after 9/11, the group has sent over 200 law enforcement executives to Israel for training.
For Palestinians living under Israeli Occupation, what has happened in the United States most recently is a daily occurrence. Because of what Jewish Voice for Peace has labeled Deadly Exchange, there is a collaboration, writes Peled, between “the two racist states who see no problem in executing and watching the slow agonizing death of black and brown people.”
It makes sense, then, that Palestinians recognize the chokehold technique that resulted in Floyd’s death, as similar methods are used by Israelis. Moreover, the militarization of American police comes straight out of the Israeli playbook. The practices that have been seen the past few days used against protestors are those used by Israeli forces often for no reason but intimidation.
In an open letter to Jacob Frey, William Cook implores the mayor of Minneapolis “not to learn from Israel,” i.e., to end the program that sends police to the Zionist state for training. Indeed, 33 states, including Minnesota, have participated in such exchange programs.
Would police violence end if they were no longer trained in Israel? “A foreign state that trains our police in not in sync with the principles of American Democracy,” writes Cook, “and how the behavior of police is determined.” In its place, he recommends diversity training that includes a history of the slave trade as well as Manifest Destiny.
From the ‘Palestinian Chair’, and other forms of torture methods used by the US army to the militarization of the American police and the massive ‘security apparatus’ used to spy on and monitor ordinary Americans, Israel’s war technology is now part and parcel of the everyday American life.In this episode of Palestine Chronicle TV, editors Ramzy Baroud and Romana Rubeo discuss the Israeli involvement in shaping state-sponsored violence, which is currently at full display in American streets. From crowd control tactics to the knee-on-neck hold, which killed African American man George Floyd on May 25, PC editors will provide a range of evidence that implicates Israel in the routine violence meted out against US citizens.Join us Wednesday, June 10 @ 12 pm PST (10 pm Palestine time) and be part of the discussion.
Posted by The Palestine Chronicle on Wednesday, June 10, 2020
As if in answer, Red Nation organizer Justine Teba, Santa and Taos Pueblo, explains that “police are not individuals. They are an institution, a racist and genocidal one at that.” Therefore, you cannot reform the police departments, as Cook suggests, because the institution itself is at fault. “The only good cops are ones who aren’t cops anymore,” Teba concludes, for whatever reason they chose.
In a similar vein, Ajama Baraka, former Green Party Vice-President Candidate and member of the Black Alliance for Peace, explains that “the enemy knows how to quickly adapt in the ideological struggle,” in particular, by “keep[ing] the focus on the individual and call[ing] for ‘justice’ for that individual to avoid attention on the systemic and enduring elements of Black and Brown colonized oppression.” In short, calling for reform of the police is about as effective as calling for reform of the Zionist state, both entities so riddled with racism that change from within is impossible.
Because she was once a political prisoner herself, Angela Davis supports the work of prison abolitionists, those who oppose the “overall role of the prison system, especially its class and racial character.” She also asks for global solidarity movements to defend the rights of political prisoners, particularly Palestinians incarcerated in Israel’s administrative detention.
“The call for prison abolition urges us to imagine and strive for a different social landscape,” writes Davis. As a first step, perhaps calling for an end to police training in Israel makes up one piece of that puzzle if placed into a larger context.
For example, in a statement to the Democratic Majority for Israel, Joe Biden relates that the “relationship between Israel and the United States is not about weapons and security assistance” (though of course it is). He goes on to qualify that “it’s about the shared soul that unites out countries, generation upon generation.”
Assuming that a settler-colonial state has a soul, Biden’s statement is ominous, because it links not only our countries founding values to that of Israel but also its future, a prospect that seems drenched in even more blood. For example, in a recent tweet commenting on police training, Joe Biden said:
“Instead of standing there and teaching a cop when there’s an unarmed person comin’ at ’em with a knife or something to shoot ’em in the leg instead of the heart is a very different thing.”
Surely Biden knows that snipers were instructed to shoot at the knees of Palestinians participating in the Great Return March. According to Dania Akkad, Israeli soldiers intentionally created a “generation of disabled youth” and in the process may have committed war crimes.
It’s not enough to defund the Deadly Exchange; the entire culture of both countries has to be reassembled. Dismantling the Zionist state, using the model of the One State Foundation as a guide, decolonizing the United States, using the Red Nation’s blueprint as a standard–both lead to the “different social landscape” envisioned by Davis in her statement.
If Angela Davis insists that we place Palestine at the center of our discourse, it’s more critical now than ever that we do so. This is particularly true for Jewish Americans who are calling for justice for George Floyd. If their demands are not also for a free Palestine, then their commitment to social justice falls short.
“History is not something in the past,” writes Teba, “because it’s made right here right now, ALWAYS ALWAYS ALWAYS ask yourself, what side of history will you be on?”
– Benay Blend earned her doctorate in American Studies from the University of New Mexico. Her scholarly works include Douglas Vakoch and Sam Mickey, Eds. (2017), “’Neither Homeland Nor Exile are Words’: ‘Situated Knowledge’ in the Works of Palestinian and Native American Writers”. She contributed this article to The Palestine Chronicle.