Listen: How Israel helps refine US tactics of repression

Nearly 13,000 undocumented children, separated from their parents, remain in draconian conditions in US detention camps, a five-fold increase since last summer.

Peter Edge, the associate director of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), which carries out the family separations that have become a trademark of the Trump administration, attended the Anti-Defamation League’s “counterterrorism” seminar in Israel in 2015, according to Freedom of Information Act requests filed by Jewish Voice for Peace.

“We’ve all heard the shocking reports of ICE officers terrorizing families with separation, detainment and deportation,” Jewish Voice for Peace’s Stephanie Fox said last month.

The released documents reveal that the ADL, a major Israel lobby organization, sent Edge “to learn techniques and tools from the Israeli military’s 70 years of apartheid and 50 years of occupation,” Fox added.

The US and Israel have long run programs to share practices of police militarization, mass surveillance, violent repression of communities and movements that both governments define as a threat, and racial profiling.

A new report by Jewish Voice for Peace and Researching the American-Israeli Alliance documents how this partnership encourages violations of human and civil rights.

The report, “Deadly Exchange: The dangerous consequences of American law enforcement trainings in Israel,” draws on research done to support grassroots campaigns to end collaborations between American and Israeli state forces and to highlight the harm those collaborations do to people fighting for their rights in Palestine and across the US.

“What we see in Palestine affects our police in the US, how they understand their role and carry out their work here [in the US],” Eran Efrati, executive director of Researching the American-Israeli Alliance, told The Electronic Intifada Podcast.

“Refinement of tactics”

Drawing on dozens of Freedom of Information Act requests, interviews with American and Israeli personnel and other research, Efrati said the report documents police exchanges and training programs since 2002 – the beginning of the so-called “war on terror” launched by the George W. Bush administration.

Beginning just months after the 9/11 attacks until today, “hundreds and hundreds” of high-ranking US law enforcement officers, including city police and officials from the FBI, CIA and ICE “have been sent to train delegations in Israel, and thousands have been trained by Israeli security experts in the US,” Efrati said.

Officials from the MTA, New York City’s transportation agency, as well as campus security from universities across the country “have all gone through the same training, under the banner of counterterrorism,” he added.

While US policing and militarization practices have “colonial roots” from long before these exchange programs, Efrati said, “the refinement of tactics of suppression that happen through training with Israel” cannot be underestimated.

Accompanying the report, Efrati’s group launched the Palestine is Here database, a website that maps Israeli military ties to US local governments, police, corporations and academic institutions.

Efrati said he hopes the report and website will help activists challenge these ties.

Earlier this year, activists in Durham, North Carolina, successfully pressured the city to become the first in the US to ban training programs between its police department and foreign militaries, including Israel’s.

“This is something that a few years ago, we couldn’t dream of and couldn’t imagine it could happen, but it’s happening,” Efrati said.

“You don’t have rights”

“I don’t understand why I’m being deported,” Chicago resident Wala Ottman said to an Israeli border officer at Ben Gurion airport. “I’m a US citizen.”

“I will explain it for the 10th time – your American citizenship isn’t valid for you in Israel because you are a Palestinian,” the officer replied. “You don’t have rights. This is my country, not America.”

Using the phone in her pocket, Ottman recorded a couple minutes of the eight-hour interrogation and detention she recently endured at Ben Gurion airport near Tel Aviv, attempting to visit relatives.

Upon arrival at passport control, Ottman was told to wait in an adjacent area and was then detained.

She told The Electronic Intifada Podcast that an officer showed her a photograph of herself as a young girl, taken when she had visited relatives with her family many years before. The officer accused her of previously living in the country, which she denied.

Another officer then summoned her, she said, “and he looked down at me and he said ‘your entry to Tel Aviv has been denied.’ I said, ‘why?’ and he said, ‘because you’re a Palestinian.’”

Ottman said she was a US citizen, but the officer replied “you’re a Palestinian and you’re not entering Tel Aviv,” she said.

“I felt humiliated and I felt like I was being mistreated,” Ottman said, but she kept cool, refusing to show any emotion to the officers.

Her father, she said, was on the phone with the US Embassy whose personnel told him there was nothing they could do to help.

When the officer told her it was “his country,” Ottman said she was struck with frustration.

“My mother’s family is originally from Jaffa and my great-grandfather used to own acres and acres of land in Jaffa and Tel Aviv,” she said. Her great-grandfather produced oranges, Jaffa’s world-famous crop before the Nakba.

“My family says that part of Ben Gurion airport is built on my great-grandfather’s land,” she said.

“It was very ironic for him to say it was his land when we might possibly be on my great-grandfather’s land.”

“It’s our right”

After the interrogation, Ottman was forced to endure a full search of her belongings as well as a 20-minute body search by a female officer, even though she had already been told she was being deported.

“To have your body searched for 20 minutes feels like a lifetime,” she said.

Ottman said that she was then put on a plane to Jordan, en route back to Chicago. The officers said that her bags would be transferred to the plane to Chicago and her passport would be held by the pilot so she wouldn’t be able to try to enter Palestine another way.

However, Ottman said that the pilot asked her if she was Palestinian. “He said, ‘don’t worry, stay calm.’”

When she got off the plane in Amman, Ottman said that a Jordanian officer was waiting with her passport in hand.

After several hours, she said she decided to make arrangements to travel through the Allenby Bridge crossing from Jordan to the West Bank. It is administered by Israeli occupation authorities.

This time she got in. “It was quite an ordeal,” Ottman said. “I was crying from how happy I was once I entered Palestine.”

Ottman said that she hopes her experience inspires other Palestinians to try to enter despite the racial discrimination and harassment they may face at the airport.

“A big form of resistance is for us to continue visiting our homeland,” she said. “It’s our right to be there.”

Listen to the interviews with Eran Efrati and Wala Ottman via the media player above.

Theme music and production assistance by Sharif Zakout

Photo: Jewish Voice for Peace - Philadelphia

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Nora Barrows-Friedman

Nora Barrows-Friedman's picture

Nora Barrows-Friedman is a staff writer and associate editor at The Electronic Intifada, and is the author of In Our Power: US Students Organize for Justice in Palestine (Just World Books, 2014).