Durham first US city to ban police training with Israeli military

Local council adopts step against exchange with Israeli military practices synonymous with the occupation of Palestine.

US town police Durham
Durham's city council unanimously voted to adopt the measure on April 16 [File: Jason Miczek/Reuters]

A coalition of community organisations in the city of Durham in the US state of North Carolina has successfully lobbied the city council to ban training and exchanges between Durham’s police department and the Israeli military.

Durham’s city council unanimously voted to adopt the measure on April 16, prohibiting an exchange with the Israeli military, making the first US city to ever explicitly take such measure.

The resolution read: “The council opposes international exchanges with any country in which Durham officers receive military-style training since such exchanges do not support the kind of policing we want here in the City of Durham.”

The statement emphasised the commitment of Durham, a city of over a quarter million people, to create safe and healthy environment of its residents and to “recognise and share the deep concern about militarisation of police forces around the country”.

“We know that racial profiling and its subsequent harms to communities of color have plagued policing in our nation and in our own community,” the statement said.

Cerelyn “CJ” Davis, Durham chief of police, said in a statement to the city council: “There has been no effort while I have served as chief of police to initiate or participate in any exchange to Israel, nor do I have any intention to do so.”

What activists say

Activists say Davis headed a police exchange programme when she was part of Atlanta police department before coming to Durham, and therefore they want to prevent her from doing that in Durham.

They also say that the previous police chief was involved in an exchange training programme with Israel, which drove them to lobby to sever the any links the city has had or will have with the Israeli military as far as its police force.

Al Jazeera made several attempts to reach Davis via email and over the phone for comments, but did not get any answer by the time this report was published.

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Demilitarize from Durham2Palestine, which spearheaded the campaign is a broad multi-religious and multi-racial coalition of groups from the Jewish, Christian, Muslim, Arab and African American communities.

Drawing on similarities between Israeli treatment of Palestinians and Durham police’s treatment of African Americans and other minorities, activist Ajamu Dillahunt who is part of the “BYP100” which stands  for Black Youth Project said in a video published on Facebook that “Israeli defence force brutalise and terrorise the people of Palestine and so does the Durham police department. Here they brutalise and terrorise black and brown communities”.

Dillahunt who is a college student told Al Jazeera that his group seeks the empowerment of the black community in the US.

Activists argue that US agencies training with Israeli military and security agencies could only bring militarisation of the US police whose mission is rather a civilian mission and community policing not population control.

The Palestinian experience

Key to the organisation’s demands is to prevent US cities from adopting Israeli military operations and tactics designed to enforce its occupation of Palestinian territories and control captive Palestinian population.

Furthermore, they argue that training of US police with Israeli military invites violations of civil rights, police brutality and murder of innocent citizens.

Ahmad Amireh, a Duke University student and a member of Students for Justice in Palestine, said: “There is no room for the militarisation of Police in America especially in our home community of Durham.”

Amireh said he is proud that “Durham was able to make a stand and show its commitment to the black and other minority communities in it”, he said.

Alex Vitale, who teaches at the department of sociology at Brooklyn College and author of the book The End of Policing, told Al Jazeera that the problem of militarisation of US policing goes as far as the 1970s with the war on drugs and later war on terror.

“Police militarisation is not a new problem in the US,” he said.

“But Israel has created a dynamic to normalise counterinsurgency tactics with the US law enforcement community in order to win political favours and create political space for its agendas in the US.”

‘Crowd-control tactics’

Beth Bruch and Sandra Korn, from the group Jewish Voice for Peace-Triangle region in North Carolina, wrote in an op-ed on April 13 in the city’s The Herald Sun rejecting Israeli policies against the Palestinians in the occupied West Bank.

“These are the crowd-control tactics which the Israeli military regularly uses to enforce the occupation of Palestinian land and to control the Palestinian population. As Jewish people, we reject Israel’s detention and prosecution of Palestinian children like Ahed Tamimi, its blockade which has resulted in a humanitarian crisis in Gaza, its detention and deportation of African asylum-seekers,” they said.

Many US federal and local police and law enforcement agencies regularly train with the Israeli military and police.

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The Anti-Defamation League, ADL, the pro-Israeli American Jewish civil rights advocacy group has sponsored many of the US law-enforcement agencies leaders’ visits to Israel to learn lessons from the Israeli police, military and intelligence experiences.

According to its website, the ADL has trained more than 15,000 law-enforcement professionals on terrorism and extremism in cities like New York City, Washington DC, Houston, Dallas, Los Angeles, Seattle, St Louis, Atlanta and Chicago.

It also says that more than 200 high-ranking American law enforcement officials have visited Israel to participate in counterterrorism seminars.

‘Political project’

Vitale said the ADL exchange and training programme in Israel shows it is more of a “political project that helps Israeli agendas in the US as opposed to being a technical program designed to share developments in community policing”.

The Jewish Voice for Peace warns on its national website of the “dangerous exchange” between the US law enforcement agencies such as the FBI, Immigration and Custom Enforcement (ICE) and border patrol with Israeli soldiers, intelligence and border agents.

Israel is one of the few countries in the world whose police and military are deeply intertwined.

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Such exchange programmes, the Jewish Voice for Peace’s website says, would bring “worst practices that are shared to promote and extend discriminatory practices that include extrajudicial executions, shoot-to-kill policies, police murders, racial profiling, massive spying and surveillance, deportation and detention, and attacks on human rights defenders”.

Israel’s main selling point for imparting police-training lessons is rooted in its 50-year military rule and occupation of Palestinian territories, where its armed forces and militarised police regularly abuse the rights of Palestinians and keep them under military control.

New York City’s notorious Muslim Surveillance Program, which religiously profiled and spied on Muslim Americans in New York City since 2002, was a product of exchange programmes with Israel.

The programme used abusive tactics drawn from Israel’s treatment of Palestinians such as infiltrations, using informants, electronic surveillance and mapping and compiling of massive databases of personal information as a counterinsurgency strategy.

Follow Ali Younes on Twitter @Ali_reports

Source: Al Jazeera