Introductory Note: This is an expanded version of the article that Middle East Eye published earlier this week. I also just published a new piece at Mint Press News, In Israel, Jews Can’t Be Terrorists, on the Jerusalem Gay Pride attack and the West Bank arson attack that killed a Palestinian baby. Please help me publicize it via social media and your e mail list.
Over the past decade or more, Israel Lobby groups have devised and funded exchange programs with U.S. police and homeland security agencies which have imported dubious policing and national security practices to the U.S. Groups like the Jewish Institute for National Security Affairs, the Anti-Defamation League and the American Jewish Committee each have programs which recruit delegations of high-level American security officials to liaise with Israeli counterparts in the police, military intelligence and internal security. Hundreds of Americans have participated in these trips from departments in Boston, Seattle, St. Louis, Baltimore, Philadelphia, New York, Oakland, San Diego, and Orange County (CA), Madison (WI) and Maine. A fuller list of participating cities may be found here. New York also has its very own police liaison office located inside an Israeli police station. The NYPD eschewed the normal protocol of locating its office inside a U.S. embassy.
A former Washington DC police chief who participated in an Israel exchange program called Israel “the Harvard of anti-terrorism.” When professionals like these return home from Israel they implement the same intrusive surveillance techniques and aggressive policies which they learned from their Israeli counterparts.
This Center for Investigative Reporting article notes the overlap between Israeli and U.S. police weaponry:
The most tangible evidence that the training is having an impact on American policing is that both countries are using identical equipment against demonstrators, according to a 2013 report by the Israeli human rights organization B’Tselem and photographs of such equipment taken at demonstrations in Ferguson and Oakland and Anaheim, California.
Tear gas grenades, “triple chaser” gas canisters and stun grenades made by the American companies Combined Systems Inc. and Defense Technology Corp. were used in all three U.S. incidents, as well as by Israeli security forces and military units.
Footage shot by activist Jacob Crawford in Ferguson last month revealed law enforcement used a long-range acoustic device that sends out high-pitched, painful noises designed to scatter crowds. Israeli forces first used such devices in response to West Bank protests in 2005, according to the B’Tselem report.
Max Blumenthal noted that the Alameda County police conducted a training exercise to prepare for expected Occupy protests in the Bay Area. Called, Urban Shield 2011, it also featured members of the Israeli Border Police special forces unit, Yamam. This agency has been regularly linked to targeted assassinations of Palestinians. Its preferred method of “urban policing” was the bullet.
Jimmy Johnson, writing in Electronic Intifada, reports that these programs develop close professional relationships and political alliances between Israel and foreign security agencies. This in turn develops a pro-Israel constituency within “local, regional and national security infrastructures.” When Israel faces international opprobrium as it has during wars in Lebanon and Gaza, it can depend on these assets it’s patiently cultivated to act as advocates. Generally, the more intensively Israeli security attitudes penetrate American security and law enforcement circles, the easier it will be for Israel to project its interests domestically.
The U.S. isn’t the only focus of such efforts. Israel exports its military weapons and counter-terror expertise around the world. India, a country with a new prime minister from a Hindu nationalist political background (generally hostile to Muslims), uses Israeli forces to train its own personnel in quelling civil disturbances. In 2008, the new right-wing Canadian government signed an unprecedented security agreement which called for Israel to share its expertise and experience concerning “public safety issues.” China, which also faces Muslim and Tibetan insurgencies, uses Israeli security personnel to train for acts of “terror and civil disturbances. Israelis have also taught French police riot control techniques.
IDF and U.S. Police Use Social Media Monitoring, Massive Data Dumps to Target Citizens
Recently, the Israeli news portal, 972 reported IDF’s intelligence division had contracted with several Israeli Big Data companies to harvest enormous amounts of information from social media, telecom traffic and other sources tied to Israelis. The companies were tasked with sorting through the data using methods similar to those Edward Snowden exposed in his NSA revelations. The difference is, that at least ostensibly, the NSA was probing for terror linkages involving foreigners seeking to harm the U.S.
In the case, of the IDF, it was seeking keywords that might reasonably be associated with terrorism; but they were also using keywords associated with terms like BDS or boycott, which can’t conceivably be associated with terrorism, unless one adopts the paranoid style of Israel’s extremist political leadership, which has taken to calling support for BDS, “terrorism.” Further, the contractors were plumbing data not just of Palestinians (non-citizens), but Israeli Jews (citizens) as well. Everyone was caught up in the security dragnet.
Since Israel has no constitution and no ironclad guarantees of privacy such as have been confirmed by U.S. courts, it isn’t surprising that Israel rides roughshod over the rights of its citizens. But what about this country, in which we have a constitution, judicial checks and balances, and a long history of civil liberties? Given this, how should we explain this report from The Intercept this week that U.S. police departments and the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) have been intensively monitoring the peaceful, legal activities of the Black Lives Matter movement?
…The department frequently collects information, including location data, on Black Lives Matter activities from public social media accounts, including on Facebook, Twitter, and Vine, even for events expected to be peaceful. The reports confirm social media surveillance of the protest movement and ostensibly related events in the cities of Ferguson, Baltimore, Washington, DC, and New York.
They also show the department watching over gatherings that seem benign and even mundane. For example, DHS circulated information on a nationwide series of silent vigils and a DHS-funded agency planned to monitor a funk music parade and a walk to end breast cancer in the nation’s capital.
The article notes that DHS tracked a “National Moment of Silence” protest after the shooting of Michael Brown. The agency listed the communities hosting associated events and noted that NYPD would be “monitoring the situation.” Since when has a moment of silence become a criminal act or terror threat?
The funk parade was targeted for surveillance because DHS believed (without any supporting evidence) that there might be “Baltimore-related” protests against the police killing of Freddie Gray. Add to this that the parade was held in an African-American neighborhood, and this provided enough justification for DHS to manufacture fear of civil unrest from costumes, funk music and generally having a good time.
Given the recent string of hate crime murder sprees in Louisiana, Charleston, Texas, and possibly Chattanooga, one wonders whether DHS has its priorities straight.
Israel and the “Army of Occupation” Police Model
Israeli intelligence agencies operate in similar ways, largely targeting Palestinians for surveillance. They employ tactics similar to the NSA in terms of intercepting communications (phone, e mail, and computer). In fact, 43 veterans of the IDF military intelligence Unit 8200, last year declared in a public letter that they would no longer participate in the sleazy tactics of blackmail, gay baiting and sexual humiliation used to recruit Palestinian agents. The army promptly relieved them of their military duties for their insubordination.
Israeli agents also infiltrate Palestinian organizations and protests. At rallies like the ones against the Separation Wall, Israeli mistarvim (agent provocateurs dressed like “Arabs”) incite violence by throwing rocks, which gives the military an excuse to escalate its tactics through use of tear gas and live fire ammunition. Non-violent protesters, including some U.S. citizens, have been killed or severely injured through such subterfuge tactics.
Israel has also developed a new weapon in the fight against Palestinian resistance. It has Skunk trucks which spray a noxious fluid (“a cross between a rotting animal corpse, raw sewage and human excrement”) over entire streets, drenching buildings and people with a foul-smelling ooze that lingers for days or weeks. B’Tselem says the weapon is used as a form of “collective punishment” against entire villages for demonstrations in their midst. Rania Khalek, writing in Electronic Intifada, has called it “environmental terrorism.”
The Israeli company, Odortec, which created this “weapon” in the fight against civil “disturbances” is marketing it to American police departments who’ve faced the sort of unrest of communities like Ferguson and Baltimore. Here’s a bit of their marketing patter:
According to Odortec’s website, “skunk has been field-tested and proven to disperse even the most determined of violent protests” effectively “breaking adversarial resistance.”
Odortec has a U.S. distributor for its military-related products. But understandably, U.S. police departments are quite sensitive about being publicly associated with such products.
Militarizing U.S. Cities
During the protests against police murders in American cities, we’ve seen a frightening propensity to militarize civil unrest. Armored personnel carriers, body armor, night-vision goggles, and even tanks have turned our homes into battlefields. This is another precedent reminiscent of the Israeli approach to Palestinian protest. Israeli soldiers shoot first, ask questions later—or never. They expect the worst and find it. They treat Palestinians like animals and the result is massive rivers of blood running through Palestinian streets.
The fatal error of this type of policing is that it transforms a political problem (racism and its attendant evils) into a criminal phenomenon. American police in many places are clearly poorly trained. They are either unfamiliar with minority residents in their communities or frightened of them. The result is policing that is closer to a military occupation than policing with the consent of the policed (local residents).
Israel’s approach turns our streets into a war zone. It turns police and residents into enemies. It treats everyone as a potential criminal or terrorist. It runs roughshod over individual rights for the sake of national security. Do we really want to emulate this model? Do we really want to become what Ehud Barak called Israel: the villa in the jungle?
Happily, Pres. Obama spoke out against this phenomenon and announced that henceforth local police departments would be restricted in the military surplus armaments they could procure. No more half-tracks, APCs, tanks, etc.
NYPD Targets an Entire Muslim Community
New York City, as the largest city in the nation, and one with a huge minority (and Arab-Muslim) population, is a special laboratory for counter-terror policing. As one of the victims of 9/11, the city was open to pursuing new methods of detecting terror threats.
Former CIA officer Lawrence Sanchez began working for the New York Police Department in 2003, in the aftermath of 9/11. He approached the Department with an audacious plan to profile and monitor a wide range of potential suspects and targets who might be threats to security in New York. Calling it the Demographics Unit, he proposed spreading a wide net, monitoring Muslim institutions, groups and individuals throughout the city. The program was intended to be pre-emptive. It didn’t need or wait for tangible proof of an intent to commit a crime. It sought to do the equivalent of reading suspects’ minds to search for intent as it was being formed in the minds of prospective terrorists. As a result, NYPD sent undercover agents known as “rakers” or “mosque crawlers” into houses of worship, neighborhood stores, community centers, wherever local Muslims gathered. It not only monitored activities; agents recruited impressionable young men to engage in criminal acts.
According to Matt Apuzzo and Adam Goldman’s Enemies Within, the model for Sanchez’ ambitious program was Israel itself and its highly developed surveillance programs for monitoring Palestinians in the Occupied Territories. As an NYPD official told the Associated Press:
…The Demographics Unit has attempted to “map the city’s human terrain” through a program “modeled in part on how Israeli authorities operate in the West Bank.”
But as the authors note:
Sanchez’ program ignored some important differences between the U.S. and Israel. Brooklyn and Queens…were not occupied territories…There was no security wall being erected in New York City. Israel does not have a constitution and Muslims there do not enjoy the same freedom as Jews. In fact, they are routinely discriminated against. And most significantly, unlike Israel, New York was not trying to preserve a [Jewish] religious identity.
Israeli Counter-Terror Tactics the U.S. Embraced with Abandon
The book also notes that Abu Ghraib and the CIA’s secret international prison network used to torture suspected Islamist terrorists were preceded by twenty years by the IDF Prison 1391. There it took high-value detainees and routinely tortured them to elicit information on potential terror activities.
One of the most notorious of the torturers was Doron Zahavi, whose identity I first exposed. He was a senior officer tasked with “breaking” Mustafa Dirani. Dirani was thought to be a key player in the capture and detention of IAF pilot, Ron Arad. As part of his failed attempt, Zahavi raped Dirani anally, who later sued the Israeli government for his treatment. An increasingly right-wing Israeli Supreme Court overruled its own previous ruling permitting the suit. The tortuously argued ruling rejecting his suit claimed that since Dirani had left Israeli jurisdiction (he lived in, and was kidnapped by Israeli forces in Lebanon and returned there after his release), Israel had no obligation to adjudicate his claims.
Goldman and Apuzzo also note that in seeking legal precedent for procedures that would be labelled abuse or torture elsewhere, the Bush administration employed the Israeli Supreme Court, which had permitted use of sleep deprivation, painful stress positions and days’-long interrogation sessions as part of its definition of acceptable “moderate physical coercion” against Palestinian prisoners.
Israel also first widely used targeted assassinations of Palestinian militant leaders, a tactic the CIA honed and expanded in the Middle East. One of the most notorious of these murders involved dropping a 2,000 lb. bomb on a residential apartment building in Gaza, which killed Hamas leader, Salah Shehadeh. Also in the building, which was totally destroyed, was his wife, baby and fifteen other uninvolved civilians, who all died. The Israeli human rights NGO, Yesh Din, has called for a war crimes investigation against those military personnel who perpetrated this attack.
Israel also pioneered the use of drones in conventional warfare and as part of its surveillance of potential targets. Drones have also been used in targeted killings. But it was the U.S. that took the tactic to “the next level.” In fact, I’ve argued that America’s most prevalent and notorious form of engagement with the Muslim world in this region is targeted drone killings, which have taken the lives of 3,000 individuals. The Center for Investigative Journalism has documented that hundreds of the dead were civilians and not militants.
We must decide as a country which model we prefer: the Israeli national security state or a nation under laws. Do we sacrifice our rights on the altar of security? Is being safe more important than being free?
Silverstein has published Tikun Olam since 2003, It exposes the secrets of the Israeli national security state. He lives in Seattle, but his heart is in the east. He publishes regularly at Middle East Eye, the New Arab, and Jacobin Magazine. His work has also appeared in Al Jazeera English, The Nation, Truthout and other outlets.