As the Israel’s atrocities against Palestinians continue, the Boycott, Divestment and Sanction (BDS) movement opposing the occupation of Palestine registered a victory after Durham became the first city in U.S to prohibit its police department’s exchanges with Israel.
On April 16, the Durham city council voted 6-0 in favour of this policy barring the Durham Police Department from engaging in any partnership with the defense forces or the police of Israel. The decision has come in the wake of community-wide pressure and a petition by the coalition Demilitarize! Durham2Palestine, signed by 1,394 residents. The coalition is an affiliate of the Deadly Exchange campaign – a project undertaken by the Jewish Voice for Peace, which, according to its mission statement: “(S)eeks an end to the Israeli occupation of the West Bank, Gaza Strip, and East Jerusalem; security and self-determination for Israelis and Palestinians; a just solution for Palestinian refugees based on principles established in international law; an end to violence against civilians; and peace and justice for all peoples of the Middle East.”
The policy adopted by Durham city council states: “(T)he Council opposes international exchanges with any country in which Durham officers receive military-style training.” However, the immediate motive behind the campaign has been to end the partnership U.S police forces have had with Israeli defense and police forces.
“Since the early 2000s,” a press release by Deadly Exchanges says, “thousands of U.S. police officers, sheriffs, border patrol agents, ICE officers and FBI agents have trained with Israeli military and police forces. Through one of these programs, the Anti-Defamation League’s (ADL) National Counter-Terrorism Seminar (NCTS), U.S. law enforcement agents visit checkpoints and prisons and meet with Israeli officials at other sites of violence and racial profiling, such as Hebron’s settler-controlled areas and Ben Gurion airport.”
The petition of Deadly exchanges reads: “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.”
The coalition has argued that training of the U.S police forces in this kind of counter-terrorism tactics, of which Israel purports to be an expert, leads to an increasing militarisation of the U.S police, which has been underway post- 9/11. “Law enforcement exchange programs, under the banner of Israeli counterterrorism expertise, contribute to these deadly trends by encouraging an even deeper application of counterterror and counter-insurgency models into domestic policing, immigration and surveillance policies and practices,” said Deadly Exchange, in a statement.
It added: “From traffic stops that target Black drivers, to checkpoints that target immigrant communities, to police murders of Black, Brown, and disabled people, police forces cause daily harm. Police exchanges between the U.S. and Israel explicitly offer U.S. police officers exposure to methods used against Palestinians that numerous international human rights groups say are discriminatory and lead to human rights violations.”
On recognising how domestic application of such counter-insurgency tactics has affected the black community in U.S, the Durham chapter of Black Youth Project 100 also participated in the campaign. “We recognise how our struggles correspond as we fight against police violence in the U.S. and unarmed Palestinians fight against violence from the IDF,” said a member of the group, Ajamu Amiri Dillahunt.
After the Durham city council unanimously passed the resolution following 50 testimonies over three and a half hours, Laila Nur from one of the coalition members, Durham For All, said, “This is an important step towards divesting from militarisation and over-policing, and investing in black and brown future.. I am proud to see Durham leading the way; it’s a huge victory towards a vision of safety and sanctuary for all.”
Noah Rubin-Blose from the Jewish Voice for Peace has said that the policy adopted by the city council “(I)s a powerful affirmation of the solidarity many of us feel with Palestinians in Gaza, who continue to march for land and freedom despite IDF (Israel Defense Forces) massacres.”
Support for this decision of the city council has also come from religious communities across the dividing lines. An interfaith movement of Rabbis, Christian clergy and Imams, said in a letter:
“As clergy, we wholeheartedly endorse the amazing work of Demilitarize! Durham2Palestine to halt any future police exchange partnerships between the Durham Police Department and the Israel Defense Forces (IDF)… We believe it is our religious and moral duty to champion human rights, and we respect this courageous statement that seeks to protect all communities from harm—in Durham, Israel/Palestine, and around the world.”
This stand taken against the engagement with Israeli security apparatus by a city-council in the country which has been the biggest backer of Israel, is no small victory for the BDS movement. After Israeli soldiers killed tens and wounded over a thousand Palestinian protesters demanding their right to return to their land, Jewish activists in the U.S have organised a series of protests against the condonance of Israeli policies on Palestine by the U.S government and prominent Jewish institutions in the country. The possibility that similar demands to boycott the U.S police forces’ engagement with Israeli security forces will be raised by activists in other cities across is a real one.
BDS movement has been demanding boycotts of and sanctions against all institutions of Israel that are complicit in perpetuating the occupation of Palestine – primary of them being the state’s military apparatus.
Israel, which is the eighth largest arms exporter in the world, increased its exports by 55 per cent in the period between 2008-12 and 2013-17. From 2013 to 2017, Israel was the second largest arms supplier to Vietnam and Azerbaijan, and the third largest to South Korea, Italy, U.K, and to India, whose imports of Israeli arms rose by 285 per cent of what it was in 2008-12. Over the last 5 years, India has bought 49 per cent of all the arms exported by Israel.
Israel, which is also the 17th largest arms importer, has increased its arms imports share by 125 per cent. Between 2013-17, 60 per cent arms imported by Israel have come from U.S, making the latter the largest supplier of arms to Israel, followed by Germany, from where came 30 per cent of the imported arms.
Given the extent of Israeli military's trade ties with other states, the BDS movement has a long way to go. But had the movement made no gains at all, it was unlikely to be declared a "strategic threat" by Israeli state officials.