It’s not uncommon for residents of America’s most heavily policed neighborhoods to describe their local cops as “an occupying force.” Judging by where many U.S. police forces get their training, the description seems apt.
Thousands of American law enforcement officers frequently travel for training to one of the few countries where policing and militarism are even more deeply intertwined than they are here: Israel.
In the aftermath of 9/11, Israel seized on its decades-long experience as an occupying force to brand itself a world leader in counterterrorism. U.S. law enforcement agencies took the Jewish state up on its expertise by participating in exchange programs sponsored by an array of pro-Israel groups like AIPAC, the Jewish Institute for National Security Affairs, and the Anti-Defamation League (ADL). Over the past decade and a half, scores of top federal, state, and local police officers from dozens of departments from across the U.S. have gone to Israel to learn about its terrorism-focused policing.
Yet Israel’s policing prowess is marred by its primary purpose: the occupation. Israel has carried out a half-century of military rule in the Palestinian territories of the West Bank and Gaza, an occupation rife with abuses. The country’s police and security forces also regularly violate the rights of Palestinians and immigrants inside of Israel’s 1967 borders.
“A lot of the policing that folks are observing and being talked to about in these trips is policing that happens in a nondemocratic context,” said Alex Vitale, a sociology professor at Brooklyn College and author of a forthcoming book on global policing. “It involves either military policing, border control policing, or policing of folks in the occupied territories who aren’t full legal subjects in the Israeli legal system.”
While attention on the militarization of American police forces has intensified in recent years, spurring some reforms that the Trump administration has already undone, U.S.-Israel police exchange programs have carried on without much public scrutiny.
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