Since Passover, tens of thousands of Palestinian refugees have marched in Gaza demanding the right to return to their family homes – and they have been met by Israeli snipers, illegal dumdum bullets, and by drones carrying teargas. Israeli forces have killed over 30 Palestinian protesters, including photojournalist Yaser Murtaja, who was fatally shot while wearing a “Press” vest, and artist Mohammed Abu Amr, who created huge and beautiful sand sculptures on the Gaza beach. According to Defense for Children International, two of those hit were children:Amir Abd al-Hamid Abu Musaad, 15, shot in the chest while protesting near the border, and Mahmoud Tawfiq al-Masri, 17, shot in the stomach during the same protest and now in critical condition.
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, and its exports of weapons and militarized “counter-terrorism” strategies.
Seventy-five years ago, our people, Ashkenazi Jews, were ethnically cleansed from Eastern Europe. Now, as white Jews in the United States, we benefit from white supremacy and recognize we live on land stolen through genocide. Durham rests on the land of the Eno and of the Occaneechee Band of the Saponi Nation.
In honor of our ancestors, we are proud to be part of the Demilitarize! Durham2Palestine campaign to end the deadly exchanges between U.S. law enforcement and Israeli security forces. This campaign is part of a larger project of challenging state violence and discrimination in both countries.
We were upset, but not surprised, to learn U.S. civilian law enforcement – including ICE, border patrol, and even police departments – regularly meet with the Israeli military to train and exchange weapons and tactics. During trips to Israel, U.S. agents receive training and instruction from Israeli military, police, intelligence agencies, and private defense companies. Officials visit checkpoints and prisons while learning practices of surveillance and racial profiling. They learn “counter-terrorism” strategies like the disproportionately violent responses to public protest we have seen in Gaza. These programs facilitate an exchange of worst practices.
And we know that policing in the U.S. has a long history of violence against black, brown, and queer communities. From surveillance of Muslim families, to traffic stops that target black drivers, to SWAT teams entering black people’s homes illegally, to checkpoints that target immigrant communities, to police murders of black, brown, and disabled people, the everyday militarization of police in Durham and across the country already endangers our communities.
But as our friend from Gaza, Jihad Shawwa, who now lives in Raleigh, says, “People are hungry in Durham, they’re not terrorists. People need housing, not to send the police to train in Israel. We know Israel is the last country in the world to respect human rights. … We already have a race issue in this country – can you imagine if these people go to Israel? They’re going to come back as killers.”
We learned that Durham’s former police chief Jose Lopez went to Israel on a trip funded by the Anti-Defamation League, which runs so-called “National Counter-Terrorism Seminar” trips for leaders at police departments, university police, and homeland security. And, in her previous position, Durham’s current police chief ran the Atlanta Police Leadership Institute International Exchange Program, which coordinated exchanges with Israel. In partnership with Georgia International Law Enforcement Exchange, Atlanta police learn things such as “urban policing” and “providing security and safety at mass events” — and Atlanta’s mayor defended the program, saying that it benefits Atlanta to have a relationship with Israel for its counterterrorism expertise.
Durham must divest from police militarization and invest in black and brown futures. We must create public safety by investing resources in affordable housing, health care, education, and a livable wage for all workers.
The Palestinians in Gaza and the West Bank are not passive victims: they are rising up and resisting Israeli occupation. We hope you will join us in following their lead as we come out Monday evening to encourage the Durham City Council to enact a policy making Durham the first municipality in the U.S. to end police exchanges with Israel.