In the wake of the 1995 Israeli bombing of the UN refugee camp at Qana in Lebanon, a videotape of the massacre was distributed across global media. The African American poet June Jordan, who had participated in US-based Palestine solidarity movements and would visit Lebanon in 1996, thought that the video would be a turning point in global opinion of Israel. Writing in the Progressive magazine, Jordan linked the Qana bombing to military and police violence she had witnessed in urban Black communities in the United States. “Here was the Rodney King video of the Middle East. At least, here was incontrovertible evidence of Israeli lies and Israeli savagery that no one could now refute.” (Jordan was referring to a videotape of King being savagely beaten by Los Angeles police.)
The Qana video did not provide the catalyst Jordan hoped would focus public attention on Israeli violence against Lebanese and Palestinians. “Arab life is less than and lower than African-American life, and so nothing happened.”
The transnational linkages Jordan drew between domestic American police brutality and the foreign colonial violence of the Israeli bombing of Qana illustrate the densely overlapping logics of security in the US and Israel, as well as the expanding territorial reach of the US “homeland.” The term “homeland” in its current institutional incarnation is a product of the “war on terror.” Unlike the word “domestic,” the homeland extends beyond the sovereign borders of the state and refers to a broad constellation of interests and ideologies. “Protecting the homeland” has entailed a global strategy linking policing within the borders of the US to military engagements outside those borders. The homeland is therefore a transnational space that can include urban US cities and distant battlefields in the “war on terror.”
The global transit in security and military transfers across the US and Israel have their origins in the post-Cold War years. Under increasingly neo-liberal forms of governance, African American and Palestinian populations became “surplus” in need of social containment. In Israel, the 1993 Oslo Peace Accords redefined occupation as “limited sovereignty” for Palestinians. The Palestinian Authority (PA) was expected to function as Israel’s policing proxy and to educate “proper” Palestinian comportment, which meant recognizing Israeli hegemony. Oslo was a thoroughly neo-liberal form of governance that imposed on Palestinians the “responsibility” to police their own dispossession. At the same time, Oslo’s draconian partitioning of the West Bank into administrative units ostensibly ruled by different authorities foreclosed the development of meaningful Palestinian self-governance.
In 1996, many of the same US officials who brokered the Oslo Peace process administered a similar neo-liberal policy within the US. The Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Act (PRWOA) transformed the poor—especially the urban black poor—from vulnerable citizens entitled to public care into burdens who comported themselves irresponsibly. President Bill Clinton ended Aid to Families with Dependent Children (AFDC), and required all welfare recipients to transition from public assistance to the (low-wage) labor force within two years.
Oslo and PWROA transformed responsibility for occupation, poverty and inequality from the colonial state to the victims of the state. Most importantly, these two structural transformations produced classes of people who were made “incapable” of entering the new models of neoliberal governance. Since Oslo, Palestinians have been enclosed in what are often referred to as “open air prisons” bounded by security walls and off-limits bypass roads to serve the Jewish citizens of settlements in the occupied territories. Within the US, the black poor increasingly were transferred from now-canceled welfare rolls into prisons.
Although neo-liberalism helps explain a broad array of economic transformations to domestic and international governance at the twilight of the twentieth century, by itself it is insufficient to describe the thick and overlapping processes that linked African Americans to the question of Palestine in the new millennium. The US-Israel bond is not merely characterized by overlapping logics of financial restructuring and privatization in the post-Cold War era. The bond is also constituted by the global transiting of technologies of policing and security that have spanned wars on drugs, crime, and terror, especially in the post-September 11 era.
The linkages between the US and Israel were further solidified through the bilateral transit of policing and security strategies deployed first in Palestine. From Israeli colonial practices of urban combat, surveillance, and partitioning, to the use of US-manufactured Apache helicopters and armored transport, Palestine has been a laboratory for a bilateral security industry that has shaped Israel’s approach to the “problem” of Palestinians and the US’s approach to the “problem” of the urban black poor. Throughout the 1990s and 2000s Palestinians and African Americans were both, in different ways, rendered as surplus populations, and therefore were viewed as potential threats—insurgents—that had to be contained via counterinsurgency (COIN) measures characterized by heightened security and military techniques as well as mass incarceration.
The global linkages between the US and Israel began in the late 1980s when the drug war, a war that targeted poor people of color, was increasingly understood as a war on terror that could be fought using the Israeli security model. The 1989 National Defense Authorization Act, for example, named drugs as a national security threat and authorized the Department of Defense (DOD) to coordinate state and community tactics in the war on drugs. As a result of this granting to the DOD broad authority in the war on drugs, local and state police forces increasingly deployed tactics and weapons more commonly used in overseas warfare.
The coordinated efforts of the DOD and state and local policing included reconnaissance and observations teams to report illegal drug use and trafficking, aerial surveillance, coast guard patrols, aerial spraying of herbicides on potential drug crops, aerial thermal imaging, and more. According to Reyes Z. Cole, a major in the California National Guard, “Counterdrug and counterinsurgency operations strive for the same end state, rely heavily on the use of counterinsurgency doctrine to be effective, and are examples of fourth-generation warfare-low intensity asymmetric warfare conducted by groups (rather than by nations or states) who seek major reallocations of power or the overthrow of social systems.”
Alongside the treatment of wars on drugs and gangs as military counterinsurgency replete with the use of military hardware in urban cities, new sentencing requirements—called mandatory minimums—were developed for certain classes of gang and drug related crimes. Drug lords and gang members were increasingly referred to as “street terrorists.” In 1988, for example, the California Street Terrorism Enforcement and Prevention Act established a separate legal category of gang-related crimes, and penalized gang crimes more harshly than other crimes. Throughout the 1980s, the number of arrests for drug-related crimes increased 126 percent.
The drug war led to a precipitous rise in incarcerations, making the US the country with largest incarcerated population in the world (748 inmates per 100,000 citizens). Nearly half of the ranks of the incarcerated in state and federal prisons were sentenced on drug-related charges. Those incarcerated in the US are disproportionately African American males. According to a 2010 Human Rights Watch report on American prisons, “black non-Hispanic males are incarcerated at a rate more than six times that of white non-Hispanic males and 2.6 times that of Hispanic males. One in ten black males aged twenty-five to twenty-nine were in prison or jail in 2009. . .”
After 9/11, the drug war morphed into a “global” war on terror with Arabs and Muslims at home and abroad as the primary targets. The Bush administration’s restructuring of domestic and foreign police forces under the rubric of “homeland security” paved the way for a transnational network of policing and military strategies across uneven “occupied” areas including urban black communities in the US and occupied Palestine.
Israeli counterinsurgency measures, developed and practiced in the West Bank and Gaza in the wake of two intifadas, increasingly served as models for US wars at home and abroad. But more than this, the transiting of military and security regimes across the US and Israel demonstrates that, as Laleh Khalili argues, “Palestine is an archetypal laboratory and a crucial node of global counterinsurgencies.”
Colonies always have served as laboratories for security and policing in the metropolis. The French empire regularly used Algeria as a proving ground for forms of population control that ultimately returned to the French metropolis. The US similarly used the Philippines to experiment with new modalities of policing. In the contemporary moment, the conjuncture between Israeli and US security regimes is somewhat anomalous, as it signifies a multi-directional transfer of security technologies across nation-states rather than between a colony and a metropolis. In this way, Palestine is something of a proxy colony, via Israel, for the US wars at home and abroad.
When the US began wars on terror that included invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq, it increasingly turned to Israel as a laboratory for testing new technologies of counterinsurgency. These technologies were then deployed in the homeland. The US-Israel security relationship constituted what Khalili calls a “horizontal circuit” in which “colonial policing or ‘security’ practices have been transmitted across time from one location to another, with Palestine as either a point of origin or an intermediary node of transmission.”
In 2002, members of the US military visited the West Bank Palestinian city of Jenin in order to observe and practice Israeli counterinsurgency tactics in densely populated urban cities. Steve Niva has shown how the US began to model similar forms of urban warfare in its siege of Iraq. The US strategy followed Israel in constructing walls to partition areas of control and to contain insurgent activities. In 2003, writing in the New Yorker, Seymour Hersh broke the news that Israeli military officials had trained American counterparts at Fort Bragg, North Carolina, and that “Israeli commandos are expected to serve as ad-hoc advisers—again in secret—when full-field operations [in Iraq] begin.”
The horizontal circuit not only assisted the US abroad in wars against Iraq and Afghanistan, but also penetrated the US “homeland,” which has become a space that is increasingly understood as a battleground in the war on terror. In 2005, the Washington Post reported that Israeli experts had visited the US to train urban police forces in the use of new forms of surveillance, urban policing, and bomb detection strategies. Domestic US police forces increasingly look to Israel for mentorship and expertise. As Capitol police chief Terrence Gainor argued, “Israel is the Harvard of antiterrorism.”
Israel’s “study abroad” program for US law enforcement is fostered by groups like the US-based Jewish Institute for National Security Affairs (JINSA), which has established the Law Enforcement Exchange Program. LEEP is a joint initiative of the Israeli National Police, the Israel Ministry of International Security, and the Israel Security Agency (Shin Bet) “to support and strengthen American law enforcement counter terrorism practices.” LEEP educates US law enforcement specialists in areas of joint Israeli-US concerns, such as surveillance of terrorists and border security and has attracted law enforcements agents from many agencies. Anthony Placido, Chief of Intelligence for the Drug Enforcement Agency and a LEEP graduate, argued, “It is impossible to fight trans-national crime which is terrorism unilaterally. It is partnerships, the bonds that are being forged here, it is the cooperation around the globe that will ultimately allow us to prevail.” Similarly, Police Chief Joe Polisar, from the Garden Grove, CA, Police Department and a LEEP participant, suggested, “American Law Enforcement and American Public Saftey [sic] is starving for this kind of information, the experience the Israelis can bring.”
The linkages between Israeli and US counterinsurgency technologies translate to a domestic US policing and incarceration infrastructure that increasingly looks like another front in the global war on terror. The combined power of militarized COIN strategies, high-tech surveillance, heavily armored police forces, and rapidly expanding incarceration rates transformed law enforcement in the US into a quasi-occupying army in US cities. Hence the domestic sphere is increasingly rendered as a battleground. Domestic social unrest like the Los Angeles riots of 1992, which were sparked in part by the Rodney King video, or the more contemporary Occupy Wall Street movement are increasingly confronted by government agents trained in “foreign” counterinsurgency measures.
The geographies of occupied Palestine and occupied urban communities of color have appeared much closer as a result of the “horizontal circuit” of securitization. In 2005, Hurricane Katrina exposed the combined violence of neoliberal governance and heightened domestic counterinsurgency when a predominantly African American metropolis was devastated not only by a natural disaster, but also by the un-natural processes of neo-liberal privatization, and the deployment of US military with shoot-to-kill orders. The flood exposed the inadequacy of public care for certain classes of people, including foremost the black poor. Moreover, the military response—which appeared to be an occupation deploying COIN tactics—underscored how excluded the black underclass in the US had become.
The implications of the global expansion of the US homeland to include Israeli COIN measures are not lost on Palestinians. Among the first donations to the city of New Orleans following Katrina came from Palestinian refugees from the Amari refugee camp near Ramallah, who raised ten thousand dollars for Katrina’s victims. Jihad Tomeleh, one of the organizers of the fund-raising drive, notes, “Palestinian refugees who have lived more than fifty years displaced from our homes are very sensitive to the Katrina victims.” At the ceremony to donate the funds, Rafik Husseini, an aide to Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas, referred to what happened in New Orleans as a naqba.
About the donation, Abbas said,
On behalf of the Palestinian people and, in particular, the refugee communities of the West Bank and Gaza Strip, I wish to express our deepest sympathy with the survivors of Hurricane Katrina. With our humble donation, we feel it is important to show our concern since Palestinians know all too well the pain and hardship caused by being a refugee. We pray that they will soon be able to return to their homes.
The disappearing frontiers of homeland security produce global linkages between colonial state practices, but they also link disparate geographies as sites of liberation struggles. In the new and dangerous crucible of homeland security, Qana has become East Los Angeles and New Orleans has become Ramallah.