Police violence in Israel is nowhere near the scale and severity of that in the United States or the occupied territories – but they do share key elements that achieve the same purpose.
By Amjad Iraqi
The transnational solidarity movement between Palestinians and Black, indigenous, and other minority Americans has made significant strides in promoting the struggle of Palestinians living under occupation in the West Bank and Gaza Strip. But in its focus on challenging Israel’s military regime as an institution of oppression, the movement – like many other outsiders – has sometimes overlooked another oppressive institution that operates inside Israel itself: the national police force.
In fact, when American activists of color tour the region, many find that their experiences in the United States are even more accurately mirrored by those of Palestinian citizens of Israel, who make up a fifth of the population within the state’s 1948 borders. The conditions of many Arab towns in Israel remind the activists of impoverished ghettos in American cities; segregationist laws in land and housing echo those of the Jim Crow south; and in particular, the stories of police brutality sound starkly like those in the U.S.
Like minorities in America, the Palestinian citizens’ experience with Israeli security authorities is embedded in a history of violence, distrust, and impunity. In October 1956, when Arab communities in Israel were still under military rule, soldiers shot and killed forty-nine Palestinian citizens in Kufr Kassem as they were returning home from their farms. In March 1976, police killed six Palestinian citizens during the first Land Day protests, which have been commemorated every year since. During the mass demonstrations of October 2000, police killed twelve Palestinian citizens and one resident of Gaza, and wounded hundreds more, using rubber-coated bullets and live ammunition, including sniper fire.
These acts of state-sanctioned violence, among many over the years, are coupled with both negligence and harassment by police in Arab communities. Policemen rarely arrive to investigate scenes of local Arab gun violence and, if they do come, are never heard from again. Plainclothes officers have been known to storm into local stores in broad daylight in search of undocumented Palestinian workers from the West Bank. Residents even remember how, years ago, newly-inducted Israeli soldiers stopped and searched vehicles at the entrances of Arab towns in Israel as training for managing checkpoints in the occupied territories.
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