Worst practices from the Holy Land to the City of Brotherly Love

Abbas Naqvi was born and raised in New York and currently resides in the city of Philadelphia. He holds a doctorate degree in the field of genomics and is currently a research scientist. He has also been involved with national and international initiatives related to human rights, social justice and politics. You can follow him on Twitter at @aanaqvi.

This article was originally in Mondoweiss on 26 August 2020.

“I couldn’t believe my eyes. They were blocking the highway peacefully – not a threat. Still, teargas exploded everywhere. Trapped by the gas, people could not access the safe exits. This was an intentional blatant abuse of power by Philadelphia law enforcement over non-violent protestors expressing first amendment rights.”

Nathaniel Miller, legal observer with Up Against the Law on June 1, 2020.

Here’s what followed:  More than 140 protesters and Philadelphia residents sued Philadelphia law enforcement over the indiscriminate use of tear gas in Center City. And, after police fired teargas canisters in the 52nd street corridor injuring and arresting many innocent bystanders, neighboring West Philadelphia residents, including Councilwoman Jamie Gauthier, called for an investigation

These images, including reporters being violently detained, handcuffed, and dragged by counter-terrorism units, are frighteningly similar not only to those across U.S. cities, but are also a daily occurrence in Israel/Palestine where the Israeli military randomly humiliates, arrests, and detains Palestinian adults as well as young children.

The obvious question: Is there a connection? The answer: Yes, with certainty, there is.

Because of his role in the violence against the protesters on June 1st, Philadelphia’s Deputy Commissioner Dennis Wilson, in charge of Special Operations for the Philadelphia Police Department, accepted an unspecified demotion. Wilson has directed the PPD Joint-Terrorism Task Force, a body which has repeatedly targeted journalists and activists in their homes. PPD leadership has attended training in Israel to learn anti-terrorism tactics and procedures. As well, Philadelphia’s newly minted police commissioner, Danielle Outlaw participated in such an exchange program when she was chief of police for the Portland Police Bureau. Exchanges between U.S. and Israeli police and military agencies are not new. They are typically organized by private companies in the U.S. and Israel, non-profit organizations, and governmental agencies. 

Parading as a civil rights organization, The Anti-Defamation League is the best known of organizations that facilitate such exchanges, while holding similar trainings inside of the US. Now demoted Wilson has attended in the past, giving the opening remarks. 

Attendees include high ranking officers who upon their return set policy and conduct training for entire departments and agencies, such as police chiefs, commanders, and other high-ranking immigration and law enforcement officials.

Exchange programs bring U.S. police departments, Immigration and Customs Enforcement, and FBI together with the Israeli military. Worst practices are shared, thus promoting and extending discriminatory and repressive policing in both countries. As Israeli agents inform U.S. policing strategies and practices, U.S.-based manufacturing companies provide weaponry for the Israeli military to repress its own protests. This exchange of training and weapons promotes state violence against peaceful demonstrations at home and abroad. 

A Combined Tactical Systems teargas canister that was used in Philadelphia during Black Lives Matter protests in June 2020 (Photo: Munira Lokhandwala)

Some of the worst repression against Black Lives Matter (BLM) demonstrations has occurred in Philadelphia, PA, the City of Brotherly Love. Photographic evidence and PA state contracts reveal that the teargas used is manufactured by the Combined Tactical Systems and Safariland companies. Unsurprisingly, these are the same companies that supply teargas used by the Israeli military against Palestinians in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip. A recent direct action by The War Resisters League blocked and shut down normal operations of Combined Tactical Systems in Jamestown, PA. Several arrested activists (now released) also took part in protests in Philadelphia. 

BLM activists increasingly support  Palestine human rights activists, endorsing calls for boycotting Israel. The movements have organically converged. Growing concerns about police training and violence against non-violent protest has catalyzed a national Deadly Exchange campaign to end all U.S.-Israel law enforcement exchange programs. As calls to “defund the police” intensify, so do calls to end these exchanges. Spearheaded by the Jewish Voice for Peace nationally, local participation includes members of the Black Alliance for Peace, JVP-Philly, Philadelphians Organized to Witness, Empower & Rebuild, Media Mobilizing Project, Party for Socialism and Liberation, The Philadelphia Coalition for Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions against Israel, and the Council on American-Islamic Relations. 

Nathaniel Miller further observes, “Working in broad cross-movement coalitions helps connect the dots to better understand how structures that create repression are intimately intertwined. The broad goal is to create a just society. Ending unjust police trainings and exchanges is a giant step toward that end.”