Leading by Example: How States Identify Targets for Non-State Violence

Nearly 80,000 people in the UK signed a petition calling for the arrest of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on war crimes charges ahead of his diplomatic visit to Britain.

The growing global criticism of Israel’s military actions against Palestinians is encouraging, but is also particularly interesting to consider alongside recent acts of settler violence that have gained international attention, such as the murder of a Palestinian child named Ali Saad Dawabsha, who was burned to death in what authorities are calling a “price-tag attack” (an attack meant to punish Palestinians when the Israeli government takes any action against the illegal settlers.)

Meanwhile, the U.S. recently marked the one-year anniversary of the murder of Michael Brown and the subsequent protests in his hometown of Ferguson, Missouri. Since then, reporting around police violence against people of color has increased dramatically, bringing to light the abuses that have existed in U.S. society for a long time. The Guardian took on the monumental task of actually tracking the number of people killed by police in America, a national movement formed to fight for the state to recognize that Black Lives Matter, and those activist efforts forced the subject of police brutality and racialized policing to become a part of our national political debate. The response was a more heavily militarized police force essentially occupying neighborhoods with the most protest activity. The U.S. received a “scathing” review from the U.N. Human Rights Council.

I’ve written before about how U.S. police forces treat people of color as a suspect class, with entire communities, and how loosely defined patterns of suspicious behavior are deemed sufficient to condemn individuals to death in some cases, and entire communities to continued harassment and surveillance.

The racialized policing practices the U.S. have become so stark and so militarized that it has been compared to Israel’s occupation of the Palestinian territories. Indeed, U.S. police forces from all over the country (and including some college campus police forces) have engaged in training exercises with Israel, where police practices are also designed to support the occupation. In other words, policing takes place with a clear “enemy” in mind, and that enemy is the Palestinians.

These kinds of policies can certainly promote backlash and resistance, as seen in the protests that erupted in U.S. cities after high-profile instances of police brutality and the resistance movement, nonviolent and violent, in Palestine against the occupation.

But it can also serve to identify state-sanctioned targets of violence, and legitimize non-state violence against those targets.

One of the most widely-reported instances of a black teenager being killed in the U.S. was the case of Trayvon Martin, who was murdered by George Zimmerman, a man who was not an actual member of law enforcement, but rather a member of a neighborhood watch organization. He determined that Martin was suspicious and began to follow him, despite direct instructions from the actual police not to do so. He felt entitled to do so because Martin fit the mental profile Zimmerman had of a criminal or troublemaker, a profile that is reified by state policies that disproportionately target people of color for scrutiny, surveillance, harassment, and violence.

Likewise, the occupied West Bank has been the site of ongoing conflict between Palestinians and (illegal) Israeli settlers, culminating in a number of recent incidents of settler violence intended to drive out the Palestinians. This includes an arson attack that killed an 18 month old Palestinian boy named Ali Saad Dawabsha.

The Israeli government condemned the attack that killed Dawabsha, but its own policies encouraging ever-expanding Israeli settlements and cracking down with disproportionate lethality against Palestinian resistance provides implicit support for settler violence against Palestinians.

When a government identifies any segment of the population under its control as an enemy of the state, or at least a consistent threat, and targets them with repressive violence, it can begin to seem legitimate and even patriotic for vigilante, non-state actors to likewise commit violence against that group.   

Some more reading on racial policing, Israeli repression, and links between U.S. and Israeli law enforcement:

Racial profiling of black bodies for profit

Report from Occupied Territory

St. Louis Police Bought Israeli Skunk Spray  

Israelification of US policing


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