While some may feel that writing about Palestine is far from our mission at Baltimore Courtwatch, we recognize that speaking up about systematic violence and oppression is exactly what brought us to our work. We see the connections from Baltimore to Palestine and across the globe. We stand in solidarity with Palestinians because we recognize those connections.
At the time of this writing, bombs manufactured in the U.S. and provided to Israel have killed over 10,000 Palestinians in Gaza—at least 4,000 of whom are children. As more reporting and images come out of this region daily, an international movement to stop the Israeli government’s genocidal assault on Gaza has blossomed. While the White House and the majority of Congress continue to resist calls to push for a ceasefire and end U.S. financial and military support of Israeli atrocities, actions in the U.S. have seen unprecedented levels of participation.
On November 4, massive marches occurred in cities throughout the world, calling for a ceasefire and an end to the occupation of Palestine. This included Washington, D.C., where hundreds of thousands gathered for the largest protest in U.S. history in support of Palestinian liberation.
In Baltimore, actions have included marches, a public recitation of the mourner’s kaddish, and a sit-in at Rep. Kweisi Mfume’s congressional office. The November 1 sit-in was undertaken to demand Mfume co-sponsor a U.S. House resolution urging President Biden to call for de-escalation and an immediate ceasefire. A march that began at Penn Station went to Mfume’s office to rally in support of the sit-in.
While highlighting the horrific and urgent current conditions in Gaza, speakers made connections between the oppressive settler-colonial violence of the Israeli military and the Baltimore Police Department. For years, BPD’s oppressive policing tactics and consistent brutality have led to even mainstream commentators describing BPD as an occupying army. There are obvious and important differences between the Israeli military and Baltimore Police, but the connections are real and critical to understanding the solidarity displayed by Baltimoreans in the last month.
While the military relationship between the U.S. and Israel goes back decades, the specific practice of exchanges between the Israel Defense Forces and local police departments in the U.S. began largely after 9/11. Baltimore Police have been involved in several trips to share with and learn from Israeli security forces, going back to at least 2002. After the 2016 Department of Justice report on Baltimore Police, Amnesty International’s specialist on Israel noted the training U.S. police forces have received from Israeli security forces on “crowd control, use of force, and surveillance.” Al-Jazeera also reported on the U.S.-Israeli exchanges in the midst of the national uprising of 2020 following the murders of Breonna Taylor and George Floyd.
Scrutiny on these partnerships has grown over the last decade. In 2017, Jewish Voice for Peace launched a campaign called “Deadly Exchange” highlighting these interactions between U.S.-based police and Israeli security forces and calling for them to end. JVP’s 2019 report details the types of collaboration and departments involved.
Critically, the campaign specifically rejects any antisemitic insinuation that Israeli training produces oppressive U.S. policing. Rather, it recognizes that U.S. policing has its own history of anti-Black oppression that pre-dates Israel by centuries and focuses on how oppressive institutions of control and violence have taken these exchanges as an opportunity to provide each other with tactics and strategies to further their own goals.
In JVP’s words, “What we do claim is that these U.S.-Israeli police exchanges serve to reinforce, circulate, and promote the discriminatory and brutal policing practices that already exist in both countries, including practices of mass surveillance, deadly force, the use of military technology, and racial profiling.”
Durham, North Carolina, became the first U.S. city to ban the exchanges in 2018.
Not only has Baltimore Mayor Brandon Scott not called for an end to these exchanges, he has not acknowledged the escalating destruction of Gaza at all.
In Baltimore, we see the mass surveillance connection in the familiar flashing blue lights of CitiWatch cameras. Baltimore-Palestine Solidarity (BPS) has highlighted this in a campaign to connect Israeli apartheid with Baltimore segregation. BPS notes that former mayor Martin O’Malley’s mass incarceration “zero-tolerance” program included contracting Israeli defense companies to provide CitiWatch cameras throughout Baltimore. The cameras were developed for and first utilized on the Israeli apartheid wall to surveil Palestinians. Now, these cameras are ubiquitous in the Black Butterfly. BPS says the use of these cameras “allowed the criminalization of Blackness to be modernized.”
After receiving assurances from his staff that Mfume (who was not present) had been informed of and heard their demand, sit-in participants left his office and addressed the rally of supporters. The action ended with a vow to come back and a return march to Penn Station. Mfume later released a statement that he does not support the ceasefire resolution.
Baltimore Courtwatch is made up of Baltimore citizens who watch court proceedings and report what they see in order to hold court actors accountable and end the injustice of the criminal legal system. Learn more about them at baltimorecourtwatch.org.