5 Cruel Values Israel and America Share as Jailer and Executioners

Human Rights

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has found the perfect model to justify his support for force-feeding 125 Palestinian prisoners on hunger strike: Guantanamo Bay. It’s a perfect encapsulation of how Israel and the U.S. feed off of each other as they both prosecute wars and occupations.

In early June, Netanyahu ramped up support for legislation that would allow Israeli authorities to force-feed hunger striking prisoners. He pressed Israeli officials to speed up the bill’s passage, which has passed its first test in the country’s parliament, known as the Knesset (a bill in the Israeli parliament has to pass three readings for it to become law).  

Netanyahu’s rush to enshrine force-feeding into Israeli law is a direct response to an ongoing Palestinian hunger strike protesting Israel’s administrative detention policies, where the state holds prisoners without charge or trial. According to Israeli TV news outlet Channel 2, Netanyahu said that “in Guantanamo the Americans are using the method of force-feeding too.”

By Netanyahu’s logic, if the Obama administration can force-feed hunger striking detainees, why can’t Israel do the same?

Force-feeding prisoners is but one example of America’s and Israel’s “shared values,” though those values are not the ones promoted by U.S.-based Israel lobby groups seeking to burnish the country’s reputation. While groups like the American Israel Public Affairs Committee say Israel and America share the values of democracy and freedom, the real ties that bind lie in the repressive tactics both nations use to strike down resistance to detention and war.

Here are five other repressive policies Israel and America share.

1. Detention without charge.  The hunger strike currently raging inside the walls of Israeli jails began in April, when over 100 Palestinians began to refuse food to protest Israel’s practice of locking them up with charge or trial, or administrative detention. Over 191 Palestinians are currently being held under administrative detention, and Israel is allowed to use secret evidence to keep them there.

The U.S. has its own prisoners locked up without charge or trial in Guantanamo Bay, and they have also engaged in hunger strikes to attempt to remedy their condition. The military has used force-feeding to keep prisoners alive and to break the hunger strike. Force-feeding has been condemned as a form of torture, and now Israel wants to use it to break its own hunger strikes.

Most of the 149 men being held by the U.S. at Guantanamo have not been charged with any crime, and the U.S. has cleared 77 prisoners for release. Most will not go on trial.

2. Drones. Israel is the pioneer in this category. The first war in which drones were used was during Israel’s Lebanon invasion in 1982, when the unmanned aircraft was utilized to monitor troop movements, as Jefferson Morley pointed out on Salon. Two decades later, Israel put missiles on them, and has used them to launch many airstrikes during its wars on Gaza. While Israel has killed armed Palestinian militants with drones, scores of civilians have also been killed by Israeli drone attacks.

Israel is today the leading exporter of drones around the world. Israeli activist Jeff Halper explains: “The occupied territories are crucial as a laboratory not just in terms of Israel’s internal security, but because they have allowed Israel to become pivotal to the global homeland security industry.” And Israeli technologists have set up subsidiaries of drone companies in the U.S.

The Obama administration has become infamous for its own use of drones in Pakistan, Yemen and Somalia. U.S. officials claim that drone attacks are precise and “surgical,” but hundreds of civilians have been killed by the unmanned aircraft.

3. Torture. The Bush administration employed a vast regime of torture following the 9/11 attacks that included waterboarding, slamming prisoners' heads against the wall, sleep deprivation and isolation. As Vice-President Dick Cheney said after the September 11 attacks: “We have to work the dark side, if you will.”

President Obama outlawed many of the torture tactics the Bush administration employed, although U.S. authorities have cooperated, and in some cases, participated in torture while suspects were held overseas during Obama’s reign. And the U.S. has a long history of supportive repressive regimes from the Middle East to Latin America that routinely tortured prisoners.

Israel also makes liberal use of torture. In the decades after Israel occupied the West Bank, Gaza and Jerusalem (which began in 1967), Israeli authorities tortured thousands of prisoners they accused of waging attacks on the military or civilians or of participating in resistance activism against the occupation.  

The Israeli torture regime consists of a number of tactics, including the “shabach” position, where a prisoner’s legs and arms are tied to a chair, beatings, shaking and sleep deprivation. In 1999, the use of torture was outlawed by Israel’s high court, but Israeli security forces continue to use torture, according to the Public Committee Against Torture, an Israeli human rights group.

4. Informants. In post-9/11 America, informants are all the rage for law enforcement agencies  The FBI is estimated to have put 15,000 informants on its payroll to fight terrorism. The New York Police Department has its own army of informants. The informants are mostly Muslim men, many of them poor and in trouble with the law, coerced into spying on their own community. Law enforcement agencies entice them with the promise of having all of their troubles erased, as long as they give the police what they want.

And if people refuse? The threats come out. The FBI has threatened Muslim-Americans with death or injury, and has allegedly kept Muslims on the no-fly list in retaliation for refusing to become informants.

Israel has its own army of informants, and has also used coercion to pressure people into informing on their own community. Documented cases include Israel pressuring gay Palestinians looking for asylum, Palestinian children who are locked up, and Gaza Palestinians trying to enter Israel or the West Bank for medical treatment.

5. Racial profiling.  Airports are the key area where both Israel and the U.S. employ racial profiling directed at Arabs and Muslims.  

In the U.S., many accounts have emerged of Muslims being singled out for questioning before being allowed to fly. Agents search through the bags of Muslims or Arabs and ask them questions about their faith. A survey by Pew showed that 36 percent of Muslim Americans said they had been singled out for screening. In August 2012, TSA officers told the New York Times that racial profiling at Boston’s Logan Airport was rife, and targeted Middle Easterners and blacks and Hispanics. An Israeli security firm was contracted to help secure Logan Airport.

After the 2010 attempt to blow up an airliner on Christmas Day, the Obama administration announced it would implement extra security procedures for people from 14 different countries, most of them Muslim-majority. The U.S. dropped the program three months later.

Israel’s Ben-Gurion Airport is notorious for racially profiling Palestinians and other Muslims and Arabs, even if they have a foreign passport. In 2011, the Association for Civil Rights in Israel stated that “all Arab citizens of Israel are automatically categorized as a ‘security threat’ for the purpose of airport security checks…Arab passengers receive a discriminatory and humiliating treatment in airports, including a special and thorough search that extremely exceeds the usual security checks, only because the passenger is Arab and with no other concrete basis for suspicion.”

El-Al, the Israeli airline company partially owned by the state, has long been accused of racially profiling its passengers.

In May, Haaretz’s Amira Hass reported that Israel’s internal security service had agreed to stop singling out Arab travelers. The change came in response to a lawsuit, though it’s too early to tell whether the change becomes one carried out in practice.  

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