How Counterinsurgency Tactics in the Middle East Found Their Way to American Cities

After witnessing the pervasiveness of militarized politics tactics on Black and Brown populations in the United States, and out of concern for Black Lives and human rights more broadly, I was inspired to link those material and technologies to counterinsurgency practices in the Middle East in an article I recently published in Jacobin titled “How Counterinsurgency Tactics in the Middle East Found Their Way to American Cities.” Many of the repressive police tactics and technologies used in the US have been developed in the Middle East to suppress dissent. Primary examples of these policies include the War on Terror in Afghanistan and the US occupation of and counterinsurgency in Iraq. The circulation of knowledge also occurs through police exchange programs with the United States ally Israel where techniques and materials are shared in an economy arms sales and consulting. In the article, I argue that if we are serious about ending police violence at home, we must end America’s involvement in war abroad. In other words, some of the worst practices in the Middle East have come home to roost posing a threat to democracy.

I ended the essay with a reference to the late Yaron Ezrachi, an Israeli leftist political thinker that I had the pleasure of studying with as a young woman–he passed away last year. Ezrachi’s book Rubber Bullets (1998) is a mixture of political theory and his own personal biography as he grapples with the tension between the liberal idealism of Israeli democracy (especially the socialist roots of Israel) and its illiberal counterpart, the occupation of the Palestinian West Bank and Gaza. Writing after the first Intifada and before the second, he argued that Israel’s choice to use rubber bullets to suppress the Palestinians uprising in 1988 with “non-lethal” weapons that both maimed and killed protesters posed a threat to Israeli democracy. His ideas still have me thinking twenty years after he wrote them, what does the use of rubber bullets that have ripped through the bodies of protesters to suppress dissent in the United States say about the future of American democracy? Perhaps asking ourselves this question is the best way to honor Ezrachi’s memory.

I found a 1997 interview with Charlie Rose where Ezrachi discusses his ideas in Rubber Bullets in light of the Oslo Peace Accords.

Rubber Bullets and Beanbag Rounds Can Cause Devastating Injuries ...

Brad Levi Ayala, 16, was struck in the head with a “non-lethal” beanbag round during Black Lives Matter protests in Austin, Texas. Reading his story inspired me to write about the connections between counterinsurgency practices in the Middle East and use of force against American activists in the 2020 BLM protests.