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Atlanta Cop City activists push to abolish GILEE program

Amid the Palestinian genocide activists spread awareness about Cop City and Israeli police training

color photograph of a Black woman at an outdoor protest against police violence in response to police killing Tyre Nichols. people hold a large white banner behind her with red and black text that's partially obscured. to the right, someone holds a white picket sign that reads "end police terror."
A protester cries while speaking during a rally against the police killing of Tyre Nichols, in Atlanta, on Jan. 28, 2023. (Photo by CHENEY ORR/AFP via Getty Images)

In a striking convergence of international policing efforts, the occupation State of Israel’s Defense Forces (IDF) may become a component of Atlanta’s Cop City, thanks to the Georgia International Law Enforcement Exchange (GILEE) program, a university-based police exchange program that focuses on “enhancing homeland security efforts through international cooperation and training programs.” 

Advocates who have spoken out against plans for the 85-acre police training facility in South DeKalb—known colloquially as Cop City—say the recent presence of Israel’s military in Atlanta is emblematic of a decades-long partnership between the U.S. and Israel in sharing strategies of control through violence. Activists have underscored the importance of shutting down the GILEE program for years, but at this most recent juncture of the Israeli occupation of Palestinian territories and ongoing genocide in Gaza, the calls have reached a fever pitch.

Activists’ perspective of GILEE 

On Oct. 7, in response to the apartheid State of Israel’s ongoing occupation and escalating violence in occupied Palestinian territories, the military arm of Hamas launched an unprecedented attack in Israel, killing hundreds of military personnel and civilians and taking at least 200 hostages in exchange for imprisoned Palestinians. In the 38 days since, Israel has been waging a genocide on Gaza, killing more than 11,000 Palestinians. 

On Oct. 19, the Atlanta Community Press Collective published open records on X, formerly known as Twitter, revealing that the Atlanta Police Department and Fulton County SWAT teams had conducted training exercises in an abandoned hotel to remove “Hamas terrorists.”

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Attempts made by Atlanta University students and faculty to raise awareness about the relationship between GILEE and the Stop Cop City movement have been met with admonishment by university administration and increased patrolling by campus police.

“Students at GSU and folks around Atlanta are going to continue to organize to shut down the GILEE program,” said Ari Bee, a Jewish organizer who has been active with Jewish Voices for Peace and Atlanta Jews Against Genocide. In the wake of the Oct. 7 attacks, members of Bee’s organization have rallied outside of the Israeli consulate in Atlanta, supported events led by students on college campuses, participated in interfaith press conferences, and organized rallies. “As horrific as the genocide unfolding in Gaza is, I’m hopeful that it’s reinvigorating our communities here to step up our responsibility to end this law-enforcement exchange that only creates more violence in the world.”

Musa Springer, a member of the Black Alliance for Peace in Atlanta, explained the direct connections between the GILEE program and Cop City. 

“The GILEE program is actually based out of Georgia State University, the Atlanta Police Department, and the Atlanta Police Foundation. People might recognize that name, Atlanta Police Foundation, because they’re also the ones behind Cop City,” they said.

Corporations like Cox, Chick-fil-A, and Coca-Cola are giving the APF multimillion-dollar donations to make [GILEE] better,” Springer added. “You have private capital essentially invested in supporting this program. Politicians at every level in Georgia support this program, to the point where hundreds of police trainees are sent from Georgia and across the U.S. to train with Israeli occupation forces in Palestine. They’re learning these advanced tactics that the Israeli Occupation Force uses because they’re known for being innovative and repressive.”

The Black Alliance for Peace published a statement on June 4 calling to abolish the GILEE program and end the construction of Cop City.

The statement reads, Designed to refine the tactics of urban warfare and repression, Cop City epitomizes the connections between white supremacy-fueled genocide, militarism and oppression. It threatens to expand the cycle of state-sanctioned violence and political repression upon working-class African/Black and Indigenous communities, and would further expand the GILEE program’s resources and capabilities.”

Since Oct. 7, Atlanta criminal justice activists have been gathering around high-publicity areas like City Hall, Woodruff Park in Midtown, City Springs complex, and several university campuses to communicate their desire for one outcome: a ceasefire. 

The historical collaboration between the U.S. and Israel

The U.S. sends approximately $3.8 billion a year to Israel. In 2022, Israel received the second-largest amount of U.S. funding, after Ukraine, which received about $76.8 billion. 

American police departments have increasingly looked to Israel for “anti-terrorism” models since the 9/11 terrorist attacks. In the decades following, more than 1,000 U.S. law enforcement officers and first responders have been sent to Israel for joint training exercises with their Israeli counterparts.

The Police Unity Tour, a group of law enforcement officers from multiple U.S. states, has periodically visited Israel and participated in joint training sessions with their Israeli counterparts since 1997. The Oakland Police Department participated in a joint training exercise with Israeli and Bahraini police forces in 2011, and the Anti-Defamation League has facilitated trainings for “100% of major U.S. metropolitan police departments,” according to its own 2016 report. In 2012, the New York Police Department opened a branch in Israel at the Sharon District Police Headquarters in Kfar Saba. The following year, a team of bomb squad members from cities on the U.S.-Mexico border traveled to Israel to learn tactics to suppress and punish “illegal immigration.” As recently as June, Georgia Bureau of Investigation Director Michael Register, 12 Georgia police chiefs, and command staff participated in two weeks of extensive training with Israeli police executives.

The American-Israeli Alliance, in partnership with Jewish Voice for Peace, published a 2018 report that further details the extent of deadly force facilitated by the cooperation between the FBI, CIA, and ICE and sponsored by Israel and the U.S.

“It’s been very well documented that the Israelis often test out weapons for the first time against Palestinians, that we will then a year later see used here in the U.S. against Black people who are protesting certain variations,” said Josie Felt, a member of Jewish Voice for Peace. 

“For example, there’s something called skunk water that they spray across Palestinians when they want them to disperse; it’s a putrid, stomach-turning liquid. We are now starting to slowly see it be used in different police forces across the world.”

On Jan. 24, the Atlanta Community Press Collective released documents confirming that 43% of trainees of the proposed training site would come from outside of Georgia. At the same time, police departments and news agencies have accused opponents against the construction of Cop City, including those who are residentsof the city of Atlanta, of being “outside agitators.” 

The impact of the U.S.-Israeli military partnership extends to other parts of the world. “There is a [similar] program called Africa Command,” Springer said. “And what they do is set up different military bases to train the local forces. In every single area where there is a training program in Africa, we see increased violence and instability. The numbers are staggering before and after US presence enters and trains these locals. And so, we call them deadly exchange programs. Because that’s essentially what it is.”

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