Illustration by Lynne Foster
Israeli companies are making a killing off technology perfected over 50 years of occupation
On March 5, Gov. Andrew Cuomo flew to Israel to show solidarity with Jews amidst an uptick in anti-Semitism in New York.
But the trip also doubled as the kick-off for a new project meant to bring Israel and New York closer together.
Inside the opulent King David Hotel in Jerusalem, Cuomo announced the creation of the New York-Israel Commission, an initiative to strengthen the already-robust ties between Israel and the state with the largest number of Jews in the United States.
A key part of the commission will focus on connecting New York law enforcement with Israeli security forces. Cuomo wasted no time in starting that initiative.
An hour after the King David press conference, the New York governor stood outside Jerusalem’s Old City police headquarters alongside Gilad Erdan, Israel’s Minister of Public Security and Strategic Affairs, marveling at Israel’s ability to keep Jerusalem safe. He said Israeli security forces’ use of technology is “something that we can learn from,” and also said that he wanted New York law enforcement to learn from Israel about combating “lone wolf” terror threats.
The New York cops won’t be alone in learning from Israel. Since 2001, hundreds of American police officers have been flown to Israel, most on the dime of pro-Israel groups, to tour the country and speak with Israeli security forces about how they keep their country safe.
These police delegations, and Cuomo’s praise for the Israeli police, highlight how Israel is seen as a world leader in security. Because of this reputation, Israeli weapons and surveillance companies — a core part of the Israeli economy — have become well-known in far-flung countries. Such companies export billions of dollars worth of armaments and spy tools to virtually every region in the world.
But why are security companies in Israel, as opposed to any other country, so coveted?
“All of the Israeli companies would immediately answer the question: We have actual experience, and we have tested these weapons on human beings,” said Shir Hever, an Israeli researcher and author of the book The Political Economy of the Occupation.
June 5, 2017 marks the 50th anniversary of the Six-Day War, a conflict in which Israel defeated Arab armies and captured the West Bank, Gaza and East Jerusalem — the occupied Palestinian territories — as well as the Egyptian Sinai Peninsula and the Syrian Golan Heights. While Israel has since withdrawn from the Sinai Peninsula, it remains the occupying power in parts of the Golan Heights and in all of the Palestinian territories.
The Palestinian territories have become a testing ground for new weapons and surveillance tactics which are then exported to other countries.
As the years of occupation ticked by, the Israeli army, border guard and police developed increasingly sophisticated ways to keep Palestinians in check. And Israel has cashed in on its expertise in occupation and policing. Israeli arms and surveillance companies are typically founded by combat and intelligence veterans who have expertise in maintaining Israel’s regime of control in the occupied Palestinian territories. After their military service — which is required for most Israelis at the age of 18 — many young veterans either form or join up with arms or spy companies, trading in on their army service in order to make huge profits by selling weapons of repression.
To critics of Israeli security forces, this process has led to a grotesque outcome: The occupied Palestinian territories have become Israel’s “lab” — a testing ground for new weapons and surveillance tactics that are then brought to other regions bent on keeping their own populations in check. The self-proclaimed “light unto the nations” has instead brought dark tools of repression to many countries.
Israeli exports became particularly coveted around the globe after the Sept. 11 attacks, which led governments — particularly the Bush administration — to spend heavily on the homeland security industry, according to Hever.
“The technology that the Israeli army, police and secret police can boast is surveillance technology, technology of control and riot gear, which became very much in demand after Sept. 11,” he told The Indypendent.
Hever maintains that the allure of Israeli security products has waned in recent years.
“All of this amazing technology, and all of these very expensive gadgets that they’re developing — they don’t do anything, because they do not create security,” Hever said. “That’s mainly the reason for the decline in sales, because customers from various countries in Eastern Europe, they go to these fairs and look at these sophisticated cameras and weapons and ask, is Israel a safe place to live? There’s not a sense of security.”
Nevertheless, Israeli surveillance tools and weapons remain prominent around the world.