Migrants running from tear gas fired by American border agents near the fence at Tijuana. (Credit: Hannah Mckay/Reuters)
When hundreds of Central American migrants arrived in Tijuana, Mexico, in late November, planning to claim asylum in the United States, U.S. Customs and Border Protection closed the San Ysidro border crossing in anticipation of their arrival. In protest of the closure, asylum seekers rushed the fence separating Mexico and the United States, and border patrol agents fired tear gas at them through the fence. Images of children and their families running through clouds of CS gas went viral on social media. Palestine solidarity activists speculated that the agents used the same U.S.-manufactured tear gas as is used by the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) against Palestinians and has been used against activists in the United States from Standing Rock to Ferguson, MO.
Such collaboration between U.S. and Israeli defense establishments is not new. In 2004, Hermes drones manufactured by Israel’s Elbit Systems were the first unmanned aerial vehicles deployed at the U.S. southern border. A decade later, Customs and Border Protection awarded the company’s subsidiary, Elbit Systems of America, a $145 million contract to construct its integrated fixed towers system in Nogales, Arizona. And in October 2017, when camera crews gathered in San Diego, California, for the unveiling of President Donald Trump’s border wall prototypes, the only foreign contractor on display was ELTA, a subsidiary of Israel Aerospace Industries.
In an interview published in the Journal of Palestine Studies, excerpted below, I spoke with journalist and author Gabriel Schivone about the use of Israeli technology at the U.S.-Mexico border and beyond. Schivone has published widely on issues of human rights and homeland security technology along the U.S.-Mexico border, as well as on the Israeli arms trade in Central America, the Mexican drug wars, and other topics. His book Making the New “Illegal”: How Decades of U.S. Involvement in Central America Triggered the Modern Wave of Immigration (forthcoming from Prometheus Books) includes a chapter on Israel’s military role as a proxy for the United States in Guatemala’s “Dirty War.”
Subscribe to the Journal of Palestine Studies to read the complete interview on the Journal’s website.
One issue on which the United States and Israel have been cooperating for a while is the U.S.- Mexico border. When Donald Trump announced his candidacy in 2015, he promised to build a “great wall” and to make Mexico pay for it, which ignored the fact that the wall already existed, both physically and virtually through all kinds of security technology. How did this come about?
I’m glad you point that out, because nobody else will—the media, both major political parties, and even, detrimentally, some activists, as well as others, all act as if the wall hasn’t existed for most of our lifetimes, yours and mine. […] Yet this wall and all these barriers have been here for twenty-five years. In 2006, they were greatly expanded when the Israeli giant Elbit was brought in as a subcontractor through Boeing’s $1 billion award to provide the “virtual wall” system under the Secure Fence Act of 2006 signed by [President George W.] Bush. After five years and a billion dollars spent, the Obama administration scrapped the sluggish and expensive project in 2011. But then in early 2014, they gave Elbit’s U.S. subsidiary, Elbit Systems of America, a new $145 million contract to build the integrated fixed towers project, a similar “virtual wall” concept, to provide fifty-two Israeli surveillance towers all across southern Arizona along the border with Mexico.
Other examples of Israeli technology and expertise on the border include Israel’s NICE Systems, which provided CCTV surveillance technology to notorious Arizona sheriff Joe Arpaio (who was found guilty of racially profiling Latinos in 2013) for one of his jails in 2000; the Golan Group, a huge Israeli conglomerate, which did a training program for a select group of ICE agents in 2007; and a squad of Israeli Hermes drones, which were the first drones used to patrol the southern border skies, in 2004. These are just a few of the examples.