Editor’s Note: The following statement was published on June 15, 2020 by the Jewish Voice for Peace Health Advisory Council. Mondoweiss occasionally publishes press releases and statements from organizations in an effort to draw attention to overlooked issues.
The Jewish Voice for Peace Health Advisory Council (JVP HAC) joins the multitude of social justice groups and community-led calls for an end to the structural and systemic racism in, and violence by police forces across the country towards Black Americans. The structure of policing creates a public health risk for Black, Indigenous and all People of Color (BIPOC), and therefore we join in the call to defund police departments across the country, including Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), and reallocate those resources toward upstream systems for community safety.
Following decades of leadership by BIPOC communities, the JVP HAC stands firmly as health workers in supporting a public health approach for community safety. Such an approach begins by defunding police departments and instead re-directing funds and resources to effective, community- led programs that will keep people and communities safe. It has been all too clear for decades to those most directly impacted by systemic racism that not only does our current system of policing not make communities safer, but that police violence is actually a public health problem. In fact, overly inflated police budgets in most urban localities deplete communities by taking funding that could better be used to invest in communities and address issues that are exacerbated by racism and chronic underfunding of health, mental health, education, housing, environmental exposures, and other programs that would enhance community wellbeing.
The JVP HAC urges us all now to listen deeply to groups such as the Movement for Black Lives, ReclaimThe Block, The Center for Popular Democracy and many others as they put forth visions and concrete plans for community based alternatives for safety and to end the violence of heavily armed police forces.
We mourn for the lives of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery, Tony McDade, Sean Reed, Rayshard Brooks, and far too many other Black Americans who have lost their lives to racism and police violence. Our deepest condolences go out to their families. We stand in solidarity with the Movement 4 Black Lives and other African American liberation organizations and honor their calls for systemic change to end the deep-seated racism and indiscriminate use of force toward BIPOC communities. We strongly support divestment from local police departments and reallocation of these funds to meet community. This is a public health imperative.
“Over the last 30 years, at both the national and local levels, governments have dramatically increased their spending on criminalization, policing, and mass incarceration while drastically cutting investments in basic infrastructure and slowing investment in social safety net programs.
Making our communities safer means providing a living wage, increasing access to holistic health services and treatment, educational opportunities, and stable housing, not additional investments in police or prisons.” The Center for Popular Democracy
In this moment, as we shine the light on police violence here in the United States, we also cannot fail to reaffirm our opposition to the actions of the Israeli police and military, which often act jointly as the agents of social control in Palestine. The United States provides $3.8 billion of military aid to Israel each year. Additionally, many police departments from cities across the US contract for military-style training from the Israeli military. It is hard to comprehend the level of dis-investment in human potential that this choice of funding allocation produces.
The latest indiscriminate lethal shooting by the Israeli police occurred on May 30, causing the death of Eyad Halaq, age 32. Eyad, a young man with autism, was walking through his East Jerusalem neighborhood toward school and was killed when police accused him of carrying a weapon which he did not have. Eyad Halaq’s death is just the latest in a number of Israeli police or military shootings of Palestinians with physical or mental health disabilities.
Like US police, Israeli military policing of Palestinians is characterized by use of lethal force and dangerous “less-lethal”munitions such as tear gas, and other chemical weapons, rubber bullets, and sound projectiles. Israeli military police act out of impunity from an almost blanket lack of accountability.
Like in the United States in cases of police violence, the prosecution rate of Israeli uniformed agents is extremely low. The 2016 report from the Israeli Human Rights group, B’Tselem, The Occupation’s Fig Leaf: Israel’s Military Law Enforcement System as a Whitewash Mechanism could equally have been written about the lack of accountability of American police forces.
“And so, report after report, committee after committee, the discourse in itself creates the illusion of movement toward changing and improving the system. This illusory movement allows officials both inside and outside the system to make statements about the importance of the stated goal of enforcing the law on soldiers, while the substantive failures remain as they were and most cases continue to be closed with no measures taken.” B’Tselem, 2016
Though the context in Palestine and in the United States differs, there are many similarities in terms of the social control and trauma by police/military forces that disproportionately impact BIPOC communities in the U.S. and Palestinian communities in Israel/Palestine. Dismantling the structural and systemic racism must be a pillar of this work in both places. Equally, in both places, incremental reforms of the systems of control have not been effective to alleviate injuries, trauma and needless deaths. The specifics of changes needed in each place are unique, but common structures of oppression exist.
A public health approach to policing goes “upstream” in addressing the underlying and foundational causes that lead to police violence. Such an approach involves addressing the determinants of health that impoverish communities–racism, poverty, lack of employment, lack of housing, lack of quality educational opportunity, lack of nutritious foods, and lack of affordable healthcare and mental healthcare access. It can be said that in communities of color in both the US and in Palestinian communities, additional determinants of health include the need for freedom, justice and equality. The JVP Health Advisory Council stands firmly behind these calls. Nothing less.
Members of the Jewish Voice for Peace Health Advisory Council Steering Committee,
Alan Meyers, MD,
Alice Rothchild, MD,
Amy Alpert, CCC-SLP,
Maxine Fookson, RN, MN,
Peter Sporn, MD,
Rachel Rubin, MD,
Sima Kahn, MD