Ferguson, Israel and the Palestinians: What They Have in Common - and What They Don’t

Those beating the drum against Israel over the course of Operation Protective Edge point out that images of clashes between police and demonstrators in Missouri look eerily familiar.

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Police arrest a man as they disperse a protest in Ferguson, Mo., early Wednesday, Aug. 20, 2014.
Police arrest a man as they disperse a protest in Ferguson, Mo., early Wednesday, Aug. 20, 2014.Credit: AP

The comparisons were inevitable when you took a look at the photos from Ferguson - military-style police suited in combat gear and equipped with tear gas, using what clearly seems to be disproportionate force against hapless crowds of civilian protesters. Those beating the drum against Israel over the course of Operation Protective Edge point out that the images look eerily familiar.

Ferguson, they say, is Palestine.

And so, just when we thought there might be one problem that wouldn’t be blamed on Israel or the Jews, some Palestinians and their advocates are jumping aboard the train of outrage the heavy-handed paramilitary police tactics in Ferguson pinning the Missouri police behavior directly on the Jewish state’s undue “influence on U.S. law enforcement” and “the troubling implications of emulating an apartheid regime actively engaged in ethnic cleansing and war crimes.”

In a way, Israelis set themselves up for this comparison by sharing security expertise with U.S. law enforcementto keep dangerous terrorists and criminals at bay

What is seriously lacking in this argument, however, are actual facts to back up the thesis. Supposedly, the big smoking gun was the fact that not one, but two Missouri officials had travelled to Israel for training sessions - that in 2011, then St. Louis County Police Department chief Timothy Fitch attended a week-long Israeli training camp from Israeli police and military sponsored by the Anti-Defamation League and that a former St. Louis police chief attended a conference in 2008 called the Law Enforcement Exchange Program aimed at helping the U.S. prevent and react to terrorism.

To put it mildly, it is highly doubtful that these short trips taken long ago had anything to do with the shaping the culture of Missouri law enforcement - or that because of these programs, Israel is somehow responsible for the militarization of police forces in the United States. As nicely as the charge suits the agenda of those who hate Israel, it appears to have much more to do with the millions of dollars worth of militarized police equipment bestowed on law-enforcement by the federal government and the military’s generosity with its leftover battle gear.

But the inconvenience of reality hasn’t stopped some Palestinians from pushing the comparison between their cause and Ferguson. There has been tweeting messages of solidarity to demonstrators and offering advice as to how to cope with tear gas.

Yup, that's #Israel's training https://t.co/RxNYkNBcat

Always make sure to run against the wind /to keep calm when you're teargassed, the pain will pass, don't rub your eyes! #Ferguson Solidarity

Don't Keep much distance from the Police, if you're close to them they can't tear Gas. To #Ferguson from #Palestine

Hamde Abu tells #Ferguson that #Palestine knows what it means to be shot for your ethnicity pic.twitter.com/56aKRQHZnI

As absurd as I find this tear gas-driven solidarity, I do see one major similarity between the Israel-Hamas conflict and Ferguson, as I watch the talking heads on the U.S. media and their counterparts in Tel Aviv and Jerusalem endlessly try to work out how to solve their respective problems during this long, hot summer: dangerously short-term thinking.

As rockets fly and bombs drop here in the Middle East, the airwaves are filled with commentators all talking around the same point - what is the best strategy to restore quiet? Every time someone dares bring up the idea of addressing of the root causes of the lack of quiet, they are told it’s not the time. It’s not the time to talk occupation, settlements, or choking restrictions on Palestinian freedom - it’s time to talk about ending this terrible war.  

In the U.S., mirror-image conversations are taking place. It doesn’t take an expert to see that the level of unrest in Ferguson goes far beyond the killing of Michael Brown, and originates in the racism and unemployment and the treatment of citizens by police. But the talk these days revolves around the demonstrations and riots and looting and curfews. The message being sent is that law and order comes first -- only after things settle down, should Americans talk about why the situation exploded in the first place.  

The big flaw in both cases is that a crisis is, in fact, exactly the time to address the root causes of why the situation erupted.

Because realistically, that is the only time it is going to happen. When the longed-for quiet is upon us, when there is law and order, that is when heads go back in the sand. No one wants to upset the apple cart, mess with the status quo, disturb the fragile peace.

You can feel it in Israel even during the short ceasefire periods - people want to deal with anything but the conflict - they crave normality. The underlying problems aren’t addressed and inevitably, the seeds of the next crisis are sown.

In Ferguson - as in Israel, Gaza and the West Bank - crises must be used as an opportunity for out-of-the-box solutions that could prevent the next explosion. It’s not just the right time to solve big problems - it is the only time.

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