STAR Solidarity With BDS: The Carceral State Knows No Bounds

The carceral state knows no national boundaries. As a group committed to dismantling the Prison Industrial Complex, it is imperative that we act with this fact in mind. For this reason, we, Students for Transformative Justice, Abolition, and Reform (STAR), stand in solidarity with Students for Justice in Palestine’s Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) campaign. We must move away from allowing human rights to remain an issue of  “foreign policy” to consider how systems of oppression everywhere uphold and reinforce each other. The struggle for Palestinian liberation is inextricably tied to the struggle for a world that does not need prisons. Policing and incarceration in the United States are directly linked to occupation and administrative detention in Occupied Palestine via the Prison Industrial Complex.

Carceral technologies and processes uphold the Apartheid state in Israel, which routinely detains Palestinians without trial. As of November 2018, the total number of political prisoners detained by Apartheid Israel was 5,554. Of these prisoners, 540 are serving life sentences, while 489 are serving sentences greater than twenty years—230 are child prisoners. And 482 are administrative detainees; administrative detention describes the mechanism by which Apartheid Israel detains Palestinian people indefinitely (Prisoner Support and Human Rights Association). Israel can be considered, like the US, a carceral state; both use systems of imprisonment and punishment to disenfranchise and oppress those already marginalized to avoid dealing with the social ills, violence, and hierarchical nature of the State in which they operate. Much like incarcerated people in the US, those detained in Israel face grave injustice; they are routinely barred from receiving family visits and communicating with family and friends via telephone and are faced with poor medical conditions and lack of access to educational resources. Israel’s carceral state targets the most vulnerable Palestinian populations and has an extensive history of imprisoning children.

A statement released by the Abolitionist organization Critical Resistance, following a trip to Palestine, notes the startling conditions of incarceration in Palestine. The statement reads, “we learned that Palestinians face one of the highest per capita incarceration rates in the world: one in five Palestinians has been imprisoned at some point in his or her life, including 40 percent of the Palestinian male population” (Critical Resistance, 2016). Overall, the Israeli Prison Service (IPS) denies incarcerated individuals basic human rights. The argument here is not for Israel to be singled out for its carceral practices, but rather to understand Israel within the context of a broader transnational Prison Industrial Complex. If we are to advocate for the abolition of the carceral state in the US, we must also do so for the carceral state in Israel, and analyze the ways in which the Prison Industrial Complex transcends nations and borders, sustaining itself at the expensive of oppressed people worldwide.

Policing in the United States is informed by its contact with the Israeli Defense Force (IDF), which emerges out of a context in which administrative detention (which we assert is a violation of civil and human rights) is permissible. When understanding its relationship to US Policing, we must consider the implications of Israel employing administrative detention. Several US police forces have sent law enforcement officials to Israel throughout the last decade or so to meet with Israeli military and police forces, while thousands more have undergone training from Israeli officials in the United States. US police forces maintain this intentional and harmful relationship with the IDF under the thinly veiled, oppressive guise of “preserving national security” and “fighting terrorism.” In reality, they are deliberately fostering connections with an Israeli institution that oppresses and denies basic human rights to Palestinian people. US police forces often take the lives of, commit acts of violence against, and criminalize Black and brown bodies, and foster violence in low-income communities of color. It is no coincidence that these bodies of policing maintain a close relationship. The IDF and US police forces work together to sustain one another and the Prison-Industrial Complex across nations.

Political Prisoners across every nation are coming together. There is a movement of solidarity between political prisoners in the United States and in Palestine. There is a common understanding of the ways in which both states have criminalized people for resisting their oppression. We look to the voices of incarcerated folx who are fighting for change; we look to incarcerated people who know that their resistance is not a singular one, but rather one that is tied to a larger movement to create a free and prosperous future.

The specific companies identified by Swarthmore’s Boycott, Divestment, and Sanction movement explicitly identify companies that make possible the violence wielded by the Israeli State, thereby sustaining the Prison-Industrial Complex. As we call on Swarthmore to divest from these companies, we ask the general public and ourselves: how do we actively resist that which we know is unjust? As we encourage institutions to which we belong to divest from violence and injustice, how do we envision reinvesting in the communities they disadvantage and oppress? How do we envision reinvesting in justice, care, humanity, and radical love at Swarthmore and on a national and worldwide scale? How do we create the just world we are fighting for, as we work to divest from the unjust world we are actively fighting against?