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ver the last 40 years, US imperialism, neoliberal restructuring, and climate catastrophe have accelerated dispossession and intensified inequality around the world. While wealth and income are concentrated in the hands of billionaire capitalists, the racialized poor are subject to extreme exploitation and abandonment. By differentially valuing human lives and labor, processes of racial and gender formation mark some populations for a life of super-exploitation in sweatshops and service industries while subjecting others to disposability, abandonment, and death. Yet the racialized poor remain materially and symbolically valuable: they not only drive down wages for the precariously employed, they also become what Frantz Fanon (1952) called “phobogenic objects” – symbols of danger that loom large in the anxieties of the powerful. Globally circulating threat discourses that equate Black people with criminality and Arabs and Muslims with terrorism symbolically transform the most marginalized into the sources of violence and justify the expansion of military and carceral interventions.
Neoliberal apartheid (Clarno, 2017) regimes like Israel, South Africa, and the US depend on advanced carceral strategies to maintain power. They protect the powerful by policing the racialized poor: containing them in prisons and zones of abandonment, subjecting them to constant surveillance, displacing them across borders, and targeting them with violence and death. These carceral strategies are operationalized through networks of state and private security forces that crisscross the globe but congeal in context specific formations at a range of geographic scales. Flows of technology, expertise, data, and discourse provide the infrastructure for these carceral webs.
Policing in the United States (Kelley, 2020) is rooted in the elimination of indigenous populations, the criminalization of Blackness, the suppression of immigrant and working-class radicalism, and the struggle for global domination and capitalist hegemony. Neoliberal restructuring has deepened US dependency on carceral strategies to uphold an unstable social order.
The war on crime is used to justify police deployments designed to monitor, contain, and eliminate Black and Latinx populations by concentrating surveillance and violence in working-class communities of color. The war on immigrants see-saws between the Republican’s generalized assault on all undocumented immigrants – and the Democrats’ targeted attack on immigrants labeled “criminals” or “gang members.” And the war on terror has expanded the web of surveillance, accelerated the militarization of local police departments, and generated new mechanisms for data sharing between agencies. As part of the global war on terror, the US has also established new mechanisms for sharing data and intelligence with partners such as Israel to support US imperial projects around the world.
Israel is fully integrated into the US empire (Lubin, 2021). The United States uplifts Israeli apartheid through direct political, ideological, and military support; by facilitating regional security coordination with Egypt and Jordan; by managing security coordination between Israel and the Palestinian Authority; and by building a global war grounded in the archetype of the Arab/Muslim terrorist.
Israel has built a multi-layered system (Gordon, 2008) for policing Palestinians that is centered on Israeli state violence, supported by a regional network of security forces, and operationalized through a regime of security coordination that draws the colonized into their own oppression. Israeli police, military, and intelligence agencies drive the settler colonial project by preventing the return of Palestinian refugees, enforcing second class citizenship on Palestinians inside Israel, concentrating West Bank Palestinians into an archipelago of isolated enclaves, transforming the Gaza Strip into a concentration camp, and violently repressing dissent.
And, since 2007, the Palestinian Authority’s security forces (Tartir, 2017) have been reorganized under the supervision of the United States and deployed to ensure the security of Israel. More than 80,000 strong, the PA security forces are vetted by the US, trained in Jordan using the same US facilities and contractors that trained the Iraqi army after 2003, and deployed throughout the West Bank enclaves in close coordination with the Israeli military. Israel and the PA security forces share intelligence, coordinate arrests, and cooperate on weapons confiscations. They target Islamists, leftists, and all Palestinian critics of Oslo. While Israeli and US officials celebrate the success of these operations, Palestinians increasingly detest security coordination.
Israeli strategies to police Palestine are also connected to a global web of racial capitalist projects (Halper, 2015) to contain and pacify the racialized poor around the world. Israeli security companies export “expertise” by training police departments in crowd control, counterinsurgency, and counterterrorism. And Israeli companies are at the forefront of a multi-billion dollar global industry for security technology. Incubated by the Israeli military, private Israeli companies develop drones, biometric scanners, and other advanced surveillance technology – which they advertise as “field tested” in the Gaza Strip. Treating military occupation as a market opportunity, Israeli corporations are integral to the regime of imperial policing that upholds global apartheid.
Flows of technology, discourse, and war also link post-apartheid South Africa into this imperial network. State violence remains crucial to enforcing racial capitalism in South Africa. The South Africa police suppress social movements and worker struggles, most notoriously by massacring 34 striking workers at the Marikana (Desai, 2014) platinum mines in 2012. The police also employ a range of everyday practices designed to criminalize and contain the Black poor in South Africa’s still segregated townships.
Alongside the police, private security (Clarno and Murray, 2013) has emerged as the primary force for securing the accumulated wealth and privilege of the South African elite. Since 1994, private security has been the fastest growing industry in South Africa – commodifying a racialized discourse of Black criminality to transform formerly white neighborhoods into a world of walled enclosures. Companies are also experimenting with preventive security patrols that rely on constant surveillance, aggressive stops, intimidation, and violence to regulate the presence of working class Black people in wealthy neighborhoods. Importantly, much of the advanced technology used by these companies is produced by Israeli corporations.
Moreover, the South African private security industry has deep connections to the US empire. At least ten thousand South African mercenaries (Clarno and Vally, 2005) have served as private military contractors in the battlefields of Iraq, Afghanistan, Somalia, and elsewhere. The most highly trained, highest paid operators circulate between contracts with private security companies securing the wealth of the South African elite and private military contractors enforcing US imperial domination.
Across the world, the infrastructure of imperial policing upholds racial capitalism, settler colonialism, and white supremacy by protecting property and the lives that are valued, containing racialized surplus populations, regulating the working class, and suppressing resistance.
Clarno A (2017) Neoliberal apartheid: Palestine/Israel and South Africa after 1994. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.
Clarno A and Murray MJ (2013) Policing in Johannesburg after apartheid. Social Dynamics 39(2): 210-227.
Clarno A and Vally S (2005) Iraq: The South African connection. CorpWatch. Available here (accessed 9 December 2021).
Desai R (2014). Miners shot down. Al Jazeera America et.al.
Fanon F (2008) Black skin, white masks. London: Pluto.
Gordon N (2008) Israel's Occupation. Berkeley: University of California Press.
Halper J (2015) War against the people: Israel, the Palestinians and global pacification. London: Pluto Press.
Kelley RDG (2020) Insecure: Policing under racial capitalism, Spectre 1 (2). Available here (accessed 9 December 2021).
Lubin A (2021) Never-ending war on terror. Oakland, California: University of California Press.
Tartir A (2017) The Palestinian Authority security forces: Whose security? Available here (accessed 9 December 2021).
Andy Clarno is associate professor of Sociology and Black Studies and coordinator of the Policing in Chicago Research Group at the University of Illinois at Chicago. He is the author of Neoliberal Apartheid: Palestine/Israel and South Africa after 1994 (University of Chicago Press, 2017).