The NYPD’s infamous “Demographics Unit” ran an unprecedented surveillance campaign targeting Arab and Muslim communities in New York City – and beyond. The NYPD’s surveillance efforts included spying on mosques, community centres, and even restaurants. It is known that each community was assigned an NYPD file (for example, a Pakistani file, Moroccan file, and so on.) One of those files was the Palestinian file, and Palestinian community organizations were targeted for surveillance and infiltration.

One of those organizations was Al-Awda New York. In April 2010, “Ilter Ayturk,” who identified himself as a Turkish Muslim man, joined Al-Awda at an open meeting. “Ilter” translated flyers into Turkish; he joined a committee to organize for a “Political Prisoners Fund” that would connect with other communities facing repression; he traveled with Al-Awda members to the US Social Forum. “Ilter” frequently attended mosques and Muslim Student Association meetings, where he often referred to his Palestine activism.

“Ilter” expressed his opposition to police racism, and attended a demonstration in response to a Tea Party anti-Muslim rally in New York. His expressed sentiments were posted on the Al-Awda NY website at the time:

“It was a great day, it was a day to remember, it turned out wonderfully. There were more than 3,000 people. We were there to show them what we can do, and we did show them. Everyone saw what happened, we were all there, black, white, brown, from every religion, every political viewpoint. We were all there for two things: to support the mosque and to fight against racism. We did well and I would like to thank everyone for coming out and working so hard. If we continue like this there will be no racism in New York City.

“We had very powerful speakers and a wonderful crowd. I only saw one negative incident, when the racists tried to hurt innocent people. Some cops weren’t with us, but hopefully in the future they will understand that we fight for peace, not like the racists who only fight just to fight.

“Thank you very much everyone. Al-Awda NY is going to be here for a long time, until the racists go away and Palestine is free!”

-Ilter Ayturk, Member, Al-Awda NY”

Unfortunately, “Ilter Ayturk” did not exist. “Ilter” was the alias of UC242, or Undercover Officer #242, a member of the NYPD’s surveillance units directed at the Arab and Muslim community. “Ilter’s” deception became known when Ahmed Ferhani and Mohammed Mamdouh were arrested in an NYPD sting operation. Neither Ferhani nor Mamdouh were Al-Awda members; “Ilter” had become more and more distant from the group after his increasingly odd and violent rhetoric alienated the people he interacted with. However, he used his participation in Al-Awda as a means of establishing “credibility” as a pro-Palestine activist, entrapping Ferhani and Mamdouh into a plot so ludicrous that the FBI refused to become involved. “Ilter” previously failed in an attempt to entrap a group of Turkish men into a plot to send weapons to Gaza.

“Ilter Ayturk” was paid by the NYPD, not as an informant, but as a full-time member of the police force, to become a member of Al-Awda in an attempt to infiltrate, surveil and undermine Palestine organizing in New York. It should come as no surprise that the NYPD has engaged in surveillance of Palestinians that has stretched as far as Palestine itself, where the NYPD has established working alliances with occupation military and intelligence agencies.

“Ilter” and the NYPD failed in the attempt to destroy Al-Awda, but have done immeasurable damage to the lives of countless people in the community and have built and sustained a climate of fear through their criminalization of simple Palestinian, Arab and Muslim identity and in particular the criminalization of activism and advocacy for the liberation of Palestine, the return of Palestinian refugees, and the recognition of the illegitimacy of Zionist colonialism and the legitimacy of Palestinian resistance.

This repression is of course far from an isolated example. Repression targeting Palestinian, Arab and Muslim communities has taken place across the US in the framework of the “war on terror,” including the FBI raids and grand jury that targeted Palestinian community leader Hatem Abudayyeh and 22 other anti-war activists for their public advocacy for justice in Palestine, Colombia and the world; the imprisonment of the Holy Land Five; the years-long battle of Dr. Sami al-Arian for justice; not to mention the countless incidents of police harassment, attacks on student protesters, and the targeting of the “Irvine 11” for criminal prosecution for verbally interrupting the Israeli ambassador at a speech on campus.

Nor is repression limited to Palestinians, Arabs and Muslims – instead, that repression has come as the latest part of a lengthy history of racist repression at the hands of the NYPD. The Black community in New York City faces ongoing institutional and systematic police violence and criminalization targeting the community as a whole, and always has. The recent battle to halt “Stop and Frisk” – and the killings of Ramarley Graham and Kimani Grey – have only indicated the tip of the iceberg in the attacks and criminalization of Black communities in New York and the ongoing experience of police violence. Latino, South Asian, East Asian and other communities of color are regularly targeted for systematic police violence and repression, as well as immigration and deportation raids, surveillance, and infiltration.

Protest movements have been targeted as well; the police infiltration of Occupy Wall Street (and Occupy Sandy relief efforts) was recently thrown into sharp relief, and social justice movements have long experienced police surveillance, harassment, and attempted intimidation.