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Why Israel can’t kick its addiction to collective punishment

Israel’s revocation of permits and closure of Yatta this week reflect its need to keep the Palestinian issue at bay by controlling and threatening their people for every action of a few.

Palestinian women enter an Israeli military checkpoint on their way to Al-Aqsa Mosque for prayers on the first Friday of Ramadan, June 10, 2016. Men and women over the age of 45 were allowed to visit the mosque but Israeli authorities suspended some 83,000 entry permits issued for the Muslim holiday in response to a shooting attack in Tel Aviv. (Oren Ziv/Activestills.org)

Palestinian women enter an Israeli military checkpoint on their way to Al-Aqsa Mosque for prayers on the first Friday of Ramadan, June 10, 2016. Men and women over the age of 45 were allowed to visit the mosque but Israeli authorities suspended some 83,000 entry permits issued for the Muslim holiday in response to a shooting attack in Tel Aviv. (Oren Ziv/Activestills.org)

A Palestinian family from Nablus was supposed to visit their relatives in an Arab town in Israel for Ramadan later this month. They were especially excited that they would get to see the beach in Jaffa for the first time, which despite being only an hour’s drive away was normally inaccessible to them as residents of the West Bank. But on Thursday morning they were informed that they couldn’t go anymore: their permits to enter Israel had been revoked because of a shooting in Tel Aviv by two Palestinian gunmen on Wednesday evening.

The family had nothing to do with the attack in Tel Aviv. But the Israeli government seemed to think otherwise when, just a few hours after the incident, it suspended the permits of 83,000 Palestinians from the West Bank and Gaza who had hoped to see distant family members, vacation in cities in Israel, and pray in Jerusalem during Ramadan. On the same day, the Israeli army sealed off the shooters’ hometown of Yatta near Hebron, trapping its 64,000 residents while soldiers raided homes in search of the attackers’ accomplices.

For many Israelis, these heavy responses are logical security measures: they can increase the chances of achieving operational goals, and deter others from committing similar attacks by demonstrating the severe consequences for such actions.

Israeli soldiers stop Palestinians at a flying check-point at the entrance to the West Bank city of Hebron, seen on June 15, 2014. A complete closure was put on the city after three Israeli teenagers went missing near a West Bank settlement. The three, all students at a Jewish seminary, went missing late on June 12 as they were hitchhiking between Bethlehem and Hebron and are believed to have been kidnapped. (Photo by Yotam Ronen/Activestills.org)

File photo of Israeli soldiers stop Palestinians at a flying check-point at the entrance to the West Bank city of Hebron after a complete closure was put on the city following the kidnapping of three Israeli teens in 2014. (Photo by Yotam Ronen/Activestills.org)

This approach, however, is abhorrently illegal and immoral – and simply doesn’t work. Collective punishment has been Israel’s main response to Palestinian altercations of any kind for decades, from demolishing the homes of Palestinian attackers’ families to imposing a blockade on 1.7 million people in the Gaza Strip. Yet all these policies have failed to dissuade Palestinians from resenting the occupation or from resisting it violently or nonviolently. If anything, they only refuel Palestinians’ antagonism, feed the cycle of violence, and make future attacks all the more likely.

The damaging effects of collective punishment are well known to many Israeli decision-makers. But in their unwillingness to address the conditions that fuel Palestinian violence (the occupation being a principal source of them, as Tel Aviv mayor Ron Huldai stated this week), they have stuck to the same oppressive policies of the past in order to contain the problem rather than solve it. Collective punishment has thus become less of a thought-out strategy and more of an addictive habit to simply alleviate the Israeli public’s and politicians’ insecurities.

Many Israelis refuse to question these methods not only because they believe that the state knows what is best for their security, but because it fits with their view of Palestinians as a hostile population that deliberately breeds anti-Israeli hatred and violence. For them the issue is not with the occupation or a few belligerents, but with Palestinian society, politics, and culture as a whole, making collective punishment the most rational approach to tackling the “real” cause of the problem. Under this view, the family from Nablus isn’t angry because their rights and hopes were taken away from them; they’re angry because that is how they were raised to be.

Palestinians from the West Bank enjoy the Mediterranean Sea on the last day of the Eid-al-Fitr holiday, in Tel Aviv, August 11, 2013. The three-day Eid al-Fitr holiday marks the end of the holy fasting month of Ramadan. (photo: Oren Ziv/Activestills.org)

Palestinians from the West Bank enjoy the Mediterranean Sea on the last day of the Eid-al-Fitr holiday, in Tel Aviv, August 11, 2013. The three-day Eid al-Fitr holiday marks the end of the holy fasting month of Ramadan. (photo: Oren Ziv/Activestills.org)

The international community doesn’t buy these arguments. This week the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights stated that the revocation of permits “will only increase the sense of injustice and frustration felt by Palestinians in this very tense time.” France’s Foreign Minister said yesterday that the decision “could lead to a risk of escalation.” The U.S. State Department, while affirming its backing of Israel, warned that the army’s actions should be “designed to also take into consideration the impact on Palestinian citizens that are trying to go about their daily lives.”

These statements are important, but they are not enough to force Israel to kick its addictive use of collective punishment. The revocation of permits and the closure of Yatta merely reflect Israel’s need to keep the Palestinian issue at bay by controlling and threatening their people for every action of a few. In other words, for the state, all Palestinians must be viewed as culprits. Until that changes, hundreds of thousands of families like the one from Nablus will continue to be the victims of Israel’s destructive behavior – and more will believe that violence may be the only thing that brings that behavior back to the world’s attention.

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    COMMENTS

    1. Tzedek

      Sadly, the Israeli public is in tone with the fundamentals of the military doctrine of the State apparatus, criticizing it means they would have to question all that is central to their existence. Only the Haredim offer an alternative socially strong enough that they somehow manage to exist a bit out of reach from the State’s hands but even that is changing…

      And it’s not that Israeli (jews) are uncritical or obedient. They are critical when their leaders are entangled in cases of corruption, Ehud Olmert is in jail and it’s not a problem for them. And I am sure that with the emerging C02 scandal involving Netanyahu they will be critical as well.

      Yet they are unable to think outside of the box when talking about the military and colonial doctrine of the State in its relation to the indigenous population: the Palestinians, and at times, other Arabs such as the Lebanese in 2006. Horribly so, this will maybe be their doom once tides turn in the region, and they will take diaspora Jews down with them. This is why it is vital to develop a strong, real and viable proposition for Israeli and diaspora Jews that can serve as an alternative to loyalty towards the Israeli State apparatus, away from settler colonialism and towards something more just and viable.

      Sadly, neither the non-Zionist haredim nor the smolanim and diaspora leftists have been able to truly construct this alternative proposition.

      Reply to Comment
    2. Ben

      Surbeck’s obtuse comment is illustrative of precisely what Amjad Iraqi is talking about. According to the cult that increasingly stupefies Israelis, terrorism will stop, then Israel will stop collective punishment, aaaaand…then nothing happens. Back to the occupation, to the status quo, to “managing the conflict,” to “the consensus,” to “what’s mine is mine, and what’s yours is mine,” and of course to violent suppression of non-violent protest. Comfy for most Israelis, brutal for Palestinians. With no way out. As Noam Sheizaf, and for that matter any number of ‘gatekeepers’ and now Mayor Huldai “shockingly!” has pointed out, Israel has shown that it only really listens to violence, and this and Israel’s interminable occupation are factors that undeniably lead some Palestinians to turn to terrorism.
      http://972mag.com/why-do-we-only-listen-to-violence/117773/

      Reply to Comment
    3. Susan

      I oppose the occupation, but the Palestinians are addicted to blaming everything on the occupation. It excuses them from basic human decency.

      Reply to Comment
      • Ben

        Yeah? I oppose the occupation too but are not Israelis addicted to all sorts of excuse making and pathological blame externalizing? What is the occupation except a massive lack of basic human decency? What exactly excuses Israelis from basic human decency? Because if a person thinks that this ==>

        http://972mag.com/israel-puts-palestinian-prisoners-activist-under-administrative-detention/120025/

        does not betray a lack of basic human decency on the part of the Israelis then they are mired in the strangest complacency and self righteousness.

        Reply to Comment
    4. Eilon

      Some people would argue that in the long run, the only solution is to repatriate the Jordanian squatters back home. However, I will not argue that just in case my comments will be banned from this progressive website.

      Reply to Comment
      • Ben

        Yes, I suppose some people would argue that.
        And some people would argue that Barack Obama was secretly born in Kenya. And is a secret al Qaeda sympathizer and that Mexicans are basically rapists and that thousands of Arabs danced in the street in New Jersey on 911. And that we should torture people and kill their families. And that an American judge who rules against someone did so “because he is a Mexican.”
        And many people would argue that a person who argues any of these things is a manipulative psychopath and a con artist. And I would agree.

        Reply to Comment
    5. Mark

      Surely what the Palestinians need is a system of their own for holding terrorists to account.

      Reply to Comment