Giving Collective Punishment One More Try

The nice thing about the Fourth of July weekend is that nothing is ambiguous. America is a fine place, and everyone is out and about doing American things – at those parades and picnics and baseball games, ending with fireworks in the park. No one stays home and watches television, but if they did they’d find that the folks at the nether end of basic cable are running all the old war movies like John Wayne in The Sands of Iwo Jima – or whatever else is relatively cheap, or in public domain now. There are hundreds of movies like that, movies made a few years after the war against the Nazis and the Japanese, about our heroes, real or imaginary, who saved the world. Some are crap, made on the cheap with actors no one remembers now, but Americans never get tired of being reminded that they were once the good guys, doing the right thing, however hard it was, for the right reasons – and there was no ambiguity about that.

Maybe we still are the good guys, but after Korea and Vietnam and now Iraq, twice, and Afghanistan, that’s a bit harder to maintain. That’s why it’s only old war movies on basic cable this weekend. The newer ones are problematic. George C. Scott’s Patton was part hero and part egotistical monster, and films like Apocalypse Now and Platoon and The Deer Hunter are all about the worst kinds of moral compromise.

That won’t do on Fourth of July weekend. We want to see those Nazis occupying that picturesque but now bleak French village, full of seething but helpless locals, who want to do something but don’t know what – and then one of their guys surreptitiously knocks off one or two of the worse Nazis assholes there, and then the Nazis do what they always do. They line up all the men in the village and mow down twenty of them, and promise to mow down another twenty, and then another twenty, unless this sort of thing stops right now, and the villagers also have to turn over the guy who started all this. Yes, the Germans, or at least the Nazis, were awful people who thought that they could break the will of the people through collective punishment.

That’s what occupying powers have to do – bring on the pain until all resistance is impossible, because the cost is just too high – and it never works. The villagers never turn over the guy. In fact, resistance hardens. A bridge is blown up. A rail line is sabotaged. The Nazis get frantic – then the Americans arrive, John Wayne or Lee Marvin or whoever (it’s our movie) – and it’s all over. And Americans just don’t do collective punishment – collective punishment is designated as a war crime by the Geneva Conventions, which regulate warfare under international law. We get specific, punishing only the bad guys, not everyone. See Spenser Tracy in Judgment at Nuremberg – the film where we prove to ourselves that we’re fair and just, and not moral monsters at all.

Our justice is surgical and strategic, even if we did have to leave Hiroshima and Nagasaki in radioactive ruin. We didn’t want to do that, and we certainly weren’t punishing the Japanese people. Hell. We buy their cars now, and love their sushi. We simply had no choice way back when. That was the only way to end that war quickly, without an invasion of Japan that would be ruinous for everyone. We don’t do collective punishment and we will have nothing to do with any country that does. We know better.

That’s admirable, but that’s the stuff of the old war movies, and we have to deal with our only real ally in the Middle East, which doesn’t seem to know better, as Slate’s Will Saletan explains here:

Israel is seething. On Monday, searchers found the bodies of three Jewish teenagers who were kidnapped and murdered on June 12. On Tuesday, protesters in Jerusalem chanted “Death to Arabs” and tried to attack Arabs on the street. Thirty-five thousand people endorsed a Facebook page calling for revenge. Then, on Wednesday, another boy was abducted and killed. This time, the victim was Palestinian.

We don’t yet know who killed this boy. But one thing is clear: The mentality at the heart of terrorism – the willingness to punish many people for the sins of a few – has infected Israel.

And those murders led to this:

Israel mobilized troops around the Gaza Strip on Thursday after Palestinian militants there stepped up rocket attacks on southern Israel, heightening tensions following the kidnapping and murder of three Israeli students and the suspected revenge killing of an Arab teenager in East Jerusalem.

Israel said the deployments were ordered as a defensive measure after dozens of rockets were fired into its territory from Gaza, which is ruled by the Islamist militant group Hamas. The Israeli military said it responded Wednesday and Thursday with airstrikes on 16 Hamas targets in the coastal enclave, including rocket-launching sites and weapons warehouses.

A Gaza Health Ministry spokesman said the airstrikes injured 10 people. In southern Israel, where residents were advised to stay in bomb shelters, the military said a residential building and kindergarten were damaged and one soldier was injured by rocket fire that continued into Thursday evening.

One thing does lead to another, and Saletan sees why this has played out as it has:

Jewish teaching, like Muslim and Christian teaching, forbids deliberate or reckless harm to innocent people. But Israel has long faced terrorist threats on all sides. From bitter experience, it has developed a doctrine of tit for tat, hitting back hard to discourage its enemies from striking again. Together, the terrorism and the reciprocity have led to a policy of limited collective punishment.

It’s an experiment in the old Nazi technique:

One example is Israel’s presumption of geographic responsibility. Under rules announced two years ago by its military chief of staff, attacks in various parts of Israel will result in retaliatory strikes on the nearest enemy, regardless of who staged the attack. If Israel is hit in the south, it will strike Hamas in Gaza. If Israel is hit in the north, it will strike Hezbollah in Lebanon.

Another example is Israel’s tradition of demolishing the homes of suspected Palestinian criminals. It doesn’t matter whether the suspect has been convicted, or who owns the home, or who else – parents, siblings, children – lives there. The point, according to the spokesman for Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, is to “disincentivize attacks.” According to Israel’s highest court, the perpetrator “should know that his criminal acts will not only hurt him, but are apt to cause great suffering to his family.”

That sounds familiar. Unless this sort of thing stops right now, well, bad things will happen to lots of people, even those who had nothing to do with any of it. That will break the will of the people to fight back. They won’t even think about it, and thinking like that means Israel is sliding down that slippery slope:

These policies aren’t morally equivalent to deliberate attacks on civilians. But once your government starts to rationalize the destruction of children’s homes, it’s hard to know where to stop. Increasingly, Israel is struggling to control Jewish settlers whose “Price Tag” attacks target random Arabs with arson and vandalism.

But there’s more:

In the weeks leading up to the June 12 kidnappings, Netanyahu used Israel’s collective-responsibility doctrine to scrap peace talks with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas. “Israel will not conduct diplomatic negotiations with a Palestinian government backed by Hamas,” said Netanyahu. Never mind that the Palestinian government’s ministers don’t belong to Hamas and don’t communicate with it.

As they say, close enough for government work, even if, as Saletan notes, close enough is hardly what’s going on here:

Blaming Abbas for the kidnappings is an even bigger stretch. He has denounced the crime and has helped Israel search for the culprits. But under Israel’s collective-responsibility theory, he, too, is culpable. “If the abduction comes from P.A. territory, it [the Palestinian Authority] is responsible,” said one of Netanyahu’s ministers. “If it was executed by Hamas, which is represented in the P.A. government, the P.A. is responsible.” Another minister pledged that Israel would “extract a heavy price from the Palestinian leadership.”

These declarations are more than rhetoric. Since June 12, Israel has used them to justify a sweeping assault on Hamas and anyone associated with it, in Gaza as well as the West Bank…

In short, they’re all the same, completely evil folks who should be punished, all of them, which is something even George Bush would not say about all Muslims after 9/11 and is seldom heard on Fox News, except for when Michelle Malkin or Ann Coulter drops by. But that’s not how they’re thinking in Israel, given what Saletan sees:

Israeli forces road-blocked Hebron for a week. They raided or searched hundreds, perhaps thousands, of homes. They arrested more than 400 people, including professors, imams, legislators, and former government ministers. They trashed the office of a nonviolent organization that facilitated Hamas’ endorsement of Abbas. They barred Palestinians from visiting family members in jails. They demolished the homes of the kidnapping suspects – who hadn’t been found, much less tried – even though their relatives still lived there. They launched airstrikes on Gaza, declaring Hamas responsible for whoever had fired rockets from the strip. “Either Hamas stops it, as it is responsible for the territory, or we will stop it,” said Netanyahu.

Hundreds of Israelis assembled in Jerusalem to demand Arab blood. Military and police officers posed with weapons on Facebook pages advocating revenge. “Blood for blood,” said one image. “Death to Arabs,” said another. Others called for strikes in Gaza or the Golan, far from the kidnapping site.

And then there was the murder of the Palestinian boy, and things got complicated:

As of July 3, we don’t know who did it. But Israel’s reaction is nothing like its response to the June 12 abductions. Instead of rushing to blame parties and politicians, Israel’s security minister, Yitzhak Aharonovich, is asking Palestinians to “lower the volume” of accusations against Jews. “There are many possibilities, criminal and nationalistic,” he argues. “Everything is being examined in a responsible manner.”

Many Israelis, stunned by the idea that a Jew might have committed this murder, are searching their souls. Israel’s justice minister says such a crime would be terrorism.

Saletan thinks such soul-searching might save Israel, but there’s not a lot of that going on. Netanyahu is screaming about revenge and M. J. Rosenberg is aghast:

Prime Minister Netanyahu’s response was perhaps the most repulsive response to an event like this that I have ever seen by any national leader of a civilized country. He vows “revenge.” Revenge? Not Even George W. Bush used that term after 9/11, pledging instead to bring the people who committed the crime to justice. FDR after Pearl Harbor? The parents after Newtown?

No, it’s just Netanyahu positing a kosher version of the Nazi technique of long ago, without the Nazi part, and Andrew Sullivan adds this – “It’s at moment like this that you realize how tenuous Israel’s commitment to Western values have become of late.”

At Vox, Max Fisher also points out that this is more than a war crime:

It’s also deeply harmful to the Israel-Palestine peace process, polarizing Palestinian political groups and civilians against Israel. It also polarizes Israelis against Palestinians. Israeli government rhetoric and actions implicitly blaming wide swathes of Palestinians for the kidnapping have coincided with incidents of Israeli mob violence against Palestinians, including what appears to be the abduction and murder of an Arab teenager. …

In any case, the Hamas political leaders based in Gaza seem unlikely to have participated in a kidnapping in the West Bank committed by rogue Hamas militants, so it’s not clear that air strikes on Hamas political leaders in Gaza are an appropriate or justified response.

You only end up polarizing Palestinian political groups and civilians against Israel. Resistance hardens. A bridge is blown up. A rail line is sabotaged. The Nazis get frantic – then the Americans arrive and it’s all over, except we’re not arriving this time, and we’re not on the side of the plucky and noble villagers here. Susan Abulhawa explains why:

Palestinian children are assaulted or murdered every day and barely do their lives register in western press. While Palestinian mothers are frequently blamed when Israel kills their children, accused of sending them to die or neglecting to keep them at home away from Israeli snipers, no one questions Rachel Frankel, the mother of one of the murdered settlers. She is not asked to comment on the fact that one of the missing settlers is a soldier who likely participated in the oppression of his Palestinian neighbors. No one asks why she would move her family from the United States to live in a segregated, supremacist colony established on land confiscated from the native non-Jewish owners. Certainly no one dares accuse her of therefore putting her children in harm’s way.

No, we go the other way, as Israel is our ally, and Jonathan Chait explains where that leads:

In theory, you might think that adding a dose of Rand Paul–style isolationism to standard Republican neoconservative militancy might result in a nourishing blend of a slightly more reflective brand of hawkish internationalism. In practice, it seems to have created an even more noxious brand of jingoism. Go ahead, read Paul’s mindless op-ed for National Review online demanding a cutoff of all aid to the Palestinian Authority.

“Israel has shown remarkable restraint,” Paul argues. “It possesses a military with clear superiority over that of its Palestinian neighbors, yet it does not respond to threat after threat, provocation after provocation, with the type of force that would decisively end their conflict.”

What kind of force would “decisively end their conflict”? Killing every single Palestinian man, woman, and child?

His op-ed proceeds to demand the cutoff of aid – which is opposed by AIPAC, for the obvious reason that it would create even more dysfunction and empower terrorists. Paul’s bill does boast the support of the extreme right-wing group Zionist Organization of America.

This had to happen:

Paul’s gambit here is obviously to win over Republican hawks justifiably concerned he shares his father’s kook foreign-policy ideology. His remedy is to embrace a different kind of kookery.

Ed Kilgore is more appalled than amused by this:

Paul, of course, has been engaged in an intensive process of overcoming his and his father’s reputation as “anti-Israeli” for favoring a cutoff of U.S. aid to Israel. So there is probably no act Israel could commit that won’t be aggressively praised by the peace-loving senator (in an impressive display of hypocrisy, he’s calling his bill for a termination of U.S. aid to the PA the “Stand with Israel Act.”) But blasting the administration for exercising actual diplomatic care over an explosive situation crosses the line from opportunism to cynical demagoguery.

Daniel Larison is simply disappointed in the guy:

On most things related to Israel, Sen. Paul is always too defensive, too eager to say what he thinks most Republicans want to hear, and too worried about being judged wanting in his support for the client state. Like his unnecessary security guarantee to Israel last year, this latest push to cut off funds to the Palestinian Authority is a doomed bid to beat hard-liners at their own game.

The larger problem with this is that it helps to perpetuate an undesirable status quo in U.S.-Israel relations. At present, Israel can act in whatever way it wishes without having to fear the loss of any U.S. aid or diplomatic support, and the U.S. then naturally takes some of the blame for the behavior of its client. That enables Israel to behave in harmful and ultimately self-destructive ways, and that undermines U.S. interests in the process. This is the phenomenon that Barry Posen refers to in Restraint as “reckless driving,” which the U.S. encourages by providing uncritical and effectively unconditional support to some of its allies and clients. Sen. Paul should be trying to discourage this recklessness and reduce the U.S. role in enabling it, but at the moment he is doing just the opposite.

We don’t do collective punishment and we will have nothing to do with any country that does, except when we will. We know better, except when we don’t. And as for Rand Paul’s view here, Andrew Sullivan adds this:

It might even confirm to some that, in fact, there is an effective litmus test on both the GOP and Democratic primaries that demands that all potential presidents adhere to this ruinous policy for both Israel and America – or be tainted mercilessly as anti-Semitic. I want to support Paul in many ways. But this is a sign that he has no spine at all. He’s a sad, pathetic panderer on this – and libertarians and non-interventionists need to see that writing very clearly on the wall.

What if we did intervene? CNN asks Fareed Zakaria about that:

Is there something more between Israelis and Palestinians that the United States should or can do? It seems that what we’ve heard from Secretary Kerry and President Obama so far is what we often here: The two sides need to come together. Is it too dangerous for them to step in the middle of this?

His answer:

Right now, probably it is. But I think that they’ve always been people who felt that maybe what the United States could do in the Israeli-Palestinian situation, at some point, is say, look, we all know what the end point is going to be, and we’re going to present you a plan – an American plan – to end the occupation and create a Palestinian state. Here’s what it’s going to look like. Here are the parameters. Why don’t you guys get together and discuss these final modalities, final points, of how would you do the land swaps so that Israel can keep its major settlements? How would you carve out a space in the east Jerusalem area so that the Arabs can feel that they have a capital there?

But put it all out on the table. Say we’re not going to spend three years negotiating this. We know what it looks like. Why don’t you guys do it for six months? I don’t know either if side is is ready for it now. The problem in the Israeli-Palestinian case is people often say there’s no light at the end of the tunnel. There’s light. There’s just no tunnel. There’s no way to get from here to the obvious solution. …

As Zakaria says:

We all know the end point for the Israeli-Palestinian process is simple. Everybody knows it. It’s a two-state solution. We know roughly what the contours of those states would be. The problem is that getting there requires a lot of painful concessions on both sides.

That certainly is he problem, and betting the farm (or the kibbutz) on the idea that collective punishment, a war crime, will fix everything, is nuts. The Nazis didn’t win that war, did they? There’s a reason for that.

About Alan

The editor is a former systems manager for a large California-based HMO, and a former senior systems manager for Northrop, Hughes-Raytheon, Computer Sciences Corporation, Perot Systems and other such organizations. One position was managing the financial and payroll systems for a large hospital chain. And somewhere in there was a two-year stint in Canada running the systems shop at a General Motors locomotive factory - in London, Ontario. That explains Canadian matters scattered through these pages. Otherwise, think large-scale HR, payroll, financial and manufacturing systems. A résumé is available if you wish. The editor has a graduate degree in Eighteenth-Century British Literature from Duke University where he was a National Woodrow Wilson Fellow, and taught English and music in upstate New York in the seventies, and then in the early eighties moved to California and left teaching. The editor currently resides in Hollywood California, a block north of the Sunset Strip.
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1 Response to Giving Collective Punishment One More Try

  1. Rick says:

    Before I condemn anyone for practicing “collective punishment”, I suppose I need to review my own support for our invasion of Afghanistan, the country we held responsible for the attacks on us on 9/11 — although maybe Afghanistan isn’t about that at all.

    After all, we weren’t invading Afghanistan so much to punish anybody as to stop them from attacking us further, and not to take it out on the populace, but to somehow “bring to justice” the specific persons responsible for the attacks.

    “But,” some would argue, “it wasn’t Afghanistan that attacked us, it was al Qaeda! Why pick on the whole country?” Because, I’d answer, the leadership of that country was protecting al Qaeda, and certainly not lifting a finger to keep al Qaeda from attacking the United States, so it was the country that had to be held responsible for the actions of the group.

    And while I can’t support Israel’s policy of “collective punishment” in the case of the murder of the three boys in the West Bank (come to think of it, have they any proof that Hamas itself was responsible for that?), I do think they’re within their rights to attack Hamas whenever Gaza launches rockets into Israel. After all, if Hamas is in charge of Gaza, they are responsible for restraining whoever attacks Israel from inside their borders, just as the Taliban was responsible for the activities of al Qaeda in Afghanistan.

    So maybe it’s not really “collective punishment”, in either case, but holding responsible the responsible nation-state — although in Israel’s case, that case might sit more on solid ground if and when the occupied territories ever do become a state.

    But lest this be construed by you as my overall support for Israel over the Palestinians, please don’t. If you’re tempted to, read this whole thing first. Yes, it’s a bit one-sided and maybe over-the-top, but the more you hear stories of what goes on in that part of the world, the harder it is to know who’s side to take.

    So that’s why I just don’t.


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