Thursday, November 09, 2006

Collective punishment in Gaza

Under the Geneva Convention on the rules of war, it is expressly forbidden for armies to impose a collective punishment on people who are not involved in the combat. The destruction of people’s property is also banned. You will not be surprised to learn that Israel does not believe that these conventions apply to them when it comes to their treatment of the Palestinians. How else can you explain the massacre of 19 civilians, including seven children, by artillery fire in the town of Beit Hanoun? How else can you justify the uprooting of olive groves and the levelling of homes for "security" reasons? How else can you understand the killing of more than 350 Palestinians in Gaza in the past five months, including unarmed women shot down in cold blood? Or the destruction of the area’s power stations? Whatever the mealy-mouthed Israeli government’s spokespeople say, this is nothing less than the collective punishment of a people who have resisted the attempt to destroy their aspirations to self-determination and statehood. It is the punishment of a people who dared to choose Hamas in free elections. Israel’s barbaric actions in Gaza follow the collective punishment of the Lebanese people recently through the destruction of their homes, schools, petrol stations, roads and bridges.

For sure, Israel did not invent the idea of collective punishment. It was first conceived by US General Sherman in the American civil war, as a method for punishing the South’s rebellion. Nazi forces were responsible for countless collective punishments in occupied Europe and the British deployed these methods in Kenya and the Americans in Vietnam. It is a cruel irony that a state ostensibly founded to protect a people who were the victims of pogroms and the gas chambers adopts the language and some of the methods of their former oppressors. Building walls to isolate Palestinians, for example, looks remarkably like the construction of a ghetto for a people deemed unsuitable as neighbours. Political Zionism, based as it is on an exclusively nationalist outlook, has reached a dead end as shown by the recent cabinet appointment of the openly racist Avigdor Lieberman. He has called, among other things, for the expulsion of Israeli-born Palestinians. Zehava Galon, who leads the parliamentary wing of the left-wing Meretz, describe his appointment is a "terrorist attack on democracy", comparing Lieberman to contemporary fascist leaders in Austria and France. Only one Labour Party minister resigned from the coalition. The Israeli state has degenerated into a semi-military, corrupt regime that spells danger for its own citizens as well as the Palestinians. Time is clearly ripe for Israeli society to move on from the suffocating nationalism of Kadima, Likhud, Labour and the rest in the quest for a secular state solution that can appeal to both Jews and Palestinians.

Paul Feldman, communications editor

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