Monday, March 03, 2008

Collective Punishment and Terrorism

It is without controversy among rational people the realization that collective punishment – a tactic defined under international law as a war crime – is in no way a proper means by which to pursue conflict resolution.

Setting aside for now the moral and legal aspects of collective punishment, examining the tactic on purely pragmatic grounds, one finds that outside of the tactic being sinister and evil ethically speaking, and in breech of international law, a gross violation of human rights, the tactic is not only impractical, it is, in fact, counter productive, ensuring the opposite effect as the one so desired; the effect so desired being peace and security, or so proclaim propagandists for collective punishment. Collective punishment and the inevitable exacerbation of the circular violence which it necessarily provokes only ever serves as fuel to the fire, intensifying the internecine violence.

It is always of benefit to investigate the real-life application of such tactics and doctrines as collective punishment. Arguably the most explicit and depraved example is provided to us through the Israel-Palestine conflict, specifically, Israel’s imprisonment of, latest incursion into and siege of the Gaza strip.

Israel’s brutal and vicious siege on Gaza is intended to continue the policy of strangling the Palestinian will to resist by dolling out violent retribution to the entire civilian population based upon the misconceived notion that these actions will turn the population of Gaza against Hamas. The same policy for which the murder and mayhem wrought upon the Lebanese people is to blame, the illusory and sinister notion that by terrorizing a population for the actions of an armed resistance or a band of terrorists one can turn the population against the resistance and/or terrorists.

As the consequences of the destruction of Lebanon by Israel attest, collective punishment not only does not turn the general population against the resistance or terrorist bands – in this case, Hezbollah – it actually strengthens the resistance and/or terrorist bands; in the case of Lebanon it served beyond the wildest dreams of the Hezbollah to further radicalize the population of Lebanon, shore up sympathy and support for Hezbollah and ultimately embolden the terrorist elements within the resistance.

Returning to the situation in Gaza, Israeli leaders argue that the existence of the Hamas regime in Gaza and the firing of Qassam rockets by Palestinians at Sderot, an Israeli town on the other side of the Gaza border, leave no alternative to collective punishment. However, as Uri Avnery wrote in an insightful Counterpunch article, “[s]everal months ago, Hamas proposed a ceasefire. It repeated the offer this week [late January]. A ceasefire means, in the view of Hamas: the Palestinians will stop shooting Qassams and mortar shells, the Israelis will stop the incursions into Gaza, the ‘targeted’ assassinations and the blockade…Why doesn’t our government jump at this proposal? Simple: in order to make such a deal, we must speak with Hamas, directly or indirectly. And this is precisely what the government refuses to do…The real purpose of the whole exercise is to overthrow the Hamas regime in Gaza and to prevent a Hamas takeover in the West Bank…In simple and blunt words: the government sacrifices the fate of the Sderot population on the altar of a hopeless principle. It is more important for the government to boycott Hamas – because it is now the spearhead of Palestinian resistance – than to put an end to the suffering of Sderot. All the media cooperate with this pretence.”

As was the case with Israel’s murderous collective punishment of Lebanon, so too has Israel’s policy of collective punishment in Gaza not only failed, but, even further, has provoked, as anticipated by security analysts and most observant people, just the opposite effect: growing support for Hamas.

The Israeli siege of Gaza began with the complete sealing of the border, producing, in effect, the largest prison on earth. In late January the Israeli Army would not allow either fuels or medical supplies to enter Gaza, as a result of this blockade Gaza was plunged into darkness. This is collective punishment – in breech of Article 23 of the Fourth Geneva Convention - on a sinister scale with consequences which affect the entire population.

Dr. Mona El-Farra, a physician and human rights activist living in Gaza city, described the specific consequences of this policy for the Al Shifa hospital: “I’ll give you the example about Al Shifa hospital, a government hospital and the last hospital in Gaza state. There are 100 patients in the intensive care unit, and those patients’ lives are seriously threatened because if the fuel runs out, that means the machines will go out, and they will die at that moment. Another 400 patients are facing the same destiny if the power stays cut off.”

Israel then proceeded to send ground troops into Gaza, as Jean Shaoul reports, “targeting militants in and around Jabaliya refugee camp. They killed 61 Palestinians, at least two dozen of whom were civilians, including a baby, and wounded about 200, 14 of them critically…Gaza’s streets are deserted. Universities and schools have closed.”

The operation, dubbed “Hot Winter,” has killed seventy-seven Palestinians in two days. As Amy Goodman reported on Democracy Now!, more than 112 Palestinians have been killed and “[a]ccording to Gaza health ministry statistics, twenty-two children were killed [now twenty-five according to Amnesty International]. More than 350 people were wounded. Since last week, three Israelis have died: one civilian and two soldiers.”

Amnesty International reports that “Israeli forces also destroyed houses and property across the Gaza strip, including at least two medical facilities…” Amnesty International went on to observe that “the Israeli military air strikes and artillery attacks on the Gaza strip were being carried out with reckless disregard for civilian life” and that “Israel has the legal obligation to protect the civilian population of Gaza…These attacks are disproportionate and go beyond lawful measures which Israeli forces may take in response to rocket attacks by Palestinian armed groups.”

Amid all of this violent chaos, the Israeli puppet Mahmoud Abbas has himself suspended peace negotiations and cut off all contacts with Israel; demonstrating beyond any reasonable doubt the counterproductive consequences of the policy of collective punishment. Now not only are the populations of the Occupied Territories not turning against Hamas, but even the traditionally sniveling Israeli puppets, like Abbas, are turning more and more against Israel.

The policy of collective punishment and the consequences which it necessarily entails demonstrates that the term “collective punishment” is simply a transparent euphemism for terrorism. To violently punish an entire population for political ends, to, say, completely seal the Gaza border, to cut off entry of fuel and medical supplies, to then invade Gaza and indiscriminately murder innocent men, women and children noncombatants in the stated desire to elicit from them revulsion of Hamas and a desire to accept any unjust solution to the conflict so long as the destruction and murder ends, is the elementary, textbook definition of terrorism.