Vengeful Israeli Policy of Collective Punishment Misguided

By Middlebury Campus

Author: Wasim Rahman

Another Palestinian mother is grieving in Bethlehem tonight. Her 19-year-old son, Johnny Thaljieh, was shot in Manger Square, only a few yards from the Church of the Nativity, believed to be the birthplace of the prophet Jesus, peace be upon him. The stray bullet that killed Johnny was fired by Israeli troops as they tightened their stranglehold on the Biblical city and cities across the West Bank.

Israeli troops fired tank shells and machine-gun rounds into the Palestinian town of Biet Jalla on Friday, sending scores of Palestinians running for safety. At one moment, witnesses say, a 23-year-old woman stood at the entrance of her friend’s house. A moment later, she was dead, killed by shrapnel.

Today, a lone Catholic priest stood near the Israeli military position facing Rachel’s Tomb, a Christian holy site, calling to the troops through a loudspeaker. He criticized them for wreaking havoc on the Palestinian people and told them to leave his city and all Muslim and Christian holy sites in peace. He later joined the march of several thousand Palestinians, chanting “God of peace, give our land peace.”

But Israel will not listen. Israel will have her way.

Why? Israel, too, is grieving. She lost a right-wing leader who advocated the removal of all Muslims and Christians from Israel. Last Wednesday, Palestinian gunmen from the now-outlawed Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine killed Tourism Minister Rehavam Zeevi. Why? The gunmen were avenging the death of their leader, a terrorist, killed by Israeli missiles in August.

What do these series of events teach us?

Innocent Palestinians were killed by a vengeful Israel. Did Johnny, the aspiring priest, have anything to do with Palestinian terrorists? No. Was he a member of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine? No. Did he advocate the removal of Jewish settlers, who defy international law by moving into the occupied West Bank? No. Nevertheless, Israel continues to use the misguided and detrimental policy of collective punishment, in which 19-year-old men are punished for acts performed by Palestinian gunmen and terrorists.

Collective punishment is the Israeli answer to defiant Palestinians who seek to regain some sort of an independent state. The policy not only takes a military form but also an economic one, affecting not only the Palestinian militants and random civilians, but also the entire innocent Palestinian people. Many Palestinians work in Israel and the Palestinian economy, in general, is dependent on the Israelis, giving the Israeli government significant control over the economic welfare of millions of Palestinian families. The Israeli policy of economic collective punishment has, according to the American Committee on Jerusalem, caused a “spectacular rise in unemployment … cut in supplies (especially cooking fuel and gasoline), production supplies.” In general, it has “brought the nascent Palestinian economy down on its knees.”

This policy is wholly misguided since a strong, stable Palestine would be beneficial for Israel. Collective punishment, both economic and military, only embitters the Palestinian people and furthers convinces them that the extremists who believe in the total destruction of the Jewish state are right. Israeli tanks moving into West Bank cities only shock and further alienate innocent Palestinians. Economic sanctions and jobless fathers only fuel angry rock-throwing youth in the streets.

Despite this reasoning, there is another, more important reason why Israel should cease its policy of collective punishment. The international community overwhelmingly condemns it. Further, it is condemned by international law. The United States today issued a statement chiding Israel for its aggression, calling the deployment of troops “not helpful, it complicates the situation and should be halted.” It further warned Israel that its actions contribute not to peace, but instead “to an escalation in violence.” The French government also released a statement asking “the Israeli authorities to halt the military escalation and end without delay the operations.”

Israel has flatly rejected American demands, nevertheless. Israel will have her way.

The American demands, however, do not go far enough. They do not recognize the fact that Israeli aggression against entire Palestinian cities is a form of state-mandated terrorism. Terrorism stifles communities without regard for the innocent. Within the last 24 hours, the Nativity Church and the Holy Family maternity hospital and orphanage in Bethlehem have been hit by Israeli fire. Most of the water tanks in Bethlehem and surrounding refugee camps have been destroyed, leaving residents without water for the past six days. These actions are meant to cripple an entire community, just as suicide bombers affect innocents.

The United States should reconsider its leniency with Israel and begin to take a more objective approach to the crisis in the Middle East. The Palestinian people are forced to suffer at the hands of a vengeful government that is strongly allied with the United States. America must recognize that its economic and military aid enables Israel to enter cities such as Bethlehem and begin shooting civilians. Granted, Israel is grieving for the loss of one of its leaders, yet its response is unwarranted and immoral.

Sadly, next week Johnny Thajieh will become a statistic. He will join the other 697 Palestinians killed by Israeli troops or civilians since the latest outbreak of violence that began in September 2000. Although his death was an accident, the bullets that flew in Bethlehem that day were bullets of misguided Israeli policy, which will only lead to more vengeance and more death. Collective punishment is not an accident but a major mistake for the Israeli government and will prove to cause it more problems in the future.