The most enduring critique of Israel’s struggle against Islamic terrorism is the recurring accusation of “collective punishment.” Every time Israelis are murdered, the Jewish State is accused of punishing Muslims in the West Bank and Gaza for the actions of a few individuals.
Israel is fighting an enemy that insists on having all the advantages of a state and statelessness with none of the disadvantages. The PLO/Hamas unity government is a state when it wants something from the United Nations or the United States, but it’s not a state when it comes to taking responsibility. The Muslims who live in Gaza and the West Bank are considered citizens when it comes to having political rights, but not when it comes to taking responsibility for the consequences of their political decisions.
Their votes are to be taken seriously, but once those votes lead to war they are no longer responsible.
The Palestinian Authority is a state when it comes to its territorial claims, but not a state when it insists on open borders with Israel while claiming that any Israeli border security is a violation of its rights.
Terrorists routinely operate in such legal twilight zones, but the Palestinian Authority is unique in that it has all the structure of a state with none of the responsibilities of statehood. If Israel treats it as a state in response to acts of war, it is accused of collective punishment, even though the Palestinian Authority is the product of a collective political will and attacking it is not a collective punishment, but simply war.
When the Palestinian Authority unity government of Hamas and the PLO wants to go to the UN, it is said to represent the political will of a populace. But when Hamas attacks Israel, suddenly it’s not a collective act, but an individual crime. If Israel targets Hamas leaders, then it’s attacking political representatives. But if Israel blockades an area run by terrorists who claim to be a state, it’s accused of engaging in collective punishment. The terrorists claim political immunity as leaders of a collective and immunity from collective attack as individuals, rather than leaders and citizens of a political entity.
Critics of Israel not only want to have it both ways, they want to have it every single possible way that advantages the terrorists and disadvantages Israel, so that in every possible scenario Israel is wrong.
The paradox deepens when it comes to Israel.
The PLO and Hamas political leadership of the PA aren’t held responsible for their terrorist attacks, but Israel is held responsible for the individual actions of its civilians. Meanwhile the entire BDS movement is one big collective punishment against Israelis of all religions and ethnic backgrounds implemented by activists who claim to be against collective punishment.
But collective punishment has always been acceptable when it comes to Israelis.
When Israeli teens are killed by Hamas terrorists, instead of it being a case of a statelet engaging in random terror as a collective punishment, it’s put down to some populist impulse as a result of the “occupation.” But when Israel strikes Hamas, it’s suddenly collective punishment if any members of the civilian population that support the terrorist group and willingly act as its human shields are killed. And it’s collective punishment if Israel further shuts off access to territory ruled by Hamas.
Collective punishment, like everything else about the conflict, only works one way. Anything that Israel does to the PLO and Hamas can be considered collective punishment. Anything that they do to Israel, including randomly firing rockets at schools and houses, isn’t.
If Israel were indeed the sole authority in Gaza and the West Bank, it would be expected to function as a police force, rather than a military force. But Israel is in a state of armed conflict with the statelet of the Palestinian Authority. This armed conflict has been going on for around two decades.
The Palestinian Authority’s leadership is open about this conflict, even though Abbas, its leader, has learned to be more discreet than his predecessor, Yasser Arafat. The Palestinian Authority promotes terrorism and the political subgroups that run it engage in it.
The international community however pretends that it’s still 1985 instead of 2014. It expects Israel to act as if it had total control over the West Bank and Gaza and its cities weren’t being barraged by rockets. And if it responds to acts of war with war, then it’s guilty of collective punishment.
When half-a-million Israelis have to flee to bomb shelters, that’s not an individual crime. It’s a war.
All the peace process accomplished was to give the PLO and Hamas the power and infrastructure to wage full scale war without the obligation to follow any of the rules of war and without giving their victims the right to fight back by treating them as an enemy state.
Israel has been dealing with this as a military conflict. Its enemies have the support of the civilian population that they hide behind. Despite having the appurtenances of a state, they also have immunity from suffering the consequences of the wars that they start.
The only way that Israel can stop dealing with this as a military conflict is if it restores control over Gaza and the West Bank and evicts all other authorities, including the PLO and Hamas. At that point it will exercise police powers over a civilian population, rather than military powers against an enemy statelet.
Otherwise its military actions against that statelet are not collective punishment, but on the low scale of the norms of warfare, which at their very least involve bombing enemy installations and cutting off the enemy’s freedom of movement.
Israel cannot be expected to treat the Palestinian Authority as a political entity, but not a military entity, when rockets are falling on its cities. Either the PA is both or neither. If it’s both, then it is indisputably at war with Israel. If it’s neither, then Israel ought to restore control over a lawless Gaza and West Bank.
The underlying problem isn’t collective punishment, but collective immaturity.
Western liberals romanticize Third Worlders by assigning to them rights without responsibilities. The Muslims of Gaza and the West Bank are assumed to have the right to elect political representatives, but not the responsibility to be held accountable for what those representatives go on to do in their name.
They have political powers, but not political responsibilities.
That’s not just dishonest, it’s an admission that they believe that the Muslims of Gaza and the West Bank are not ready for statehood.