Israel, Zionism and the Media

Tag: collective punishment

‘Collective punishment’ of Gaza versus Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions against Israel: what’s the difference?

How often do we hear that Israel’s maritime blockade and overland embargo of certain materials and foodstuffs is a ‘collective punishment of the people of Gaza?

The argument goes like this: Gazans are not responsible for the actions of Hamas, who govern the Gaza Strip; the rockets and suicide bombings and kidnappings are not the fault of the ordinary citizen. Therefore Israel, in reducing the quantity and variety of foodstuffs and embargoing building materials, is collectively punishing Gazans.

This is a strange argument, especially as Hamas were elected by these same innocent citizens. When South Africa suffered under Apartheid there was no separation of government from people; sanctions were applied internationally to those who had not elected anyone. No-one would argue that the German people should not have been bombed in case they did not vote for or support the Nazi regime.

In fact, the idea of collective punishment originates in the American Civil War and General Sherman’s Special Field Order 120, article V:

To army corps commanders alone is entrusted the power to destroy mills, houses, cotton-gins, etc…, and for them this general principle is laid down: In districts and neighborhoods where the army is unmolested, no destruction of such property should be permitted; but should guerrillas or bushwhackers molest our march, or should the inhabitants burn bridges, obstruct roads, or otherwise manifest local hostility, then army commanders should order and enforce a devastation more or less relentless according to the measure of such hostility.

In more recent times Sherman’s measured proportionality, which would be universally condemned today by every Human Rights organisation and NGO, was given a bad name by the forces of Nazi Germany who would destroy whole villages and massacre all the inhabitants because one German had been assassinated. The most famous incident being that of the Czech town of Lidice which was wiped off the face of the earth after partisans assassinated Heydrich, a leading Nazi.

Indeed, the provisions of the Versailles Treaty after the end of World War I could be viewed as a collective punishment of the German people which was a major cause of World War II, as was the forced ethnic cleansing of Germans from Poland after territory had been ceded after World War II.

In light of the hundreds of trucks and thousands of tonnes of humanitarian aid passing through checkpoints between Israel and Gaza every week, by any standard Israel’s treatment of Gazans, who live in a state of belligerence with Israel, is somewhat generous.

Those who accuse Israel of collective punishment often couple this with a call for boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) of the Jewish state. If Israel’s treatment of Gazans is collective punishment and morally wrong, why is the proposed collective punishment of Israelis for the policies of their government not morally reprehensible. After all, the BDS brigade wants to hurt Israel economically, including, of course, its Arab citizens. By their own judgment, are the BDS supporters not proposing the same morally reprehensible action of which they accuse Israel? If collective punishment of Israel is acceptable why carp about the plight of Gaza?

I suspect the answer is that BDS is, for many of its supporters, not simply a tool to pressure Israel into a more humanitarian approach but fundamentally to undermine the State of Israel, to soften it up for the coup de grâce, and ultimately destroy it.

Israel is under attack on many fronts: militarily (Hamas, Hezbollah and Iran by proxy via the both of the former),  politically (UN Security Council, UN Human Rights Council, antipathy in Europe, South America and the Muslim world), legally (Goldstone Report, challenges to Occupation, security wall, blockade etc.), academically (academic boycotts, disinvitations etc.) and finally by fanatical Islamism (calling for Israel’s destruction and a new genocide of the Jewish People by Hamas, by historical revisionism denying Jewish connection with the Land, blood libels, brain-washing of children to hate and revile Jews by, inter alia, the Palestinian Authority).

And so this demonization continues, which seems to be the main focus and raison d’être of so many radical Muslims and their fellow travelers of various stripes.

The United States is not innocent in the application of its own BDS with regard Cuba. Where are the calls in the UN for sanctions against the USA for the collective punishment of Cubans? Why is the Security Council not in a constant state of outrage against Russia’s treatment of Chechens or Ossetians, Turkey’s treatment of Kurds, China of Tibetans? What is being done about the starving millions of North Korea? Only Israel can cause the UN Security Council to convene and condemn it within hours every time Israel has the temerity to defend itself.

Israel is not perfect. Gazans are suffering, but this fixation with one conflict which so monopolizes the UN and world politics is symptomatic of a pathology which leads to moral blindness, bullying and demonisation.

And now we have the disgusting spectacle of a unanimous decision by the Unite union in the UK to pursue BDS against Israel.

Even the Palestinian Authority doesn’t go this far as reported by YNetNews:

The Palestinian finance minister stressed Sunday that the boycott on Israeli products pertains only to goods produced in settlements, and that the Palestinian Authority desires to maintain ties with the Israeli market.

“We have excellent ties with the Israeli market and we want to continue this cooperation and even expand it,” Dr. Hasan Abu-Libdeh said at a conference held at the Peres Center for Peace in Tel Aviv.

Do I hear the distant echo of the 1930’s?

Gaza blockade? What blockade?

The BBC has reported that aid agencies, especially Oxfam, have ‘strongly criticised the international community’ for not bringing pressure on Israel to end Israel’s ‘blockade’ of Gaza.

This notion that there is a ‘blockade’ is typical of the loose, inaccurate and often deliberately misleading use of language which is often evident where Israel is concerned. It is, essentially, a lie; and a lie intended to damage and demonise Israel. It is language which totally ignores the fact of Hamas and its genocidal hatred of Israel. It is language which denies the reality of Hamas’s ongoing war against Israel and the Jewish people; not a war to create a Palestinian state in the West Bank and Gaza, but a war to destroy Israel utterly.

In a war, much of which is fought on the international stage, loose use of language is a tool of that aggression: ‘blockade, ghetto’, ‘genocide’, ‘war crime’ and ‘collective punishment’ are all emotive terms which are associated with evil regimes, especially the Nazis, and have precise meaning. When they are bandied about by ‘aid agencies’ such as Oxfam, that agency reveals itself as biased because it uses the language of hate.

‘Blockade’ : this is how my Concise Oxford Dictionary defines it:

Shutting-up, total or on land or sea side, of a place by hostile forces in order to starve it into surrender or prevent egress and ingress

(my emphasis)

Yet Oxfam knows full well that there is an endless stream of food into Gaza. No-one is starving in Gaza and there is no intention by the Israelis to cause starvation. Ingress and egress are restricted and difficult but shouldn’t they be given the history of suicide attacks emanating from Gaza in the past and the ongoing hostilities?

But the BBC goes along with this use of language: “Israel imposed a tightened blockade after the Islamist Hamas movement seized power two-and-a-half years ago”. No, it’s not a blockade, it is a restriction on certain goods and materials which can be used against Israel.

What Oxfam is saying is that Israel should no longer prevent any goods coming into Gaza for the purpose of building even though these materials have been used in the past not to rebuild but to make weaponry.

Israel is still providing food, medicine, and electricity into Gaza. This does not sound like a ‘blockade’ to me.

The situation in Gaza is not good, but then its government is still in a state of belligerence with Israel. A government its people voted to power. And this leads to the second and even worse use of loose language; Oxfam accuses Israel of ‘collective punishment’, a term associated with the indiscriminate punishment of a civilian population for the actions of its army or combatants.

Let’s look at the legal definition.

The term ‘collective punishment’ derives from the 1949 Geneva Convention.

By collective punishment, the drafters of the Geneva Conventions had in mind the reprisal killings of World Wars I and World War II. In the First World War, Germans executed Belgian villagers in mass retribution for resistance activity. In World War II, Nazis carried out a form of collective punishment to suppress resistance. Entire villages or towns or districts were held responsible for any resistance activity that took place there. The conventions, to counter this, reiterated the principle of individual responsibility. The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) Commentary to the conventions states that parties to a conflict often would resort to “intimidatory measures to terrorize the population” in hopes of preventing hostile acts, but such practices “strike at guilty and innocent alike. They are opposed to all principles based on humanity and justice.”

I admit to using a Wikipedia article for this description.

If the UNWRA or other international bodies could guarantee that certain materials entering the Gaza strip would not fall into the hands of Hamas to be used as weapons against Israel, then Israel would relax the sanctions. In fact, this is already taking place, for example, this article in Ha’aretz on 29th July 2009 which informs us that for the first time since Operation Cast Lead:

Israel plans to transfer several hundred tons of cement and other construction materials, including metal pipes, into the Gaza Strip to facilitate reconstruction…

The transfer of materials is part of the implementation of a United Nations plan devised by UN envoy to the Middle East, Robert Serry, who has submitted to Israel a list of 10 UN-sponsored construction projects in Gaza.

Amos Gilad, the coordinator of Israeli activity in the Gaza Strip, authorized the UN construction plan several weeks ago. The cement will be transferred for use solely in the approved projects and will not be handed over to Hamas, the rulers of the Gaza Strip.

Among the construction projects are the reconstruction of Gaza’s largest flour mill and the refurbishing of a sewage treatment plant.

So ‘collective punishment’? ‘Collective inconvenience’, perhaps. How would you go about limiting the damage a neighbour could inflict on you? Hamas is embedded within the fabric of Gaza. how can you limit Hamas without there being  a price to pay for the population; a population which supported and voted in Hamas. How much sympathy did the world have for the German people in the 1940’s because they voted in and supported the policies of the Nazis? If I recall Britain and the United States flattened Dresden deliberately to kill and intimidate – a war crime by 1949.

It is perfectly acceptable for Oxfam  and anyone else to criticise Israel for specifics where it could do more without risking its own population, but to colour the argument with blanket terms that only demonise and not to mention the actual truth on the ground is biased. If you set out with an agenda then you will easily find hardship in Gaza – they just fought a war.  And what about Egypt which is currently building a deep, metal barrier at Rafah. The aid agencies have nothing to say about the restrictions the Egyptians place on Gaza even though they control one third of the border.

The BBC are as inaccurate as ever. In the cited article there is a map of the crossing points into Gaza and below it three links with the text:

That word ‘blockade’ and very negative connotations in these headlines. But of the three articles two are from November 2008, over a year ago, and the third from June 2009.

But let me just report what the EU’s Middle East envoy said in the European parliament on November 24th 2009:

  • There is no shortage of equipment or cement for construction in Gaza, and Hamas is controlling the resources.
  • Hamas dismissed employees of the systems and appointed its own people, and that is the reason that there is no construction in Gaza.
  • The prevailing economy in Gaza is not an official economy but rather an economy of tunnels; there are no shortages in Gaza, but there is a problem of unemployment, primarily for civilians who are not close to Hamas and have no buying power.

(my emphasis)

This from the EU!

We don’t hear this from Oxfam! who just fall for the political propaganda handed to them by Hamas. They see but they do not investigate. They draw conclusion based on their own prejudices.