By Shimon Z. Klein

The Palestinians are accusing Israel of “collective punishment”. This is true in many cases. However, the reverse is also true. Palestinians are also carrying out “collective punishment” against Israelis. One has to see the havoc in Sderot with the Qassam rockets being fired. Recently two suicide bombers made their way into Dimona. One blew himself up, killing one women and seriously injuring 11 people. One terrorist was shot in the head and killed by a policeman. Surely, suicide terror acts are also a form of “collective punishment” against innocent people. Collective punishment is a method used by both Israelis and Palestinians against each other, thus prolonging a cycle of violence that does not end.
Collective punishment is the punishment of specific people because of criminal or violent behaviour of one or more individuals or groups associated with the specific people or group. The punished group may often have no direct association with the other individuals or groups, or direct control over their actions. During wartime, atrocities are committed, and are a violation of the laws of war and the Geneva Conventions. Historically, occupying powers have used collective punishment to retaliate against and deter attacks on their forces by resistance movements (e.g. by destroying whole villages where attacks have taken place). If one were to apply this definition to what is happening in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, it is obvious that both sides are guilty. The holding of prisoners-of-war like Gilad Shalit, the Israeli soldier, kidnapped by Hamas and being held indefinitely is illegal and is a violation of human rights. Even Palestinian prisoners are allowed visits by their families or even their lawyers. Gilad Shalit is denied this.  
The Palestinians claim that the terrorist violence is a result of frustration and hopelessness because of the occupation with a feeling of nothing to lose and possibly something to gain. A Palestinian friend asked me why so many Palestinians are ruthlessly killed by the Israeli soldiers while Israeli casualties are relatively few despite the heavy Qassam rocket fire into Sderot. I replied that Sderot residents are well disciplined and that the moment there is a siren warning of Qassam rocket fire, the residents have about 15 seconds to go into the bomb shelters. This is a big factor in saving lives; Israelis are well drilled into heeding siren warnings. The Palestinians do not have the same facilities to ensure their safety from Israeli attack. Apart from that, the weapons used by Israeli soldiers are far more accurate, efficient and deadly. This explains the high casualty rate suffered by the Palestinians. Hamas and Fatah never bothered to protect their citizens from Israeli attacks and retaliations. There are no bomb shelters or security rooms, where Palestinians could take their children and hide until the danger passes.
The tragic cycle of violence shows no sign of ending. Hamas is continuing to monopolize on Palestinian suffering in order to create a situation whereby peace between Israelis and Palestinians will never be achieved. The situation in Gaza is tragic. The West Bank does not fair much better and it is a matter of time before Hamas gains the upper hand there as well. President Mahmoud Abbas has no control over Gaza and it is doubtful if he has much control over the West Bank. The Annapolis understandings have been forgotten and President Bush’s idea of achieving peace between Israel and the Palestinians before leaving office will not occur.
Many innocent Palestinians are under tremendous stress because of the situation. Unemployment is rife and those who are fortunate to have employment have to go through humiliating check posts manned by Israeli Army personnel even when they get employment in their own Palestinian areas. A twenty minute journey within the occupied territories can take two to three hours. All the Israeli promises of removing check posts within the occupied territories have not been kept. The excuse is security. Even within the Palestinian territories, Palestinians are unable to reach their places of work without being stopped and checked in a humiliating fashion. The delays are long and tedious. This also creates an atmosphere of hate for Israel.  
Both Palestinians and Israelis see themselves as victims of each other. Hamas rides on the wave of Palestinian suffering. It does not intend to cease terror activity. The reason is the occupation and this includes the whole of Israel since its establishment in 1948. There is no indication that Hamas will change its hard-line attitude towards coming to terms with Israel’s existence. It uses the Palestinians in a cynical way, prolonging their suffering and encouraging terror against Israelis.
Arab columnists condemn Hamas for bringing suffering on the Palestinians
Several Arab commentators have fiercely criticized Hamas for its conduct in Gaza (see a review of these articles on MEMRI – www.memri.org – Special Dispatch 1829, dated 29 January 2008). Al-Arabiya TV Director Abd’al Al-Rahman Al-Rashed condemns Israel, but then he says: “What is the point of these rocket attacks… that increase the suffering of 1.5 million Palestinians, but do not cause Israel any military harm or induce it to make political concessions? Hamas rocket attacks amount to a suicide operation that sacrifices the security of all the residents of Gaza ….” (Al-Sharq al-Aswat, 21 January 2008). Palestinian journalist Nadia Ilabouni is highly critical of Israel, but she then writes: “What the Palestinians need is for Hamas to show some responsibility – even a little….. Before begging for compassion from the world, we had better have some compassion for ourselves, and protect ourselves from the tyranny and control of those who trade in blood – those who are not committed to the Palestinian cause, but are serving the agendas of external forces that have nothing to do with Palestinian interests… “(Al-Sharq Al-Awsat 23 January 2008) [Beyond Images comment: the latter comment is almost certainly a reference to Iran]
The breaching of the security fence in Gaza was a result of the immense pressure that has built up within Gaza itself. An independent Palestinian state alongside Israel is becoming more and more of a fantasy. In practice, there are two Palestinian entities, Gaza and the West Bank. The Gaza strip has no Jewish settlers as they were evacuated in August 2005. An independent Palestinian state can only be achieved when all Jewish settlements in the West Bank are evacuated. There is no other place for a Palestinian state (or maybe there is according to Hamas, which states that the whole of Israel is occupied Palestinian land and has to be replaced by a Palestinian state). Right wing cynics in Israel say that the Palestinian state is Jordan as 80% of Jordanians are Palestinians. The Jewish settlement policies of the previous governments of Israel has actually laid the foundations of a future binational state as the West Bank (the so-called future Palestinian state) is populated with Jewish settlements. Evacuating these settlements the way that the Gaza strip was evacuated does not seem possible. This being the case, the establishment of a Palestinian state can never become a reality.
The use of military force to stop Hamas terror attacks will not work. It will result in tremendous loss of innocent lives on both sides. It may result in a temporary lull in terrorist activity, but the hate will continue and this will result in renewed violence against Israel. The cycle of violence can only be stopped by negotiations for a political solution – and, if Hamas wills it, then Israel must negotiate with them. There are no other options. The military option is not a long term solution. Terrorist attacks and Israeli retaliation will prolong “collective punishment”. The innocent on both sides will suffer in the end. This cycle of bloodshed has already proved pointless. The Palestinians gain nothing by firing Qassam rockets, but Israel is not helping itself with its extensive operations in the Strip.

The attack on innocent civilians, whether Palestinian or Israeli, ought to be condemned in the strongest possible terms. The collective punishment weapon is being used by both sides and no side will win. Hamas’s firing of Qassam rockets is a pointless tactic that will achieve nothing. It will only bring strong Israeli retaliatory actions that will increase Palestinian suffering.
Israel has now decided to cut back electricity to Gaza. Now that the border between Gaza and Egypt is more or less open, weapon smuggling from this point will increase and so will the influence of Iran and its financial backing. The electricity cuts will prolong the suffering of innocent Palestinians and it will not stop the Qassam rockets. A political solution is now more urgent than ever before.
“Stop this Madness!
Stop Making Life
In Sderot and Gaza
Unbearable!
Talk with Hamas!
Cease Fire!!!”
 

Gush Shalom 
www.gush-shalom.org

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