Collective punishment can work both ways.

Using an “eye for a tooth” approach, the Israeli military has yet again adopted a strategy of collective punishment in its war against Hamas. The result, predictably, has been carnage and slaughter of innocents on a grand scale.

I am not going to debate who is right and who is wrong in this ongoing struggle. I have previously written about it and have found that the response is simply too emotion-driven for a rational discussion to hold. I will just say that I agree with those that say that Israel has forever lost whatever moral high ground it once had and is now no better than the enemies it fights. In fact, one can only despair for Israeli democracy as it descends into the type of reactionary intolerance that Hamas is notorious for. So I ask readers to please refrain from commentary about Israel.

Instead, here I wish to propose that collective punishment can be a two-way street, and that the global community can find ways to use it against Israel when the latter persists in disproportionately and asymmetrically meting out collective violence on the people of Gaza.

One way to respond is to collectively sanction all israelis for the actions of the political leadership and IDF. There are plenty of ways to do so: boycott Israeli goods; reduce diplomatic contacts with Israel, to include downsizing embassy and consular staffs; cancel contracts with Israeli businesses (to include rescinding investment contracts involving Israeli firms and export licenses for domestic companies trading with Israel, especially in the arms trade); refuse landing rights to Israeli flagged air carriers; deny all types of visa to Israeli nationals, to include tourist and student visas (John Minto has already suggested pulling the work-study visa scheme that allows young Israelis to do so in NZ); refuse Israeli participation in international sporting events; cancel touring Israeli art exhibitions, theatrical productions and musical events–the possibilities are many. The inevitable litigation that will ensue is an avoidable cost levied on Israelis as a result of their government’s policies regarding Gaza. As for the Israelis who carry multiple passports because of their lineage and the prohibitions against Israeli passports in Muslim states–visa checks, airline logs and residency checks can confirm who they are. It may cost to do so, but it  will cost the individuals involved much more.

Sanctions regimes already exist, but these are usually against government elites and their supporters (think of the current sanctions regime against Russian officials and elite entities and those (now lifted) enacted by Australia and New Zealand against the Baimimarama military dictatorship in Fiji). What is proposed here is different: complete sanction against all nationals of a targeted state.

This may seem unfair to the average Israeli who has nothing to do with the Netanyahu government or IDF atrocities. But that is the point: collective punishment of a majority for the actions of a minority is patently unfair. In this instance the collective punishment against Israelis may be unfair to them but is relatively benign when compared to what Israel does to Palestinian civilians in Gaza.  Forcing them to swallow a softer taste of their own medicine might give them pause to rethink their support for the “eye for a tooth” strategy.

More importantly, much like Israeli spokespeople who argue that the people of Gaza are getting what they deserve for electing Hamas into government, so too it can be argued that collectively punishing Israelis is justified in light of their election of the Netanyahu-led Likud government amid rising support for Israeli right-wing religious parties. After all, if we are to blame the electorate in one instance we might as well do it in another, although in the case of the Israelis the blame does not entail being subject to military force.

I realise that nothing will be done along the lines I propose. But I feel the need to put it out there because there seems very little else that anyone can do to make the Israelis desist from collectively punishing innocent Gazians.  In fact, the concept of non-lethal collective punishment or sanction could be used in other instances, say for example against Russians in response to their ongoing intervention in Ukraine. But that depends on some degree of international agreement on the necessity of pursing such a course of action and an equal degree of commitment to enforcing it over an agreed period of time or until certain corrective measures are undertaken by the targeted state.

That simply will not happen in the current context. Heck, if New Zealand sees venal material opportunity arising from Russian counter-sanctions against the EU and US, then it is clear that there is not enough moral and ethical consensus to effectively implement a collective sanctions regime against citizens of a targeted state.

But it might be worth a try, if even in a piecemeal fashion or as a symbolic statement of repudiation of those who believe that lethal collective punishment is a just means of conflict resolution. If nothing else, raising the possibility of non-lethal collective sanction might force citizens of states like Israel to re-think their individual stake in pursuing the collective punishment of others as a matter of state policy.

9 thoughts on “Collective punishment can work both ways.

  1. Of course, what you are describing as “collective punishment” can be, and is, seen as collateral damage from a military incursion with limited strategic objectives. Namely, the closure of the tunnels into Israel that caused the initial spark to this conflict – the murder of 3 Israeli teenagers.

    The reason the body count of civilians is high is a combination of population density and the deliberate acts of Hamas. I have yet to see credible evidence of the IDF deliberately targeting civilians.

  2. MacDr.:

    You are wrong on two counts. The current conflict was not sparked by the killing of the 3 Israeli teenagers, which it is now known was not done by Hamas. It was sparked by the killing of two unarmed Palestinian teenagers by an IDF soldier two months ago, which precipitated Hamas rocket attacks. Although these attacks were and are by and large ineffectual, that was the pretext used by the IDF to launch its offensive.

    The IDF targeted UN schools in spite of repeated warnings, to include the GPS coordinates of said schools, that they were being used as refugee centres. The larger point is that even if civilian facilities like hospitals are used as cover by insurgents (which is a war crime), it is a war crime to target them knowing that fact. There is no way the IDF did not know that the UN schools were crammed full of women and children–they were told so repeatedly by UN officials.

    As for the tunnels. It would have been just as effective to seal off the outlets in Israel and use seismic monitoring to trace underground movement along the border and destroy those remaining active. Destroying entire buildings because the entrances to the tunnels were located in their basements is overkill and not a military necessity.

    Having corrected you, I will say this only once: I will delete all comments about the conflict, Israel, and the like. The post is about collective punishment and collective (counter) sanction, nothing else, and I will only allow comments that address that topic.

  3. Their actions do seem to invite collective punishment along the lines of boycotts etc. As a state carrying out collective punishments that consist more of things like bombarding residential neighbourhoods with heavy artillery than tame stuff like consumer boycotts, they could hardly complain. (Well, OK, let me qualify that – you bet they’d complain, but they wouldn’t have a leg to stand on.)

  4. Bowalley rd has a good piece on the conflict.
    Interesting proposal. Given that Christians and Yazidis are being slaughtered in northern Iraq how about we include all muslims for balance.

  5. I support your general thrust, Pablo, but I do think that our current government is particularly venal and hopefully it won’t always be like that.

    Viva Palestina!

  6. Phil:

    Your comparison is doubly wrong. My proposal is to collectively sanction all Israeli citizens, not all Jews (the practice of multiple passport holders notwithstanding). Secondly, ISIS is not a recognised state and does not have citizens per se. Plus there is no evidence to suggest that the hapless folk under their control have any say in the matter, much less support what they are doing. So punishing all Muslims for the actions of ISIS is ludicrous.

    Again, the bottom line is simple: collectively sanction all citizens of a state as a counter to the collective punishment it metes out against others.

  7. Luc:

    I doubt any recent NZ government would adopt my proposal, but there are other governments that might. For example, several latinAmerican countries have withdrawn diplomatic recognition or diplomats from Israel and expelled its ambassadors as a protest. This could be extended along the lines I propose, I am sure that there are other countries that would follow, although some of them may be a bit unsavoury themselves and just want to get in on the Israel-bashing.

  8. Ultimately the policy involves a demand of control over how a nation responds to a security threat. If one nation, why not others?

    Remember the USA response to a WMD threat and the group hosted in Afghanistan by the Taleban?

    It returns us to the principle of collective security for Israel that the UN abandoned when Arab nations warred on Israel and no collective security was offered to Israel by the UN – despite the state of Israel being established by UN mandate.

    That left Israel the one nation on Earth unable to rely on any one but themselves when war came.

    Is the world prepared to guarantee Israeli security, because that is the price for demanding some restraint on how they do it now (when going it alone).

    This would also involve

    VBHow would one deIt would have no impact on Israel if it placed its d. As once enforcedas

    Where would this lead, if the nation retaliates as Russia did?

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