In this week’s podcast Selwyn Manning and I work through some of the under-examined aspects of the latest round of Israeli-Palestinian conflict and the stakes involved in Samoa’s disputed political transition. You can find it here.
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 Â 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. Â 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. Â 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.
The Israeli offensive in Gaza has rekindled debate about the role of collective responsibility in the initiation and prosecution of war. Israel is specifically accused of collectively punishing all Gazans in retaliation for Hamas missile attacks on the Israeli population, with some claiming that aspects of Israeli military operations amount to war crimes. Such may or may not be true, but the issue is more complex than that.
Hamas argues that it is justified in firing missiles into Israeli population centers because all Jews are complicit in the Zionist enterprise and all Israelis eventually complete some form of military service. From that perspective better to kill a Jew in the crib than on the battlefield. Sunni extremists in Iraq target Shiia worshippers at their holy sites because they hold them accountable for the apostasy of their clerical leaders. Osama bin Laden has openly stated that the US public made itself a target for attack by repeatedly electing pro-Israeli and anti-Muslim administrations. Kurds and Armenians hold all Turks responsible for the sins of the Ottomans,Â Kemalists and their successors. Chechnyan militants hold all Russians culpable for the depredations of the Russian military in the post-Soviet republic. Germans are still held by some to be collectively guilty for the sins of the Nazis. The Japanese are accused on not feeling guilty enough for the depredations of Hirohito and company. The list of collective finger-pointing, responsibility, guilt, targeting and punishment is long.
The issue is complicated by the fact that, by the criteria of collective responsibility, open and honest elections increase the culpability of the electorate in the sins of their political representatives. That was Osama’s point about the US. Whatever one may think about the US electorate’s complicity in Bush 43’s follies, by that logic the Palestinians are collectively culpable for having voted in favour of a Hamas-majority parliament in 2006. Put another way, citizens of non-elected authoritarian regimes cannot be held accountable for the behaviour of those regimes unless there is some other mechanism to attribute direct support for the authoritarian project. An example would be Argentines during the Falklands/Malvinas war, which was initiated by a brutal military dictatorship feared by its own people. Conversely, the citizens of all democratic regimes are complicit in the behavior of their governments because it was their majority vote that brought those governments into power. The minority of those who voted against these democratically-elected incumbents may take issue with that (and indeed have), but the logic is inscrutable on the point: mass elections make the masses collectively responsible for the conduct of their elected leaders. Continue reading
Yesterday morning I read Maia’s excellent post about the “women and children” rhetoric being used about Gaza in which she reminds us it’s not just the innocent who deserve protection. Later I walked past a pro-Israel rally outside Parliament in which someone held a banner saying “Hamas uses women and children for terror!”
The point about the phrase “women and children” is that they’re implicitly helpless. Women and children are people things happen to, bombs fall on them, soldiers shoot them, men rape them â€“ they are powerless in the face of others.
In reality there are many women in the world who choose to engage in political or military struggle. There are women fighting for both Palestine and Israel, then there’sÂ Rwanda,Â Eritrea and Iraq. There are women politically involved in determining their own destiny in every corner of the world.Â
I take no pleasure, no pride, no secret feminist joy in reading those articles or watching those videos. But my horror is not because they are women, it is because they are human. When I see stories of women killed in bombings, women raped in ethnic cleansing and women forced to be soldiers my horror is because they are human â€“ nobody of any gender or age should have those lives.Â
Women, like men, can be victims of violence, and women, like men, can be be agents of their own destiny: they can fight for armies and they can struggle for peace. We are not the epitome of helpless, powerless vulnerability.
Last week I was standing in a cafe queue in front of some mums talking about their children, one said “I told him ‘I don’t care who started it, you don’t throw a cup at your brother!'”
With that rather heavy-handed allegory I start another post about Gaza:Â I don’t care who started it; it’s not ok to bomb civilians, fire missiles into towns, or invade and start killing innocents.
Every time someone criticises Israel’s actions they get slammed for being anti-Semitic, pro-Palestinian and/or for standing up for terrorists. When someone criticises Hamas’ actions they get attacked for being blindly pro-Israel, a lapdog of the US and/or for standing up for terrorists.
I don’t know whose fault the current situation is, I don’t know the ins and outs of all the wars, the politics, the negotiations, the ceasefires and truces and the breaches, the overt ties, the covert ties and the financial ties.
But I know that I don’t care who started it and that it’s not ok to use the lives of innocents as leverage in a political power game.
P.S. Maia has and interesting post about why innocence should not be required for us to care.
There is much argument about who started the latest Gaza conflict. Many believe that the Hamas rocket attacks on Israel were the precipitating event, and that Israel has the right to respond. Perhaps that is true. Many question why, during a supposed truce, Hamas would have continued to stage rocket attacks on Israeli territory. The reason, in my view, was both tactical and strategic.
Hamas demands the illegal Israeli settlements on Palestinian land be withdrawn before any durable peace can be achieved. It believes that it has the right to armed resistance against illegal occupation of its land. Israel demands that the rocket attacks stop before talks on a land-for-peace swap can begin. Hamas militants believe that to cease their attacks will be a tacit surrender to Israeli demands. They also believe that stopping the attacks are a sign of acquiescence on the terms of Â any deal. Thus the rocket attacks are designed to frame any discussions in a way that is favourable to Palestinian interests. They are, in a word, part of a “moderate-militant” negotiating strategy by which the attacks are designed to give Hamas’s political wing more room to maneuver when negotiating the terms of any land-for peace agreement. Anyone familiar with negotiations understands the principle: you drive a hard bargain and settle for something less. In this instance the bargain being driven has an armed edge.
There is more to the picture. The reason that rocket attacks are used is that since 2006 no successful suicide bombing attacks have been carried out in Israel (although many have been thwarted). Given the heavily fortified nature of the border, rocket attacks are the only way to make the militant point. Moreover, the point is not only being made to the Israeli authorities. It is also, and perhaps more importantly, being made to the Hamas moderates who make up the bulk of its political wing, and who are the potential negotiators on the Gazian side (since Fattah represents the Palestinian community in the occupied West Bank). Thus the rocket attacks served episodic notice of militant conviction on two fronts, internal and external, with the internal message to the political wing being “sell us out at your peril.”
Regardless of whether this explanation of the rationale behind the rocket attacks is correct or not, one thing is now clear: the rocketeers seriously underestimated Israel’s determination to eradicate Hamas’s militant wing while allowing its political moderates to live to negotiate anther day ( I elaborate on this and some other aspects of Â the conflict over at www.scoop.co.nz in an essay titled “Who Benefits from the Gaza conflict?”). That process is now taking place.
If the NZ government wanted to do something about Israel’s actions what could we, a tin pot little country on the other side of the world, do?
It’s hard to know what we could do, it’s easy to understand why the government’s response is vagueÂ wafflings (although a statement that we think its wrong wouldn’t go amiss), and I’ve struggled to come up with any options, but here are my thoughts
- A public statement that Israel’s action is disproportionate, unacceptable and should stop. That seems like the easy one, but I’m sure someone with a foreign affairs background might explain it’s not without cost.
- We could go to the UNHCR and offer to take Palestinian refugees in addition to our existing quota. It’s not a public high profile measure, but it would make a real difference to some real lives.Â
- Working for a UN statement. We might never get one, but it would keep up the international pressure
- A travel ban on government and military officials and families? I was scraping the barrel to come up with this one, it seems like something we could actually do and, again, it’s a sign to the international community.