Israel's collective punishment of Palestinians will not deter the resistance

Israel's collective punishment of Palestinians will not deter the resistance
Comment: Israel's policy of 'deterrence' is indistinguishable from collective punishment, and as a result will only embolden Palestinian activism, writes Daoud Kuttab.
4 min read
03 Apr, 2018
The death toll from last Friday's protests has so far reached 17 [AFP]
One of the questions so often asked those following each new attack on Gaza, is why does Israel continue to behave in the way it does? 

Why does a very powerful army, which could easily have controlled the situation in and around Gaza, need to carry out a brutal attack that has killed 17 Palestinians, and injured over 1,400, at least 750 of them from live bullets.

The official Israeli narrative has been very simple: This was an effort by Islamic militants who aim at destabilising Israel, and not a nonviolent act of innocent people. As a result - they say - any retaliatory action is somehow justified.

In reality, Israel's violent actions on the first day of a six week campaign have one purpose - to stop it in its tracks using the ideology of deterrence. Indeed, deterrence is a core part of Israeli policy on reacting to all Palestinian resistance activities; whether violent or nonviolent.

Strategic deterrence - defined as the inhibition of attack by a fear of punishment backed up by superior military power - has been part of the Israeli strategy for some time, especially when it comes to Gaza. Israel has gone to war against the people of Gaza hoping to raise the level of deterrence.

And so, as Human Rights Watch stated on 3 April, the Israeli attack was not in self-defense but rather a premeditated, "calculated" action, aimed at sending a strong message to the embattled people of Gaza. It hoped to deter them from continuing their protests, organised by the Higher National Commission for the March of Return and Breaking the Siege.

The result in Gaza has been a clear cut case of collective punishment in a densely populated strip

The multi-party organisers who have the support of Palestinian national and Islamic movements are committed to carrying out unarmed protests without violence. And contrary to Israeli hasbara (PR efforts), Hamas is not behind the protests, even though it has provided support, including helping pave the ground under tents, and providing campers with toilets, water and other basics.

While Israel's blanket policy - which hopes to deter Palestinians demanding an end to the illegal siege placed on the two-million Palestinians living in Gaza - might have temporary results, it is unlikely to stop the peaceful unarmed resistance campaigns.

In fact, the more likely scenario is that this new wave of anti-siege efforts will continue, leading Israel to carry out an even bloodier attack, in order to raise the level of failed 'deterrence'.

What makes the Israeli "strategic deterrence" unworkable, is that it doesn't come as part of a comprehensive plan that has a political component. By refusing to politically deal with Gazans (while holding them under tight siege), the Israelis are looking for a solely military solution to what is mostly a political conflict.

Shortly after redeploying to the borders of Gaza, Israel severely restricted ties between Gaza and the West Bank, as well as the movement of goods in and out of Gaza.

When a pro-Hamas parliament was elected in a free and fair election in January 2006, the United States and Israel led a campaign to prevent all banks, including Arab and Islamic banks, from dealing with the new government.

Israel has consistently rejected Hamas' repeated offers of a cease-fire agreement in exchange for the lifting of the siege on Gaza. One offer made by Hamas included acceptance of 1967 borders in exchange for a 10-year truce.

Some security strategists and just war theorists such as Georgetown's William O'Brien argue that there may be nothing morally objectionable about deterrence in cases where the lives and welfare of a civilian population are not directly affected.

The threat of retaliation that underpins its strategic effectiveness remains implicit and hypothetical. However, when deterrence becomes indistinguishable from international piracy and collective punishment – it is far less likely to achieve its intended result.

The result in Gaza has been a clear cut case of collective punishment in a densely populated strip of land without any semblance of a political, or even an acceptable humanitarian solution.

Israel persistently conflates self-defence and deterrence, while employing collective punishment to advance its strategic aims.

Israel persistently conflates self-defense and deterrence

The concept of deterrence failed in Lebanon in 2006, when Israel was forced to accept a UN-sponsored cease-fire agreement, and it is no more likely to succeed in Gaza. Indeed, opinion polls conducted in Gaza show a spike in support for Hamas after every Israeli escalation.

The international community must act quickly to force Israel to abandon this war crime called a "deterrence strategy" and instead work on reaching an understanding that can result in a cessation of brutality.

Only such an understanding can permit a start to the groundwork needed for a political resolution that will permanently end both the siege of Gaza, and the illegal occupation of Palestinian lands.

Daoud Kuttab is an award-winning Palestinian journalist and former Ferris Professor of Journalism at Princeton University. 

Follow him on Twitter: @daoudkuttab

Opinions expressed in this article remain those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of The New Arab, its editorial board or staff.