Much is being made in Israel these days of the issue of collective punishment. The Arabs and many in the foreign media have been complaining that Israel is inflicting collective punishment on the Palestinian people by withholding funds from the PA, preventing economic transactions from taking place between the PA and Israel, and imposing curfews and military closures on PA areas. The Israel left has taken up this cause as a new tool against the Sharon government, and even Sharon's spin doctors are out explaining how the government is against collective punishment of the Palestinian people.
And through all this, I ask: why?
For the past five-and-a-half months (or seven-and-a-half years, or thirteen years, or thirty years, whichever you choose) the Arabs have been collectively punishing the Jews in Israel simply for being Jewish. Planes and cruise ships have been hijacked, busses have exploded, car bombs have been detonated, pedestrians and motorists have been shot, soldiers have been lynched, and thousands of children have been orphaned because Arab terrorism has been used as an indiscriminate tool against Jewish presence in the Jewish homeland.
Since the end of September, 65 Jews have been killed and hundreds injured by Arab terrorists in Israel. Prior to the attacks, no one knew which Arab would prove to be a terrorist, and today no one knows which Arabs will commit acts of terrorism in the future.
What is very well known, however, is that the PA, under the direct leadership and control of Yasser Arafat, is coordinating this mass murder spree with all the glee of a kid in a toy store. And as Prime Minister Ariel Sharon said today, it is immoral for Israel to be paying the salaries of the Palestinian security officers who carry out the orders of Arafat and shoot at passing Israeli motorists or into Jewish towns such as Netzarim and Psagot.
It is equally immoral for the rest of the world, lead by the Arab League and the European Union, to demand that Israel lift the economic and military blockade of the PA so that attacks can escalate from Beit Jala into Jerusalem and from Ramallah into Psagot, and from Khan Yunis into Kfar Darom and fro Gaza City into Netzarim, etc. Those blockades have resulted in a decrease in the amount of attacks, and have netted Israeli security forces a number of arrests that have prevented serious terrorist attacks in major Israeli population centers.
Monday, Defense Minister Binyamin Ben-Eliezer announced an easing of the military blockades around four cities, including Beit Lechem. Mere hours after this announcement, traffic was backed up for 20 kilometers or more outside Beit Shemesh as police and army personnel stopped a car carrying explosives that was en route to carry out such an attack. The driver had come from El Khader, a suburb of Beit Lechem, and had driven some 30 kilometers before being stopped and arrested.
Had the blockades still been in effect, he would not have made it past the outskirts of his own town. It had a good deal to do with luck that the security forces found him in time.
Prior to yesterday, no one knew that this guy would become a terrorist. He was probably a normal, every-day resident of El Khader, content to earn his living and feed his family. But had it not been for measures that have now become known as "collective punishment", he would likely have been able to carry out his attack with very little difficulty.
Collective Punishment is a punishment that is made to fit the crime in this case, for the crime is collective as well. All Israelis are subject to the wrath of this crime wave, despite the fact that most of us have never done a thing to anger any Arabs. And since we don't know specifically which Arabs will be carrying out this crime wave, it is in the interests of national security to maintain the posture of collective punishment in order to at least limit the effects of the crime.
When the Arabs will collectively stop carrying out terrorist attacks against Israel, Israel can allow itself to stop its collective punishment of the Arabs. But until then, it behooves the Israeli government to carry out strong and strict measures aimed at restoring a sense of security to its citizens. And if that means banning Arab travel and ceasing commercial activity with them, then so be it.
©2001 - Yehuda Poch is a writer living in Israel. Reproduction in electronic or print format by permission only.