Jamaica Gleaner
Published: Friday | January 2, 2009
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EDITORIAL - Collective punishment in Gaza

What ought to be the enduring lesson of the last 60 years of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is that it is near impossible to bomb an idea into oblivion and that the infliction of collective punishment is hardly ever successful in winning political goals.

These are lessons that, unfortunately, Israel seems to be forgetting in its latest assault on Gaza in an effort to tame the radical group, Hamas. The Israeli bombings have over the past week killed more than 400 people and wounded over 2,000. More than a quarter of Palestinian casualties are civilians.

Israel, it appears, is preparing to compound this latest miscalculation in the use of force with the insertion of troops to Gaza in furtherance of its declared aim of a "real and sustained solution" to the problem of Hamas and their rockets. Hamas, as a military force, is no Hizbollah, but people are beginning to draw parallels between this conflict and Israel's politically ill-fated war with Lebanon in 2007 that ended with greater legitimacy to the radical Islamic group.

Israel has the right to exist

We unequivocally reject Hamas' philosophy that Israel is an illegitimate entity that ought not to exist. We also repudiate its tactics of firing home-made missiles into Israel - such as resumed last month - in pursuance of its grievances against the Jewish state.

Indeed, Israel has the right to exist and to defend itself within secure borders. But those borders must be in accordance with UN Security Council resolution 242 of November 1967 calling for a return to boundaries before the six-day war. The Palestinian people, too, are entitled to a genuinely sovereign and viable state, with contiguous boundaries rather than "Bantustans".

Resolving the sharp differences between Israel and Palestine is no easy matter, which is exacerbated by Palestinian factionalism, symbolised by the bitterness between Hamas and mainstream Fatah. The problems too are deepened by the ambivalence of Israel and its closest supporters to the democracy once Hamas won Palestine's parliamentary elections. There was no clear strategy on how to engage the radicals and this new, necessary process of enforced co-existence.

Largely, attempts at weakening Hamas through economic pressure worked mostly in their favour by feeding their sense grievance and helping to radicalise young Palestinians. It is hardly surprising that their grab for Gaza has hardly weakened despite the blockade that has been maintained on the area and the collapse of social and other infrastructure.

'Terrifying' situation

Rocket fire from Gaza since the December 19 end of a fragile six-month truce triggered this latest Israeli response, which is being conducted without, even supporters of Israel say, the context of proportionality. In the circumstance, it is not Hamas partisans who are being victimised by everyone in Gaza, where the military action, coupled with long economic privation and Israel limit on humanitarian access, has created with UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon calls "terrifying" situation.

It is possible, if the Israelis maintain this offensive long enough that they might succeed in the objective of "making Hamas lose their will or lose their weapons". What is more probable when action happens at this scale is the festering of resentment to erupt later in a new infitada.

While there must be pressure on Hamas to good behaviour, Israel's friends must remind it of something it should know from painful experience - collective punishment, as a rule, doesn't work.

The opinions on this page, except for the above, do not necessarily reflect the views of The Gleaner. To respond to a Gleaner editorial, email us: editor@gleanerjm.com or fax: 922-6223. Responses should be no longer than 400 words. Not all responses will be published.

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