Israel, Gaza and collective punishment

The inane and futile Palestinian/Israeli conflict is once more being played out in Gaza. presents a very revealing graph of the disturbing asymmetry between Israeli and Palestinian casualties since 2000. Israeli response to Palestinian rockets or suicide bombers has been grossly disproportionate and there seems as little will on the Israeli side as the hardline Palestinian side to work towards any permanent solution. Rather, as Vox points out, it has become a “management” or “containment” strategy on Israel’s part.

This Israeli strategy is sometimes described as “cutting the grass.” In this thinking, Israel never really solves the conflict or even tries; it tolerates a level of violence from Gaza-based militant groups, but every few years bombs and maybe invades Gaza to weaken militants there and destroy their weapons – to cut the grass. It treats the Israel-Palestine conflict, at least as it pertains to Gaza, as something to be managed rather than solved.

It is important to stress that this strategy is not one that ever produces peace or that is designed to lead to a solution. It accepts a low level of Israeli deaths from rocket fire, and occasionally dozens or hundreds of Palestinian deaths from air strikes, as status quo.


But beyond this, Israel’s infliction of large number of civilian casualties mirrors military and political strategy of US governments since WW2, particularly the use of air power to administer collective punishment to another nation’s population in the demonstrably forlorn hope that they will rebel against their own leaders or that these same leaders will recognise the suffering their resistance is visiting upon their people and they will surrender.

That this strategy has failed time and time again seems only to suggest to strategists not that it is flawed and counter productive but that it hasn’t been executed with enough vigor. Israel’s military and economic assault on Gaza is the same as the US war on Saddam Hussein and Iraq. Applying collective punishment and deprivation to Palestinians inside Gaza will no more persuade Hamas or other militant groups to give up than US attacks and sanctions did to Hussein. The idea that depriving Iraqi civilians of medicine and food would cause Saddam hardship and reason to reconsider was as deluded as thinking firebombing German and Japanese cities would make Hitler or the Japanese military leadership somehow empathetic to their people’s suffering. Ditto bombing North Korea, Vietnam, Panama City, Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya….

Instead all it does is give a chance for the political and military elite of one nation to vent their fury and indignation at another nation’s political elite by proxy. It is state terrorism, “tactical” or blatant area bombing intended to spread terror in the civilian population. That hundreds, thousands or indeed millions of civilians, as in the case of Korea and Vietnam, die in the process suggests a deep, primal, psychopathic urge. That our elites can “persuade” so many of us that this is acceptable, neh warranted behaviour is a blight on all of our consciences. That so many of us, particularly our political leaders stay silent for fear of “rocking the boat” makes us little better than the perpetrators. As Martin Luther King Jr said, paraphrasing Dante;

The hottest place in Hell is reserved for those who remain neutral in times of great moral conflict.

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