Israel responds to lone attacks with collective punishment

The Defense Ministry cancels travel permits for 500 Palestinians, and work permits for an entire West Bank village.

An Israeli soldier checks a Palestinian man’s documents at a checkpoint outside the West Bank city of Hebron on June 17, 2014, as the hunt for three Israeli teenagers believed kidnapped by militants entered its fifth day. (Photo: Tess Scheflan/
An Israeli soldier checks a Palestinian man’s documents at a checkpoint outside the West Bank city of Hebron on June 17, 2014. (Photo: Tess Scheflan/

Israeli authorities responded on Monday with collective punishment to two attacks in the West Bank and Jerusalem that left one Israeli dead and two injured in recent days. The Defense Ministry canceled special travel permits for 500 West Bank Palestinians, who had been granted permission to use Israel’s Ben-Gurion Airport. (Palestinians are normally forbidden from using the airport, and must cross by land into Jordan in order to fly from Amman to their destination.) Authorities also canceled entry permits (effectively work permits) for all of the residents of the village of Sa’ir, home to a Palestinian man who attacked the Border Police officer in Jerusalem.

Authorities did not draw any connection between the Palestinian attackers and the people who had their travel and entry permits revoked.

Over the past week, Israel’s various government and military PR organs have been hammering away furiously to promote the authorities’ goodwill toward Muslims during Ramadan and their compassion in allowing Palestinians to do radical things such as pray, travel to different towns to visit their relatives [Ar] and fly abroad. Now, some of those “treats” have been canceled. And the defense minister threatened to enact even more collective punishment measures.

For the residents of Sa’ir, the cancelation of their entry permits into Israel has two ramifications.  The move does not “just” prevent Palestinians from entering Jerusalem to pray, B’Tselem spokesperson Sarit Michaeli explained in a statement on Monday, it also means that those who are employed in settlements and in Israel proper are now unable to reach their places of work. Many residents of Sa’ir were turned away at entrances of settlements in which they are employed Monday morning, according to B’Tselem.

In this, and in the cancelation of permits to fly abroad, the Israeli government is meting out collective punishment, which is illegal under international law.

The use of collective punishment is routine in both East Jerusalem and the West Bank (not to mention Gaza, whose siege is collective punishment on a massive scale). Whether it is enclosing thousands of Palestinians inside a village; dousing entire neighborhoods with rancid-smelling “skunk” water; closing roads or demolishing houses, Israel has a loose, unofficial policy of punishing the collective for the actions of a few.

Punishment is, at its core, an exercise of power. And it is the exercise of power that links the provision of Ramadan “perks” to Palestinians and the collective retribution involved in taking those perks away. They are two sides of the same coin: on the one face, paternalism; on the other, domination. This is the occupation at its soft and sharp ends. Inescapable, too, is the fact that such collective rewards and punishment are distributed on ethnic grounds.

In the eyes of the Israeli government, Palestinians in the occupied territories are a homogenous entity, and what applies to the individual applies to the many. When even the most basic human rights of the occupied — by nature of the power structure, a collective group — depend on the benevolence and largesse of the occupier, it is small wonder that any supposed “perks” (which are, in reality, also basic human rights) are taken away so easily. It is also small wonder that collective punishment is such a regular feature of life under occupation. After all, what the occupier giveth, the occupier taketh away.

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