Editorial

Israel Must End Its Shameful Policy of Collective Punishment

Every time a police officer closes a store with no legal justification, it just makes it all the more clear to the local residents and the rest of the world that East Jerusalem is occupied territory by any law.

People walk past shops that were closed by authorities after two police officers were wounded in a stabbing attack, East Jerusalem, Israel, September 19, 2016.
People walk past shops that were closed by authorities after two police officers were wounded in a stabbing attack, East Jerusalem, Israel, September 19, 2016. Olivier Fitoussi

Residents of East Jerusalem are already familiar with the practice of collective punishment. In the wake of last year’s wave of terror attacks, the police and the municipality used various methods of collective punishment, including increased and vindictive enforcement against businesses, street closings and erecting checkpoints at the entry to certain neighborhoods.

Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat is convinced that these methods led to the alleviation of the terror wave last year. But even so, Jerusalem District Police commander Yoram Halevy’s decision to close down the entire center of the Palestinian part of the city in wake of the attack that occurred Monday morning was outrageous.

In the attack, a young man from East Jerusalem stabbed two police officers – a policewoman, who was severely wounded, and a policeman who, though moderately wounded, managed to fire at and wound the attacker. Immediately afterwards, Halevy ordered that the closure of all shops along Sultan Suleiman Street, the main thoroughfare in the eastern part of the city, for the rest of the day. Shops on adjacent streets were also shut down for many hours, as was the central bus station that serves the Palestinian residents of East Jerusalem.

Storeowners who refused to close were compelled to do so and threatened with fines, which were issued in some cases. City inspectors helped the police officers find pretexts for which citations could be issued against uncooperative shopkeepers. Once again, the Jerusalem municipality used city laws as a means of punishment, rather than as a means for running the city and serving its residents.

Halevy acknowledged that the measures were a form of collective punishment, meant to educate the population: “There are people here who must be involved in these events,” he told Channel 2. “They are a part of what is happening. It’s inconceivable for such a thing to happen and then for life to just continue as normal.”

In a nation of laws, the individual is responsible for his actions. He alone, and not his family or the business owners who have the misfortune of being close to the scene of the crime. There is no need to expand the uselessness of collective punishment, which only serves to ignite more violence. Nor is there any need to explain the legal and ethical problems with such measures.

But even for Barkat and the Israeli right, these moves only underscore the abnormality of Jerusalem’s situation: Every time a police officer closes a store with no legal justification, it just makes it all the more clear to the local residents and the rest of the world that East Jerusalem is occupied territory by any law.

This policy is a blot on the police. The police are supposed to operate on the basis of the law, not on the basis of whims and desires for revenge. Halevy’s superiors and the Public Security Minister should call the Jerusalem District Police commander to task for these actions, and prevent such a thing from being repeated in the future.