The IDF and Shin Bet claim that demolishing the homes of terror suspects and expelling their families to Gaza is a deterrence that has already yielded results. Such an opinion relies on the ignorance or willful amnesia of the Israeli public.
Senior IDF and Shin Bet officers depend on Israelis not taking note of the fact that for the last two years most of Israel's military activity in the territories has been about deterrence. The punishments meted out were collective and harmed the entire Palestinian population. But the terrorist attacks not only proliferated and became bloodier, but were aimed at ever larger numbers of people, and Palestinian public opinion polls show support for the attackers has not declined.
Here are some of the collective deterrent measures tried in the last two years:
1. In the first weeks of the intifada, characterized mostly by mass demonstrations, stone-throwing and later by Palestinian gunfire in the air, the IDF responded with live fire or with "rubber" bullets that killed scores - including children - and wounded hundreds. The presence of armed Palestinians among the demonstrators and rock-throwers made it easy to loosen the rules of engagement and use lethal fire. The Israel Defense Forces can say they were only responding to fire directed at troops, but have never explained the deaths of civilians - including women and children - far from the scenes of clashes. Nor can they explain snipers killing and wounding people not involved in shootings or even stone-throwing, although they were at the scenes of clashes. Just because the IDF have never examined or investigated these many cases of shootings and have never drawn any conclusions from it, and just because Israelis paid little attention to Palestinian reports of such killings does not alter the Palestinian experience of mass bereavement - meant to be a deterrent - since the start of the intifada.
2. IDF bulldozers have demolished hundreds of homes of people not involved in shootings or bombings - at first, mostly in the refugee camps of Rafah and Khan Yunis in the Gaza Strip. The army said armed Palestinians used the houses to shoot from, or built tunnels under the houses for arms smuggling. Thousands of buildings have been seriously damaged by IDF fire. The explanation - they were being used as firing positions against the army. Dozens of other buildings were damaged when the IDF blew up neighboring houses alleged to be the homes of relatives of terrorists, or when it bombed Palestinian Authority facilities. In other words, thousands of Palestinians have already been through the experience of "the deterrence" of demolished homes.
3. For "security reasons" bulldozers and tanks have plowed under thousands of dunams of farm land, uprooted tens of thousands of trees, and demolished greenhouses and wells. The collective emotional anguish over this mass destruction is even more deeply felt than the financial damage.
4. IDF assassinations, starting with the first on November 1, 2001, have accidentally killed civilians, including women and children unlucky enough to be in the area when the wanted men happened to pass. The climax came on July 22 in Gaza in the Air Force bombing to kill Salah Shehadeh, the Hamas military leader. In other words, dozens of families and hundreds of people with nothing to do with terrorism, have been "deterred" by the most costly loss of all - their loved ones.
5. Expulsion to Gaza is portrayed as a deterrent because it will cut people off from their families - exactly what closures and curfews have been doing anyway. The limits on freedom of movement that Israel imposes on the Palestinians gets tighter and tighter, completely disrupting the family lives of three million people. Thousands of elderly parents have not seen their children or grandchildren for a year or more. Family events are held with many members of the family missing. The fact that Israelis don't know and don't care about this doesn't mean the so-called "deterrent" effect isn't felt as a collective punishment by the entire Palestinian population.
The military logic that now holds sway in the government and army says whatever has been tried and didn't deter enough, should be tried more forcefully. In the army and the government are people with imaginations that are feverishly working overtime to devise the most deterring deterrents. Just how long can their mistaken conclusions continue to mislead the Israeli public and the judges of the High Court of Justice?
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