The Qassam Rocket as Collective Punishment

Imagine a situation in which thousands and thousands of people, many of them children and the elderly, are plunged into a situation in which they must fear for their lives day in and day out, their livelihoods crippled, their schools and even pre-schools under siege. Entire communities are trapped, paralyzed. Whole childhoods are spent in a state of post-traumatic stress. Occasions which should be high points in a lifetime are routinely curtailed or cancelled.

The people of this place are forced to bear the burden of the whole of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. They are the unarmed proxy warriors of their side, victimized by the tactical cruelty of the other.

They are the victims of collective punishment. And they live in Israel.

The world is unsympathetic. The world does not think highly enough of Hamas to hold it accountable for the actions of the gunners who use the launchers produced by Hamas and the rockets produced by Hamas.

The world believes that if Israel outguns Hamas with an arsenal that includes the most advanced fighter bombers and even nuclear weapons, the people of Sderot are somehow protected from the rockets that strike them day in and day out, year after agonizing year.

The people of Sderot have nothing but miracles to depend on. And even miracles betray them. Because if they are spared from death by one miracle after another, the world cannot be bothered to care about them. Even their fellow Israelis concede that they would do more to defend the people of Sderot, if more of them were being killed - yet another form of collective punishment.

When Israel cut fuel shipments to Gaza this month, the same defense establishment which had been given weeks and months to plan for the step, found itself taken aback that water and sewage pumps stopped working ? not because of Hamas subterfuge or Hamas hyperbole, but because Israel stopped supplying fuel to Palestinian power plants. Many Gazans, non-combatants, were left without water in a public health crisis akin to a natural disaster.

There's a certain perverse justice to how this works. When it comes to terrorism, the Palestinians practice intentional killing of civilians. When we kill civilians in the context of military activity, we view it as incidental, the regrettable by-product of necessary self-defense.

In the case of collective punishment, the opposite situation obtains. We practice collective punishment as an intentional tactic, believing it to be more humane than outright invasion and carpet bombing ? holding, as we do, to the preposterous hope that after 40 years of failing at it, we will persuade the people of Gaza to bring their own militants to heel. The Palestinians who fire Qassams, meanwhile, see them not as collective punishment but as legitimate self-defense, employed because they have no other alternative.

They are wrong. Dead wrong. And so are we.

Collective punishment is abhorrent. It is morally reprehensible. It is functionally self-defeating. It destroys the moral fiber of those who order it, practice it, countenance it, turn a blind eye to it.

This may explain why the victims of collective punishment may find themselves resorting to its use.

We are guilty of it. The Palestinians are guilty no less.

Crimes against humanity are crimes against humanity. The victims of crimes against humanity never "had it coming to them" as we might persuade ourselves to believe.

We're going to have to find some other way to stop Qassams. After an eternity in which both sides resist it, we may have to talk to Hamas, which can actually get the job done. In the meanwhile, it is time to think long and hard about what we gain and what we lose by practicing collective punishment in Gaza.

The Israeli airwaves have been awash in recent days with learned, intelligent people arguing that no one who has a healthy mind supplies his enemies with the tools and the fuels of war. Their point is understandable. But it assumes that there is logic to this conflict. It assumes that the target of Palestinian anger over collective punishment will be Hamas and not Israel.

It assumes that the world is ready to change its rotation.

It also assumes that the world is ready to accept collective punishment. God help us all when that happens.


Previous blogs:

Sharon, savior of the settler, killer of Palestine Mr. Bush, you were born to make peaceHere's to the '67 borders, the new middle of the road Hamas - If we can kill them, we can talk to themSelf Test: Are you a fanatic on the Middle East?