What part of bombing a kindergarten is OK?
Don't answer right away. Take a moment.
This week, when a mortar shell fired from Gaza slammed into the yard of a border-area Israeli kindergarten just before the children and staff were to arrive, the answers to the question came fast and furious.
Among other answers: The Israeli kindergarten is reinforced against attack, as opposed to the much more vulnerable construction of Gaza schools, one of which was hit by an Israeli attack later in the day. Or, the rockets and mortars fired at Israel by Hamas, the Islamic Jihad and others in Gaza are largely ineffectual weapons, as opposed to the deadly, state of the art munitions employed by Israel.
- Barrage of 28 mortars fired from Gaza to Israel; kindergarten's yard hit
- 'Unacceptable to fire at civilian communities': UN, EU condemn attacks on Israel from Gaza
- Live updates: Why Israel agreed to Hamas' request to end fighting
So, let me now ask the question again, this time with a different answer.
What part of bombing a kindergarten is okay? No part.
Or to put it differently: Collective punishment is immoral. Period.
Collective punishment is immoral no matter who carries it out. Us or them. It's immoral no matter what form it takes, indiscriminate shelling or gratuitously injurious siege, terrorism or oppression. No matter the justification.
Are you not sick to death of the same rotted-out arguments? Which, for the leaders and publicists of both sides, too often go as follows:
They, over there, deserve everything they get, because they're all animals who want only to take over our land and to see us dead.
And their kids are going to grow up to be just like them: murderous.
Collective punishment says both statements are true.
And it's in the direct interest of the leaders of each side that you believe it to be true of the other. It's a lot easier to bomb a kindergarten, after all, when the children and staff are abstractions, just one more tentacle of the hateful enemy.
So let me answer the question in yet another way.
Many of the bravest, most decent, most humane, most peace-loving people I know, live in the kibbutzim that line the area called Otef Aza, bordering the Gaza Strip.
These are people who have maintained contacts with Palestinian neighbors in Gaza, despite risks and the displeasure of the government. These are people who volunteer to drive Gazans to receive treatment in medical centers in Israel. These are people who beseech the government to concentrate seriously on diplomacy rather than exclusively on war.
They do not deserve to have their fields torched and their crops destroyed, any more than Palestinian farmers in the West Bank deserve to have their vineyards slashed to sticks, their olive orchards uprooted, their sheep flocks attacked by dogs.
Collective punishment, it turns out, is a communicable disease. And anyone who so chooses, can find a way to spread it around.
In wartime for us, all the time for them, collective punishment holds millions hostage, unable to live anything resembling normal lives.
And yet, there are people in its path who seek a peaceable, just solution to an impossible reality. In Gaza, large numbers of people organized earlier this year to hold non-violent - truly non-violent protests - near the border.
Yes, their protests were hijacked by Hamas, followed by the mortars and rockets of the Islamic Jihad. But, there too, a seed has been planted. Not by leaders. From the ground up.
We have terrible leaders, both sides. When leaders are too insecure and too power-zealous and too exploitative and too weak-kneed and too callous to even consider compromise, they may find collective punishment to have special appeal.
At this point, for people who truly want to see a workable solution of a shared Holy Land, the very statements of our ultra-maximalist leaders constitute a form of collective punishment.
They go especially well with incitement, hate-mongering, and demonizing whole populations, as a substitute for actually making your own people's lives better.
Maybe the next generation will be better at this – at seeing that their parents and grandparents were idiots.
I'm reminded of a piece of graffiti on an alleyway in my neighborhood. I have no way of knowing if it was written by an Arab or a Jew. Or maybe someone from abroad passing through:
"I LOVE THE PLACE THAT I LIVE," it reads. "BUT I HATE THE PEOPLE IN CHARGE."