Collective Punishment Is the Wrong Response to Terrorism

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Mourners carry the body of Menahem Yehezkel, 67, during his funeral, in Beersheba, southern Israel, March 23, 2022.
Mourners carry the body of Menahem Yehezkel, 67, during his funeral, in Beersheba, southern Israel, March 23, 2022.Credit: AP Photo/Tsafrir Abayov

The terror attack in Be’er Sheva Tuesday in which Doris Yahbas, Moshe Krivitski, Menachem Menuhin Yehezkel and Laura Yitzhak were killed requires the defense establishment to check whether it was sleeping on the job. The assailant, Mohammed Abu al-Kiyan, an Israeli citizen, a Bedouin from Hura, was well-known to the defense establishment. He was released from prison after serving time for security offenses, he was identified as a supporter of the Islamic State organization and was even convicted of establishing a cell that planned to join the movement in Syria.

After his release from prison, Abu al-Kiyan was under the surveillance of the Shin Bet security service. How did the Shin Bet overlook his radicalization until he embarked on a massacre in Be’er Sheva? Even though the defense establishment knows that “people like him who are released from prison with Islamic State ideology have the greatest potential to become lone actor terrorists,” in the words of a senior defense official?

At the same time, the government must not be drawn into the right-wing sentiment that seeks to take a hard line with all Palestinians, including those with no connection to the attack or to Abu al-Kiyan. The calls for harsh treatment of Palestinians are calls for collective punishment. This is an offensive practice that also wrongly assumes that the Palestinians are a monolithic group, and there is no difference between those who live in the Gaza Strip and the West Bank and those who are Israeli citizens. All this, while relative calm prevails in the West Bank and the Strip.

There is no room for collective punishment, especially not during a religiously sensitive period – a few weeks before the month of Ramadan. Israel must act wisely and cautiously, and not do anything that will lead to a renewed escalation in the territories and in Israel’s mixed cities, as was the case during Operation Guardian of the Walls in May 2021.

Security sources emphasize that the Palestinian Authority and Hamas have an interest in making it through Ramadan safely: West Bank Muslims want to pray on the Temple Mount/Haram al-Sharif, and Gazans wants to continue working in Israel. Israel has increased the number of work permits for Gaza residents to 12,000, and is expected to gradually increase it further to 20,000. In both the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, people are well aware that praying in Jerusalem and working in Israel depend on keeping the peace.

It’s clear that domestic Islamist terrorism must be fought, and it’s clear that the people of Be’er Sheva deserve protection. But closures and a curfew on the Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza, as the right demands, will not achieve this. In the run-up to Ramadan, it is important to increase the police and army presence, but not to prevent Palestinians from the West Bank from reaching the Temple Mount to pray and not to stop the entry of workers from Gaza. Overly harsh measures in the territories will lead to the opposite of the desired result. They will only accelerate the escalation instead of stopping it, and decrease Israelis’ security instead of restoring it.

The above article is Haaretz's lead editorial, as published in the Hebrew and English newspapers in Israel.

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