Editorial

The Cruelty of Israel's Defense Minister

Collective punishment has never been proven as an effective deterrent of additional terror attacks. On the contrary: It usually only fuels the violence

Israeli Border Police officers stand guard as Palestinians wait to cross through the Qalandiyah checkpoint, June 2016.
Israeli Border Police officers stand guard as Palestinians wait to cross through the Qalandiyah checkpoint, June 2016. Mohamad Torokman/Reuters

Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman’s decision to impose a general closure on the West Bank from the eve of Sukkot on Wednesday until the following Saturday night, 11 days, is a belligerent and disproportionate reaction to the terror attack in Har Adar – even for Lieberman, a belligerent person without a sense of proportion.

As we know, the defense minister favors selective collective punishment. As a fan of the carrot and stick approach, he believes that we should distinguish between “good” and “bad” Palestinians. Israel should punish villages from which terrorists emerge, and reward villages and areas where security quiet is maintained with economic benefits and infrastructure. However, to indiscriminately impose collective punishment on all the residents of the West Bank, is a cruel and disproportionate step, even for him.

The length and scope of the closure are blatant in their severity, even against the backdrop of the belligerent declaration of the prime minister. Benjamin Netanyahu said at the cabinet meeting last week that in response to the attack, the terrorist’s home would be demolished, a siege would be imposed on his home village of Beit Sourik, and his extended family would lose their Israeli work permits. It’s a far cry from that to the punishment that will ultimately be imposed on all the Palestinians.

After the attack, Police Commissioner Roni Alsheich said that the police had yet to decide on what steps to take regarding Palestinian workers, but made it clear that “many workers work with a permit within the Green Line, it’s a fabric of life. We won’t make extreme decisions.” Alsheich’s description is correct: Many residents of villages near Har Adar work there, and there is a high level of trust between the Israelis and the Palestinians. The case of a Palestinian with an Israeli work permit carrying out an attack has been a rare occurrence in the past two years. So what’s the explanation for the extreme decision to impose an 11-day closure on all the territories?

The basic position of the defense establishment is that Palestinians who work within the boundaries of the Green Line and the settlements help calm the security situation since they almost entirely eschew terror attacks. In light of this traditional view, it is surprising that all the establishment groups, including the Israel Defense Forces, which usually presents a relatively moderate policy as compared to the belligerent one led by the political leadership, were party to the recommendation for the long, general closure.

Collective punishment is immoral and illegal. Nor has it ever been proven in its effectiveness as a deterrent that prevents additional terror attacks. On the contrary: It usually only fuels the violence. Israel must not allow public feelings of anger and the desire for revenge, for which populist politicians are the mouthpiece, to dictate a cruel and futile policy.

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