The announcement by Israel’s Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories that Israelis will be barred from entering the West Bank city of Jenin – one of a series of restrictions decided on by Defense Minister Benny Gantz following the recent terror attacks – is a mortal economic blow that constitutes collective punishment of an entire city.
The city of Jenin and its environs serve as a major shopping area for thousands of families from Israel’s Arab community. Arab citizens of Israel who come to Jenin to do their shopping account for more than 70 percent of the city’s retail turnover.
Due to the ban on Israelis entering Jenin, merchants may well have to throw out merchandise worth millions of shekels. “In the runup to Ramadan, the city’s merchants stocked up on food, furniture and any wares considered relevant to the holiday, so the entry ban is a serious blow to them,” explained Amar Abu Bakr, a member of the city’s chamber of commerce (Jack Khoury, April 10, 2022).
The Israeli claim that closing the city is a localized measure imposed due to fear that Jenin and its refugee camp have become a base for launching attacks deep inside Israel cannot justify such a sweeping decision that will paralyze the city economically. The closure doesn’t distinguish between the refugee camp and the city itself. Israel has chosen the easy path of an economic shutdown on the assumption that such punishment will put pressure on young men with arms and bring calm.
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But this policy has been proven useless in the past. On the contrary, for many young men, the city’s numerous shops and businesses provide both an income and a way to occupy their time; consequently, they may find themselves wandering around with nothing to do. This fact, alongside the ongoing arrests and raids that are taking place in the refugee camp night and day, will only increase the anger and frustration, providing fertile soil for violence.
Israel has every right to protect itself, and it has the necessary security, intelligence and technological resources to carry out arrests, tighten supervision of the border crossings, deploy security personnel in its own territory and track the movements of suspicious cars and people.
But the government and the defense establishment have instead embraced an act of collective punishment, and as a result, thousands of merchants and small businesses in Jenin find themselves with nothing to do during the month of Ramadan. And that’s happening on the heels of two years of coping with the coronavirus.
The Israeli decision to close off Jenin won’t contribute to Israel’s security. The ongoing repression and collective punishments won’t cause those young men to lay down their weapons. These steps will only intensify the enmity and curtail any chance of discussing a diplomatic horizon – something many ministers in this “government of change,” including Gantz, have supported ever since the government was formed.
Leaders are judged by their long-term strategic decisions, not by acts of vengeance and collective punishment designed to stem public criticism.
The above article is Haaretz's lead editorial, as published in the Hebrew and English newspapers in Israel.