It is time to end the Occupation, not take revenge

If the murders of teenagers on both sides of the deadly dispute over Palestine doesn't spur the international community to force an end to the unlawful occupation, what on earth will?  

The justice that is sought following the abduction and murder of three teenage Israeli settlers will not be found in retribution.

The justice for the teenage Palestinian abducted and murdered in an apparent revenge attack will not be found in more abductions or murders.

The justice for the 11 Palestinians killed in the brutal Israeli Defense Forces crack down on the Occupied Territories under the guise of a search for the Israeli boys will most likely never even be considered.

But all together they need to be condemned in the strongest terms and addressed according to law - not barbaric revenge.

Difficult requirements within the context of a never-ending unlawful occupation which surely by now has proven that repression, oppression and collective punishment of those who are occupied doesn’t make them compliant, doesn’t make them respect their occupier and certainly doesn’t entice them to give up their struggle and vacate what is left of their land.

So with that as a background, why would Israeli leaders begin to fantasize openly about the retribution for their own who were murdered?

Some Israeli leaders believe the best lesson for the Palestinians is to build more settlements in the names of the murdered teenagers.

Economy Minister Naftali Bennet wants a “proper Zionist response”which is now not even code for taking more Palestinian land and building more illegal settlements.

Others think re-occupying Gaza to annihilate Hamas is the answer.

Already the IDF has arbitrarily arrested and detained hundreds of Palestinians, raided more than a thousand homes and demolished the homes belonging to the families of two Palestinian men they are accusing of the abduction and murders.

So much for a fair trial, verdict, sentencing, appeal and all those other pesky aspects of legal process which Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu keeps telling the world Israel as a democracy adheres to.

Somehow it is difficult to imagine the collective punishment actions of the Israeli government being countenanced in any other part of the supposedly civilized world which, by the way, Israel claims to be the beacon of hope for in the Middle East.

If your son or brother is suspected of a hideous crime do you then meekly accept the army comes in and blows up your family home and/or the homes of your extended family?

Of course not.

In the real world such a concept is outrageous.

But Palestinians do not live in a real world with real world rights.

So is it any wonder the streets of East Jerusalem are on fire and filled with stones - the weapons of Palestinian youth?

No. Again, of course not, because what else can they do if they have no connection to or responsibility for the crime for which they are being collectively punished?

Any time settlers exact revenge in killings or ‘price tag’ destruction of Palestinian property - particular defacing mosques and burning precious olive trees - more than 90 percent of the complaints are not even investigated. 

The principle of proportionality is abandoned when it comes to punishment of Palestinians - think back to the 400 Gazans killed and the destruction of infrastructure, government offices, civilian property and private homes when Hamas kidnapped Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit in 2006.

Or the month long war with Hizbollah soon after which left 1,200 Lebanese dead, 165 Israelis dead, and no ‘winner’ as the Israeli hostages were killed by Hizbollah.

Those who drafted the 1949 Geneva Convention outlawed collective punishment in Article 33 of the GC1V based on the reprisal killings and other atrocities the Nazis had carried out against entire villages for the resistance activities of people from those villages.

The article still stands as a tenet of international law to be adhered to by UN member states.

Ironically Israel is a member of the UN, and adamant that Palestine be blocked from such membership.

Tensions are dangerously high - as they have been in the past for sure, but there’s something uglier about this situation.

Targeting innocent children anywhere in the world indicates a whole new level of callousness - on both sides.

The Israeli yeshiva students were the children of illegal settlers, not yet of an age to make the choice of whether they, like their parents, will also live on Palestinian lands.

The Palestinian teen murdered in apparent reprisal was innocent of any role in their abduction. Netanyahu called this murder reprehensible and promised an investigation. (An unusual response given 1400 Palestinian kids have been killed by Israeli forces and settlers since 2003). 

The other Palestinians were murdered during the IDF’s all guns blazing search for the settler teenagers.

The ball now lies in the courts of the two governments which have so far proven inept at peacemaking for various reasons.

Palestinian President Abbas has to somehow find the kudos to convince Palestinians that this is not a trigger for a third Intifada.

More importantly, the government with all the guns and the power has to take a deep breath and start to operate as the democracy it claims to be.

This will be difficult indeed for Netanyahu because he has a juggling act few would envy.

The abduction and murders of the three youths has united Israelis and they are demanding revenge.

But governments are not supposed to be in the business of revenge - even though that’s exactly what the dominant right wing of Netanyahu’s coalition is also seeking.

Netanyahu has, like an emperor, ruled that Hamas is responsible and Hamas will pay.

Hamas may be responsible but that is not the point and Netanyahu has to pull back on the rhetoric and adhere to law.

Civilized people only remain civilized when they resist descending to the depths of the barbaric amongst or against them.

Every perpetrator in these latest tragedies needs to be brought to justice and that can not be found in the collective punishment of all Palestinians.

In a recent research project on the occupation of Palestine I used a quote from a Palestinian suicide bomber who was caught before he carried out his mission. I have included it here because it is such a graphic illustration of the hopelessness of life under the total control of an occupying force - even the simple act of controlling the timing of your own death becomes a form of resistance. There is no Stockholm Syndrome to be found in this occupation.

“Not a single living creature dared walk the streets. Soldiers fired at everyone, even at those who just stepped into their gardens. I peeked out through the window and suddenly I saw a dog wandering freely in the street. The soldiers didn’t arrest it or shoot at it. At that moment I thought, either I live a life that is less than the life of this dog, or I die as a shahid” (variously witness; always alive; or one who killed in the name of God). 

If ever it was time for international pressure - not farcical ‘peace negotiations - to end this occupation it is now.