The fate of three Israeli teenagers, kidnapped last week by an unconfirmed entity in the West Bank, remains unknown, a deeply concerning truth that has refocused attention on the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. However, while their fate remains unknown, what is known is the fate of those Palestinians who have been killed, detained and shuttered with the Israeli military’s search for the missing teens transitioning into a collective punishment of an entire people.

Israeli troops raid Bethlehem as search for missing teenagers enters its eighth day (Credit: Creative Commons)

Since the IDF launched “Operation Brother’s Keeper” on June 12 to search for the missing teenagers, four Palestinian civilians have been killed, hundreds have been detained, and hundreds of thousands in the Hebron region have been confined to their homes. This in addition to over 1,600 sites in the West Bank which have been raided by soldiers, including Palestinian media, government offices and NGO headquarters.

The response has been so striking that the Obama administration has called for restraint, and human rights groups, including Rabbis for Human Rights and Amnesty International, have called upon Israel to cease what has clearly become a strategy of collective punishment which contravenes the Fourth Geneva Convention.

Despite these calls, Israeli officials are becoming explicit that Israel should collectively punish all Palestinians until the kidnapped teenagers are safely returned. Consider these words from Israel’s Deputy Defense Minister Danny Dannon:

“[Israel should] shut off the electricity in the West Bank and Gaza … In my opinion there is room for extensive actions against the civilian population. I am saying something harsh here, but I believe it.”

Rabbi Avihai Ronsky, the former Chief Rabbi of the IDF, wrote that both the Hebrew bible and modern history give precedents for the proper way to deal with the Palestinians.

And what are these precedents? The first is a biblical massacre from Genesis 34 in which Jacob’s sons, Simon and Levi, killed every male civilian in a tribal city after a local warlord raped their sister and then demanded her hand in marriage. The second precedent comes from World War II, per Ronsky’s words:

“Only with a sharp blow will we make it clear that Jewish blood is not cheap. [Just as with the massacre in Genesis 34], the same goes today: only by dropping an atomic bomb on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, which caused millions of deaths, did the U.S. bring an end to World War II.”

Such difficult words are being spoken at a time in which Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu is publicly fanning political flames by blaming Hamas for the kidnapping of the three Israeli teenagers, despite no evidence that such is the case and explicit denials from Hamas.

Some observers in Israel are worried that Netanyahu, rather than focusing exclusively on the return of three innocent teenagers, is using their disappearance to weaken and delegitimize the newly established Fatah-Hamas unity government and create rifts within Palestinian society.

Whatever the motivation, one thing is certain: innocent Palestinians are suffering mightily as Israel progresses with a military operation which is using, as one of its tactics, collective punishment.

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What Do You Buy For the Children
David Harris-Gershon is author of the memoir What Do You Buy the Children of the Terrorist Who Tried to Kill Your Wife?, published recently by Oneworld Publications.

Follow him on Twitter @David_EHG.


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