Israeli treatment of Arabs under fire
The Israeli government's new "hard-hand" policy to combat increased unrest in the occupied Palestinian West Bank, a policy that includes the use of collective punishment, has hit an unanticipated obstacle -- Israel's democratic institutions.Skip to next paragraph
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Recently the Israeli High Court of Justice ordered the government to show cause why it should not allow the return of two elected Arab West Bank mayors and a religious figure deported after the murder of six Israelis in Herbon on May 2. The three Arabs were not accused of the crime, and the court indicated they had been denied their legal right to appeal the expulsion order.
Criticism by the Israeli and foreign press, as well as the expectation that the High Court would rule against the government, led the Israeli military government of the West Bank to permit the return home of two families who had been exiled internally to a barren, deserted desert refugee camp because a son in each family allegedly had thrown stones at an Israeli military vehicle.
The Jerusalem Post, editorializing about one of the cases, said: "Had this taken place in Kabul [Afghanistan] . . . the young culprits would have been summarily executed. . . . and the entire families would have been lucky to be merely exiled. . . .
"But Israel is not the Soviet Union, and the West Bank is not Afghanistan, despite allegations to the contrary by a number of countries. . . ."
This week five opposition members of the Knesset (none of them from the Labor Party mainstream) instigated a debate on "collective and neighborhood punishment on the West Bank." And the prestigious Association for Civil Rights in Israel, a nonpartisan group of lawyers and professionals, this week called a press conference "because of the increasing number of rash measures" it felt Israeli authorities were taking in the territories.
This included collective punishment of families or whole towns, blowing up of houses, and deportation, which the association spokesman said often violate the rule of law and civil rights.
Nonetheless, the hard-hand policy is still on. Some government leaders, notably Agriculture Minister Ariel Sharon, want far tougher measures.
The government is worried by the seemingly uncontrollable wave of stone- and firebomb-throwing by Palestinian youths in recent weeks, which makes West Bank roads unsafe for Israeli military vehicles and civilian Israeli settler traffic. They are further disturbed by the degree of organization apparent in the Palestinian attack in Hebron on May 2, which presages a more serious local Palestinian threat in the future. Nearly a month later, the culprits remain uncaught.
Israeli security forces in the West Bank believe there is increasing adult organization behind youthful stone throwers. If arresting individual youths cannot cure the phenomenon, then they believe that measures must be taken against parents, or the community from which the youths come.
A high Israeli military source recently explained to foreign journalists that collective punishment was necessary in patriarchal Arab communities in order to force parents and the community to suppress further attacks by their children.