Israel's especially cruel sanction
The Bush administration is weighing Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's request to break all ties - and end all American aid - to Yasser Arafat's Palestinian Authority.Skip to next paragraph
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Washington should also consider the especially cruel nature of Israeli punishments and reprisals - as well as Arab terrorism and resistance to Israeli occupation that lead to these reprisals.
One form of Israeli punishment is the destruction of Muslim and Christian Arab homes with explosives and bulldozers. During the Palestine Mandate, before Israel's creation in 1948, British military administrators used this weapon against Jews and Arabs - though most often against Arabs, accused or suspected of anti-British terrorism.
This odious practice - banned by the Fourth Geneva Convention on the conduct of foreign military occupation - has continued, both in areas under Israeli control and in others temporarily conquered by Israeli forces, as in Syria (in 1967 and 1973-74) and south Lebanon and Beirut's Palestinian outskirts (between 1978 and the Israeli withdrawal in May 2000). I have watched it happen repeatedly since 1965.
Israel's recent air and ground attacks against Palestinians in both the occupied and Palestinian-administered autonomous West Bank and Gaza territories have included this form of punishment. In response to Arab suicide bombings and other attacks, the Israeli Army most recently blasted a strip of homes along the Gaza border with Egypt.
Mr. Sharon's spokesmen insist the houses were "mostly uninhabited." Some, they say, concealed tunnels used for smuggling arms from Egypt. UN and relief agencies report hundreds of newly homeless people as a result.
In mid-January, several large, new houses were blown up and bulldozed with little or no warning in or near ethnically Arab East Jerusalem.
Justification: The houses were "illegal" because the owners had obtained no Israeli building permits. The trouble is, no matter how long a Christian or Muslim Arab and his family have lived in East Jerusalem, which Israel wrested from Jordan in 1967 and then formally annexed, they are, in more than 90 percent of cases, refused a building permit when they apply.
The purpose, as many Jewish observers have said, is simply to further the "Judaization" or Israeli settlement of formerly Arab areas. One consequence is that peaceable people decide to resist the occupation, join the Palestinian intifada - and yes, many of the younger men and some women do become terrorists.
Repeatedly, they begin using guns and bombs against the occupying army and against the Jewish settlers who have encroached on their land, water wells, or have - especially in 1948 and 1967 - taken over their (undamaged) houses.
Between 1920 and Israel's founding, the British authorities continued what had been a rarer pre-World War I Ottoman Turkish practice. Moshe Sharett, an early Israeli statesman sympathetic to the Palestinian plight, described how during the Arab revolt against the British between 1936 and 1940, the British Army drove out villagers and then destroyed their homes, as part of the "counterterrorist" campaign.