Collective Punishment: The Opium of the Occupier

Issue section: 
Issue: 
(286)

It was confirmed recently that US military commanders travelled to Israel In January this year to learn about urban warfare from the Israeli Defence Force (IDF).

A US general confirmed the visit had taken place in the US forces magazine Army. Discussing the visit with Reuters, Harvey Perritt, a spokesman for US training and command, said, 'There is a fair amount of military intellectual discussion that goes on between the US army and the IDF.'

The lessons learned from the IDF were quickly put into practice in Iraq. In November last year US marines wrapped the Iraqi village of Abu Hishma in razor wire after repeated attacks on coalition soldiers. They set up a checkpoint and forced civilians to line up to go in and out, each carrying an identification card printed in English only. In January this year US forces operating near Samarra destroyed the house of Taleb Saleh. Witnesses told the Associated Press (AP) that Saleh was suspected of orchestrating attacks on US forces. The AP also reported that troops arrested Saleh's wife and brother, saying they would only be released when Saleh surrendered. The detention of close relatives for the purpose of prompting the surrender of a wanted person is banned under the Geneva Conventions - defined as hostage-taking, it's a war crime. In April a US defence official told Reuters, 'We don't do kidnapping. We are arresting relatives if it becomes known that they are coordinating with those high-value targets that we are seeking, or if they have information where fugitives are hiding out.'

Amnesty International reports that hundreds of Iraqi civilians have died as the result of excessive force by coalition forces, or during violent house searches in which property was looted and damaged. More than 8,000 detainees, including women and teenagers, are held without charge or trial and without access to lawyers or their families. The fear is that the holy city of Najaf will be next in the sights of the US heavy artillery. With echoes of the Israeli assassinations of Hamas leaders Sheikh Ahmed Yassin and Abdel-Aziz al-Rantissi, US officials are sworn to enter Najaf and capture or kill the cleric Muqtada Al Sadr. And Al Sadr's crime? He called for direct elections in Iraq and an end to occupation. He called for freedom and democracy.

In Israel, when a Palestinian blows up a bus or cafe, the IDF goes looking for the bomber's family. When they find the family's house, they call in a bulldozer, the house is demolished and plantations are ripped from the ground, family members are taken away and imprisoned. Yet the experience of the Occupied Territories demonstrates that collective punishment only serves to perpetuate the cycle of violence. It's terrorism with a different name. And every demolition, every killing of a child or disappearance of a brother, gives birth to another resistance fighter.

Even senior Likudniks and IDF generals have publicly acknowledged the futility of retribution as a strategy for war, but they cannot give it up. It's an obsession, an addiction. The opium of the occupier.