The Israeli reaction to the disappearance, and most probable kidnapping, of three Israeli teenagers reveals once again a worn-out, failed deterrence policy that inflicts great pain and suffering by Israel on its supposed long-term neighbors.
Article 33 of the Geneva Convention (IV) specifically bans “collective punishment” by an occupying power to the people under its occupation, precisely because such punishment is aimed at “intimidating and terrorizing” innocent persons. The same article also considers revenge and pillage crimes of war.
Israel’s arrest dragnet has turned into a wide-ranging campaign that Israeli officials now admit are not connected directly to the search of the kidnappers. While prefacing his statements with words about finding the missing Israelis, Israeli Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon made it very clear that the aim of the detention campaign was to weaken the Islamic Hamas movement. Speaking to reporters, Ya’alon said that the heads of Hamas “are feeling the hits.”
Palestinians in as far away as Nablus and Jenin have been targeted. Three Palestinians have been killed since the announcement on June 12 that three teenagers were allegedly kidnapped. A complete travel ban was slapped on Hebron, the West Bank’s largest populated district, and hundreds have been arrested, homes pillaged, travel even between Hebron and Ramallah barred for Hebron residents. The home of the family of a Palestinian leader living abroad was demolished without cause, proof or direct responsibility. The Arab American University in Jenin and Bir Zeit University near Ramallah were raided by Israeli troops. The centers of most major Palestinian cities were raided by the army, despite the Oslo Accord that considers these areas under total Palestinian security and administrative control.
Such brutal oppressive acts have little to do with trying to find the missing Israelis and much to do with the so-called Israeli strategic deterrence policy.
Strategic deterrence — defined as the inhibition of attack by a fear of punishment backed up by superior military power — has been part of the Israeli strategy for some time and has been regularly practiced against Israel’s northern Lebanese and southern Gaza neighbors.
The latest brutal attacks against an entire Palestinian population stems from this blind Israeli policy that only sows the seeds of hatred, anger and frustration. While such brutality and punishment of the innocent might have temporary results, it's unlikely to stop Palestinian demands for the end of the occupation and the exit of a hostile settler population that has been rammed down Palestinian throats.
What makes the Israeli "strategic deterrence" unworkable is that it does not come as part of a comprehensive plan that has a political component. By refusing to deal with the moderate Palestinian leadership of Mahmoud Abbas, who has received a political bruising for wanting the safe return of the kidnapped, the Israelis are looking for a solely military solution to what is mostly a political conflict.
Some security strategists and just war theorists argue that there may be nothing morally objectionable about deterrence in cases where the lives and welfare of a civilian population are not directly affected. The threat of retaliation that underpins its strategic effectiveness remains implicit and hypothetical. However, when deterrence becomes indistinguishable from collective punishment, it is far less likely to achieve its intended result. What more is that every failed attempt at deterrence requires the party inflicting the pain to raise the dosage of pain to "theoretically" convince the other side to refrain from what they intend to do. Such policies can fail by the existence of a small dedicated and ideologically driven group that refuses to be deterred. In the process, an entire nation is punished for a crime it did not commit.
The international community must act quickly to force the Israelis to abandon this failed deterrence strategy and instead work on reaching an understanding that is built on a political plan to resolve the conflict. Sowing the seeds of hatred under the guise of a deterrence policy seems counterintuitive if you are dealing with a population that is living within you, and that you intend to have a long-term peaceful relationship with.
The current relationship is more of a colonial one attempting to force the other side into total submission, hardly an effective policy by a country whose representative has just been elected as the deputy head of the UN’s decolonization committee.