Week 31: Collective Punishment

Adopted in August of 1949, the Fourth Geneva Convention (more properly called the Geneva Convention relative to the Protection of Civilian Persons in Time of War) was the first to address the rights and needs of civilians in war zones, both during conflict and in its wake. Here at the start of August, the Kumi Now community looks at how the Fourth Geneva Convention outlawed collective punishment and how Israeli forces use collective punishment against families, communities, and Palestinians as a whole. Here’s what you need to know about collective punishment and what you can do so that together we can rise up.

Topic: Collective Punishment

Given the tragic history of the use of collective punishment around the globe, when the world came together following World War II in the Fourth Geneva Convention, it was a monumental step when Article 33 of the Fourth Geneva Convention stated: 

“No protected person may be punished for an offense he or she has not personally committed. Collective penalties and likewise all measures of intimidation or of terrorism are prohibited.

Pillage is prohibited.

Reprisals against protected persons and their property are prohibited.”

As such, international law is clear: collective punishment is both immoral and illegal. And yet, Israel has made collective punishments key components of their policies towards Palestine for decades and have gotten away with it, with little more than the occasional wag of the finger from the international community. For example, thousands of Palestinians were expelled from Gaza following the 1967 war, while hundreds of homes were destroyed and thousands more expelled from the Rafah area in 1971.

Gaza continues to be the site of the most drastic form of collective punishment meted out by Israel, as the entire region, including over 1.8 million civilians, is kept in perpetual lockdown and fear, all to punish Hamas and those who fire rockets at Israel. We address the issue of Gaza and the effects of the blockade in other chapters (see Week 13 and Week 38). Here, let us just point out that the International Committee of the Red Cross, an organization that, due to the nature of its work, usually maintains a neutral stance in conflicts, took the extraordinary step in 2010 to criticize the blockade of Gaza: “The whole of Gaza’s civilian population is being punished for acts for which they bear no responsibility. The closure therefore constitutes a collective punishment imposed in clear violation of Israel’s obligations under international humanitarian law.”

Defense for Children International Palestine highlights the effects this collective punishment has on children, arguing, “Displaced Gazan children are exposed to nearly every kind of human rights risk, including poor water and sanitation conditions, weather-related risks, psychological distress, and in some cases, death … For children in Gaza, survival itself is a challenge. Until we hold Israeli authorities accountable and demand an end to Israel’s collective punishment against Palestinians, these children will suffer grave violations of their basic rights to life, safety, health, and childhood.” 

These conclusions are based on the findings of various United Nations agencies in addition to DCIP’s own report, “Operation Protective Edge: A War Waged On Gaza’s Children.” That report goes far beyond documenting just collective punishment against the children of Gaza, but all human rights abuses, arguing that “Israeli armed forces have been regularly implicated in serious, systematic and institutionalized human rights violations against Palestinian children living in the Occupied Palestinian Territory (oPt).” These abuses, whether classified as collective punishment or other human rights abuses against children, include: well documented indiscriminate attacks against families that kill children, the use of drone strikes to kill children, and direct attacks on schools harboring children and families seeking shelter. 

The United Nations, aid agencies, and journalists have documented a number of other Israeli policies that may be considered collective punishment under international law. These include:

Home demolitions: B’Tselem tracks home demolitions, and distinguishes which demolitions are for building permit violations and which are punitive acts, punishing the family and friends of the accused, and thus constituting collective punishment under international law. B’Tselem concludes that “Over the years, Israel has demolished hundreds of houses as part of this policy, leaving thousands of Palestinians homeless. The policy of punitive house demolition is, by definition, meant to harm people who have done nothing wrong and are suspected of no wrongdoing, but are related to Palestinians who attacked or attempted to attack Israeli civilians or security forces. In almost all cases, the individual who carried out the attack or planned to do so no longer lives in the house, as they were killed by Israeli security forces during the attack or were arrested and face a long prison sentence in Israel … This policy constitutes collective punishment, which is prohibited and violates binding provisions of international law. This is not a complicated, theoretical legal principle but a matter of basic morality: Punishing innocents for the sins of others is unconscionable.”

The Nakba Law: This law punishes groups and organizations that acknowledge the Nakba, falsely punishing people for their opinions and exercising freedom of speech, lumping these legitimate and legal voices in with those that have actually committed crimes against the state, and thus punishing these people for the crimes of others.

Forcible Transfers: In addition to the previously mentioned large-scale forced transfers, individuals and families are also forcibly transferred, often following the demolitions of their homes. These forced transfers usually take the form of revocations of residency permits for the family members of accused criminals, forcing them out of Jerusalem, and stripping them of benefits they are entitled to. Israel has blatantly acknowledged the collective nature of this punishment: “From now on anyone who plots, plans, or considers carrying out an attack will know that his family will pay a heavy price for his deed.” The IMEMC documents a number of such cases in their article “The Escalation of Israeli Collective Punishment of Palestinians.” One such case is that of “Fadi Qunbar, who was accused of committing a car attack in July 2017. (Minister of the Interior) Deri revoked the permanent residency status of Qunbar’s 61-year-old mother in addition to 11 family unification permits held by his extended family. Among the 11 individuals to lose their right to live in Jerusalem was the husband of the daughter of Qunbar’s half-sister. The expansive scope of Deri’s application of the law marked a clear extension in the reach of punitive residency revocation.”

Cancelling Entry Permits: In 2016, following a gun attack in Tel Aviv, Israel cancelled permits that would have allowed 83,000 Palestinians to visit relatives in Israel during the month of Ramadan. A UNHCR representative protested the cancellations “which may amount to prohibited collective punishment and will only increase the sense of injustice and frustration felt by Palestinians in this very tense time.”

Night Raids: Like most of these tactics, the supposed purpose of night raids and teargas is for security reasons. However, the line for each is easily crossed, with regular night raids used as a form of psychological punishment on entire communities. According to +972 Magazine, “the one common thread mentioned by the women who provided testimonies to WCLAC was a sense of terror … Perhaps the most devastating impact these raids have is on the children. Mothers report that their children have problems sleeping after experiencing a night raid. Some children become aggressive, others wet their beds. No one feels safe in the one place where safety should be assured.”

Tear Gas: Similarly, the constant exposure of some communities to tear gas is described in the report “No Safe Space: Health Consequences of Tear Gas Exposure Among Palestinian Refugees,” which found that 100% of residents in the Aida refugee camp were exposed to tear gas within the last year. The report concludes that “The unpredictability is especially noteworthy as it appears that the IOF raids are not always tied to specific incidents or events in the camps. The seemingly random nature of the IOF raids creates a state of hyper-arousal, fear and worry.” 

Looking at these different policies and case studies, the common elements become the psychological effects on the population, particularly on women, families, and children. And this is where, in the broad sense, the Israeli Occupation Force’s arguments justifying all of these policies on security grounds really break down: in an effort to ostensibly prevent individual acts of violence, the IOF itself is perpetually committing acts of violence against an entire population. 

Until Israel changes its stance regarding collective punishment and starts abiding by international law and treating Palestinian populations like human beings, it is up to the international community to put pressure on Israel to do so. However, given that Israel has pushed these policies for decades shows how ineffectual such effort has been until now. In fact, Israel has run a successful PR campaign, convincing too many for too long that its discriminatory policies are necessary for its security. Thus, it is critical that individuals and organizations around the world, through Kumi Now and otherwise, continue to bring light to Israel’s use of collective punishment.

Through the week, Kumi Now will publish essays and stories from different organizations further exploring and bringing light to how Israel uses collective punishment in its treatment of Palestinians.

Story: Al-Khatib’s mother

In 2015, 17 year-old Mustafa al-Khatib purportedly stabbed an Israeli soldier. Mustafa was killed in the attack. It was an awful story, but it did not end there. Lawfare tells the story of his mother, who was soon to find that Israel wanted to punish her for her son’s crime. 

According to Lawfare, his mother was from the West Bank and married Mustafa’s father, who was an Israeli permanent resident in 1996. She was granted a residency permit in 2001, and it was renewed annually. 

After the attack, Israeli officials decided to not renew her permit. They claimed that she was responsible for her son. 

However, it was clear that his mother did not assist, approve of, or know about the planned attack. Liron Libman writes that, “Notably, the tribunal dissected with scalpel-like precision the concept of ‘parental responsibility’ used by the Interior Ministry. No one disputes that parents have duties toward their children, the tribunal reasoned. But Israel’s penal law and torts law do not impose an absolute liability on parents for the deeds of their children. In this case, the ministry did not claim that the assailant had acted under the direction of his mother or with her encouragement. Nor did it suggest that the mother assisted in commission of the offense or gave tacit consent before or after the act. In other words, there was no submission that al-Khatib’s mother committed an offense herself.”

They did try to claim that there was a security issue involved, as, statistically, attackers were more likely to have relatives in Israel than do non-attackers. The logic is that, if the relatives of attackers are thus punished, it will thus discourage future attacks by others.

Thankfully, the tribunal saw the holes in this argument: the punishment was based on hypothetical possibilities, the revocation of a residency permit was unwarranted, and, most importantly, it was clear that the primary purpose was to punish her and not based on security considerations. 

Liron Libman analyzes in depth what is and is not collective punishment, and makes a distinction between collective punishment and collective harm, and concludes, “Invalidating the mother’s resident status was indeed a collective punishment and the appeals tribunal’s decision to overturn was correct. While collective harm may be justified in some circumstances, collective punishment should never be allowed:  one person’s rights should not be taken hostage to influence the behavior of others.”

HaMoked, which argued the case, declared at the time that the Israeli Appeals Tribunal had struck “down a new form of collective punishment” and that, “The Court ruled that the decision to cease the family unification process of the mother, who is originally from the West Bank and has been living in Jerusalem since 1996, is illegal in every possible way; the Ministry of Interior, the Court ruled, has no authority to decide to deport people living lawfully in East Jerusalem simply to punish them for someone else’s actions, even if those actions were committed by family members, so long as there is no concrete information that indicates the person herself is dangerous. Such deportation, according to the Court, constitutes wrongful collective punishment.”

In early 2019, the Jerusalem Court for Administrative Affairs rejected an appeal from the State, and upheld the decision of the Appeals Tribunal. Hopefully, this is a precedent-setting case that leads to other forms of collective punishment being outlawed in Israel.

Kumi Action

Is your local community supporting the occupation with your tax dollars? A major supplier of tear gas, and possibly other equipment, used in the occupation is Combined Systems. They have a long history with Israel, as documented by The Electronic Intifada in 2011. In addition to contributing to the terror of the occupation, the long-term effects of tear gas exposure are unknown.

Send a letter to your local police chief or sheriff asking, “Does your department purchase from Combined Systems (https://www.combinedsystems.com) or any other companies that profit from the Israeli occupation? Please cancel any contracts with these companies and refuse to do business with them in the future. I love my safe community and police officers, but I don’t want to  support the Israeli occupation.”

While it is good to send these messages directly to your police and sheriff departments, we can amplify the scrutiny of local law enforcement agencies by also making these messages public, tweeting your questions to them and posting these questions to their Facebook pages. Remember to tag your local agencies and include a link to this page of the Kumi Now website along with the hashtags #KumiNow and #Kumi31.

Literature: “In Valiant Fortitude” by Soraya Boyd

Unlawfully pincered between harsh collective punishment and base military aggression

The tear bedabbled faces of innocent children in constant lacrimation

Afforded no respite cling desperately to their progenitor for safety and protection

Incessantly tossed and trounced in a criminally virulent sphere

Innocent children lead daily lives carved in the deathly architecture of dread and fear

An ever impending Cast Lead or Pillar of Cloud peril looms near

With aggressive intimidation suffused by unremitting violence the customary norms

How can their young minds and tender hearts weather such darkly storms?

From “In Valiant Fortitude” by Soraya Boyd, the Founder and CEO of Facilitate Global. Published by Palestine Chronicle. Read the full poem at http://www.palestinechronicle.com/in-valiant-fortitude-a-poem/.

Additional Resources

Coming Soon

We have a YouTube playlist with videos about Collective Punishment.

Image Credits

Coming soon