Yes — and it is one of the stupidest of Israel’s many ill-conceived tactics for managing its conflict with Hamas. In weeks past, Israel reduced fuel shipments to Gaza, closed down crossing points, and over the weekend it reduced (by only one percent) the electricity it supplies. Are the people of Gaza themselves deeply implicated in the rocket war? Of course they are–huge numbers of them have nurtured, supported, voted, and cheered for Hamas. In large part, they are getting what they deserve. But making them suffer is still a counterproductive strategy. Here are a few reasons why:
1. Collective punishment has done nothing to stop the rocket fire, which in fact has significantly worsened in recent months.
2. The Hamas leadership is immune to the suffering of its people, and will not change its policies because of Israeli manipulation of that suffering. Ismail Haniyeh and his gangsters have repeatedly demonstrated that they couldn’t care less whether the people of Gaza are forced to wade through raw sewage because of the rocket war.
3. Squeezing the residents of Gaza does not administer the intended political lesson, which is to demonstrate to Palestinians that violence causes suffering, while diplomacy creates opportunity. Unfortunately Gaza and the West Bank are not home to a political culture that is receptive to this kind of message; large numbers of Palestinians continue to rally around those leaders who they see taking the fight to Israel.
4. It absolves Palestinians from having to consider the idea that their own leaders are the cause of their misery. Israel has once again given Palestinians ample evidence for continuing to believe in the sanctity of their own victimhood.
5. It creates not just condemnatory press coverage of Israel, but coverage that helpfully crowds out stories that might focus on Hamas’ belligerence and malfeasance.
6. It causes foreign governments, including even the United States, to warn and criticize Israel — statements that occupy the headlines, in place of stories about Hamas’ aggression or Israel’s more legitimate acts of retaliation.
7. Collective punishment shifts the narrative of the conflict — journalists are only too eager to help — from one in which Israel has been forced to respond to Hamas’ implacable terrorism to one in which Israel is punishing the imprisoned residents of Gaza, starving and humiliating them over something they cannot control. Narratives are vitally important in this conflict, and just as in Lebanon two summers ago, Israel is losing the battle over the narrative.
8. It inverts culpability for the conflict, allowing the political leaders who prosecute the rocket war to remain in power (and remain alive), while the people suffering under that leadership bear the brunt of Israel’s retribution.
Not a bad job, even by Israel’s typically high standards of ineptitude.
None of this is to say that Israel should not get out of the business of supplying utilities, food, and water to Gaza as quickly as humanly possible. It just means that Israel should develop a more productive and morally pure means of doing so.
That would involve the announcement of a date on which Israel will cease non-military contact with the Gaza Strip: no more humanitarian shipments, electricity, water, etc. Give fair warning, whether it’s six months or a year away, so that Hamas and its international saviors cannot claim that Israel has sprung a cruel surprise on them. Give the UN, EU, and Iran time to collaborate on power and desalination plants for Hamas if they like–but nothing should prevent Israel from sticking to its deadline, the day when the disengagement will be completed and the mismanagement of Gaza will fall entirely to Hamas.
In the meantime, the entire Hamas political leadership should go to the top of Israel’s targeted killings list. It’s long past time that the war was taken to the people who are most directly responsible for prosecuting it.