When history should be remembered

An eminently sensible editorial from Lebanon’s Daily Star newspaper this week:

The drama that unfolded during the demolition of a Palestinian house in East Jerusalem on Tuesday aptly illustrates the futility of Israel’s renewed policy of destroying the family homes of Palestinian attackers. The Israeli supreme court had ordered police to tear down part of the family home of Husam Dweiyat, who last year went on a rampage with a construction vehicle, killing three people and wounding dozens of others before police and passersby shot him dead. The decision meant that Dweiyat’s parents were required to pay the price of their son’s sins, despite the fact that another Israeli court had in 2000 found the young man to be mentally ill, according to the family lawyer.

But as soon as Israeli officers arrived at the scene on Tuesday to carry out the order, which was said to be aimed at deterring future attacks, a Palestinian motorist tried to run them over with his vehicle and dozens of angry residents began pelting them with stones.

The lesson that ought to be drawn from this tragedy is that demolishing the family homes of criminals will not deter criminal behavior. One could even argue that such backward forms of punishment provoke further criminality.

The medieval mindset behind such punitive home demolitions is all the more obvious when the same logic is applied to other types of crimes. Why don’t we hold all families accountable for their relatives’ wrongdoings? Make former Premier Ehud Olmert’s children pay a hefty fine if their father is found guilty of accepting bribes and engaging in other forms of corruption. Force former Israeli President Moshe Katsav’s wife to wear a scarlet letter if her husband is convicted of rape and sexual harassment. Revoke President Barack Obama’s citizenship because his Kenyan aunt overstayed her VISA in the United States. Does this seem reasonable?

Of course, none of these suggested measures would curb corruption, rape or illegal immigration. And neither has Israel’s policy of tearing down the family homes of attackers reduced the number of attacks inside the Jewish state. These and other methods of collective punishment have been deployed in Gaza, the West Bank, Lebanon and the Golan for decades without any measurable benefit to Israel, and with plenty of adverse effect. It’s time to abandon them.

A better way to reduce the number of attacks in Israel would be to vigorously pursue a negotiated peace treaty with the Palestinians. As Obama told students in Turkey on Tuesday, we already have a sense of the compromises that will need to be made to achieve peace. All that’s absent is the political will to do so.

Text and images ©2024 Antony Loewenstein. All rights reserved.

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