By Ray Hanania
Israel is behind a slick and sleazy campaign to demonize the families of Palestinians accused of violence and terrorism against Israeli targets.
Many Palestinians accused of “terrorism” have never been convicted of such acts and are just killed on the spot. The term “terrorism” includes any form of violence by a Palestinian against an Israeli Jew. It does not include violence by Israeli Jews against Palestinians.
But because the accused often don’t make it to trial and are killed on the spot by heavily armed Israeli soldiers and settlers, the Israelis don’t get to celebrate in their wicked violence. So they have resorted to punishing the murdered suspect’s family, friends and relatives.
Israel engages in a policy of “collective punishment,” which is itself a form of terrorism that is intended to bully, oppress and frighten victims into submission. Collective punishment is banned under Article 33 of the Fourth Geneva Convention, which all real democratic countries embrace as a parameter of legitimate warfare but Israel argues is not applicable to the Occupied Territories.
The Israeli criteria for who is punished is loose and can include family members, relatives, neighbors and friends of the accused.
In response, the Palestinian Authority has established funds to support these innocent victims of Israeli terrorism and violence in the form of welfare payments. This compensation is intended to help the families who have been tossed out on the street and have had their properties destroyed so they can survive. They did nothing wrong and, even if the murdered suspects were guilty, there is no effort to provide evidence of collusion by family or friends in a court of law. Collective punishment presumes guilt by race and religion.
The demolition of homes belonging to the families of suspects is not just a punitive act, but also part of a larger Israeli policy to ethnically cleanse non-Jews from Palestinian lands it has confiscated. Since 1967, more than 50,000 civilian homes have been destroyed under this policy, including many in response to alleged cases of “terrorism.” Israel’s demolition policy is so significant that it has sparked the creation of a non-governmental organization called the Israeli Committee Against House Demolitions, which documents the destructions on its website.
Often, if such a property is located in Jerusalem, it is given to Israeli settlers, who in many cases are violent, heavily armed and who have killed Christians and Muslims with impunity.
Israel goes out of its way to avoid prosecuting Israelis who engage in violence and acts of terrorism against Palestinians. In fact, Israeli murderers are celebrated and their crimes covered up. By denying or withholding evidence, Israel prevents families of Palestinians murdered by Israelis from pursuing legal cases.
In those rare instances where evidence is obtained, Israel is forced to prosecute, resulting in minimal punishment and sentences; if sentences are even handed down by the courts at all.
There are dozens of cases where Israelis have engaged in terrorism and, when unable to avoid prosecution, have gone to court, been convicted and then had their prison sentences significantly reduced. One of the most recent involved Israeli soldier Elor Azaria after he murdered an incapacitated Palestinian, Abdel Fattah Al-Sharif, who was accused but never proven of engaging in violence against another Israeli soldier. Initially the Israeli soldiers denied Azaria killed Al-Sharif and he was almost never prosecuted. Fortunately, Azaria’s heinous act was captured on video by a courageous volunteer with B’Tselem, the Israeli human rights organization.
Azaria was sentenced to a light 18-month jail term for the killing, but this was quickly reduced and he was released after only nine months.
In contrast, Israel goes out of its way to punish Palestinians. Last year, 28- year-old Palestinian Fadi Al-Qanbar was accused of driving his truck into a crowd of Israelis, killing four of them. Al-Qanbar was immediately killed, rather than being apprehended for the crime.
Immediately, Israeli forces surrounded his East Jerusalem neighborhood, where he and others have been persecuted, oppressed and harassed by Israeli settlers. Al-Qanbar’s family was prevented from holding a wake of memorial for their son. Three of the accused’s brothers were arrested and jailed without judicial review or trial for months, and the Israelis destroyed their home.
In addition to destroying or confiscating the homes of family members, Israel is expanding its collective punishment to withholding the payment of taxes and fees it collects for the PA to offset the money the PA and its backers pay in welfare to relatives of accused offenders. Israel currently collects fees on nearly everything (customs, taxes, business taxes and more) and pays the money to the PA – although it often withholds payments for political reasons.
Israel falsely accuses Palestinians of making the payments as a benefit for violence against Israel, but they are really a form of welfare to protect Palestinians from Israel’s continued violence and injustices.
As Israel attempts to punish Palestinians further by attempting to block these payments, the Arab world should step up and increase funding for the victims of Israeli violence, oppression and injustice. It would also be a moral statement against the bias of large sections of the Western news media, which exaggerates violence by Palestinians while marginalizing or covering up violence by Israelis.