NEW YORK – The decision by Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu’s government to demolish the family home of Abdelrahman al-Shaludi, a Palestinian who rammed his car into a group of pedestrians, killing two (including a three-month-old baby), was both callous and counterproductive. By punishing people whose only known offense was being related to a criminal, Israel inadvertently shifted the focus from the attack, the perpetrator of which was killed immediately after his crime, to Israel’s apparent embrace of a policy of collective punishment.
If Israel’s principal concern is deterring terrorist attacks, it should be doing everything in its power to ensure that such acts are universally condemned. This includes making sure that people who carry out attacks, and those who aid and abet their crimes, are lawfully punished.
Punishing terrorists’ families and neighbors, or those who share their ethnic and religious identity, has the opposite effect, intensifying hostility toward Israel and dissipating the moral outrage that should be mobilized against the actual perpetrators of terrorism. As observers increasingly equate the two sides, regarding both as victims and victimizers alike, international support and sympathy for Israel wanes.
This is not the first time that Israel has been accused of collective punishment. Israel’s government regularly destroyed the family homes of alleged terrorists for years before acknowledging that the policy was damaging its image – without deterring terrorist acts. The latest house demolition seems to confirm that Israel’s government is resuming the practice of collective punishment that it abandoned a decade ago.