Israel has been criticized endlessly, both internally and externally, for countless alleged crimes. A popular accusation is of collective punishment. I do not wish to examine the facts of the matter here, but to raise a general question about the legality of such acts, particularly as seen by the United Nations.
Only a few short months ago, a UN representative characterized Israel’s policy with regards to the Gaza crossings as a “crime against humanity”, by “allowing only barely enough food and fuel to enter to stave off mass famine and disease.” Again, setting aside the issue of whether or not this is indeed what Israel has been doing, the greater question here is of whether or not such actions, in theory, are permissible.
There is no simple answer. Such a question necessarily leads to the examination of additional issues. To what extent is your populace a higher priority than the enemy? What is the goal of such acts? Is it an attainable goal? However, such questions have all been hashed and rehashed countless times (Michael Walzer’s Just and Unjust Wars is a good place to start).
A recent oped in the New York Times shed some light on this issue. Wayne Long, who served as the UN’s chief security officer in Somalia for an entire decade, wrote about the recent wave of piracy. A few of the examples from his experience dealing with kidnappers in Somalia, however, are extremely eye-opening. Using a fairly straightforward strategy, “United Nations assistance was withheld… until those hostages were released. In every case there was a release, and in no case were hostages harmed or ransom paid.” The problem with this is that it is precisely the same approach for which Israel is being blamed.
Long tells of a 1995 incident, in which an aid worker was taken hostage. In response, the UN humanitarian agencies operating in the area simply shut off the water supply for the capital, Mogadishu. Doing so directed the local population’s rage at the kidnappers, who took four days to release the hostage.
The piece continues with a few more similar stories, but the message is clear. The UN uses collective punishment in order to achieve their goals. They refuse to capitulate to terrorists. This was official UN policy, as undertaken in Somalia.
I’ll reiterate that I am deliberately ignoring the question of what Israel has actually been doing, or what it has done in the past. That is a separate issue altogether. Nevertheless, why does the UN decry Israel’s implemention of a policy that the UN has used in the past, and in the same breath, call it a crime? Why does it demand that Gazan terrorists not be treated the same way as Somalians?