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Collective Punishment for Gaza? No. Collateral Damage? Unfortunately, Yes 

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Any dictatorship (and Hamas is one, of the Islamic theocratic variety) is first and foremost at war with the civilian population it controls, and then against other surrounding countries, only second.”

In the aftermath of Hamas’ unwarranted, uncivilized, vicious, and all but unprecedented attack on Israel, one option for the aggrieved nation would be basically to level the small bit of real estate that is Gaza to the ground, into rubble and dust. This would, of course, imply that literally hundreds of thousands would die, if the death toll did not reach into the seven figures. Many women, children, and men, including the elderly, would perish, along with several thousand of the guilty perpetrators.

The cry would go out that it would be unjust to impose collective punishment on Gazans. And imposing such collective punishment would certainly be unjustified. After all, these civilians were not guilty of perpetrating the crimes against Jewish humanity (Is there such a thing, in the view of many in Gaza?). Yes, many Palestinians were celebrating in the streets after the horror perpetrated upon the Israelis, and, yes, many voted Hamas into office. But gloating is not a capital crime. Nor is singing. In any case, the populace may well have been bullied into so doing. Certainly, no child in this territory can be seen as an appropriate target for any punishment whatsoever.

To engage in collective punishment is to aim death and destruction on civilians, as does Hamas.

So, what should Israel do in response to the tragedy recently inflicted upon it? It can aim at military targets and seek to reduce collateral damage to civilians as much as possible. That is, avoid collective punishment entirely.

Another option is to do exactly nothing, for if the Israel Defense Forces did anything at all in retaliation, innocent people would die. But this would merely embolden Israel’s enemies and lead to the utter and total demise of that country, and all of its citizens—well, the Jewish ones for sure. This would amount to collective punishment for Jews. Or, do critics of Israel only oppose collective punishment for Arabs and not Jews?

Another option is to announce that all innocent Gazans will be allowed to leave that area (as they are currently doing from the north to the south of Gaza). One possibility is that innocent civilians would temporarily take refuge in Egypt. But their Arab brethren do not want to accept them (moreover, they have announced that they would strenuously reject them). Why would that be? And, more importantly, why has no non-governmental organization nor any official government nor the United Nations denounced all of these Arab states that refuse to give refuge to their own brothers and sisters? This is surely food for thought. But there is another important factor: Hamas would never allow them to escape anyway.

Recall that Hamas controls this territory and would never in the proverbial million years consent to any such occurrence. The only way Hamas could be forced into acquiescing in such an arrangement would be to conquer the group militarily, and the best way to do that would be to attack Hamas positions in Gaza via bombing and then mop up its combatants in house-to-house fighting. The point is that Hamas does not only have at least 132 Israelis as hostages; this organization also has the entire population of Gaza under its control to that very end. Any dictatorship (and Hamas is one, of the Islamic theocratic variety) is first and foremost at war with the civilian population it controls, and then against other surrounding countries, only second.

Thus, opposing collective punishment is both justifiable and humane. And for this very reason opposition to any collateral damage for Gazans logically implies collective punishment for Israelis. If Hamas is allowed to escape from this attack unscathed, that will be the precise fate of Israelis. There is no third way. There is no compromise. It is one way or the other. And the necessity for this state of affairs rests squarely in Hamas’ hands. As Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu once put it, “If the Arabs put down their weapons today, there would be no more ‎violence. If the Jews put ‎down their weapons ‎today, there would be no ‎more Israel.”.

Walter Block, an Austrian school economist and anarcho-libertarian philosopher, is Harold E. Wirth Eminent Scholar Chair in Economics and Professor of Economics at Loyola University New Orleans and Senior Fellow with the Ludwig von Mises Institute.

Alan G. Futerman, an economist, has published in journals such as International Journal of Finance & Economics, Review of Austrian Economics, and Journal of Financial Economic Policy, among others. His work has also been featured in publications such as the Financial Times, The Wall Street Journal, and The Jerusalem Post. He co-authored The Classical Liberal Case for Israel and The Austro-Libertarian Point of View with Walter E. Block, as well as Commodities as an Asset Class with Ivo A. Sarjanovic. 

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