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July 5, 2006
Column #1,297
Israeli Retaliation Is Excessive
by Michael J. McManus

Israel's response to the capturing of Gilad Saglit, an Israeli corporal, has been extreme - a massive overreaction that dwarfs the scale of the original incident.  It is also unbiblical.

Israel bombed all six transformers in the Gaza's only electricity generating plant which could cause a humanitarian disaster since the plant is essential for pumps that provide water in Gaza. It demolished three key bridges, part of a university and government offices.

This collective punishment of 1.5 million Gazans violates the Geneva Convention and constitutes possible war crimes.  Even thoughtful Israelis find Israel's punishment of the whole population for the actions of a few "incomprehensible," says Yitzhak Frankenthal, an Israeli in Jerusalem who leads the Arik Institute for Reconciliation, Tolerance and Peace.

He deplored the kidnaping of the Israeli: "I want to see the kidnaped Gilad Shalit returned safely to his home."  However he asks, "Are we allowed to - is it indeed ethical to - collectively punish the Palestinians, including those who truly had nothing at all to do with either the kidnaping or the rockets" (shot from Gaza one of which hit an empty school)?

Furthermore, Israel is using U.S.-manufactured aircraft, missiles and 155 mm artillery shells for its destruction of civilian infrastructure.  Using U.S. supplied weapons to commit these atrocities violates the terms of the U.S. Arms Export Control Act and Foreign Assistance Act, which restricts the use of American weapons to legitimate self-defense and internal policing.  They cannot be used to attack civilians in offensive operations.

Yet, have you heard any denunciation of these actions by the President or the State Department?  No. Secretary of State Rice only urged Israel to show "restraint," at the outset of the crisis, which was ignored. State Department officials refused to speak to me.

The Hebrew Bible, which Christians call the Old Testament, is clear. Exodus 21:24 states: "But if there is serious injury, you are to take life for life, eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot, burn for burn, wound for wound, bruise for bruise."  This "Law of Retaliation" was intended to limit the punishment to fit the crime.

The Hebrew standard would have justified the capturing and holding of a Palestinian corporal.  Instead, Israel kidnaped dozens of democratically-elected Palestinian officials and cabinet members, including the deputy prime minister - in addition to its massive bombing.

The Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) called Israel's hostage-taking a form of "state terror."  CAIR Board Chairman Parvez Ahmed asserted, "Again we see Israel carrying out acts of state terror and the international community offering only a mild and indirect response that will be taken as a `green light' by Israeli officials.

"America's push for democracy in the Muslim world may be dead in the water unless the Bush Administration pressures Israel to release the hostages and end its collective punishment of the Palestinian people."

Fat chance.  Sadly, over the last five years, America has abandoned its once even-handed policy of equally condemning both Israeli and Palestinian excesses. Anything Israel wants to do has a carte blanche.  In the past year, 100 miles of a huge fence has been constructed which expropriates Arab lands, divides families from one another, and makes it a virtual impossible for Palestinians to work in Israel, since there are so few openings in the wall.

Gaza, a tiny enclave of 1.5 million people, 70 percent of whom are below poverty in the world's most densely populated area, is being slowly strangled. 

"It is a crime against humanity," says Jim Zogby of the Arab American Institute. "There is no other way to talk about penning up 1.5  million people for a prolonged period of time. Two months ago Gaza Hospitals ran out of basic medicines. There is a large field of natural gas reserves off the coast of Gaza, bu t Israel will not allow it to be developed."

He recounts how Mort Zuckerman, publisher of U.S. News & World Report, raised $15 million to buy Israeli-built greenhouses, to provide jobs for Gazans, by growing fruit and vegetables to sell to Israel. But when $20 million of crops were shipped, border guards allowed only $2 million in, resulting in 90 percent of the crop rotting at the border.

U.S. policy must change. It also time for American Christian leaders, who have been silent on Israel's excesses - to speak out on both Israel and the lack of a U.S. response.

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