U.N. diplomats are upset that Israel has begun to briefly cut off power to the Gaza strip in response to continuing indiscriminate rocket attacks. They do not believe in “collective punishment” they say. Israel has defended the policy by pointing out that the power cuts are moderate and do not affect critical services.
The morality of Israel’s policy can be judged under one of two scenarios. If Gaza under Hamas rule is an enemy state which is waging war on Israel, then Israel has no obligation to provide any services to the Gaza strip, and may in fact take whatever moves are necessary to destroy or discourage the enemy, including the destruction of military and civilian infrastructure. If, on the other hand, Gaza is under Israel’s sovereignty, and not subject to martial law (that is, it is not a war zone), then the standards of civilian rule apply, and cutting off badly-needed services could indeed be considered a moral atrocity. So which scenario applies to the current situation?
According to Israel’s policy, it is both. Hamas does operate a de-facto independent state inside the Gaza strip, and is actively engaged in a war with Israel. (It is not merely “terrorism” because the Hamas combatants are not fugitives within Palestinian territory, but members of the ruling regime, and enjoy the support of the population.) On the other hand, Israel has not recognized Hamas as a foreign regime, much less an enemy state, and acts diplomatically as if the Palestinian territories are part of its territory, and therefore the welfare of Palestinian civilians is its responsibility. (Hence the current “moderation” of the power cuts and the military response.)
Israel’s attempt to make a “practical” compromise by treating the Palestinian territories as a quasi-state puts it in the worst possible situation. It can neither take the proper military action to win the war, nor establish civilian rule under Israeli law in the territories and bring the criminals to justice. If Israel wants to find a moral way to end the bloody war of attrition that afflicts both Israelis and Palestinians, it must do one of two things:
One: Israel can recognize Hamas/Fatah as an enemy regime and wage a proper war against them. This means immediately cutting off all ties and trade with the enemy, the destruction of the current regime and its war-making infrastructure and breaking the will of the population to continue waging aggression. Victory may constitute occupation and the installation of a friendly regime, or simply isolation and a military blockade until the will of the population to fight is broken.
Two: Israel can recognize the Palestinian territories as a part of its territory, and establish martial law with the goal of making civilian rule possible. This means complete occupation of the territories and the destruction of all organizations which practice or advocate violence against Israel, or Israeli authority. This option requires a commitment to eventually giving Palestinians full rights as citizens of Israel, which makes it unlikely.
Every delay to the enactment of one of the two policies means more needless Israeli and Palestinian deaths and suffering.