Whether or not Israel occasionally makes targeting mistakes, they have a policy in Gaza of blowing up homes and apartment buildings where known Hamas operatives or officials live. They take some precautions to minimize the loss of human life (as you can see in this video) but these efforts are somewhat ludicrous. After all, if you want to kill a Hamas militant, it makes little sense to pamphlet their neighborhood telling everyone to leave. Why won’t your target leave, too? Likewise, why send a “knock on the roof” warning with an inert warning missile? Why text-message the inhabitants that they are about to be bombed? In all these cases, Israel is tipping off the target and giving him the same opportunity to escape with his life as the innocents.

What’s clear is that these operations have a different purpose than killing individuals who belong to Hamas. The purpose is to make it clear that belonging to Hamas will cause your family to lose their home and quite possibly their lives. Even living in the same building as a Hamas member or maybe even in the house next door or across the street is a threat to your whole family.

This policy, then, is designed to turn the Palestinian population against Hamas. It’s designed to make families disown children who fraternize with Hamas. It’s designed to cause apartment dwellers to purge their buildings of tenants who work with Hamas.

The Israelis have a term for people who don’t leave their dwellings once they have been warned that a Hamas member is living among them. They are “human shields.” And, as human shields, they have made a decision that denies them any further human rights.

Paul Waldman insists that the Israelis cannot be judged by what Hamas does, but only by what they do themselves. That seems correct to me, and this policy of collective punishment does not pass any current and respected standard of moral behavior. But, does it work? Can it do what it is intended to do? And can we define precisely what this policy is intended to do?

Perhaps this policy can force Palestinian patriarchs (or matriarchs) to forbid their sons and daughters from associating with Hamas, but if Hamas goes away will their replacements be better? More compliant? Easier to negotiate with?

This is a policy of beating people into terrified submission, but similar policies in the recent past have only seemed to bring short stints of calm. The Israelis call this “mowing the lawn.” The grass always grows back, and quicker if it is nourished with rain.

Of course, it isn’t just the Palestinians’ willingness to resist that comes back. It’s also their arsenal of rockets which are improved and replenished. These, too, eventually become an intolerable threat that needs to be whittled down. That appears to me to have been the proximate cause of the current conflict. Hamas in Gaza had nothing to do with the kidnapping and execution of the three Israeli teenagers, and they were actively suppressing rocket fire on Israel. But their stockpile had grown alarmingly large and they had improved the range of the rockets. We are seeing this now. Israel decided to use the kidnappings in the West Bank as a casus belli for rounding up people they had released in the West Bank and for mowing the lawn in Gaza.

Should we even consider this a war begun under false pretenses? Maybe we should just consider it “the policy.” Hamas has lost their friends in Syria and Egypt, and Fatah never liked them in the first place. Rather than allow Hamas to make a new alliance with Fatah while building up an ever-bigger arsenal of rockets, Israel made the decision to try to destroy Hamas while they are relatively friendless.

Is this sound policy? What were the alternatives to doing this?

You think about these things and you can quickly get yourself into an infinite regression loop where one mistake begets the next and one atrocity begets another. Waldman says, “Had Palestinians chosen to wage a campaign of nonviolent resistance against Israel, they could have had their own country a decade or two ago.”

I wish they had tried harder to wage a consistent campaign of nonviolence, but I don’t believe it would have worked. The period since the Second Intifada ended has been a mostly nonviolent period, and Israel has not rewarded the Palestinians for it. At bottom, Israel has never come to the table with something that would (or should) make the Palestinians want to end their resistance. As the stronger party, the Israelis bear responsibility for wanting other things more than they want peace.

And, so, they wind up in a situation where they have a policy of blowing up families and apartment buildings while trying to make it okay by warning everyone they are about to be bombed.

This is no way to live. For anyone.

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Martin Longman is the web editor for the Washington Monthly. See all his writing at ProgressPond.com