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Ha'aretz, January 10, 1999

What curfew?

By Gideon Levy


Who cares that for most of the past week, 30,000 people, about a quarter of the residents of Hebron, have been prisoners in their own homes? Who cares that a curfew has been imposed on Area H2 of Hebron in the wake of a shooting incident, the perpetrators of which are almost certainly in any place in Hebron other than the area under curfew? Who cares that Israel is continuing to utilize the abhorrent weapon of collective punishment against a large population that has done nothing wrong?.In Hebron, as in Lebanon, Israeli tactical reactions have become knee-jerk affairs to the point of nausea. A shooting incident? Attempted sabotage? The mechanical, automatic response is a curfew, usually a lengthy one. Eighteen schools and one hospital under curfew. Why? Just like that.

When I asked the IDF spokesman at week's end exactly why the latest curfew was imposed in Hebron, he referred me to the laconic statement he issued on the day of the attack on the two women settlers from Kiryat Arba: "Two Israeli citizens were wounded this morning ... The IDF imposed a curfew on the area under its responsibility in the city of Hebron and commenced searches." No one asks, no one casts doubt of any kind, utilitarian or moral.

The well-worn argument that a curfew is meant to facilitate the efforts of the security forces to apprehend the perpetrators doesn't meet the test of reality, not least because in a few cases the curfew continued long after the arrest of those suspected of executing the attack that had prompted the curfew.

Last October, for example, following the murder of Danny Vargas from Kiryat Arba, the curfew remained in force even after the two suspects in the case were arrested. The fact is that a curfew has goals of another kind: collective punishment for its own sake, a desire to placate the settlers and an effort to prevent friction in periods of tension.

The problem is that this friction is averted by punishing one side only, whereas the violence in Hebron is caused by both sides. If a curfew, it is legitimate to ask, why not a curfew on the settlers too? Why shouldn't the settlers of Hebron, Yitzhar or Tapuah languish under a curfew after the assaults they perpetrate?

But the Israeli politician or military commander who dares put the settlers under curfew has not yet been born. Few Israelis would be able to bear the curfew experience and probably fewer still would be able to tolerate a lengthy curfew. But in the midst of their holiest month of the year, the residents of Hebron, most of whom are religious, are languishing under just such a curfew. It is radically disrupting their lives: people are losing precious work days, missing their appointments for medical treatment; children are losing school days, weddings have to be canceled. The postponement of a wedding in Kiryat Shmona because of a katyusha attack generated a wave of tears and reports; the total disruption of life in Hebron generates a yawn.

Huddled in their overcrowded apartments, Palestinian families with many children are virtual prisoners living under conditions of severe shortage. All they can do is stare through the bars on their windows at their unwanted neighbors, the settlers, who of course walk about freely in their city, sometimes carrying out vicious provocations against them or their property.

Last week a group of evil-minded female settlers attacked a Palestinian mother and her four children for daring to return from a visit to a medical clinic during the curfew. Other settlers use the curfew to carry out punitive actions, to trespass, or seize abandoned Palestinian buildings and carry out illegal construction work.

A curfew has been imposed on the Palestinians in this torn city more than once because of settler, not Palestinian, actions. Following the murder of Issam Arafa, a young man shot by yeshiva students in April 1997, the military's immediate reaction was, believe it or not, to impose a curfew on the Palestinians.

The same pattern repeated itself following the massacre perpetrated by Baruch Goldstein in 1994 and after the killing of the Awadallah brothers last September. The curfew that followed the liquidation of the Awadallah brothers produced two horror stories: Fadwa al Adam lost her newborn infant, Naama, and Shirin Haddad lost her baby, Kusai, because of the monstrous insensitivity of soldiers - sanctifiers of the curfew - who refused to let the mothers through to hospitals.

The cruel absurdity of this collective punishment has persisted throughout the 31 years of the occupation, but its roots lie deeper. The progenitor of the concept was Judge Gad Frumkin, grandfather of former Shin Bet chief Carmi Gillon.

In his autobiography, Frumkin tells how in 1921 he brought about the enactment of the "collective punishment law" after having suggested to the British Mandate authorities that they implement collective punishment against Arab towns and villages.

Ha'aretz correspondent Tom Segev, who will soon publish a comprehensive study of the Mandate period in Palestine, found in British archives a vast amount of material attesting to moral soul-searching by the British authorities - who imposed more cruel collective punishments than Israel, but at least suffered pangs of conscience over them. In Israel no one bothers any longer to raise the acute moral questions about collective punishment. Where is its justice? What is its usefulness



(c) copyright 1998 Ha'aretz. All Rights Reserved

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