Proxy Punishment in the West Bank

by Jason Lee Steorts

The Washington Post reports that the Israeli military has revived a policy of demolishing the family homes of West Bank Palestinians who have committed acts of terrorism. I think this is wrong, even repugnant. Since its target is the entire family of such individuals, it amounts to a kind of proxy punishment. Deterrence — if this is an effective deterrent — is no excuse. Deterrence is a legitimate purpose of punishment, but it must be subordinated to the elementary principle of justice that one should not be punished for a crime one did not commit. (If we instead think of such a reprisal within the context of warfare, it amounts to the targeting of noncombatants.)

I hope I will not be accused of having “sided with the terrorists” and indulged in “moral equivalence” and so on. This is not like choosing which basketball team to cheer for. Of course it is a viler thing to kill innocent civilians than to demolish their homes. But acknowledging Israel’s right to exist, and to defend itself and its people, does not mean one must countenance its every tactic, and indeed part of what troubles me about this tactic is its inconsistency with all that I admire about Israel.