Here’s the Google satellite photo of Rafah, Gaza, where many of the Israeli attacks took place.

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Even at that resolution, you can get a sense of Gaza’s population density (said to be one of the highest in the world),  with one and a half million people packed into about 360 square kilometres. You can’t fire missiles and artillery shells into such a mass of humanity without expecting to kill civilians.  But, then, as the Israeli newspaper Haaretz explains, more-or-less approvingly, that wasn’t a consideration:

Like the U.S. assault on Iraq and the Israeli response to the abduction of IDF reservists Eldad Regev and Ehud Goldwasser at the outset of the Second Lebanon War (the “night of the Fajr missiles,” a reference to the IAF destruction of Hezbollah’s arsenal of medium-range Fajr missiles), little to no weight was apparently devoted to the question of harming innocent civilians. From Israel’s standpoint, Hamas, which persistently fires rockets while using the civilian population as cover, had plenty of opportunities to save face and lower their demands. In stubbornly continuing to launch rockets during the course of recent weeks, it brought this assault on itself.

Little or no weight was given to harming the innocent because the Palestinians brought this on themselves. That’s a logic of collective punishment, the same rationale used by every terrorist (it was, for instance, precisely bin Laden’s argument: it was OK to kill the innocents in the Twin Towers; Americans brought 9/11 on themselves).

The Arab-American blog Kabobfest spells out exactly what collective punishment means in this instance, with scores of Palestinian police killed during a graduation ceremony at their station in Gaza city.

Its worth noting that while many refer to the police force in Gaza as ‘Hamas’ police’, this is not a correct characterization. The police force was in place before Hamas came to power, and its members are made up of ordinary men and women from across the Palestinian political spectrum. The head of the police force in Gaza, Tawfiq Rajab, was a lifelong Fatah man who had been with the PLO in Beirut. He was one of the first killed this morning.

Tawfiq Rajab and the other police were killed because, as Haaretz says, Israel is punishing all Palestinians for the Hamas rocket attacks. That’s explicitly what Article 33 of the Geneva Conventions forbids: No protected person may be punished for an offence he or she has not personally committed. Collective penalties and likewise all measures of intimidation or of terrorism are prohibited.

Of course, the Bush administration famously described the Geneva Conventions as ‘quaint’. And, anyway, no-one ever applies international law to the Palestinians, otherwise the economic blockade of Gaza would never have been permitted.

Jeff Sparrow

Jeff Sparrow is a Walkley Award-winning writer, broadcaster and former editor of Overland.

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