Civil Fights: Yes to collective punishment

Police have too often released haredi rioters without charge to 'calm the situation,' and courts often exhibit undue leniency.

August 5, 2009 21:18
Civil Fights: Yes to collective punishment

haredim riot cop argument 248 88. (photo credit: AP)

Haredi rioters once again disrupted Jerusalem's Sabbath, as they have almost every Shabbat for two months now. The pretexts vary: first the opening of a municipal parking garage on Shabbat, then the arrest of a haredi woman suspected of starving her child, then the parking garage again. This week's episode was comparatively mild, involving no stone-throwing or destruction of property. But pelting policemen with eggs and hurling epithets like "Nazi" and "nigger" (to an Ethiopian cop) are bad enough. This is partly a law-enforcement problem: Police have too often released haredi rioters without charge to "calm the situation," and courts often exhibit undue leniency. But the Jerusalem Municipality could also do more. Mayor Nir Barkat was actually on the right track last month when he temporarily suspended municipal services to two haredi neighborhoods where rioters had attacked municipal workers. That sparked outraged cries of "collective punishment." But collective punishment is precisely what is called for. Indeed, Barkat's error was in not taking the idea far enough: He should also have refused to replace destroyed trash bins, streetlights and other municipal property in these neighborhoods until the fanatic splinter group behind the riots, the Eda Haredit (not to be confused with mainstream haredim), pay the full cost. And he should have curtailed relevant services - for instance, ordering garbage collectors to ignore any trash not in bins - until this happened. That undoubtedly sounds harsh. But in reality, all terrorists need support from their community to operate effectively. And these rioters are terrorists: They seek to frighten the authorities into capitulating to their demands (closing the parking garage, releasing the arrested woman) via persistent violence. A terrorist needs community support for two reasons. First, he depends on his neighbors refusing to help the police find him - something haredim are famous for. But perhaps even more importantly, he draws strength from the belief that he is a hero to his community. Without that, the attraction of terrorism soon withers. Palestinian terrorists provide abundant evidence of this. At the height of the intifada, the army interviewed dozens of failed suicide bombers (people caught before blowing themselves up) to discover what made them tick. It found the number-one motivation was the certainty of becoming heroes: being lauded as glorious martyrs by Palestinian leaders, having streets and buildings named for them, being praised on television and radio. But when the glory faded, so did the attraction. In a fascinating 2007 interview, several members of the al-Aksa Martyrs Brigades told Haaretz why they were eager to turn in their weapons in exchange for amnesty: They wanted to get married. Initially, the terrorists were heroes; girls were theirs for the asking. But as the IDF grew better at hunting them down, forcing them to live on the run or in hiding, many girls (and their parents) concluded this was no life for a woman. Thus their appeal as marriage partners evaporated - and with it their motivation. The haredi rioters have every reason to think they are heroes to their community: Many Eda Haredit rabbis openly laud their "demonstrations," and very few have publicly objected. Even the rare exceptions are telling: The Eda Haredit's Rabbi Shlomo Pappenheim, for instance, opposed the riots when interviewed by Jonathan Rosenblum for the haredi weekly Mishpacha. But of the four reasons he gave, none were that he saw anything inherently wrong with stoning policemen or torching trash bins. What primarily concerned Pappenheim - besides, to his credit, worry that such acts would drive other Jews away from Judaism - were practicalities: the harm (both emotional and physical) that young rioters might suffer in jail, and fear that a reputation for troublemaking would make haredim unwelcome in many communities, thereby exacerbating their already severe housing crisis. Such practicalities are unlikely to concern the zealots, who scorn sacrificing principle for mere convenience. But severe and readily apparent consequences undoubtedly would concern many rank-and-file Eda Haredit members. And that is precisely why collective punishment is effective. Mainstream Israelis will never convince the Eda Haredit that stoning policemen is morally wrong, any more than Israel has ever convinced the Palestinians that murdering civilians is morally wrong. But like the Aksa Brigades, the Eda can be convinced that terrorism's costs exceed its benefits. If, for instance, Eda Haredit members had to either endure streets overflowing with trash or personally finance new trash bins, I suspect they would quickly make it clear to the rioters that torching trash bins is unacceptable. The haredi rioters have obvious parallels to similar thugs from two other population groups: settlers and Israeli Arabs. Not only are the tactics similar, but so is their contempt for state authority. Yet among both settlers and Israeli Arabs, state malfeasance (as my next column will explain) has contributed to the community's reluctance to repudiate its terrorists, and must be corrected before collective punishment is justifiable. That is not possible with the Eda Haredit, which does not recognize the state at all and hence has no claims of malfeasance. Nor do the riots' specific pretexts offer any mitigating circumstances. Unless you believe that Hadassah-University Medical Center staffers conspired to frame a haredi mother, security videos showing her removing her son's feeding tube and doctors' reports of his rapid recovery since she was barred from his bedside are hard to explain away. As for the parking garage, Barkat tried hard to accommodate Orthodox sensitivities, making it free (to avoid indulging in commerce on Shabbat) and manning it with a non-Jew (to avoid using Jewish labor on Shabbat). This satisfied the two mainstream haredi parties in his coalition, who understand that since most Jerusalem residents are either secular or non-Jewish, simply ignoring their needs, as the Eda Haredit demands, is not an option. Nor should we forget that most Orthodox Jews deem stoning policemen and torching trash bins far worse than driving on Shabbat. No city should let a tiny minority hold the majority hostage, and especially not Israel's capital. Jerusalem has tolerated periodic eruptions of Eda Haredit fanaticism for far too long. It is time for Barkat to make it clear that violent riots carry a price.

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