THE BLOG

Gaza and "Crimes" of Status

In my first blog on the recent Gaza catastrophe I drew an unintentionally inflammatory analogy between what I see as the indefinite detention or incarceration of the inhabitants of Gaza and Nazi treatment of Jewishness beginning as soon as Hitler seized power as a crime justifying incarceration (which, of course, led ultimately to the Holocaust). The point I was making ineptly about status "crimes," that is punishing people simply for being members of a hated or feared group, got lost, I am afraid, because any comparison, however limited, of Israeli treatment of Palestinians and Nazi treatment of Jews understandably so enrages people that they cease to see the limited point one is trying to make.

In retrospect I see that I should have used other available and well-known examples, such as the 19th Century American practice of forcing Native American tribes onto reservations or, another American example, detaining citizens of Japanese ancestry during the Second World War. The U.S. Government in 1941 may not have seen the detention of Japanese-Ancestry citizens as punitive, but simply as a security measure. But in terms of its impact on the persons detained, it was indeed punitive. And they were being detained not for crimes but because they were members of the suspect group, i.e. persons of Japanese ancestry.

Since citizens of Gaza are not free to enter and leave at will, they are in a condition fairly described as detention. To use a harsher but still accurate word, they are "imprisoned." Of course, among the million+ inhabitants of Gaza there are terrorists, real criminals, who are subject to arrest and trial and punishment. What is morally offensive about incarceration for being a member of a suspect group, even if the purpose is to enhance security, is the absence of an individual finding of guilt through a judicial process that satisfies minimum conditions of fairness.

Of course, during periods of emergency, people can be detained on grounds of mere suspicion which comes very close to detention for reasons of status. But the allowable period is brief. As the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (a principal organization of the OAS) declared during the period of state terror in Latin America, beyond a brief period, detention on grounds of mere suspicion ripens into punishment without due process which is a grave violation of human rights law.