The abduction and killing of three teenage Israelis just outside Hebron recently has produced a response by the Israeli government that conforms to a pattern of collective punishment that is illegal under international law. Eight Palestinians have so far been killed since three Israeli settlers went missing over two weeks ago. The horror of Israeli vengeance has seen a nine-year-old Palestinian girl run over by settlers, a teenager shot dead by Israeli soldiers and a 17 year old boy kidnapped, tortured and burned. And then Gaza was bombarded with 30 bombs in just the first night of Israeli retaliation. It was said the bombing was in reply to Hamas rockets launched in Southern Israel, but it is unlikely that Hamas was the instigation.

Recently, Israeli PM Netanyahu spoke of dismantling Hamas but Gazan civilians will feel the brunt of the violence. There are rules to war. There are internationally accepted legal guidelines. These include the protection of civilians and proportional responses to violence. Israel always resorts to crushing civilians, and there have been allegedly over 1500 child deaths at the hands of settler and soldiers. Perhaps the most famous ongoing example of collective punishment is the Israeli blockade of the Gaza strip, imposed shortly after Hamas won legislative elections there. Israel has excused itself by saying that the blockade is necessary to limit rocket attacks. But this has caused widespread poverty and unemployment for Palestinians. Netanyahu’s ham-fisted rhetoric blames all of Hamas and the Palestinian Authority for the kidnappings, even before it is clear who has actually committed them. In unison, Israeli Housing Minister Uri Ariel argued that Israel should retaliate by expanding settlement construction in the West Bank. The official meaning of retaliation for the administration is the arbitrary, collective punishment of all Palestinians.

The government’s statements have caused only panic and Israeli mob violence. Hamas is labeled a terrorist group by the US and EU for good reason, but in this context at least the group may not be responsible for the kidnapping and has denied Netanyahu’s accusations. Hamas joined in a Palestinian unity government in April and this alters its incentives away from militancy and towards cooperation. Collective punishment is a war crime by the Geneva Convention and will undoubtedly destroy the peace process. The air strikes will not deter future kidnappings of Israeli students or punishing the suspected culprits of this one. There are perhaps no words to editorialise the blatant disparity between the value placed by the “civilised” world on Israeli and Palestinian lives. Nothing can erase 66 years of occupation, bombardment and apartheid. At least in spirit, we stand with them.