Saturday, January 03, 2009
Proportionality and Discrimination in Israel's war against Hamas
Cross-posted to Catholic Friends of Israel
There is an aspect to the debate over "proportionality" that seems to reduce it to a mathematical tit-for-tat -- as if the governing consideration was maintaining an equal body count among both parties. A good example is this post from Vox Nova:
I’m not sure I really care about anyone’s definition of proportion if it involves over 270 dead in 7 days to “protect” from 7 dead in two years from rocket attacks in a population over 5 million. As I would likewise condemn the daily shootings in Milwaukee, I will also go out on a limb and say bombing Milwaukee would be a gross injustice, be it by the State of Wisconsin or any other entity empowered to promote justice and the general welfare.To which DarwinCatholic responds:
I guess the question would be: Does incompetance in achieving one’s aim (I think one can hardly imagine that it’s Hamas’s intent not to actually kill many people when firing thousands or rockets into Israel) make one less deserving of retaliation for an attack? It would tend to strike me that the fact that the faction which controls the government of Gaza is constantly launching rockets into Israel would make taking them down justifiable (though one can certainly question Israel’s chosen means) regardless of whether they generally achieved their goal of killing Israelis.David Keyes' strikes a similar note in Commentary's blog "Contentions":
Israel is like a battered woman who speaks glowingly of the days when she is beaten lightly. Any sensible nation would recognize that the number killed from such attacks is utterly irrelevant. What matters is the number of people the terrorists intended to kill and the number of citizens living in fear. Six people were killed in the 1993 World Trade Center attack. But 60,000 would have been killed has the terrorists not been so dim-witted and miscalculated the proper size of the bomb. The question arises: Should the US have responded to six deaths or 60,000 deaths? The answer is patently clear. Stupidity, incompetence and the inability to shoot accurately does not absolve terrorists of responsibility for their intentions. Israel, in other words, should respond to every rocket as if it landed directly on a restaurant or school.Again, since Israel left Gaza in 2005, giving Palestinians an opportunity to administer their own affairs, more than 6300 rockets and mortars have been fired by Gaza into Israel -- more than 3,000 in the past year alone. It is true that the body count inflicted by Hamas is minimal -- due to a combination of Israeli's speedy reaction to warnings of impending attacks; the poor accuracy and short range of some of its rockets (such as the home-made Qassam, lacking any guidance system); and the sheer good fortune (as when a rocket hit a synagogue in Sderot shortly after services ended).
Obviously, the low Israeli body count at present is certainly not for lack of trying on Hamas' part. On December 31st, Hamas fired 60 long-range Chinese rockets at Israel ("Danger Room" Wired.com 12/31/08):
These weren't short-range, home-made Qassam rockets that make up the bulk of Hamas' arsenal. Nor were they the longer-flying 122 mm Grad rockets, designed by the Soviets and made in Iran. Some of today's rockets flew an alarming 22 miles, hitting an empty school house in Beersheva, the unofficial capital of the Negev Desert region. And they were made in China.The presence of these rockets changes the equation significantly, placing in grave danger all communities within 24 miles of the Gaza strip.
In The Proportionality Trap" (Commentary 12/28/2008), J.G. Thayer examines some problems in deciding the "proportionate use of force" against a terrorist organization:
The notion that one should only respond to an attack with roughly the same force used by the aggressor is based on some fatally flawed presumptions.Thus far, those criticizing Israel have yet to offer a reasonable and practical suggestion as to how it can defend itself against Hamas' terror attacks.
In "Gaza and the Law of Armed Conflict", Michael Totten examines the behavior of Israel and Hamas in light of "The Laws of Armed Conflict" between civilized nations; namely, the idea of proportionality:
Proportionality, in short and according to the law, “prohibits the use of any kind or degree of force that exceeds that needed to accomplish the military objective.”and discrimination in the selection of targets:
Curiously, the majority of the commentary on the war has focused not so much on Hamas' ongoing terrorist attacks on Israeli towns (with the intent of killing and injuring civilians and promoting terror -- and with the stated intent of obliterating the Jewish state) as the measures Israel is taking in self-defense.
Probably the most substantial treatment of this issue that I've seen to date is the recent paper, International Law and Fighting in Gaza, by Justus Reid Weiner and Avi Bell (Jerusalem Center for Global Affairs).
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