Saturday, July 19, 2014

"Proportionality" in the Israel/Gaza War

One question that often comes up in the ongoing (and third) war between Israel and Hamas is the issue of proportionality.  As of this writing, 318 Palestinians and one Israeli have been reported killed.  So why the discrepancy?

I will answer this question in two ways: first to simply explain why the discrepancy, and second to explain why the question is misleading and largely irrelevant.

The discrepancy in counts is due to a number of factors:
  • Israel has built an anti-rocket system called Iron Dome that is very effective at intercepting rockets and destroying them before they can reach populated areas.
  • Israel has built shelters for its civilian population and has trained its citizens on using them when they hear sirens announcing the arrival of rockets.
  • Hamas did not build any way to protect its civilians; they have instead used their resources to build shelters for Hamas terrorists and for rockets and to build tunnels to smuggle weapons.
  • Hamas knows that it cannot win militarily.  Its strategy is to ensure that as many civilians die as possible to increase external pressures on Israel to accept Hamas terms, i.e., the release of criminals and the end of Israel’s blockade on weapons to Gaza.  Therefore, Hamas uses civilians as human shields and coaxes them into going near likely targets.
  • Despite the high number of Palestinian casualties and Hamas’ best efforts at increasing civilian casualties, a large number, if not most Palestinians dead are Hamas terrorists (accurate estimates are not available at this time).
  • The number of reported casualties on the Israeli side does not account for Israelis who have died or have had serious medical problems as a result of panic during rocket attacks.

Despite all of the above, I question the validity of the question in the first place.  Israel is attacking Hamas in order to stop rocket attacks into Israel, and Israel has the right and even the duty to defend its citizens.  Despite the use of Iron Dome, the rockets still terrorize Israeli citizens and cause damage to the Israeli economy.  No sovereign nation on earth would accept that its citizens be terrorized without attempting to stop the attacks.  The fact that Palestinians have far more casualties than Israel isn’t really relevant because Israel does not target civilians, and each and every civilian death is Hamas’ fault.

The low number of Israeli casualties is not due to lack of trying on Hamas’ part.  If Hamas rockets were not intercepted by the Iron Dome, the number of Israeli casualties would be far higher than Palestinian casualties.  Let’s look at it this way: if a Hamas rocket managed to reach a large building in Tel Aviv and killed thousands of Israeli civilians, would that mean that by virtue of proportionality Israel would now be justified in killing thousands of Palestinian civilians?  Of course not.

The war in Gaza is not a football game.  When Germany beat Brazil 7-1 at the 2014 FIFA World Cup, near the end of the game many German fans felt sorry for Brazil because they did not want to humiliate Brazilians.  In that case, speaking of proportionality made sense – there is no need for Germany to win by a huge margin in order to win the cup.  The war in Gaza, however, is not a game.  It is an attempt by Israel to stop terrorist attacks on its citizens.  If Israel stopped its operation without reaching its objective and simply because of the need to maintain some misplaced proportionality, would that be desirable?  Certainly it wouldn’t be desirable because Israelis would continue to be terrorized by Hamas rockets and sooner or later Israel would have to go after Hamas again anyway.

The one and only way to end repeated wars in Gaza is to stop Hamas and its allies from attacking Israel.  This can be done in two ways, either by Israel putting so much control over Gaza that terrorists can no longer re-arm, or it can be done by having the Palestinians choose a Gaza leadership that is willing to recognize that violence is not the answer.  The latter is of course the preferred outcome, but lacking that, no reasonable person can blame Israel for attempting to achieve the former, and each and every casualty along the way is Hamas’ doing.

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