Israel, Gaza and Proportionality

This is the first of a series of posts I said I would write on the recent violence in Gaza, and more widely on the Israel-Palestine conflict and on religious and nationalist extremism in general.

In this series:

1. Israel, Gaza and Proportionality (this post)

2. Israel-Gaza: why is it happening now?

(And see also: UK phone company severs ties will Israel, If Hamas didn’t fight)


There’s an Internet meme among supporters of Israel to say that it’s OK for Israel to kill lots of Palestininans in response to Palestinians killing few or no Israelis.

For example, here’s David Bernstein:

Boy, am I already getting tired of hearing this. The basic claim is that since the thousands of rockets that Hamas has lobbed into southern Israel have caused relatively few death and injuries–just some deaths and injuries, along with massive panic, children living in bomb shelters, thousands of shock victims, etc.–Israel has no right to respond with overwhelming force.

What the Israeli government should do is offer anyone who thinks that having 1/4 million people living under constant fear of deadly rocket fire is acceptable, and should be accepted implicitly by the Israeli government, a plane ticket to Israel and free lodging in Sderot, the border town hardest hit by rockets from Gaza. Hell, I’ll personally pay for Glenn Greewald’s Sderot vacation.

Here’s Norman Geras:

The Israeli assault on Gaza has prompted the charge that Israel’s use of force is disproportionate. Some of those levelling this charge do recognize Hamas’s share of responsibility for the current situation, since Hamas presides over – whether by organizing or by authorizing – never-ending rocket attacks on Israeli towns. Others levelling the charge do not recognize this; they don’t have the interests of the people of Israel at heart. But, in any case, what is meant by ‘proportionate’?

If the insistence on proportionality is supposed to entail that Israel’s military response to rocket attacks from Gaza should be on the same scale as the attacks themselves, then this would amount to forbidding effective retaliation – a response, that is, which could put an end to those attacks. Proportionality would mean Israel was debarred from defending its citizens from external violence, a form of moral self-restraint which no sovereign state can accept. For it is clear that nothing short of a severe military blow to Hamas has a chance of getting it to desist. Proportionality in the sense of a reply to Hamas aggression that will be effective has, therefore, to mean Israel using greater force than merely reciprocates Hamas-type rocket attacks.

And here’s Iain Dale:

Hamas are a bunch of murderous thugs. Over the past few years they have fired 5,000 rockets on Israel from residential parts of the Gaza strip, killing and injuring dozens of innocent Israelis. Israel has done its best not to react, but in the end their patience has snapped – and understandably so. They have acted using the only kind of force Hamas can understand.

According to Conservative Friends of Israel, over the past week more than 300 rockets, missiles and mortar rounds have been fired from Gaza by Hamas and other militants at Israeli villages and towns. More than 560 have been fired since Hamas escalated rocket firing on 4 November. This is on top of the 5,000 which have been fired from Gaza this year. The media seem to think these rockets are fairly harmless. They are not. They are weapons of terror.

BBC reports suggest that in recent days none of these rockets has resulted in any Israeli deaths or injuries. Not true. CFI report today that: “An Israeli man was killed and four others were seriously wounded when a missile hit a house in Netivot.

But do these people really believe what they say, or is it just a post hoc argument they’ve made up to rationalise their support of Israel despite its brutality?

To answer this question, let’s do a thought experiment. Imagine Hamas got hold of a nuke, and detonated it in an Israeli city killing 90,000 people. This would be exactly as as proportionate, in the same 1:300 ratio, as Israel’s actions. Now, do we imagine that the gentlemen above would refer to this action using the same arguments? Would they, in other words, say things like:

“Boy, am I already getting tired of hearing this. The basic claim is that since the thousands of bombs that Israel has lobbed into Gaza have caused relatively few death and injuries — just some deaths and injuries, along with massive panic, children living in bomb shelters, thousands of shock victims, etc. — Hamas has no right to respond with overwhelming force.”

“The Palestinian nuclear attack on Israel has prompted the charge that Hamas’s use of force is disproportionate. Some of those levelling this charge do recognize Israel’s share of responsibility for the current situation, since Israel presides over  never-ending rocket attacks on Gaza. Others levelling the charge do not recognize this; they don’t have the interests of the Palestinians at heart. ”

“For it is clear that nothing short of a severe military blow to Israel has a chance of getting it to desist. Proportionality in the sense of a reply to Zionist aggression that will be effective has, therefore, to mean Hamas using greater force than merely reciprocates Israel-type aerial attacks.”

“Zionists are a bunch of murderous thugs. Over the past few decades they have fired thousands of bombs on Palestine, killing and injuring thousands of innocent Palestinians, and stealing their land. Hamas has done its best not to react, but in the end their patience has snapped – and understandably so. They have acted using the only kind of force Zionists can understand.”

“According to Conservative Friends of Palestine, over the past week more than 300 rockets, missiles and mortar rounds have been fired from Israel by the IDF and other militants at Gazan towns and refugee camps. More than 560 have been fired since Isreal escalated bombing  on 4 November. This is on top of the thousands which have been fired on Gaza this year. The media seem to think these bombs are fairly harmless. They are not. They are weapons of terror.”

Of course they wouldn’t.

This entry was posted in Islam, Israel, Judaism, Palestine, religion. Bookmark the permalink.

7 Responses to Israel, Gaza and Proportionality

  1. Phiwip says:

    Let’s see Hamas fires 5000 rockets targeted at civilians and your logic tells you that a good argument would be to imagine Hamas nuking Israel and killing 90,000 people? For someone who claims to hate religious extremists and hypocrisy (according to your Normblog profile) you sure seem to work hard at being an apologist for Hamas. Quite the man aren’t you Phillip. Are you sure you belong to the civilised world? Oh and good luck getting all that valuable information from the Klu Klux Klan and Aryan Nations into Includipedia so that their important contributions aren’t left out because all information is equally valid and needs to be equally represented, right Phillip? Twat!

  2. cabalamat says:

    Let’s see Hamas fires 5000 rockets targeted at civilians and your logic tells you that a good argument would be to imagine Hamas nuking Israel and killing 90,000 people?

    It’s a thought experiment not an argument. Evidently too sophisticated a concept for you to understand.

    For someone who claims to hate religious extremists and hypocrisy (according to your Normblog profile) you sure seem to work hard at being an apologist for Hamas.

    If you think I am pro-Hamas you have reading comprehension problems.

    Oh and good luck getting all that valuable information from the Klu Klux Klan and Aryan Nations into Includipedia so that their important contributions aren’t left out because all information is equally valid and needs to be equally represented

    A number of points:

    (1) “equally valid” is a not a particularly meaningful phrase. Information can be better be classified as “correct” or “incorrect”

    (2) Includipedia, like Wikipedia, has a policy of Neutral Point Of View (NPOV).

    (3) Since Includipedia, like any other project of similar scope, cannot hope to be an infallible differentiator of truth and falsehood, it (like Wikipedia) uses a policy of verifiability instead.

    (4) When dealing with political organisations or people making controversial claims, the way to do this while keeping inside the NPOV policy is to describe what they say e.g. “the Klu Klux Klan asserts X” or “Aryan Nations says Y” etc, rather than to prononuced on whether a belief is true or false; though non-mainstream beliefs may be marked as such.

  3. KMcC says:

    what should Israel do? Lob missiles indiscriminately into Gaza? Ask Hamas nicely to stop? File a complaint in triplicate with the UN?

    Maybe Israel, in attacking buildings and other infrastruture known to be in the hands of the Hamas and using a lot of firepower to destroy them and their terrorist residents, is doing what needs to be done to protect its citizens. Civilian deaths are on the hands of those who put armouries and training camps in civilian areas.

    You don’t argue with a disease – you cut the tumours out.

  4. cabalamat says:

    KMcC: what should Israel do?

    That’s an entirely reasonable question, which I will address in a later post in this series.

  5. Pingback: Israel-Gaza: why is it happening now? « Amused Cynicism

  6. George Carty says:

    What do people here think of Ken MacLeod’s argument (from the time of the Israel-Hezbollah war of 2006) that if you believe that disproportionate response is wrong, then you must perforce reject Zionism?

    The argument that Israel has a right to self-defence but that its present actions are disproportionate leads nowhere. Sometimes disproportionate response is exactly right, and for the state of Israel disproportionate response will always seem right. What is wrong is the existence of a state that can exist in no other way. Its only hope of survival, spelled out clearly enough by Jabotinsky, is to reduce the millions of people it has wronged to utter despair.

  7. Pingback: Britblog Roundup 203: Live from my new laptop – Politics Unlimited | UK politics news

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