Perusing International media, one often comes across the words “disproportionate response” as a description of Israel’s operations in the Gaza strip over the past week. The Scottish Government’s Minister for External Affairs described Israel’s bombardment of Gaza as “heavily disproportionate.”(1) The Russian government, led by Putin, also faulted Israel for it’s “disproportionate response.”(2) The Russian foreign ministry spokesman Alexander Lukashevich joined in Putin’s rhetoric, calling Israel’s shelling “disproportionate.”(3) Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi called a meeting of Arab foreign ministers to discuss “criminal Israeli aggression.”(4) While the government’s of such countries as the United States, Canada, and the United Kingdom have stood behind Israel’s actions, browsing popular internet forums, one finds that many of the citizens of those countries also hold the opinion that Israel has acted disproportionately.
So let’s talk about the meaning of the word “proportionate.” Webster’s defines proportionate as, “agreeing in amount, magnitude, or degree.” Let’s take the first word of this definition: “amount.” Hamas has fired 12,800 rockets and thousands of other mortar shells at Israel over the past 11 years.(5) Perhaps Israel should have reacted “proportionally” and fired 12,800 missiles at the people of Gaza, the people who elected the Hamas government. After all, Hamas has acted against the Israeli population despite the fact that the one it takes issue with is the Israeli Government. Would that not be a “proportionate” response?
So the answer to the question of whether or not Israel has acted disproportionally is yes: Israel’s response has been disproportionate, but it hasn’t been disproportionally large…it has been disproportionally small.
Fortunately for the people of Gaza, the proportionality clause is not Hammurabi’s code which dictates that one take, “an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.” A proportional response is not based on striving to avenge each rocket fired into Israel with a rocket fired into Gaza. If a nation is facing aggression, then “proportionality” is judged by whether force was specifically used by that nation to bring an end to the armed attack against it. Force becomes excessive only if it is employed for another purpose, like causing unnecessary harm to civilians. Considering the fact that Israel has dropped leaflets, recorded announcements that interrupt radio broadcasts, and telephoned and texted Gaza residents telling them to flee their homes if they were hiding weapons or militants(6), and given the low number of casualties in relation to the amount of firepower used, one can hardly claim that Israel’s aim was the death of civilians.
Israel conducted roughly 1,500 targeted strikes in the past week against terrorist operating centers, smuggling tunnels, and individual terrorist leaders. In those 1,500 targeted missile attacks in one of the most densely populated areas in the world, there have been 58 civilian casualties. While all civilian deaths are regrettable, these numbers are not at all indicative of the systematic targeting of civilians. In starch contrast, not only has Hamas not warned Israeli civilians of incoming missiles and attacks, it has expressly targeted them. It’s very charter calls for the destruction of Israel. The charter states clearly and unapologetically that, “ Israel will exist and will continue to exist until Islam will obliterate it, just as it obliterated others before it.”(7)
On the topic of civilian casualties, from a legal standpoint, Israel is well within the realm of international law. Under the Geneva Conventions, the responsibility for civilian casualties lies with the party that deliberately places the civilians at risk. Hamas has created strongholds in mosques, hospitals, schools, and homes. It not only stores it’s missiles in the homes of civilians, but fires them in close proximity to civilian homes, effectively using these civilians as human shields.(8)
One of the main points used by those who argue that Israel’s response has been disproportionate is the disparity between the number of deaths on the Israeli side versus those on the Palestinian side. While 6 Israelis have been killed in the hostilities, according to Gaza health officials, 133 Palestinians have ben killed in the conflict as of November 20th, 53 of which were civilians.(9) However, just because only a handful of Israeli casualties have resulted from Hamas’s rockets does not change the fact that they have fired thousands of rockets at Israel in an attempt to murder civilians. If two people are assaulted and one walks away and the other is hospitalized, the legal term for both actions is the same: Assault. Hamas intended each of those missiles to cause civilian casualties. Make no mistake about it…the people of Southern Israel have been lucky. More than half a million people in Southern Israel have less than a minute to seek cover when a rocket is fired. From Beersheba to Jerusalem, Tel Aviv and beyond, more than half of Israel’s citizens, over 4.5 million people, were urged to take cover in bomb shelters over the past week when the code-red siren sounded. Missiles have hit stores, homes, temples, and even schools.(5)
Fortunately for Israel, particularly for those living in the South, Israel’s Iron Dome defense system shot down most of the 933 rockets fired at Israel in the past week. Unfortunately, it has not been a cheap proposition. Each missile fired by Israel costs between 40,000 and 60,000 dollars.(10) Hamas’s basic Qassam rockets cost roughly 1,000 dollars a piece. While the Iron Dome has been instrumental in providing security for Israel’s citizens, it is not a viable long-term solution, neither strategically nor economically.(11) At a certain point, Israel is obliged to defend herself, regardless of what wording the International community uses to describe her actions, and that point arrived long ago. In 2008, Israel faced an arsenal of 5,000 rockets. Before Operation Pillar of Defense, that number was well over 10,000. In 2008, Israel faced home-made Qassams and Grad rockets with a maximum range of 40 KM. On the eve of Operation Pillar of Defense, Gaza’s terrorists were armed with, among other things, Iranian supplied Fajr 5 missiles, an 18-foot long, 2,000-pound projectile with a range of well over 80 KM.(12)
In the light of Hamas’s capabilities and it’s incessant rocket attacks, Israeli offensive action was a foregone conclusion, as it would be in any nation faced with the same set of circumstances. One of the strategies used in the Gaza operation was targeted killings, which are not random acts of vengeance, but rather legitimate military actions that can be justified not only morally but tactically. The president of the International Court of Justice (ICJ) in The Hague, Rosalyn Higgins, has stated that proportionality “cannot be in relation to any specific prior injury – it has to be in relation to the overall legitimate objective of ending the aggression.” The individuals targeted have played critical rolls in the attacks against Israeli civilians in the previous weeks, months, and years. The killing of Al Ja’abari, long referred to as the Palestinian counterpart of Bin Laden, is an excellent example. Furthermore, unlike US drone attacks on Al-Qaeda and the Taliban, the IDF has been very successful in it’s attempt to avoid collateral casualties.
Finally, there are those who, having run out of other points of contention, will claim that Israel has subjugated the people of Gaza, and left them with no choice but to support Hamas’s armed rebellion. They speak of the conditions in Gaza, and claim that it is Israel that has created an environment where people will do anything to change their present condition, including resorting to terrorism. What these people fail to mention is that the main issue for the people of Gaza is the security fence that surrounds them, which was put in place because of suicide bombings. Between the beginning of the confrontation that began in September 2000 and the erection of the security fence and buffer zone in August 2003, terrorist organizations operating from Gaza carried out 73 attacks, killing 293 Israelis and wounding 1,950. Between August 2003 and the end of 2006 they carried out 12 such attacks, killing 64 Israelis and wounding 445.(13) The numbers speak for themselves. While human rights are important, the right to life must come first. Israel has an obligation to protect herself, and do everything possible to secure lasting peace for her citizens.
To that end, in 2005, Israel completely withdrew her armed forces and 9000 settlers from Gaza in the hopes that it would be a major stepping-stone in the road to peace. And what was the response? Rockets. In fact, the majority of the 12,800 rockets fired since 2001 were launched after Israel withdrew completely from the Gaza Strip in August 2005. In that time, between 2005 and 2006, rocket attacks increased by 500% from 179 to 946. But Israel tried again in 2008. Israel signed a cease-fire agreement with Hamas 6 months before Operation Cast Lead, and stopped targeted assassinations. During the period of the supposed cease-fire, 216 rockets were fired at Israel. On December 21st of 2008, Hamas declared an end to the cease-fire, one which it had never even kept in the first place.(14) At that point, Israel entered the Gaza Strip with ground forces in an attempt to root out terrorists and bring peace back to her citizens, as she must do again. The time for restraint has passed. Since the Gaza invasion, more than 3067 rockets have been fired at Israel, including over 933 in the last week, and more than 15 since the cease-fire was signed yesterday.(5) Eventually, the IDF must finish what it started on November 14th. Not just targeted missile attacks, but a full-scale operation to put an end to the terrorists’ ability to attack our civilian centers. The time has come for action against terrorism. Action against those who threaten the security of the state of Israel. A cease-terror, not a cease-fire.
2- Atlanta Black Star – 11/16/12
3- “Putin urges Netanyahu to avoid escalation.” YNET. November 15, 2012
4- “Egyptian president condemns Israel’s ‘aggression’ in the Gaza strip.” The Guardian UK. Nov 15, 2012.
7 – “The Covenant of Hamas.” http://www.fas.org/irp/world/para/docs/880818a.htm
9 – “Israel Gaza attacks intensify despite truce talks.” Associated Press, Nov 20, 2012.