Regarding Israel's bombing campaign against Hamas, the cries of the Left erupted almost immediately that for Israel to launch the air attacks, now in the fifth day, killing more than 300 people, is "disproportionate" to the rocket attacks that Hamas has been carrying out against southern Israel for years. For example,
The top U.N. human rights official says Israel's military response to the firing of rockets at its territory by Palestinian militants is "disproportionate."I wrote earlier about what proportionality really means in Just War theory and why it does not mean tit-for-tat responses or responses limited in type, duration or nature to the attacks Hamas has launched against Israel. If it did mean that, then Israel would be justified simply to fire rockets back at Gaza with no regard of where they fell or whom they killed, and they'd have several thousand of such responses left to go. That is, after all, exactly what Hamas has done to Israel.
U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay says she is distressed at the enormous loss of life in Gaza and calls on Israel to prevent collective punishment and the targeting of civilians.
The Jerusalem Post explains,
Under international law, Israel is not required to calibrate its use of force precisely according to the size and range of the weaponry used against it. Israel is not expected to make Kassam rockets and lob them back into Gaza.As I wrote in my earlier post, there is a difference in Just War theory between proportionality and discrimination. The latter means that a belligerent must identify enemy locations, personnel or facilities that are valid military-related targets and which are not. A command headquarters is valid. A schoolhouse is not. Yet a combatant does not gain immunity from attack of its headquarters by locating it inside a schoolhouse. The Geneva Conventions specifically forbid the militarization of protected facilities and also state that once they are militarized they are no longer protected.
When international legal experts use the term "disproportionate use of force," they have a very precise meaning in mind. As the president of the International Court of Justice (ICJ) in The Hague, Rosalyn Higgins, has noted, 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."
That's discrimination - taking the necessary steps to minimize (not eliminate) noncombatant casualties. Proportionality means using the violence necessary to achieve the just end of the campaign, but not more violence than necessary. It does not mean trying to make a calculus of violence where Israel cannot use more than Hamas.
As I pointed out in "Intentional Lethality," Israel's attacks are intended to do four main things:
1. Kill as many high-level Hamas figures as possible.This is to say, Israel's objective is not simply to stop the rocket attacks for now, but permanently. Israel aims to do two things, broadly: first, eliminate Hamas's present capability to launch its rockets by destroying its materiel and personnel and second, set conditions that hopefully eliminate the chances of the attacks being resumed later.
2. Reduce the ranks of Hamas rank and file by causing casualties among them.
3. Provide disincentives for Gazans' support of Hamas' control of their political future and hence,
4. Delegitimize Hamas' authority.
Even some voices putatively supporting Israel's campaign don't grasp the nuances. Lionel Beehner, in The Huffington Post, writes,
A state is legally allowed to unilaterally defend itself and right a wrong provided the response is proportional to the injury suffered and is immediate, necessary, refrains from targeting civilians, and requires only enough force to reinstate the status quo ante. Also implied in this argument is the right of Israel to prevent Hamas from carrying out future cross-border attacks.Reinstate the status quo ante? Even Gen. William T. Sherman understood that the only rightful aim of war was to establish a more just peace. The status quo is what Israel found so intolerable that it went to war. How can just war be fought to maintain an unjust status quo? It cannot. Furthermore, if, as Mr. Beehner says, "implied in this argument is the right of Israel to prevent Hamas from carrying out future cross-border attack," how is that like the status quo ante, during which Hamas did carry out such attacks? Mr. Beehner in the end gamely tries to hold up the Left's criticism but trips up on his own contradictions. (In fact, he concludes by saying that Israel should have responded not at all to Hamas' rocket attacks!)
However, the vapidity of the disproportionality criticism can be seen by examining our own system of crime and punishment. Criminals are not sentenced to carefully calibrated punishments that exactly match the damage they caused in the crime. If someone steals your car, the judge doesn't merely make him forfeit his own car. The crook both goes to jail and must make restitution to you. A victim of an armed robbery may lose only a few dollars and suffer a bad fright, but the robber goes to prison for a mandatory seven years here in Tennessee. Finally, the "disproportionate" critics would have to agree, I presume, that a murderer's death sentence is just and proportionate to his crime - take a life, lose yours. But they won't, you betcha.
Update: The Reformed Pastor has some thoughts about, "The Gospel of Proportionality." See also Michael Totten's excellent essay, "Gaza and the Law of Armed Conflict," at Commentary.