Tuesday, January 06, 2009

What is proportionate?

If ever there was a cliche when it comes to Israel/Palestine issues it is the word "disproportionate". As far as I can tell, whatever Israel seem to do in response to indiscriminate rocket attacks from Hamas it is almost guaranteed to be called "disproportionate".

What I want to know is this. What do those who say Israel is acting disproportionately think is a proportionate response? I am yet to hear either a journalist ask someone this when interveiwing, nor am I yet to hear someone actually offer what they think Israel ought to have done.

I can't help wondering whether this is because no matter what Israel does it will always be wrong and disproportionate. Well that is unless it retreats to its pre-1968 borders when I don't doubt attacks would continue and there would be further calls for Israel to back down.


Socket said...

I proportionate response would involve rockets that land on roads and empty buildings and only very occasionally do any harm to human beings.

dizzy said...

So if Israel was to fire a few thousands rockets a year into Gaza they would face no criticism and everyone would be happy?

Croydonian said...

Western liberals regard it as the duty of Israelis, in common with the British, Americans etc to suffer terrorist outrages and then to blame ourselves for being insufficiently sensitive to the needs of certain nameless parties to kill us. So any reaction, from loud tutting upwards, is 'disproportionate'.

Gives me an idea - what about building a 'settlement' for said liberals just west of Sderot so that they can take on the Western Person's Burdern?

Jonny Mac said...

I wrote a post about this issue last night.

Commentators seem to assume that a military action in which 400 Palestinians are killed and 2 Israelis is, by definition, 'disproportionate'. That's rubbish. As is the view that if children are killed by such an action, it is disproportionate. To assess proportionality, military lawyers weigh the strategic importance of the objective against (a) the risk of casualties (especially civilian) and the likely level of those casualties and (b) the steps that will be taken to minimise those casualties.

A very respectable argument can be constructed that dropping the Hiroshima bomb (massive Japanese civilian loss of life with zero US casualties0 was, in all the circumstances, proportionate.

JMB said...

I was watching The heroes of Telemark over the holiday on TV. It occurred to me later that the Nazi policy of taking hostages and shooting them reminded me of the Israeli policy in Gaza. 100 hostages for each German killed is a similar ratio to the number killed by the Hamas rockets and number killed in Gaza by Israel.

cartermagna said...

I don't know if you saw Newsnight last night but the Paxman was just appalled at the Isrealis. "What on Earth do they think they're going to achieve?" was his opening, and of course completely impartial, question...

Blaad said...

All the comments here and elsewhere show that this is an immensely complex situation (notwithstanding innocent people should never be casualties of war).

There are sound arguments on both sides of the fence and resolution seems nigh on impossible.

One thing is for sure though - resolution will never be achieved by violence (from either side).

Blair should start earning his pennies and get in there and start provoking some serious talking.

Or resign.

Infoholic UK said...

Why is it only Israel that isn't allowed to target civilians ? Hamas are not even attempting to attack military targets, they are firing into civilian areas as policy. What's proportionate about that ?

dizzy said...

"notwithstanding innocent people should never be casualties of war."

Does that mean WWW2 was wrong?

peter whale said...

If a burglar comes into my house at night I am only allowed proportional response. This means that with fear and adrenalin running I will not stop doing things to him until he no longer poses a threat to me or my family.
This is probably where we are now in Israel and Palestine.
This analogy is not perfect, but what is?

Anonymous said...

A proportionate response would be to send special forces into Gaza to kill/arrest/detain members of Hamas. If the Israelis have the military intelligence to know that there are members of Hamas hiding in certain buildings, then I see no reason why this suggestion couldn't work.

Jonny Mac said...

Infoholic - I agree. What Hamas is doing - deliberately targeting civilians - is unlawful and, therefore, cannot be proportionate.

The latest RESPECT leaflet on the conflict describes the 'resistance' against Israel by Hamas in Gaza (ie trying their best to kill as many civilians as they can)as 'entirely legitimate'. That strikes me as being not only very, very stupid but also as genuinely obscene.

Niccolo Machiavelli said...

to most anti-Semites on the left, Israel's existence is disproportionate.

Anonymous said...

Perhaps rather than criticising those who have a view on what is and isn't proportionate you should put forward your own hypothesis. Or don't you think that the response should be proportionate? Surely when both sides of the argument are in the sewer any claims by either side for the moral high ground should be treated as equally ridiculous.

dizzy said...

Was that directed at me?

JMB said...

But the Israelis are also firing into civilian areas often seemingly on the grounds that a rocket had been fired from there some time previously. BBC news showed some rockets being launched a few days ago, about ten minutes later the IDF attacked the place where the rocket had been launched from though the HAMAS people had obviously got away from the area, fortunately this was in open country but they appear to be doing the same when rockets are launched from urban areas. It is difficult to know exactly what is happening because the supposedly democratic Israeli's forces are ignoring an Israeli Supreme Court ruling to allow press access to Gaza.

Matthew Cain said...

Former Blair adviser Matthew Taylor has an interesting article on the failure of political leadership: http://www.matthewtaylorsblog.com/thersa/the-israeli-action-in-gaza-a-leadership-deficit/

Ivan said...

Anon, I agree that the Israelis and the Palestinians thoroughly deserve each other.

To Dizzy and the other IDF-fans: it is very dangerous to castigate every action of Hamas. After all, if Germany had occupised the UK in 1940 wouldn't we have praised every nutter who fought to kick them out? And do we not celebrate those Brits who went over to France to blow up trains etc (and lets not pretend there were no civilian casualties)??

The best comment I have heard over the last few days was from one of the US negotiation team, who said (in broad terms) that in order for it to be realistic for the Palestinians to turn away from violence there has to be a viable political pathway open to them, which frankly there is not at the moment.

Anyone with experience of nature knows that to force a wild animal into a corner is dangerous, because then it has no option but to fight. I fear that the way in which Israel has slowly suffocated the occupised territories has had precisely the same effect.

Of course, precisely the same arguments could be applied to the Israeli defense of their land, although one of the sign of civilisation is the degree to which majorities respect, and allocate equal rights to, minorities. By this measure, the Israeli attitude to the Palestinians is distinctly uncivilised, and that is maybe what turns a lot of moderate opinion against the Israelis.

Anonymous said...

I find it a bit rich that people complain about Hammas 'targetting civilians' and then the same people complain about weapons being smuggled to the palestinians via egypt.

Do you want them to be able to defend themselves or not?

If you want them to be able to target non civilians then give them some sodding armaments which will allow them to actually target something specific rather than crude rockets which is all they have.

Why is it alright for us and the US and Russia and the rest of the world to sell all our best weapons to isreal but it's wrong for Iran or other Arab nations to try to get some weapons to the Palestinians?

Okay it's a complex situation I concede that. Much more complex than EITHER the pro-isreal or pro-palestinian posters would admit.

100 palestinians killed per isreali does not seem proportionate. (to me, and most people it seems)


Anonymous said...

The Wehrmacht in Greece in WW2 thought hanging ten Greek civilians was an appropriate - so I assume "proportionate" - response to the loss of one German life. The Nuremburg tribunal thought not.

jailhouselawyer said...

When making porridge I find that for three quarters of a cup of oats one and a half cups of milk is proportionate. On the other hand I found that prison made porridge with too much water and not enough milk was not proportionate.

Anonymous said...

We have very short memories. Back in the mid nineties, prior to the wall being built, the Palestinans could freely go about their business in Israel. I remember, it seemed to be on a weekly basis Palestinan suicide bombers blowing up innocent Israelies, in cafes, on buses, in shoppings malls etc. Then you would have televised footages of Palestinans celebrating the deaths of innocent Israelies, shouting praise and support for the bombers and cheering with happiness that a Jew had been murdered.

The Israelies are not celebrating anybodys death, they simply want to live peacefully next to their neighbours.

The Israelies are treating the injured in their hospitals. Would the same kindness be returned to Jewish children by the Palestinans?

No,no,no and no again. The truth seems to me that Palestine is small stretch of HATE. They absolutely HATE the Jews, no matter how they compromise and accommodate the Palestinans and try hard to find peace. The Palestinans do not want peace because they HATE the Jews. It's that simple. Let's go back to 1972 shall we. Was that an act of peace? How proportionate was that,murdering innocent atheletes? Their HATE it seems will never be pacified until every last JEW is slaughtered.

There are many,many innocent Palestinans that are sick to death of this HATE. If I was them, I would get out and never go back. Hamas can have Gaza, they can blow each other up for all I care. Then when the sewer is cleaned up all of the inncoent and can go back and just get on with the business of being alive and making a living.

Stop this shit.

Alex said...

Croydonian said...
"Western liberals regard it as the duty of Israelis, in common with the British, Americans etc to suffer terrorist outrages and then to blame ourselves for being insufficiently sensitive to the needs of certain nameless parties to kill us."

Do they? I think we all expect countries who have a preension towards civilisation to act in a certain manner even when their opponents do not, but I don't think anybody expects us to take attacks from terrorists without responding.

On propoortionality, Dizzy has a good point. The media is at fault for not pulling up those who talk about proportoionality. The wjhole point about war is that it has very little to do with proportional response. The whole idea is to win through dsproportionate use of militaruy power.

Anonymous said...

"The truth seems to me that Palestine is small stretch of HATE. They absolutely HATE the Jews"

Just possibly do you not think the Palestinians in Gaza feel that the Jews might think the same way about them.

Only idiots (on both sides) believe that this eye for an eye rubbish will solve anything.

New Jersey said...

I'm sure everyone remembers the "proportionate response" demonstrated in response to cartoons depicting Mohammed.

lloyd said...

Would the Israeli response have been the same if the Palestinians had WMD?
The Iranians must be contemplating the situation with renewed determination. The consequences of what has happened is not restricted to Gaza.
Although the present war may be ended the end result will not be a more secure Israel.

Born Today said...

Dizzy, the problem with a proportionate response is the definition.

But something that might help with the PR side - someone, somewhere, must have a list of Hamas missile attacks.

Ditto, someone in the IDF must know how many bombs/missiles/targets have been killed.

Would it not be possible to match up one against the other? I heard the other day on the news that there had been 5000 missile attacks?

Which a one for one accounting would show to be...well...rather more then the IDF have used?

Eeldaimun said...

what about the western media's disproportionate response to the situation. Perhaps consideration of the utter distortions of the beeb etc and a subsequent attempt at providing proportionality would also be helpful. Here is a starting suggestion - how about nuking Jeremy Bowen and his gang until they glow bright yellow then taking them out after dark and using them for shooting practice?

judith said...

Read this in a novel yesterday:

In the Israel/Palestine situation, everyone is right.

The problem is, there are several 'rights', and none of them coincide.

Anonymous said...

Why did not the UK bomb and invade Ireland when the bombs were going of in England ?

Tayto said...

At present I notice that the rate is approx 100 to 1

500 Palistinians dead and 5 Israelis

Seems proportionate to me

If you mess with Israel they will have you - Hammas were warned they kept on and now they will pay the price.

Anonymous said...

Bombing a UN school appears to be soooo disproportionate.

Israel are bullies. They need to sit down and work out a compromise. Violence won't change anything - it will only make it worse.

Lord Snooty said...

True to form, this post is naive crap, devoid of insight. Do you understand anything of the nature of this sort of conflict? I despair at your lack of imagination as soon as you are outside your comfort zone of IT gadgets or 'Punch and Judy' aspects of domestic politics.

dizzy said...

Oh please elucidate me great one

Thats News said...

I am sick to death of the RACISM of Paxman and the biased "reports" by Julian Mannion on ITV.

I can imagine Mannion saying: "And the wicked RAF have bombed yet another school in Berlin. How long can this be allowed to... blah... blah... blah... etc."

And Paxman and others of his ilk ARE racist.

It is as if Paxman and co are saying: "Well, the Palestinians ARE launching missiles and suicide bomb attacks into Israel, but what else can you expect of them?"

And if that is not racist (neo liberal "ooh, look at the poor savages" racism) I don't know what is.

And as for Nick Clegg? He has proven once again that he is not the right person to run a political party with pretensions of being important.

Jabba the Cat said...

Mortar Bombs Shot from UN School in Gaza 29 Oct. 2007


Julian King said...

It has been said that if you go into a town of 1000 with 10 terrorists and shoot 100 people there will be 110 terrorists when you leave.

This is Israel's enduring mistake.

Are Hamas right? Absolutely not. Does that excuse the attrocities that Israel has performed? Israel might get some sympathy from me (like they care) when they stop breaking the law. When they stop settling in the occupied territories, and when they treat the Palestinians with some respect.

Will being a nice country just end decades of violence and hate? Absolutely not, but it might help start the healing process.

P.S. Just for amusement value, most of the Palestinian missiles have been landing in Palestinian land. If the Israeli's hadn't illegally settled there then they wouldn't be being hurt by said missiles...

Steve said...

Nobody seems to have noticed that according to the Geneva Convention (including protocols) use of unguided weapons against population centres is a war crime and siting military targets within civilian areas is a war crime. Attacking such targets when they have been so sited is not (providing the attacking side issues a warning). I know the Israelis issued such warning in the previous conflict in Southern Lebanon. But I don't know whether they have done so on this occasion.

The conventions are available on the web for those who wish to check the wording.


kerfuffler said...

Proportionality is not supposed to be a ratio of casualties on each side, but rather the relative importance of the military objective considered along with the amount of casualties. If Israel believes this is necessary to survive, then certainly in is proportionate. If Israel were trying to influence their own election outcomes, that would be altogether different. But to think that proportionality is based on some childish tit for tat rubric reduces all warfare to impotent gestures of hatred-----and please don't anyone say,'Isn't that what all war is?' After all, was it an impotent gesture of hatred to fight Hitler?

Cinnamon said...

Well, after the dust has settled, you will probably find that Hamas killed the majority of people, just to smear the Israelis with war crimes and accuse them of 'disproportionate response'.

Here Hamas had booby trapped a zoo and a school to be blown up:


What else do you think Hamas stoops to?

The sick thing is that the Gazans are being sacrificed by Hamas for these snuff propaganda stunts in order to keep a western left-wing audience happy and demonstrating.

Goebbels would be proud of Hamas.