Monthly Archives: July 2014

Three thoughts about Proportionality

Disproportionate attention

There is the feeling that the media and public response to the Gaza war is disproportionate to their response to every other conflict in the world. As thousands are slaughtered in Syria, all rage is directed to Gaza.

Part of me is surprised at the surprise. There is an antisemitism at the heart of Europe. There is an antisemitism at the heart of the Islamic world. Big whup. These facts don’t dispel for me the deep agony I feel when a defender of Israel wishes us to be compared to a murderous dictator such as Assad. Even if the comparison is relatively favourable. That is not the kind of company we should be keeping.

It must not be a rhetorical question

This video of Israeli philosopher and consultant to the IDF Moshe Halbertal lays out all the key questions. Halbertal points out that “proportionality” is not about the death of combatants. It is about the death of civilians. As he puts it from 17:10 onwards: “Is the expected collateral killing proportional to the military advantage to be gained?”

So it’s a really good question. It accepts that civilians might die in urban warfare. And it asks how many civilians is it “worth” killing in order to win the military advantage? It is the correct moral and philosophical question to be asked.

Halbertal’s question must not be solely rhetorical. I believe we Israelis have been remiss at going ahead and trying to find an answer. 

Are we really okay with the rationale: “We fired on the hospital/school because they fired at us from there: It is their fault that we fired back.”? Well it certainly paints Hamas black, but it doesn’t answer Halbertal’s question.

What military advantage did we gain by firing back? Was that advantage worth the risk that we might slaughter some kids along the way?

It seems we are too easily appeased by Hamas’ guilt to assess our own. It tortures me.

Desired disproportionality

If we want Palestinians to appreciate that violence against us does not pay, I believe we must also work behaviouristically to show that non-violence does pay.

If we are, as I am beginning to fear, responding disproportionately to Hamas violence, I believe we should be equally disproportionate in resopnding to all Palestinian non-violence. Any Palestinian who denounces violence, even in a mealy-mouthed way, should be ridiculously disproportionately rewarded. Abu Mazen, and his former Prime Minister and non-violent State-builder, Salam Fayyad, should have been treated as kings by our government. Every bona fide business established by the PA should receive outrageously generous subsidies from the Israeli government. Sweets should be thrown at every Palestinian kid who smiles at an Israeli.

At the same time I think we should be disproportionately generous to our amazingly non-violent Palestinian Israeli citizens. Forget trying to bring the education budget for Arab schools up to parity – it should be twice the size as the budget for Jewish schools. Don’t fight for Arab Israelis to have the same house-buying subsidies as Jews – fight for them to have even bigger subsidies.

If we are okay with severely punishing Palestinians for the violence of their leaders, we should also be willing to seriously reward them for the opposite.


From Comedy to Tragedy

Can’t remember who it was who once said that comedy is just tragedy speeded up.

Here’s an example. A true story that told quickly is really funny. Only on slower telling it’s tragic.

About 500 Israelis are demonstrating at HaBima Square in Tel Aviv on Saturday night. They are protesting the war in Gaza. They are against the bombing and killing of Gazan civilians. “Jews and Arabs refuse to be enemies,” they chant.

Some 50 Israelis gather around them. These Israelis don’t like the leftist sentiment of the demonstrators. They start shouting “Death to the Arabs,” and other such nice things. Accusing the leftists of being cappuccino-supping café-frequenting Arab-loving traitors, they begin to get heated. From aggressive language to violence, these folks start to attack the lefties.

Someone calls the police. The police separate the two groups, and stand between them.

Then. Of course. Comic timing. Hamas shoot a rocket at Tel Aviv. The siren goes off, as up in the skies above HaBima square the Iron Dome defender zooms around and takes out the Hamas rocket.

Who responds to the siren? Who runs for cover?

The police, of course.

Suddenly, now the fireworks are over, there is no one to separate between the leftist demonstrators and their violent opponents. The right-wingers attack, and the leftists run. They run and take cover.


In a coffee shop.

It’s hilarious. If you tell it quick enough.

But if you slow things down, and move your point of view from Gaza to Israel these past few weeks, there is something deeply disturbing going on. There is violence in the air and on the streets here. Why use capital letters and horrific curses in social media if you can do it physically instead?

Our democracy, that which we’re fighting for, is in danger from ourselves. The minority of thugs who shouted down Naftali Bennet during his speech at the Haaretz Peace Conference and pushed him around afterwards are no less worrying (though less populous) than the thugs who shout down and fight down anyone who doesn’t agree with the government’s choices.

I hope we don’t take our eye off the ball, so busy are we searching the skies for attack and defence. Shouting in Israel is only healthy if it stays as hot air, and does not turn into fists.