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.

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