How to define proportionality in the face of evil

Alan Dershowitz gives us some insights into the evil that is Hamas (and I use the word evil deliberately and without any artistic hyperbole), and then explains how, under international law, the concept of “proportionality” properly works in the face of that kind of evil.  Incidentally, it’s not far from my post from a couple of days ago about a party’s intentions governing the appropriate response:

In a recent incident related to me by the former head of the Israeli air force, Israeli intelligence learned that a family’s house in Gaza was being used to manufacture rockets. The Israeli military gave the residents 30 minutes to leave. Instead, the owner called Hamas, which sent mothers carrying babies to the house.

Hamas knew that Israel would never fire at a home with civilians in it. They also knew that if Israeli authorities did not learn there were civilians in the house and fired on it, Hamas would win a public relations victory by displaying the dead. Israel held its fire. The Hamas rockets that were protected by the human shields were then used against Israeli civilians.


[P]roportionality is not measured by the number of civilians actually killed, but rather by the risk posed. This is illustrated by what happened on Tuesday, when a Hamas rocket hit a kindergarten in Beer Sheva, though no students were there at the time. Under international law, Israel is not required to allow Hamas to play Russian roulette with its children’s lives.

While Israel installs warning systems and builds shelters, Hamas refuses to do so, precisely because it wants to maximize the number of Palestinian civilians inadvertently killed by Israel’s military actions. Hamas knows from experience that even a small number of innocent Palestinian civilians killed inadvertently will result in bitter condemnation of Israel by many in the international community.

Read the rest here and wonder, as I do, why Dershowitz still aligns himself with the Democratic party.  (This would be the same Democratic party whose members think Israel should still be talking and negotiating as the rockets rain down upon her.)  He’s taking an unusually long time to cross that Rubicon.

And while we’re on the subject of the moral clarity that should be attending this war (but is not), you should also read Charles Krauthammer’s article about the way good and evil play out in that benighted strip of land attached to Israel.  Krauthammer opens his piece with a snippet buried deep within an AP article:

Late Saturday, thousands of Gazans received Arabic-language cell-phone messages from the Israeli military, urging them to leave homes where militants might have stashed weapons.

It is with this factoid, widely ignored by a world bound and determined to point the finger of blame at Israel that Krauthammer, a la Dershowitz (and Bookworm), explains that the differing intent guiding Israel and Hamas must be taken into consideration to understand the evil that is Hamas and the righteousness of Israel’s actions:

Israel is so scrupulous about civilian life that, risking the element of surprise, it contacts enemy noncombatants in advance to warn them of approaching danger. Hamas, which started this conflict with unrelenting rocket and mortar attacks on unarmed Israelis — 6,464 launched from Gaza in the past three years — deliberately places its weapons in and near the homes of its own people.


For Hamas, the only thing more prized than dead Jews are dead Palestinians. The religion of Jew-murder and self-martyrdom is ubiquitous.


At war today in Gaza, one combatant is committed to causing the most civilian pain and suffering on both sides. The other combatant is committed to saving as many lives as possible — also on both sides.


That is the asymmetry of means between Hamas and Israel. But there is equal clarity regarding the asymmetry of ends. Israel has but a single objective in Gaza — peace: the calm, open, normal relations it offered Gaza when it withdrew in 2005.


There’s only one grievance [that guides Hamas’ militant actions since Israel handed over Gaza in 2005] and Hamas is open about it. Israel’s very existence.


Since its raison d’etre is the eradication of Israel, there are only two possible outcomes: the defeat of Hamas or the extinction of Israel.

As you can see from the snips, I’ve left a lot out, all of it worth reading.  These two articles are perfect bookend to the way in which all thinking people should analyze Israel’s war against the sovereign terrorist state of Gaza.

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  • Tiresias

    Very odd moment here, I actually agree with Alan Dershowitz. (Wait a second, I actually agree with Alan Dershowitz???)

    I’m meaner than Alan, though – and certainly meaner than Israel. I hold off on the bombing while the ladies and babies go running in there, wait until the place is packed with them, the more the merrier – then put one right down the chimney. Perfectly happy to kill future terrorists and those who nurture them. Would not lose a second of sleep.

    I wouldn’t have held my fire and would have told the world exactly why, (and not cared much about their response, either), and made of it an example for all time: “Palestinian mommas, dumb-asses that you are: this is what’s going to happen every time. Little Ding Al-Dong goes poof, and so do you, so you can’t make any more of him.”

    The only way to long-term defeat this stuff is get the people unallied with the terrorists, and allied with you. We managed to do this in Anbar Province in Iraq, and Al Quaeda found itself without friends – and defeated. The people themselves rendered them untenable. When you make the cost of being allied with the terrorists too high; or the reward for not being allied with the terrorists high enough (in Iraq we made the rewards high enough – but we could have made the costs high enough just as easily – and cheaper), then the terrorists will have no friends, and will have to quit.

    If Israel would just accept that Hamas is going to give them a steady diet of women and children as targets, deal with it, and damn well use them as targets, it would only have to happen a couple of times. Dumb as they are, eventually even the Palestinian people will get the object of the lesson and call a halt to this, and once Hamas – like any other terrorist organization – loses the people, then they’re done.

    Just as we had to demonstrate to both Germany and Japan that yeah: if you make it necessary we will indeed kill Grandma and the grand-kiddies – and the dog and the cat and the tweety-bird too; so Israel needs to demonstrate the same williingness. And the hell with “world opinion,” whatever that may be.

  • Ymarsakar

    When terrorist governments get into power, they assume much of the vulnerabilities as the occupation they once fought. This is as true for Hamas as it is true for Al Qaeda in Iraq.

    Occupations are normally expected to safeguard civilians and to protect the infrastructure. Insurgents are normally expected to resist the occupation. Hamas, however, is a terrorist organization using insurgency methods but at the same time is also a government: a standing and sitting power over a well demarcated territory.

    It means all forces involved in warfare between two political entities are game. That includes civilians if they take up arms or participates in the war effort. So long as it is ultimately the military capability of the enemy you are targeting, you can kill as many civilians as you want, so long as you have shown some efforts to avoid them.

    This is what the laws of war demand, even though such laws are no longer enforced. The laws of war are there not to prevent war or to hobble one side as opposed to another, but to reduce the gross unnecessary deaths of civilians in war time and to provide a proper framework for POWs and other specialty areas.

    If the Japanese keep rebuilding their war time industry because of their cottage workers, then eventually those cottage workers become a more optimal military target than the actual buildings in which they worked. If you take more casualties when doing daytime bombing rather than nighttime bombing, but your bomb accuracy is better daytime rather than nighttime, then you are justified in killing civilians at night rather than conduct operations in the day due to military expedience: the expedience of losing less bombers at night than in the day. But that is not the spirit in which current laws of warfare are being followed or enforced or talked about.

    Here we have loopholes in the way the law is used but no real effort to close those loopholes. We have HAMAS taking advantage of red cross symbols, hospitals, schools, and religious places to stash their weapons. The Israelis, in the meantime, do nothing but help Hamas put more civilians in danger. Just like when Israel traded a thousand Palestinians for the dead body of one or two Israelis, they taught the terrorists what worked and what didn’t worked. And what worked was killing civilians, taking hostages, and not playing by the rules. Every time Israel warns the targets in advance of what is happening, Israel kills more of their own children.

    Israel’s actions aren’t righteous at all. They try to be, but their level of unbalanced extremity is too much. Hamas is unbalanced on the extreme in one direction while Israel is unbalanced in the other direction. Hamas is to not solicitous of civilian casualties enough while Israel is too solicitous of civilian casualties. Both do not follow the original spirit behind the laws of warfare. The more Israel tries to defend civilians, the more Israel makes civilians a valuable target and weapon in the war. The more Hamas uses civilians as weapons, the less protections those civilians will have from warfare.

    Of course, the real villain of the piece here is the international community that is selling munitions to both sides hoping to get as high a body count as physically possible. They want a solution for “both sides” because so long as they offer this illusion, they like to think the cycle of violence will keep on going. On sure, they talk about negotiations ending the cycle of violence, but only an idiot would believe that after decades of reality wherein negotiations did nothing but sustain the cycle of violence.

  • expat

    Check out Richard Landes’s article at PJM. He describes how the BBC failed to followup on Hamas’s rejection of Egyptian medical aid.

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  • aritai

    Perhaps we can use their own words / memes against them. If they are not to be held responsible for their actions and need to be treated like children, lets treat them like children. They need a time out (since it appears corporal punishment is not to be tolerated). We hear daily about the (terrible conditions in the) “camps” so let’s fold up (what must be (not)) tents and re-establish them on some desolate Saudi or African desert beach 100 miles from the nearest road (and 1000 miles from Israel). Since they claim to be totally dependent on U.N. and other charities (always asking for more), divert these supply ships to the new “camp.” Let families migrate back who take an oath of good behavior, agree to electronic monitoring, and can prove their ability to start and run a business and/or be employed by an existing concern, as well as pass a written test that shows some ability to discern between good and evil behavior, separating fact from the propaganda. Would take, say, 10 cruise ships, at 10,000 people per, 10 day round trip, to move the 1.5m population of Gaza in six months.

    Could condition relocating the next shipload by the number of mortars, rockets, kidnapping and suicide attempts (i.e. every day Israel is attacked another ship is loaded and leaves).

    In 50 years, we’ll have a repeat of the suits and settlements seen in the Japanese internment camps (as if there was something else that could have been done) but the current issue will be long behind us.

  • cottus

    Well, I must admit to surprise that Israel has not caved to international pressure yet. Perhaps a fortunate conjugation of Bush being a lame duck and Ms. Zippy’s need for military Cred. at election time. Tho’ time is running out, dudes.

    But let’s be realistic in this day and age. The idea that Israel can just blot out Hamas and help set up an actual government in Gaza that has some pretense in really, you know, actually governing rather than enjoying gang warfare is simply naive. But one can hope.

  • Ymarsakar

    It is their only hope. When it is your only hope for victory, it stops being naive and starts being the only option long term.

  • Danny Lemieux

    Here’s a stab at proportionality:

    You try to destroy us, we destroy you!

  • Ymarsakar

    My idea of proportionality:

    Hamas: We have one of your soldiers as our hostage. We have a list of 2,000 Palestinians we want for him in trade.

    Israel: We have more than 2,000 Palestinian prisoners and we will be executing them once they are found guilty of the charges of aiding and abetting in the kidnapping of Israeli soldiers, the killing of Israeli civilians, and the assassination of Israeli children by terrorist organizations. We thank you for providing us their names in your demands that we free them. They helped make the case in their military tribunal, along with the other evidence against them.

    Hamas: No, this is illegal under international law. You are taking retribution against innocent Palestinians. We will show you the cost of that. Here is our hostage’s finger.

    Israel: Well, to react with the appropriate proportionate response, we are forced to send you 100 Palestinian heads for this trade of our soldier’s finger. Now if you wish to send something more substantial, Israel is sure to hold to the correct proportionate response.

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