You’ll hear it every day: “The number of civilian casualties in Gaza is completely disproportionate to the number of Israeli casualties.”
And yes – as of writing these words, there have so far been “only” 7 Israeli fatalities – two civilian and five military – whereas, if we are to believe the figures put out by Hamas, the Gazan death toll stands at about 336, “mostly civilians”, to use the phrase almost automatically tagged on by the world media.
At first sight, 336:7 certainly appears “disproportional”. But if we put these figures under the microscope, a different story emerges.
My argument is three-fold and hinges, firstly, on the use of the term “proportionality”. In the context of self-defence, this does not – cannot logically – restrict the defending party to administering a counter-blow equal in force to the one received (“tit for tat”). The whole concept of self-defence rests on the idea that the use of force is legitimate if it is necessary to put an end to the violence of the other side and prevent them from renewing the attack. Thus, if someone is threatening me with a knife, I am entitled to disarm him, even if, in the course of doing so, the knife slides into his own heart and kills them. Likewise, let us imagine a woman sleeping with a gun under her pillow, because there is a known rapist terrorising the neighbourhood. Waking up to find a strange man leaning over her bed, she draws out her weapon and cries out that she has a gun and is prepared to use it. He ignores her and attempts to pin her to the bed. She shoots and kills him. No-one in their right mind would claim that this was anything other than self-defence, even though the rapist was not attempting to kill her. (I am aware that many people would claim – and I am not sure that I would disagree with them – that the damage inflicted on a rape victim is as bad as killing them.)
What I am trying to say here, is that “proportionality” refers to the degree of force necessary to neutralise the threat.
According to the Max Planck Encyclopedia of Public Law, “Whether action purportedly taken in self-defence meets the requirement of proportionality is to be assessed not by reference to the degree of force which was employed in the initial armed attack, but rather the threat posed by the armed attack. It is not simply a matter of comparing the number of forces or the types of weapons employed or even the scale of casualties and damage occasioned.“
In Israel’s case, the threat posed by scores of rockets raining down on the civilian population is not mitigated, for the purpose of this rule, by the fact that, so far, our luck has held and – thanks to the discipline of the civilian population and their following of Civil Defence regulations – few Israeli civilians have, so far, paid with their lives. The relevant point here is the potential for loss of life posed by the Hamas rockets.
It is further stated there : “Whether the victim State’s use of force in self-defence meets the criterion of proportionality depends not upon its relation to the force initially used, but upon whether it is required in order to reverse the effects of the armed attack.”
Thus, Israel is not required to restrict herself to firing back an equal number of rockets, but is entitled to use whatever means are necessary to liquidate Hamas’ missile-firing capability.
“Ah,” I hear you say. “But what about the ground offensive? That wasn’t necessary in order to disable the Hamas missile network, and is therefore a disproportionate response.”
Not so. The Israeli ground offensive was preceded by an infiltration by Hamas terrorists into Israeli territory, by means of an underground tunnel which emerged minutes away from an Israeli civilian settlement, Kibbutz Sufa, with the intention, if the weapons they carried were any indication, of carrying out a large-scale massacre, or else kidnapping large numbers of Israelis for use as hostages. They did this hours before a UN-initiated ceasefire was due to go into effect (a ceasefire to which, by the way, Israel adhered and Hamas did not). Hamas has a vast network of such tunnels, the entrances to which are to be found in the basements of schools, hospitals, mosques and private homes throughout Gaza. They cannot be destroyed, or even located, from the air and the only way to eradicate this threat is by entering Gaza on the ground, and searching for them in situ.
Which brings me to the second hinge of my argument. It is not only the terror tunnel entrances which are located in schools, hospitals, mosques and private homes. It is also the Hamas command posts, weapons and ammunitions stores and, crucially, the rocket launchers from which, over the years, literally thousands of missiles have been rained down on the Israeli civilian population. These have been deliberately placed in the midst of the civilian population, for three reasons. One is camouflage. The second is that Hamas knows well that the morality of Israel’s Defence Forces is such as to make them think twice and thrice, before attacking a “civilian target” – even though, under international law, the moment these places are used for military purpose, they become legitimate military targets. See below for an illustration of this – the aborting of an airstrike by the IAI, because of the possible presence of children:
The third reason is that Hamas knows, perfectly well, that in the event of a mistake by Israeli forces – and mistakes do happen – nothing better serves their cause than the sight of dead Palestinian children, even if those deaths were caused by their own use of those children as human shields, which is, in itself, a war crime. This is a tactic they have used often in the past, and continue to use:
This video clip proves two things: one, that the IDF gives prior warning of airstrikes on “civilian” targets; and two, that Hamas encourages the elderly, women and children, to act as human shields. In fact, it would not be an exaggeration to say that Hamas actively hopes for civilian casualties, as these further their cause by producing the predictable knee-jerk anti-Israel, anti-Jewish reaction, both of the already inflamed Islamic masses now poised, like a Fifth Column, throughout the western world, and of the Useful Idiots of the Loony Left.
The final hinge of my argument turns on the veracity (or lack thereof) of the claim that “most of the casualties are civilians”. Fellow-blogger “Aussie Dave”, on his excellent blog Israellycool, has analysed data from Al-Jazeera, regarding the casualty statistics provided by the Gaza Health Ministry. A similar, though less detailed analysis, has been carried out by CAMERA – the Committee for Accuracy in Middle East Reporting in America. The gist of the argument is this: although approximately half the population of Gaza is female, only 18% of the casualties (according to Israellycool) are female (12% according to CAMERA). Moreover, although half the males in the Gaza Strip are under the age of 15 (according to CAMERA) only about 13% of the total casualties fall into this age group. If Israel were indiscriminately killing Gazan civilians (ie. non-combatants), you would expect to see a more even division of the casualties among the sexes and the different age groups. Yet, according to both these analyses, both based on data from Al-Jazeera (which, in turn, was relying on information from Hamas), the vast majority of the Gazan dead (over 80%) are male, and the majority of these (around 65%) are young men of military age (18 – 38) – leading one to wonder, how many of these “innocent civilians” really were “non-combatants”.
UPDATE: Really, events are taking place on the ground faster than I can keep up with them. Since writing the above, the tragic news has been made public that 13 more Golani Brigade soldiers were killed in 4 separate incidents last night and early this morning. That brings the number of Israeli dead to 20 – 18 soldiers and two civilians. I don’t suppose that will satisfy those who demand “proportionality” however.