What Is a "Proportionate Response" to Terror?
While waiting in line to get my lunch today, I overhead two people arguing about the conflict in Gaza. One of the people made the oft-heard claim that Israel was to be blamed for using "disproportionate force". That got me thinking. What, precisely, is proportionate force and how should it be applied?
The proximate cause for the current conflict is the near-constant bombardment of southern Israel with rockets. So, should Israel, in an effort to keep its implementation of force "proportionate" simply fire one rocket at Gaza for every rocket fired at Israel? If Hamas fires 60 rockets on any given day, should Israel simply fire back 60 of its own? And if those Hamas rockets are non-targeted (i.e., they are simply pointed north and fired without any real attempt or ability to hit a particular target), should Israel's response be equally random and indiscriminate? Can you imagine the outcry if Israel were to do that?
If a Hamas suicide bomber blows up a pizza parlor, should Israel simply plant a bomb (I don't think a Jewish suicide bomber is a very likely possibility) in a cafe in Gaza? Must Israel ensure that it only uses the same amount of explosives as the suicide bomber? And if the suicide bomber used metal fragments dipped in rat poison, should Israel be sure to include some kind of chemical or biological agent it its response? If a Hamas terrorist attack targets a shopping mall, should Israel be sure that its response hits only civilians? If a Palestinian terrorist attacks a Passover Seder, should Israel's response target a Ramadan feast? Again, can you imagine the outcry if Israel were to take such actions?
If Palestinian children are taught to hate Jews, should Israeli children be taught to hate Muslim children?
If Iran should acquire a nuclear weapon and attack Israel, would Israel thus be justified in launching its own nuclear response against Iran?
And why, in all of these scenarios, must Israel wait and respond to the initial implementation of force?
If you punch me in the face over and over again, shouldn't I have the right to do something other than simply punch you back? If you won't even sit down and talk to me to try to work out our differences, must I simply allow you to keep hitting me? Or, can I take efforts to stop you from hitting me again?
I guess that the real question is what is Israel supposed to do when Hamas launches attacks from within civilian areas and with the use of civilian shields? What is the "proportionate" response to that attack? Clearly, Israel cannot simply allow the attacks to continue unchallenged; just as clearly, Israel cannot simply decide to surrender and commit mass suicide to appease Hamas. So what can and should Israel do?
I suspect that if I were able to cross-examine at length one of Israel's critics I would learn that their real answer is that Israel should not be entitled to use force at all either due to a mistaken belief that Israel is a "colonial" or "apartheid" regime or due to some form of anti-Semitism.
In any event, I believe that Israel has the right to defend its citizens. I believe that Israel has the right to do more than simply respond in kind to attacks launched against it. If the only way to stop the use of terrorist force in an asymmetrical conflict is with the application of disproportionate counter-force, then such disproportionate force should, in reality, be seen as proportionate in the situation.
Updated January 2, 2008 to add title.