Israel, Gaza and “Proportionality”

by Louis René Beres

Already, calls from various directions have begun to condemn Israel for its recent retaliatory strikes in self-defense at Gaza.[1] The carefully-rehearsed refrain is all-too familiar. Gazan terrorists fire rockets and mortars at Israel; then, the world calls upon the Israel Air Force (IAF) not to respond.

Although Israel is plainly the victim in these ritualistic cycles of Arab terror and required Israeli retaliations, the “civilized world” usually comes to the defense of the victimizers. Inexplicably, in the European Union, and even sometimes with the current U.S. president, the Israeli response is reflexively, without thought, described as “excessive” or “disproportionate.”

Leaving aside the irony of President Obama’s evident sympathies here — nothing that Israel has done in its own defense even comes close to the indiscriminacy of recent U.S. operations in Afghanistan[2] — the condemnations are always unfounded. Plainly, Hamas and allied Arab terror groups deliberately fire their rockets from populated areas in Gaza at Israeli civilians. Under pertinent international law, this use of one’s own people as “human shields” — because such firing from populated areas is intended to deter Israeli reprisals, or to elicit injuries to Palestinian civilians — represents a codified war crime. More specifically, this crime is known as “perfidy.”

“Perfidy” is plainly an attempt to make the IDF appear murderous when it is compelled to retaliate, but it is always simply a Palestinian manipulation of true legal responsibility. Hamas’s intent might be to incriminate the Israelis as murderers of Gaza’s civilians. Legally, however, the net effect of Arab perfidy in Gaza is to free Israel of all responsibility for Arab harm, even if it is Israeli retaliatory fire that actually injures or kills the Gazan victims. Under law, those Arab residents who suffer from Israeli retaliations are incurring the consequences of their own government’s war crimes. Palestinian suffering, which we are surely about to see again in stepped-up, choreographed Arab propaganda videos, remains the direct result of a relentlessly cruel, insensitive, and criminal Hamas leadership.

Significant, too, although never really mentioned, is that this Hamas leadership, similar to the PA and Fatah leadership, often sits safely away from Gaza, tucked away inconspicuously in Qatar. For these markedly unheroic figures, “martyrdom” is allegedly always welcomed and revered, but only as long as this singular honor is actually conferred upon someone else.

Moreover, the authoritative rules of war do not equate “proportionality” with how many people die in each side of a conflict. In war, no side is ever required to respond to aggression with only the equivalent measure of force. Rather, the obligations of proportionality require that no side employ any level of force that is greater than what is needed to achieve a legitimate political and operational objective.

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