Two words: disproportionate response.
This is the term being hurled at Israel by her detractors when describing Israel’s response to the attacks against Israel’s border with the Gaza Strip.
To state the obvious: Gaza is controlled by Hamas; Gaza is not Israel.
The now infamous fence, the boundary that separates Israel and the Gaza Strip, is known in military jargon and international diplomacy as a “hot border.”
It is “hot” because the parties on both sides are at war, because there are regular attempts to breach the border and because there are actual attacks, one side against the other, at that border.
The reality: Hamas has sworn to destroy Israel.
Hamas’s leadership organized the riots and choreographed the attacks on the border fence.
Those actions are considered to be an act of war. And Israel, in defense, responded.
The dilemma Israel faced was figuring out how to prevent the border from being breached by Hamas while also preventing as many deaths as possible of innocent participants in the riots-cum-protests along that border. Interrogations of those Hamas fighters who successfully crossed into Israel only to be apprehended revealed confessions admitting that their mission was part of a grand Hamas plan to cause as much harm as possible once inside Israel.
Riots, especially the riots of these past few weeks, are weapons of attack for Hamas – they are not peaceful demonstrations.
Compare the funeral processions of those who died during the border riots with the actual actions taken during the riots and the distinction becomes glaring. The funerals were massive, with thousands in attendance – but they were not a threat. There was hate speech but no violence. There was fury and grief but no attacks against Israel.
So, was Israel’s response proportionate?
INTERNATIONAL LAW allows a country to defend itself. The law permits Israel to fight back against those attacking her border.
The question is how. How strong can the strike be and against whom? International law stipulates that certain criteria be in place.
There needs to be a military objective. One needs to strike only at the threat. The selection of weapons and tactics to be used in confronting the enemy must take into account the best way to avoid as many civilian casualties and collateral damage as possible.
International law also permits a country or group to attack the enemy in a manner that addresses the threat so that it does not arise again.
Some of the criteria are cut and dry. Others are more vague, allowing for latitude; therefore, they are open to interpretation.
But if Israel applied these guidelines, its actions at the border with the Gaza Strip were within the rubric of proportionate response as permitted by international law.
Israel dropped fliers into Gaza beseeching local Palestinians not to attend the “protests.”
The fliers explained that innocent civilians were being used as tools by Hamas and that Hamas was putting their lives in danger.
The message was simple: Do not approach the fence.
Loudspeakers also warned Palestinians to stay away from the fence.
The IDF employed sharpshooters to attack known and recognized Hamas and Islamic Jihad commanders within the crowd.
The major critique against Israel has been the military’s decision to use live ammunition rather than water cannons or rubber bullets. The answer is straightforward and simple: precision and range. Water cannons are only effective when used within a few dozen yards of the target. Rubber bullets lose accuracy after a hundred yards and are out of control at two hundred yards. A rubber bullet is round, not rocket shaped, and much lighter than a regular bullet. It is not aerodynamic and should only be used when needed for relatively close-range engagements.
As has been noted in court decisions of many cases adjudicated on this matter – and this is critical to our understanding of what happened – the death of innocent civilians is not, in and of itself, a violation of international law.
As many as 62 people were killed on May 14. Hamas claimed 50 of the dead as active members; Islamic Jihad has taken credit for another three.
That leaves nine unclaimed, a.k.a. innocent civilian casualties Given the mayhem, the swarming crowds, the rapid movements of the organizers and people, as well as the billowing smoke from burning tires, it is astounding that many more Palestinians were not killed.
That is a true testament to Israel’s accuracy and proportionate response.
The words “proportionate” and “disproportionate” are not literary terms. They do not mean “equal” or “nearly equal.”
Proportionate does not mean that if Palestinians throw stones at Israel, Israel needs to throw stones back at Palestinians – or Molotov cocktails or pistol fire. It means Israel must have clear objectives and be responsible and moral in its choice of action used in defense against the threat.
Israel acted properly. Israel acted proportionately.
The author is a political commentator. He hosts the TV show
Thinking Out Loud on JBS TV. Follow him on Twitter @MicahHalpern.
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