In defense of disproportion

It is manifestly unjust for the world to heap deprecations upon Israel for defending itself, and nonsensical to malign it for defending itself well.

Kiryat Malachi building hit by rocket  370 (photo credit: Ben Hartman)
Kiryat Malachi building hit by rocket 370
(photo credit: Ben Hartman)
Responding to withering criticism to the effect that The Washington Post refrains from publishing photographs depicting the ravages of Hamas’s missile attacks, Washington Post ombudsman Patrick Pexton offered this alarming defense: “...the overwhelming majority of rockets fired from Gaza are like bee stings on the Israeli bear’s behind.” As morally disfigured a judgement as this is, it is a common enough sentiment that it, and the notion of disproportionate response, deserve serious discussion.
Let’s set aside, for a moment, the obvious objection to Pexton’s account, namely that these innocuous “bee stings” have resulted in the death and injury of Israeli citizens and so cannot honestly be dismissed. They also terrorize a population that lives under constant threat of death, a foreboding cloud of trauma, however incompetently the missiles are delivered.
Pexton’s essential gravamen is that Israel is stronger and that its military responses are unjustly disproportionate.
But this is a shallow and tendentious interpretation of what counts as “disproportionate.”
That Israel causes more damage than Hamas, both material and human, is empirically unassailable. The more contentious assertion, and less obviously true, is that this physical disproportion results in a moral one, for which Israel deserves condemnation.
First of all, Israel’s military responses are precisely that – post facto reactions to Hamas’s relentless provocations.
There is already a moral disproportion built into the very nature of these military exchanges since Israel’s posture is permanently defensive. Its overarching goal is to itself from aggression, while Hamas is in a perpetual state of frothing instigation.
Israel is motivated by a protective love of its own, and Hamas is inspired by bottomless hate for another.
Also, much of the reason Palestinians suffer greater casualties is that they intentionally place civilians in harm’s way, using women and children as human shields. Israel exposes itself to heightened danger and often undermines its own military effectiveness precisely because of its scrupulous devotion to avoiding collateral damage. Hamas’s cynical strategy is to cause and to incur as much collateral damage as possible. This is why Israel relies on precision-guided munitions and Hamas indiscriminately lobs missiles into civilian territory from hospitals, schools, and residential hamlets.
Of course, from the practical perspective of the logic of deterrence, it would make no sense for Israel to aim at an equality of military impact.
Their objective is to create the circumstances that most powerfully discourage further attacks. Nevertheless, that aim is still tempered by a remarkable restraint that assigns much more value to Palestinian life, let alone the lives of Jews, than Hamas ever has.
This is the most important and true disproportion between Israel and Hamas.
While Israel is the superior military power, they are, in essence, the moral underdog since they willingly choose to hamstrung themselves with self-imposed moral strictures. Hamas remains unencumbered by respect for human life, liberated by their own nihilistic recklessness.
GIVEN THE elevated status typically accorded to the virtue of tolerance today by American liberals, it is unusual how little criticism they direct toward Hamas for its spectacular lack of it, for failing to forbear the very existence of an entire people.
Israel pines for tolerance as classically understood: not comity or cooperation, but at least coexistence is their ideal. Hamas’s ultimate objective, their only animating purpose, is to eradicate Jews from the earth.
It is not immediately clear what constitutes a proportionate response to such existential terror, to the unremitting threat from an adversary who refuses to acknowledge your right to breathe the same air and walk the same ground.
It is impossible to assess the moral disproportion between Israel and Hamas by singular reference to the arithmetic of physical destruction. Those empirical facts, when wrenched from the context of a specifically moral calculus, are more misleading than edifying.
To capture the unbridgeable distance between their motivations, consider this: There are clearly definable conditions under which Israel would accept, even enthusiastically embrace, a protracted peace. Hamas only exists for war, and will only accept the sullied peace that results from the extermination of Israel as a nation, and Jews as a people. It is manifestly unjust for the world to heap deprecations upon Israel for defending itself, and nonsensical to malign it for defending itself well.
The writer is editor-in-chief of