I don’t have much fondness for any government. I took a lot of heat, growing up, when I would criticize Israel for its socialistic and religious domestic policies and excessive military policies in Lebanon (in the early 80s).
But, I recognize that if a government has any legitimate responsibilities, it’s to defend its citizens against attacks.
So, I strongly support Israel’s right to defend itself.
As far as I can tell, Israel has pursued this goal as morally and effectively as could be expected of any government. It has many unusual handicaps (greatly outnumbered, international bias against it, terrorist enemies who endanger their own civilians, etc.), but it has still been restrained in its use of force, and heroic in its attempts to minimize innocent deaths.
Nevertheless, whenever Israel resorts to force to stop attacks on its citizens (e.g. in Lebanon in 2006 or in Gaza currently), it is almost universally condemned for using excessive or disproportional force.
Nobody is ever able to spell out exactly what the boundaries of a justified proportional response would be, but they are certain that Israel has exceeded it.
I understand the impulse to keep uses of force within reasonable limits, and the natural idea that the “punishment should fit the crime”, etc. But, this idea of proportionality doesn’t really make sense to me when it comes to violent defense against murderous aggression. Israel isn’t responding in-kind to attacks against civilians. It’s not trying to kill innocents in Gaza. It’s trying to do something else. It’s trying to protect its citizens from being murdered. The amount of force this requires has nothing to do with how inept Hamas has been in its attempts to murder Israelis. It would like to kill zero innocents, but the tactics of Hamas, and human fallibility make this impossible. It goes to extreme efforts to warn people before impending attacks, and Hamas usually responds by sending more civilians to those places. The distinction of “civilian” is getting harder and harder to define.
Even Tom G. Palmer (a great libertarian scholar and hero), once again (he did this after the 2006 invasion of Lebanon) responds to the horrible images and stories of civilian deaths in Gaza with accusations that Israel is acting wrongly and has gone beyond a justified ratio of civilian deaths. Check out the comments to this post. In it, I try to engage with the notion of such a ratio. One point I made, that seems powerful to me, is this one:
And, consider the hypothetical case where you could define such a ratio.
If it’s not justified, given the current Israeli body count, to risk the death of more than p innocent Palestinians, then Hamas could keep Israel from ever justifiably defending itself merely by plausibly threatening to “martyr” p+1 civilians as soon as Israel launches a defensive strike.
This is not very different, in my opinion, from how the vast majority of Palestinian innocent deaths have occurred in this action (only in multiple, separate events).
Being sufficiently evil would assure victory.
I think there’s a bug in that theory.
Tom promises a reply soon.