How Many Israelis Should Have Died First?

No sooner had Israel launched its December 27th offensive against Hamas operations in Gaza, reacting to the unceasing barrages of rockets and mortars that have rained into southern Israel, than the moral arbiters of acceptable behavior in war between democratic states and terrorism condemned Israel for its perceived abuses in executing its national self-defense.

David Miliband, Britain’s Foreign Secretary, smugly accused Israel of causing a "dangerous and dark moment" in history, and made the preposterous, and unrealistic, judgment “that any innocent loss of life is unacceptable.” Malaysia’s Deputy Foreign Minister Abdul Rahim Bakri obscenely suggested that Israel’s actions were crimes against humanity that were "tantamount to genocide," indicating both an ignorance of what that term actually signifies and a blindness to actual genocides occurring presently at the hand of his co-religionists.

But the most insidious refrain, one which is uttered only when Israel’s enemies are killed and not when only Jews are murdered, is that Israel’s military response is too aggressive, that the force and effect of the excursion into Gaza are beyond appropriate boundaries.

French President Nicolas Sarkozy, for instance, could not get to a microphone fast enough to decry “the disproportionate use of force" on the part of Israel. UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, who presides over a morally bankrupt group of comprised largely of despotic, self-righteous regimes, deemed the violence "unacceptable," and added that he had to specifically condemn the “excessive use of force by Israel in Gaza.” India’s External Affairs Ministry spokesman, Vishnu Prakash, was disappointed at what he witnessed as “the use of disproportionate force is resulting in a large number of civilian casualties on the one hand and the escalating violence on the other," both taking place, presumably, as a result of Israel’s actions.

Nor did non-governmental figures refrain from chiming in with the moral scolding of Israel’s actions. Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church in the United States, Katharine Jefferts Schori, personally challenged “the Israeli government to call a halt to this wholly disproportionate escalation of violence.” And the Muslim Public Affairs Council, always reticent when confronted with terrorism unleashed in the name of Islam, was quick to determine that "Israel’s latest military assault is a disproportionate and inhumane response to Palestinian militants’ cross-border rocket attacks.”

The remonstrations of Israel’s many and far-flung critics aside, Israel is not the international outlaw here, but the victim who is now involved in a defensive countermeasure to illegal terrorism. In fact, in a recent report, Justus Reid Weiner and Dr. Avi Bell, two legal scholars at the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs, note that Israel’s counterstrikes fastidiously conform to what is called the “rule of proportionality,” even while the Jewish state has been promiscuously condemned for the past week by its critics for committing “genocide,” “crimes against humanity,” and multiple human rights violations in their assault against Hamas.

“The rule of proportionality,” say Weiner and Bell, “forbids collateral damage that is expected to be excessive in relation to the military need,” and given Israel’s surgically-precise targeting of Hamas personnel and infrastructure, “it is difficult to see how a credible claim can be made that any of Israel’s counter-strikes have created disproportionate collateral damage.”

In fact, collateral damage — the accidental killing of civilians during military conflicts — is itself even allowed by international law, provided the actions that caused the civilian deaths are not, according to the legal scholars, excessive in relation to the military need. But the fact that deaths occur in civilian populations — even what might be perceived as excessive deaths — are not in and of themselves indicative of violation of international law, and, says Weiner and Bell, “if a state, like Israel, is facing aggression, then proportionality addresses whether force was specifically used by Israel to bring an end to the armed attack against it.”

Also, in Gaza, one of the most densely populated areas on earth with its population of 1.5 million, Israel also scrupulously followed the “rule of distinction” by precisely targeting Hamas terrorists and infrastructure, with minimal, though still unfortunate, collateral damage to the Gaza civilian population — a feat made all the more difficult by Hamas’ insidious tactic of embedding rocket launchers and armament stores within residential neighborhoods as a perverse way of further demonizing Israel when the inevitable killing of civilians occurs.

Even so, with some 400 fatalities in Gaza as of the end of a week of incursions, even Israel’s critics admitted that the great majority of causalities were Hamas operatives and gunmen,
showing that, unlike its enemies who target only civilians, Israel has not only effected obvious “distinction” in its targeting, but by doing so it also maintained “proportionality,” the other aspect of warfare upon which international law insists.

In fact, the scholars notes, Israel is scrupulous in adhering to these guidelines for warfare by “apply[ing] an extremely restrictive standard of both distinction and proportionality, in accordance with intrusive Israeli Supreme Court rulings that have imposed far stricter legal standards on the Israeli military than those found in international law.”

Weiner and Bell also emphasize that Hamas’ shelling of civilian targets within Israel’s borders clearly violates international law by violating the rule of distinction, even though world observers have been oddly silent on those transgressions. “The Palestinian attacks violate one of the most basic rules of international humanitarian law,” they say, “the rule of distinction, which requires combatants to aim all their attacks at legitimate targets — enemy combatants or objects that contribute to enemy military actions. Violations of the rule of distinction — attacks deliberately aimed at civilians or protected objects as such — are war crimes,” exactly what Hamas has been committing with its relentless rocket assaults.

How many Jews should have died in the 6300 rocket barrages falling on Sderot, Ashkelon, Ashdod, and Netivot since 2005 when Israel disengaged from Gaza to have made Israel’s incursion legal and morally acceptable? Was the daily terror of 3000 Qassam and Grad rockets and mortars falling into civilian neighborhoods in the last year alone not justification enough for self-defense?

Should Israel have continued to wait until a school or daycare center was struck, forcing Israel to play, in the words of Harvard law professor Alan Dershowitz, “Russian Roulette with its children?” What harm had to be done, in addition to the trauma and social dysfunction that daily rocket barrages have on civilian populations, until critics would ever decide, in their sanctimony and moral equivalency, that Israel finally had the right to defend its population? Were not the 425 attacks between 2000 and 2004 on Israel that wounded more than 2,000 and killed nearly 400 civilians adequate in their lethality and seriousness to indicate the unrelenting jihad that defines Hamas’ existence?

An odd, racist student organization on American campuses, Movimiento Estudiantil Chicano de Aztl??┬ín (MEChA), like the Palestinians, is an irredentist movement that seeks the “liberation” of what they consider to be their rightful ancestral homelands. For MEChA, that mythic land is something called “Aztlan,” a territory which inconveniently includes much of the Southwest of the present-day United States, from Washington State to Texas and great swathes of territory in between. In language eerily similar to the PLO Charter, MEChA claims a right to reclaim lands stolen from it by imperial powers. Aztlan “became synonymous with the vast territories of the Southwest,” says the MEChA charter, “brutally stolen from a Mexican people marginalized and betrayed by the hostile custodians of the Manifest Destiny. It also initiated the rebirth of our consciousness as indigenous people, whose history and heritage have overcome the forces of European colonialism in order to inspire us today.”

Assume for a moment that a radicalized element of the MEChA organization decided to act on their “reconquista” ambitions and repeated terrorist attacks had taken place against Texas border towns; at the same rate of causalities per capita that Hamas has achieved in Israel, those 400 Israeli dead in a nation of under six million would be the equivalent of some 19,000 dead American civilians. Can anyone doubt the inexhaustible effort, might, and political will that would have been unleashed on those perpetrators, how every resource of our government would have justly and firmly responded to domestic terrorism with formidable wrath and might? Would we have hesitated to eliminate the leadership of such a horrific enemy, even if its leadership had alleged, divine claims to our land and had ordained that we had no right to exist?

Of course we would not, nor would we countenance the criticism of the international community that cautioned us against possibly inciting further terrorism or in being heavy-handed in protecting our own citizenry from harm — just as Israel has, appropriately, largely ignored world opinion critical of its actions last week.

"Palestinian terrorism is not a plea to Israel to relieve material needs," suggested Louis Rene Beres, sadly, "but rather a demand to die so that Arabs can realize their spiritual wants." So an Israel-hating world may well call for restraint in Gaza as the IDF neutralizes Hamas’ ability to spread its homicidal ideology, but Israel certainly is not violating international law in this incursion, nor does it ever have to enter into a suicide pact in the often morally-defective universe of world diplomacy.