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Friday, March 7, 2008

Proportionality & Gaza

There has been  a quick invocation of the undefined term **Proportionality** in regard to recent Israeli action in Gaza, including by the UN Secrstary-General, as also happened with the Hizb-ALLAH 34-day war in Southern Lebanon in 2006.
The nature and usage of this term, and the context of its curent invocation, both deserve some analysis.

There is no moral duty on any [ police or military ] defender to injure or kill fewer [or only as many ]  of their attackers as the attacker has already injured among their ranks. A police squad is expected to  capture or eliminate an entire gang of armed bank robbers or kidnappers or drug smugglers, not to capture or injure only as many as the number of police already  injured.

And also to pursue and apprehend any who escape, as well as identify and eliminate their bases, contacts, communications, and resources.

Nor is there anything indefensible in defenders using relevant weaponry or tactics although the risk of some unwanted civilian casualties can never be eliminated, be they hostages, neighbors, or those passing by, and whether such unwanted casualties are due to human error, incompetence, weather and visibility, equipment failure, or mistaken identity.

That so many are killed in operations by **friendly fire** shows how unavoidable that may be -  in the most technically advanced force in the world, 1 in 4 of US dead in 1991 in the First Gulf War to lberate Kuwait from Saddam's invaders, were killed by their own fire. And the experience in Northern Ireland was similar, and among both police and military forces, as is the case now in both Iraq and Afghanistan.

 The loss inflicted on the enemy aggressor by legitimate defenders should equal the total strength of that enemy -  that total loss should embrace their personnel, finances, equipment, bases, communications, etc -  the aim is to incapacitate that enemy aggressor,  deny them any of the sinews of their campaign of aggression, and prevent further aggression - not merely punish them, while still leaving them capable of either continuing or resuming their aggression.

 That decisive victory may take many operations or years, but that clear result is the only ultimate rational and reasonable goal. It matters little whether the enemy is vanquished by their [a] surrender, [b] capture, [c] desertion, [d] fatal or [e] non-fatal injuries, [f] succumbing to propaganda, [g] starvation of supplies [be that of weapons, ammunition, fuel, water, food ], or by whatever combinations of such desirable and legitimate outcomes,  or  [f] by such a saturation of their area, or overwhelming superiority in equipment, tactics, morale or intelligence, that they are compelled or induced to permanently abandon their aggression.

There are, from an  ethical perspective,  3 basic  types of conflict.

[a] There is  a legitimate conflict of interest as eg between employer and employees, or purchaser and supplier, where both parties are legitimate, both have a right to exist and function, but marginal disagreement exists on the details of their relationship. Then conflict-resolution is relevant, and a **win-win** outcome is appropriate, which may involve either re-framing goals, priorities, options, or simply crude compromise.

[b]  With [ as now in Limerick City or in Crumlin Garda Division in Dublin City  ] a struggle exists between 2 drug gangs where neither has any right to exist or operate,  the police must eliminate both gangs, and a **lose-lose** outcome is the only defensible one, with both gangs decisively vanquished. The conflict is suppressed by the defeat of both gangs by the police.

[c] The Law Enforcement versus Law Breaker conflict is a conflict where only one side has right on its side, and that side must win and do so decisively. And every time. That challenge must end in a decisive  **win-lose** outcome.

Further, in both cases b and c, as against case a above, the Judiciary are not  [and media and public opinion or UN or NGOs should not  be ] morally neutral as between right and wrong, as if both parties were equally legitimate, but rather impartial in assessing and weighing factual evidence. As regards the level of values and principles at stake, not the level of  factual data, there is no  scope for neutrality in b or c, be that in a domestic or  an international context. Thus the factual  [ jury ] question would be: who was guilty of the mass murder of  8 students at Mercaz Harav in West Jerusalem on Thursday, March 6, 2008, but the ethical and legal reality of that massacre as murder is not itself in dispute, nor is the ethical status of those who celebrate or incite such murder.
To be a responsible human is thus to be ethically commited, not neutral, but to remain  factually open and impartial.

Since multi-ethnic, multi-faith, bi-lingual democratic Israel is defending its right to exist, and the freedom, peace and lives of all its citizens, and since it  [ like every other such state ] unquestionably has  an absolute right to exist, then its forces are like the police squad confronting the armed gang, where decisive and permanent vanquishing of the aggressor is the duty and right of the defenders.

There is not now, and there never has been, any limited, legitimate conflict between Israel and the Arab world about the precise line of a frontier, or about the size or structure or institutions of the State of Israel, but the core issue has been, and remains, the existential one of Israel's very right to exist. And no compromise on that is reasonable.

Further, precisely because of the fundamental nature of this conflict, no temporary cease-fire [ Arabic **Hudna** ] has any ethical or strategic validity, as it will simply amount to the gradual and eventual, as against the immediate, destruction of Israel. Delayed genocide is still genocide.

Indeed in their unaltered 1988 Hamas Charter,  Hamas remains commited to their triple goal, of [a] an Islamic Republic, [b] from the River Jordan to the Med Sea, and [c] achieved by violence - as their 2007 violent coup in Gaza reminds us.

The entire ethical responsibility for the injuries or deaths or suffering of any hostages lies with the criminal who takes the hostage, not with the rescue squad, whether that squad wear military tan or police blue.

 If Hamas [no 10 on updated EU list of terror bodies of June 2007 ] hide behind their own civilians, firing and manufacturing rockets from densely-inhabited housing areas, then they alone are responsible for any civilian injury in such areas, and that double crime, of adding using hostages to their initial aggression, does not deprive the victim of the right to effective defence from both [a] ongoing aggression, and [b]  from the threat of such future aggression. Hamas are thus double war-criminals, and no level of support within Gaza can in any way alter that reality.


Tom  Carew.

Dublin 6,

Copyright - Original materials copyright (c) by the authors. Originally posted at Please do link to these articles, quote from them and forward them by email to friends with this notice. Other uses require written permission of the author.


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