What is a Proportional Response in Gaza? | Opinion

Photo via Pixabay.

For religious zealotry, economic inequality, and other key ingredients of radicalization, no other region in the world compares to the Middle East.

Life in Gaza, one of the poorest places on earth, has long been described as “hell.”  

Power and water are now completely out, and 1.1 million civilians have been ordered to evacuate. Military observers predict that Israel will soon initiate a ground assault in Northern Gaza in response to Hamas’ most recent and horrific terrorist attack on Israeli citizens.

As the U.N. warns of an impending humanitarian disaster in Gaza, Israel’s allies support its right - indeed, its obligation - to defend itself, while limiting the deaths of innocent Palestinian civilians to the extent possible.

Allies support Israel while urging proportional response

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said at a news conference that “Israel has both the right and even the obligation to defend its people,” but, “at the same time, the way Israel does this matters.” European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen echoed Blinken’s sentiment, saying, “Europe stands with Israel … And I know that how Israel responds will show that it is a democracy.”

World leaders who couple their support for Israel with concern for innocent Palestinian lives are simply reflecting the International Humanitarian Law of proportional response.

In 1949, the fourth Geneva convention was adopted in response to Hitler’s atrocities against civilians, reflecting signatories’ agreement to limit harm to non-combatants in time of war. The Charter of the United Nations and its collective security mechanisms similarly allow responsive measures that are “proportional” and necessary, but also seek to limit damages to civilian populations wherever possible.

Hamas has manipulated proportional response expectations for Israel

Weighing the proportionality of Israel’s response will be inordinately complex, requiring nuanced considerations that defy a simple narrative. What violence could Israel - or any nation - dream up that would be “disproportional” to children decapitated by Hamas? Does proportional justice allow an eye for an eye – and worse - if that is the only way to dismantle Hamas terrorists’ infrastructure?

To defend itself and deter violent terrorism in the future, Israel must minimally identify and track Hamas operatives (who are likely dressed as civilians to blend in), locate and destroy Hamas’ supply of weapons including all rockets and missile-launching hardware, and permanently destroy Hamas’ underground tunnels, all while an anxious world watches it for any strategic overreach.

Hamas has manipulated the U.N.’s “proportional response” expectations by  deliberately housing terrorists with innocent Palestinian families and disbursing terrorist cells throughout civilian locations. Hamas terrorists, whose organizing principle is the very destruction of the State of Israel, have installed combatants among civilian populations throughout Gaza. They know the world is watching, ready to condemn widespread civilian deaths surely to come.

As bloody images of desperate Gazans begin to circulate in the media, Hamas leaders are hoping the world will forget - or overlook - that Hamas deliberately put them at risk by running terrorist cells from hospitals, schools, mosques, and apartment buildings throughout Gaza’s high-density environment.

Palestinians are not the enemy

Gaza is a densely packed and stacked concrete jungle, cramming 2.3 million Palestinians into an area only 5 miles wide and 25 miles long. Long before Hamas’ most recent attack, electricity and running water were sporadic, and public education relied on double-shifts because there were so few schools.

Israel is a conundrum of complexity; Hamas slaughtered hundreds of innocent Israelis even as they were working to help the Palestinians. Jewish humanitarian organizations seeking to improve Palestinian lives abound in Israel, including the Rabbis for Human Rights, the Coalition of Women for Peace, the Ir Shalem co-existence program, and countless similar organizations. These progressive allies - including young people at a concert for peace - were indiscriminately slaughtered by Hamas, suggesting that Hamas’ bloodlust has eclipsed any interest in improving Palestinians lives.

As many IDF soldiers have made clear, they are fighting to defend their loved ones in Israel, but they do not see Palestinian civilians as the enemy. Most progressive Israelis and their allies are committed to either a two-state solution or an equitable distribution of land, resources and equal legal rights for Palestinians, but often see their efforts and negotiations blocked by politicians who benefit from extremes.  

By all appearances, Hamas stands for bloodlust, revenge, and religious hatred more than governance, which means Palestinian lives only became more desperate under their rule. Aside from reducing the risk of future terrorist attacks, eradicating Hamas could even provide an opening for a legitimate Gazan government.

These complex considerations, when added to legitimate Palestinian grievances amid decades of failed negotiations, simply defy simplistic conclusions.

Sympathies for innocent Palestinian civilians must continue, and be used as catalyst to build solutions that will bring lasting peace, but conflating innocent Palestinian lives with Hamas brutality - by celebrating Hamas atrocities - is a short-sighted mistake.

Sabrina Haake is a 25-year litigator specializing in 1st and 14th Amendment defense. Her columns appear in OutSFL, Chicago Tribune, Salon, State Affairs, and Howey Politics. She and her wife split their time between South Florida and Chicago. Follow her on substack.


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