One question that often comes up in the ongoing (and third) war between Israel and Hamas is the issue of proportionality. As of this writing, Haaretz estimates that 650 Palestinians and 29 Israelis have been killed. Not surprisingly, the rest of the world asks, ‘Why is the toll so lop-sided?’
The discrepancy in the casualty toll (dead and injured) is due to a number of factors:
- Israel has built an anti-rocket system called Iron Dome that is very effective at intercepting rockets and destroying them before they can reach populated areas.
- Israel has built shelters for its civilian population and trained its citizens on using them when they hear sirens warning about the launching of rockets. Thanks to Iron Dome and to civilian shelters, in the current count of Israeli casualties, only two are civilians.
- The Hamas government in Gaza has not provided shelters for its civilians; they have instead used their construction materials (obtained under the pretense of using them for schools and hospitals) to build shelters for rockets, shelters for Hamas terrorists, tunnels to smuggle weapons from Egypt, and tunnels to infiltrate Israel.
- Hamas’ strategy is to ensure that many Palestinian civilians die in order to increase external pressures on Israel to accept Hamas’ terms, which are the release of convicted criminals and the end of Israel’s blockade on weapons to Gaza. This death strategy is meant to further Hamas’ ultimate goal of destroying Israel and eliminating all Jewish presence in the Middle East. To reach its desired high count of Palestinian civilian casualties, Hamas uses its civilians as human shields and forces them to stand near likely military targets, and it uses schools and hospitals to store ammunition and fire rockets.
- Despite the high number of Palestinian casualties and Hamas’ best efforts at increasing its own civilian casualties, a large number of these fatalities are Hamas terrorists (accurate estimates are not available at this time). This is due to Israel’s extensive efforts at avoiding civilian casualties.
- The number of reported casualties on the Israeli side does not account for Israelis who have died or have had serious medical problems as a result of panic during rocket attacks.
Besides all of the above, the question of proportionality is largely irrelevant. Israel is attacking Hamas in order to stop rocket attacks into Israel, and, as both Minister of Foreign Affairs John Baird and Liberal critic Marc Garneau recently said, Israel has the right and even the duty to defend its citizens. Despite Iron Dome and civilian shelters, the rockets still terrorize Israeli citizens and cause damage to the Israeli economy. No sovereign nation on earth would accept that its citizens be terrorized without attempting to stop the attacks. The fact that Palestinians have far more casualties than Israel isn’t relevant because Israel does not target civilians, and every civilian death is the result of Hamas’ own strategy.
The low number of Israeli casualties is not due to lack of trying on Hamas’ part. If Hamas rockets were not intercepted by Iron Dome, the number of Israeli casualties would be far higher than Palestinian casualties. If a Hamas rocket managed to reach a large building in Tel Aviv and killed thousands of Israeli civilians, would that mean that by virtue of proportionality Israel would now be justified in killing thousands of Palestinian civilians? Of course it would not be justified, and the Palestinian Authority that is almost silent on Hamas crimes would be sure to remind Israel of that.
The war in Gaza is not a football game. When Germany beat Brazil 7-1 at the 2014 FIFA World Cup, near the end of the game many German fans felt sorry for Brazil because they did not want to humiliate Brazilians. In that case, speaking of proportionality made sense – there is no need for Germany to win by a huge margin in order to win the cup; however, the war in Gaza is not a game. It is an attempt by Israel to stop terrorist attacks on its citizens. If Israel stopped its operation without reaching its objective simply because of a desire to maintain some misplaced proportionality, Israelis would continue to be terrorized by Hamas rockets and sooner or later Israel would have to fight Hamas again with probably even higher death tolls.
The only solution to end repeated wars in Gaza is to stop Hamas and its allies from attacking Israel. The preferred way to achieve this is to replace the Hamas rule in Gaza with a moderate leadership that is interested in negotiating peace with Israel, but this is not a change that Israel can impose. Palestinians must make this change with the help of their friends, but those friends have been too busy excusing Hamas’ actions and blaming Israel. Until this change happens, Israel will have no choice but to keep fighting Hamas in order to protect its citizens from terrorist attacks, and while Israel is protecting itself, every death on both sides must be attributed to Hamas’ death strategy.
Fred Maroun is a Canadian of Lebanese origin who has been living in Canada for 30 years. Maroun is interested in Middle East politics, particularly the Israel / Arab conflict. This comment is a slightly edited version of his blogpost here.