What’s Disproportional is the Criticism of Israel

In the fight between Israel and Hamas the rockets and bombs may have stopped for now, but what hasn’t even paused are the efforts by human rights organizations and certain pundits and politicians to condemn Israel for allegedly using “disproportional force,” ethnically cleansing Palestinians from Jerusalem, and for supposedly being an apartheid state.

The charges have come from multiple directions – politicians like Rep. Rashida Tlaib and her “squad” colleagues, columnists like Nicholas Kristof, and comedians like John Oliver and Trevor Noah, and are uniformly false. But as Jonathan Swift said, “falsehood flies, and the truth comes limping after it,” and these flying falsehoods have fed growing anti-Semitism and helped trigger the sudden explosion of violent, anti-Jewish attacks on the streets of major American cities including New York and Los Angeles.

Perhaps the most inflammatory charge is that Israel is an apartheid state, because the only remedy for apartheid is dissolution of the offending state. The charge is often buttressed with a list of supposedly discriminatory Israeli laws, but the list itself is ridiculous – it even claims as discriminatory a law establishing Israel’s flag.

But there’s a broader way to look at the apartheid charge. Consider, for example, that in the supposedly apartheid state of Israel, when President Moshe Katsav was charged with serious crimes against female aides, he was convicted by a three-judge panel headed by an Israeli Arab judge (Israel doesn’t have jury trials). When he appealed to the Supreme Court the charges were upheld by a three-judge panel that included a different Israeli Arab judge, Supreme Court Justice Salim Joubran.

So the Jewish state practices a unique and previously unknown form of apartheid, where the Israeli Jewish president can be thrown in jail by Israeli Arab judges. And Katsav  didn’t receive a slap on the wrist – he was in jail for five years.

As for ethnic cleansing in Jerusalem, when the city was unified by Israel in 1967 after the Six Day War it was 26% Arab. Now, after 54 years of “ethnic cleansing,” Jerusalem is more than 38% Arab. Usually with ethnic cleansing the population of the supposed victims goes down, but apparently not in Israel, which is once again a land of miracles.

Ah, Rep. Tlaib and her colleagues might say, what about Sheikh Jarrah (a neighborhood of Jerusalem), where some Palestinians face eviction from their homes, supposedly to make way for Jewish settlers.

Actually, the Palestinians are tenants on land even Jordan agreed was Jewish-owned. In 1982 the Palestinian families agreed in a court-brokered deal that they were tenants of the Israeli owners and needed to pay rent but would become “protected tenants.” Unfortunately, they soon went back on the deal, perhaps under pressure from the PLO, and have faced eviction for non-payment of rent, and not for any other reason.

So what about disproportionate force? Is Israel guilty because far more Gazans than Israelis have died? No, proportionality in the laws of war has nothing to do with the relative number of casualties on the two sides. After all, far more Japanese and far more Germans died in World War 2 than Americans – does that mean Imperial Japan or Nazi Germany were in the right, and the US was in the wrong? Presumably not many would claim that.

The actual laws of war refer to the military value of a target (how much of an impact would the target’s destruction have on the outcome of a battle or war) versus the expected threat to the lives or property of civilians. If the target has high military value, then it can be attacked even if it seems there will be some civilian casualties. What has to be “proportional” (the term is not actually used in the relevant conventions) is the military value of the target versus the risk to civilians.

So while Israel has not violated the laws of war, Hamas clearly has, by hiding its fighters and missile launchers behind civilians, and by firing those missiles at civilians – both are prohibited by the Geneva Conventions. In addition, as the fighting began at least two Palestinian missiles came down in Gaza, killing 16 Palestinian civilians (according to Defense for Children International-Palestine, an NGO highly critical of Israel and the Intelligence and Terrorism Information Center ).

In total over 680 Palestinian missiles misfired and came down in Gaza, presumably killing many Palestinian civilians, for whose deaths Israel will be blamed.

No one would argue that Israel, or any other country, is without fault or above criticism. But the lies told about Israel are disproportional and harmful, including because they encourage Palestinians to believe that if only they “resist” long enough Israel can be boycotted and divested into elimination. But all they and their cheerleaders are eliminating are the chances for a just peace for both peoples.  

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