Sunday, December 3, 2023

Israeli-Hamas War: Proportionality

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Israeli-Gaza War: Proportionality in response to Hamas Attack

Okay, I get it. That October 7 attack by Hamas militants, which left 1,400 Israeli Jews brutally murdered, was horrific. No number of words is enough to express how dissatisfied we are about it. As of this writing, 5,700 Palestinians, mostly women and children, lay dead, while only four (4) hostages taken by Hamas have been released and have now reunited with their families, yet 200 plus hostages remained in despicable conditions inside Gaza City.

My question is—for how long and for how much more airstrikes? Israel had struck Gaza City and killed five more times than Hamas militants. While that Hamas attack seemed inhumane, what Israeli military forces are doing in response also seemed too cruel. Yes, we get it—Israel wants to make a proportionate response without being clear about what this term means.

The United Nations (UN) Secretary General Gutierres commented that Israel seems to be “beyond or above international law.” Gutierres wants a ceasefire, which the Israeli ambassador vehemently rejected.

What is a proportionate response? A proportionate response is allowed under international law, which pertains to a belligerent’s response to a grievance and, in the latter, to the balance between achieving a military goal and the cost in terms of lives. While international law allows it, proportionality is based on the fundamental principle that belligerents do not enjoy an unlimited use or choice of means to inflict damage to the enemy. [1]

By Israeli’s admission, these airstrikes, which already crippled the Gaza strip, had already destroyed almost 20% of the Palestinian territory and displaced more than a million Gazans. Under the principle of proportionality, there should be a balance between collateral damages and military objectives. [2] Israel says their mission is to eliminate Hamas, its leadership, and its network structure. My question is—how much more? How many Hamas militants should they kill to be “proportionate”? The world is waiting for Israel’s response.

The applicable test of proportionality is if the countermeasures are “necessary and appropriate.” In Israel’s stated military objective, it seems that airstrikes are necessary and appropriate since bombing raids are necessary to contain the enemy’s movements and, at the same time, prepare the landscape for an advantageous land campaign. However, such strikes resulted in more than 5,000 Palestinians dying and over a million displaced. Is this proportionate? [3]

Gaza Strip is home to about 2.3 million Palestinians. Israel already killed about 0.2% of the population. Is this figure sufficient for Israel to say their bombings are still proportionate responses? Hamas continues to launch their rockets against Israel. At this point, where Israel’s declaration of war is relevant because Hamas continues to fire their assault rockets, how many still do Israel need to say that it is proportionate?

Israel is losing the initiative because of the horrific scenes of carnage inside Gaza strip. Scenes of bloodied mothers, children and men are being broadcasted all over the world, provoking emotional reactions from various countries, with some even seeing people killing others as reactions to this war.

Seems like Israel really wants to exterminate the Palestinians, something which Israelis particularly Jews were already expressing themselves online describing their neighbors as worthy of annihilation. Yes, this conflict is beginning to assume a scale like apartheid in Africa and Asia.

[1] Gardam, J. (1993). Proportionality and Force in International Law. American Journal of International Law, 87(3), 391-413. doi:10.2307/2203645.

[2] Holland, J. (2004). Military Objective and Collateral Damage: their relationship and dynamics. Yearbook of International Humanitarian Law, 7, 35-78. doi:10.1017/S1389135904000352



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