Israel Report

May 2001         



Who Defines 'Proportionate'?

By Yosef Goell
May, 21 2001
Throughout the past eight months of Arafat-instigated violence and terrorism, Israel has come in for persistent knee-jerk foreign criticism that its response to various acts of such Palestinian terrorism has always been "disproportionate."
This raises the obvious question of what a "proportionate" reaction should consist of. Should Israel have retaliated for the outrage of the suicide bombing of the Netanya mall in which five Israelis were killed and well over 100 wounded, with the indiscriminate murder of five Palestinians selected at random, in the expectation that at least another 100 would be wounded in the operation?

Should the response to the barbaric murder of the two teenagers in the wadi outside Tekoa a week earlier have been the snatching at random of two Palestinian teenagers and the subsequent bashing in of their heads and the unspeakable mutilation of their bodies?

Those would have been "proportionate" retaliations; but they would have been too horrible even to contemplate, much less to resort to, for any normal society, even one at war, that prides itself on being light years removed from the barbarism that still underlies so much of Arab civilization.

When the charge comes from Russia and its President Vladimir Putin, who are responsible for some of the worst atrocities of recent decades in their war to suppress the breakaway rebellion in Chechnya, it can be dismissed for the rank hypocrisy that it is.

The same short shrift should be given to similar criticism from the Arab world. Arab hypocrisy does not only emanate from Syria's President Bashar Assad, whose father butchered 20,000 Syrian Muslims in the city of Hama, who "merely" threatened his regime. The late King Hussein of Jordan behaved in similar fashion when he ruthlessly put down an Arafat-led threat to his own regime in the "Black September" of 1970 when his forces killed many Palestinians and expelled even more to a new exile in Lebanon.

Egypt's President Hosni Mubarak has resorted to legitimate, but even more disproportionate, force to quell an incipient Muslim Brotherhood threat to his own regime. The Egyptians' ferocity is outdone only by Iraq's President Saddam Hussein and by the Algerian military in their own bloody attempt to quash the Muslim fundamentalists in their own country.

Even our friends and allies should be gently reminded of their own hypocrisy in criticizing Israeli actions: the US and Britain for their indiscriminate bombing of civilian targets in Iraq in 1991 and in Serbia two years ago. Britain, by the way, should be reminded that its forces obliterated entire Arab villages in Palestine with artillery, in quashing the Arab Revolt of 1936-39.

How far should a society go in responding to violent attacks on its civilian population and its collective integrity? The answer should be sought in the effectiveness of the response, rather than in some mathematical concept of proportionality. And effectiveness should be judged by the enemy's goals.

It should have been clear from the beginning of the Palestinian violence last September that it was not a reprise of the popular intifada of 1988.

Rather, the current violence was an intentional decision conceived and orchestrated by Arafat in the aftermath of his own torpedoing of last July's Camp David talks with US president Bill Clinton and prime minister Ehud Barak, with two goals in mind: one was to force the Israeli political leadership to surrender to his full territorial demands and to acquiesce in the return of the Palestinian refugees to Israel itself, by grinding down the Israeli civilian population through escalating terrorist attacks. He has failed in this goal. What he got instead was a Sharon government instead of Barak. When the violence grinds to a halt, as it eventually will, there will no longer be any chance for a meaningful agreement with the Palestinians during the term of this government, or during Arafat's lifetime.

Arafat's second goal was to internationalize the conflict by inviting US and other foreign pressure on Israel in response to "disproportionate" Israeli retaliation. It is clear that we should factor in this danger in choosing our responses. Using the air force to bomb selected targets in Palestinian cities was not the most effective military response, whereas it invited the risk of unwanted international intervention.

Legitimate international - including Arab - concern should address itself to how to prevent the Arafat-instigated violence from spilling over into regional unrest, in Jordan, Egypt and elsewhere and threatening Western interests. The best way to achieve that is to resort to policies which hold out the best prospects of putting an end to the Palestinian violence as quickly as possible.

That means stepping up effective Israeli responses by clearly targeting the top Palestinian military and political leadership who are carrying out Arafat's orders, rather than the Palestinian population, itself.

©2001 - Jerusalem Post


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