Monday, December 29, 2008

Just war and criticizing Hamas

Gershom Gorenberg writes about tragedy. Along with some necessary criticism of Israel, I appreciate the inclusion of this paragraph:
Outside of the hammer, actually, Hamas did have some delicate tools in its tool chest. It could, for instance, have proposed indirect negotiations aimed at a two-state solution.That would have caught Israel’s leaders totally off guard, and undermined the political rationale for the siege. I guess that no one in the Gaza leadership considered this for 10 seconds.
Israel claimed that Hamas wasn’t keeping the agreement. That was true.
It's nice to see somebody who isn't a right-wing Zionist acknowledging that. Hamas didn't stop mortar fire. They didn't (as would be the responsibility of any government claiming legitimacy) stop others from sending rockets. Yet he still frames this within a larger narrative of rising burn injuries during the siege, which I find touching.

Terry Glavin raises questions about proportionality:
In the UK, the editorialists at the Independent wonder whether "counterproductive" rather than "disproportionate" is the better term to deploy in considering, say, a possible ground assault on Gaza: "There are, in any case, problems with the notion of proportionality in situations such as these. No state can be expected to tolerate rockets being launched at its civilians."
Something about proportionality, is that, while it's absolutely central to just war theory, it's ridiculously vague. Ten billion to one is a proportion. So is one tablespoon [butter] to one tablespoon [flour].

Pacifism might be a reasonable alternative. Personally, while I believe in peacefulness and even a radical peacefulness, I'm not a pacifist. But, also, when I look around at the people talking about the Israeli/Palestinian conflict, I see far too few serious pacifists. So I'll only deal with just war theory here.

What is really meant by proportionality is "in reasonable proportion" What is meant by reasonable is often put off for later discussion. Surely, the word proportional has always implied something different from symmetrical or equal. Though those would qualify as types of proportionality, there's a reason people don't use those terms. There is no rule in just war theory that all violence must intend to result in a draw. So what defines reasonableness? Reasonable to accomplish a desirable end, I would argue. Reasonable to prevent future attacks. In the short term, medium term, or long term? What if efficacy is measured differently on different timescales? The question always leads to more unanswerable questions.

Eamonn McDonagh quotes Fabián Glagovsky:
There is a lot of confusion being put about by those who hate Israel with regard to the question of proportionality. These people make reference to just war theory, of which they have not the slightest understanding. According to some formulations of this theory, military action does indeed have to be proportionate, proportionate to military or political objectives.

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