I strive to adhere to Gospel nonviolence as a follower of Jesus Christ, but I’m aware this is a minority stance. The majority position is some form of Just War theory, so this post will try to address the violence going on in Israel-Palestine using one of the key criteria of Just War theory: proportionality.
The logic of proportionality is such: even when I have ostensibly just cause to use violent means I am still restrained to using a level of violence which is proportional to the threat. This means that when a conflict is asymmetrical the side with greater power is under greater requirement of restraint, and the side with less power is under less burden of responsibility.
It’s easy to demonstrate why this is fair. If my six-year-old son hits me as hard as he can he might hurt me a little, but there’s only so much damage he can do. The worst repercussions he will face will be some time-out, a lecture, maybe some loss of privileges or confiscation of his toys. He will have to apologize and demonstrate better behavior in the future or receive more severe consequences if he repeats his crime. Ultimately though I am rightly expected to be pretty lenient because, well, he’s six and I’m a 6’2″ 33 year old man. My son is not really a threat to me.
The situation would be rather different if I were to hit my son as hard as I can.
The stakes are raised when we’re talking about military conflicts, but the same principal applies. Even if we grant the assumption that Israel has a right to defend itself (in other words that Israel has Jus Ad Bellum – the right to go to war), Israel would still have to wage that war proportionally, which it is starkly apparent they are not doing. Consider these facts:
- Since 2000 over 1,100 Israelis have been killed. In the same period though, over 6,800 Palestinians have been killed.
- Of those Israelis killed 131 have been children. In the same period 1,526 Palestinian children have been killed – or about 1 child every 3 days.
- Deaths aren’t the only important metric of course. Again since 2000 according to the Israeli Minister of Foreign Affairs, there have been more than 8,500 Israelis injured due to the conflict. The number of Palestinians injured is closing in on 60,000.
- There are 0 Israelis held prisoner by Hamas or the Palestinian Authority. As of May 1st of this year there were over 5,000 Palestinians held prisoner by Israel, many without any charges against them.
At every turn this conflict is asymmetrical. It isn’t a war. It’s an occupation. Palestine (or Hamas or Fatah or your preferred political entity) isn’t a nuclear power. Palestine hasn’t bulldozed any Israeli homes, though Israel has bulldozed over 28,000 Palestinian homes. Palestine isn’t the 2nd largest arms exporter in the world. Palestine doesn’t employ drones. Palestine hasn’t pioneered crowd control techniques, or built hundreds of miles of security wall through Israeli land. Palestine receives $0 in military aid from the United States while Israel receives $8.5 million per day. Palestine has no official military at all. Not even a militia. Estimates suggest there are maybe 10,000 Palestinian militants. Israel has an army of over 1 million with a $20 billion budget.
You often hear about the rockets from Gaza as a prime justification for Israel’s actions. In the past decade there have been over 15,000 rocket and mortar attacks from Gaza, a terrifying sounding number. Those rocket attacks must stop, but in all those attacks only 64 Israelis have died and around 2,000 have been injured. In no sense can these makeshift rockets be regarded as a proportional threat to Israel’s 1 ton missiles that are currently leveling homes in Gaza. Missiles which have already killed over 75 Palestinians in the first 48 hours of this recent assault.
3 Israeli teenagers were recently kidnapped and murdered. A horrendous crime, which was cynically exploited by the Israeli government, which openly called for violent revenge and proceeded to abduct over 560 Palestinians (200 of which are still being held without charges), to raid universities, ransack homes, violently suppress protestors, attack youths, and “confiscate” millions of dollars. 6 Palestinians civilians were killed by Israeli military during this operation, and 1 Palestinian teenager was abducted, beaten, and burned to death by Israelis whipped into a racist frenzy by their government. The entire time this was happening the Israeli intelligence services knew that the kidnapped teens they were “searching” for had already been killed and had identified the primary suspects. They withheld this information intentionally to justify the collective punishment of the Palestinian people.
Every life is precious. A strict numerical comparison fails to do justice to the suffering of the people involved, but at some point you have to recognize that any pretense that Israel’s actions are justified is unsustainable in the face of the evidence. This is a David and Goliath scenario and Israel is Goliath this time. Yet, each time David pulls out his sling he is universally condemned as a terrorist, then held down and kicked by Goliath’s army.