One of the main arguments against Israel during its periodic wars with Hamas is that it’s attacks are not proportional. For example, in the 2021 conflict, the civilian death toll in Gaza is about 70-100 (depends who you ask). In Israel it was 12. The amount of wounded people in Gaza is also usually much higher, with around 2,000 in the 2021 conflict.
One way of looking at this argument is through quantities – the actor that kills more civilians – is the “not proportional actor”. There are some problems with this argument. Let’s assume for example, that Hamas goes through Gaza and kills its own civilians during the war – should they be counted in the equation? It seems like no, because Israel is not to blame for their deaths. What if Israel alerts about a bombing of a building, as it often does, but Hamas forces civilians by gunpoint to stay in the house? I think it makes sense that Israel should not be blamed for these deaths as well. I don’t claim that Hamas regularly does any of these things, but I do claim that they don’t put enough effort to separate their military operation from civilian life in Gaza, as was approved by many reports. So how do we calculate the amount of civilians that are dying because of this strategy in the quantity calculation?
Another problem is that it’s probably almost impossible to respond without collateral damage. Israel doesn’t have enough intelligence to know for sure that civilians will not die. That means, in order to completely prevent collateral damage, Israel might need to not respond at all. So what does Israel suppose to do after “too many” Palestinians civilians are dead, if it wants to be “proportional”? Completely stand still while rockets are being fired into Israel and wait until more Israelis die, so the quantities will be the same? And what is the incentive for Hamas if we assume that after a certain quantity – Israel can’t respond anymore? They might mix their civilian and military activity even further.
We also have to take into account that a strong response by Israel – attacking strategic military operations – creates incentives for Hamas to try and reach a ceasefire very fast. That means, maybe more civilians are dying now, but by preventing a longer war, the general death toll for both sides is even lower.
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