May 17, 2018
If You Call the Gaza Death Toll “Disproportionate,” How Many Israelis Have to Die for the Sake of Symmetry? – Eric H. Yoffie (Ha’aretz)
Did the Israeli army act carelessly in Gaza, shooting hastily into crowds of helpless civilian protestors? Are Israel’s critics suggesting that if there were a lot more Israeli dead, and a hundred Jewish bodies were strewn across the desert in southern Israel, then Israel’s action would be acceptable?
Such a thing could happen easily enough. If the fence were breached and a single terrorist were to reach one of the civilian towns that have long been the intended targets of Hamas rockets and tunnels, the Israeli and Hamas death tolls might quickly “balance out.”
But Israel will not sacrifice a single life in these long-suffering towns without a fight. Neither will Israelis permit an Israeli soldier or civilian to be kidnapped without doing their utmost to stop it. That is why Israel will do what it must to repel these mobs, and it is a moral obscenity to propose that it should do otherwise.
Multiple commentators have argued that Israel’s military had alternative, non-lethal methods of restraint to contain the demonstrators. But this argument seems to me more a wish than a reality. 40,000 determined protestors cannot be contained with water hoses or conventional crowd control.
Israel’s training of its soldiers was intense, instructions were detailed, and experienced officers were in command. Shoot-to-kill was not a first resort but an absolute last resort. If resorting to deadly force had been ruled out, a breach of the fence by thousands of demonstrators was likely inevitable.
In 2007, the Quartet set out the conditions for normalizing the political status of Hamas. They included a Hamas commitment to non-violence, recognition of Israel, and support of past international treaties and obligations. Hamas refused then, and refuses now, to meet these conditions. It is this refusal, and not the actions of Israel, that isolates Hamas and makes it a terrorist group and an international outlaw.
The writer is a former president of the Union for Reform Judaism.