Another Charge of “Disproportionate” Force

An editorial in The Independent states:

Of course, nobody doubts that indiscriminate Hamas attacks on Israel are unacceptable. For all the efficacy of the Iron Dome defence system, no state should simply put up with rockets being fired into its territory. Nonetheless, the military gulf between the two sides is vast and the Israeli response over the past fortnight has been disproportionate.

There appears to be a relative consensus within the media that Israel has the right to defend itself and that Hamas rockets and terror activities are unacceptable. Too many of these supposedly supportive sentiments are, however, followed by the “but.” Most of time, this is a criticism of the number of Palestinian casualties and the charge that Israel is acting in a disproportionate manner.

The term has has been abused by those who have employed it without bothering to research precisely what disproportionate actually means in terms of international law. Writing for the Gatestone Institute, Shoshana Bryen explains the doctrine of proportionality:

Proportionality in international law is not about equality of death or civilian suffering, or even about firepower returned being equal in sophistication or lethality to firepower received. Proportionality weighs the military necessity of an action against the suffering that the action might cause to enemy civilians in the vicinity. A review of expert opinion – none of which was written in relation to Israel – helps to clarify. [All emphases below added.]


Prof. Horst Fischer, Academic Director of the Institute for International Law of Peace and Armed Conflict at the Ruhr-Universität Bochum in Germany, and Adjunct Professor at Columbia University, wrote in The Crimes of War Project:


The principle of proportionality is embedded in almost every national legal system and underlies the international legal order. Its function in domestic law is to relate means to ends… In the conduct of war, when a party commits a lawful attack against a military objective, the principle of proportionality also comes into play whenever there is collateral damage, that is, civilian casualties or damage to a non-military objective… attacks are prohibited if they cause incidental loss of civilian life, injury to civilians, or damage to civilian objects that is excessive in relation to the anticipated concrete and direct military advantage of the attack. This creates a permanent obligation for military commanders to consider the results of the attack compared to the advantage anticipated.

It’s about time the media started to consider their use of terminology in the conflict instead of lazily abusing the language of international law and human rights.


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