Image: a young girl stuck under the rubble of a house at Al Nusairat Refugee Camp in Gaza, where as of date of publication (Jan 2024) Israeli forces have killed over 20,000 people, including over 8,000 children, 6,200 women, 310 medical personnel, and 97 journalists. Via Motaz_Azaiza on instagram.

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At the time of writing (mid-November), the war between Israel and Hamas rages on. It will no doubt continue to be discussed on the Inroads listserv. In the meantime, an exchange in the last days of October on Israel’s right of self-defence and the meaning of proportionality in war was self-contained (although not without a few tangents). Highlights are presented here.

October 27
REG WHITAKER

As the horrors of the Gaza conflict unfold, as the bodies pile up higher, one reliable mantra keeps being chanted by all Western leaders and politicians like a magic incantation: “Israel has the right to defend itself.” In the course of declaring that Hamas must be “eliminated,” just as the ancient Roman senator Cato the Elder closed every speech on every subject with “Carthago delenda est” or “Carthage must be destroyed” (it was – totally), Canadian Defence Minister Bill Blair reiterated Israel’s right to defend itself to explain his divergence from the Liberal government’s slightly more complex position, which condemned Hamas while worrying about Palestinian civilian lives.

We have heard about this “right” from Trudeau, Biden, Sunak, an entire chorus of EU leaders and more. But hang on: what exactly are we talking about with this rights language in this context?

On the face of it, that a state will defend itself is a kind of truism, largely devoid of specific meaning in any particular situation. Of course states will defend themselves. The essential definition of a state, as enunciated by Max Weber, is the organization that successfully claims the monopoly of the legitimate use of physical force within a given territory. Any state that is unwilling or unable to respond with force to a violent challenge to its monopoly, whether from within or from without, is a state that is about to be consigned to the dustbin of history.

This is a description of fact. But it is commonly enunciated as a “right.” I am not sure there is any good reason to do so, but for argument’s sake, let’s go along with the rights language to see where it leads.

What rights talk enthusiasts tend too often to ignore or downplay is that the assertion of any right must be matched by the acknowledgment of a corresponding obligation. Nor can one person’s right trump another person’s right.

The Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms enunciates the right of French or English minorities to an education in their own language. But for that right to be effective, there is an obligation to pay the taxes that support the schools, in both languages.

My exercise of my freedom can extend only to the point where it harms others. I am free to refuse vaccination against a contagious virus, but I am rightly restricted in my right to endanger the health and lives of others. The Freedom Convoy people asserted their own freedom while ignoring its negative effects on the freedom of the inhabitants of occupied Ottawa. In consequence, their freedom was rightly curtailed, in the interest of those they were harming.

The idea that states have rights like individuals is contentious. Collective rights claims by powerful entities like states are inherently suspicious. Often, they have been employed as self-serving justifications for the denial and repression of minorities within. Under international law and multilateral treaties, states can claim certain rights, such as the defence of territorial sovereignty. But to reiterate, the rights of one state cannot trump the rights of other states or parties. Nor can rights be separated from their corresponding obligations. The invocation of a state’s right to defend itself must be matched by its responsibility to follow international law and acceptable practices of conduct in warfare.

For a state to claim a right to self-defence, it has to acknowledge limits set upon its response by the same international standards that grant the right. First is proportionality of response. Hamas took the lives of some 1,300 Israelis and took 200 or so as hostage. By this Thursday (October 26) the civilian body count in Gaza was 7,000 – and counting. In past Israeli responses to rocket attacks from Gaza and other terrorist provocations, the ratio of Palestinian deaths to Israeli deaths has been at least ten to one. By the time this war is concluded the ratio may well be much worse.

It would be foolish to insist upon a strict equation of casualties. And yes, targeting a terrorist group entrenched in a densely packed urban area like Gaza poses extremely difficult tactical issues if protection of civilian lives is an important criterion. But where do you draw the line between inevitable collateral damage and inexcusable excess? If 7,000 dead is acceptable, is 17,000, or 70,000? The Hamas atrocities, however appalling, never seriously challenged the fundamental security of Israeli society as a whole. The Israeli response threatens the destruction of Gaza itself.

When Israeli leaders directing the response demonstrate again and again utter indifference to the suffering they are inflicting on the civilians of Gaza, when a substantial proportion of the Israeli population supports retribution without limit for October 7, we can gauge that proportionality of response is not a determining factor, perhaps not a factor at all. Even old-fashioned retributive justice is distorted here. It’s no longer an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth – it’s ten Palestinian eyes for one Jewish eye.

This leads to a second flaw in the claim of the right to self-defence. The right to strike back at a state or a nonstate actor like Hamas that has carried out a terrorist attack cannot extend to the collective punishment of the entire population that the offending state or nonstate actor claims to represent. Even though the Israelis deny they are engaged in inflicting collective punishment, everything they have done is indistinguishable in practice from a deliberate policy of collective punishment. They would, they indicated, provide advance notice before striking a particular structure so that civilians could flee. But flee to where? Indeed the entire civilian population of northern Gaza was told to flee southward, yet they could not leave Gaza since its borders were sealed. Gas, electricity, fuel and food supplies have been shut off. Hospitals will shortly lose all power and patients will die as life-saving equipment fails. How can this not be labelled as collective punishment?

Without in any way minimizing the horrific nature of the Hamas attack or the practical difficulties of finding an appropriate response, let us at least acknowledge that we are no longer in the territory of the lawful exercise of legitimate national rights. The next time you hear a Western politician or leader trot out Israel’s right to defend itself as a carte blanche for whatever Israel does in retaliation, treat it for what it is: not a principle but a diversion. Israel-Palestine is a problem not of international law but of the Hobbesian state of nature.

STEPHEN NEWMAN

So, what would be “an appropriate response” on Israel’s part? Bury the innocents massacred by Hamas and improve border security so that future incursions by Hamas might kill fewer victims? Because Hamas will try again. Although hailed as offering “resistance” to colonialist Israel by all too many so-called progressives on Canadian and American campuses, Hamas is a religiously inspired terrorist organization dedicated to the destruction of the state of Israel and the murder of Jews. Say what you will about the injustice of the occupation and the settlements, Israel has a right to exist – yes, a right – and the wanton murder of Jews simply because they are Jews is a moral abomination. When Israel claims a right to defend itself it is talking about defending its very existence against an enemy that seeks to destroy it.

I honestly don’t understand Reg’s rant against the very idea of a national right to self-defence, unless of course he simply wants to disarm Israel of that justification for striking back at Hamas. Since he admits the possibility of an “appropriate response,” even if he does not know what form that response should take, he cannot object to Israel’s need to do something. Were Israel to do nothing, it would only encourage Hamas to attack again, believing that Israel has no recourse unless it is willing to inflict death and destruction on the population of Gaza. That’s why Hamas “soldiers” hide among civilians and store weapons in and around hospitals, places of worship and civilian residences. The idea is to present Israel with an impossible choice: (A) retaliate knowing that innocent Palestinians will die alongside Hamas terrorists, or (B) do nothing and allow Hamas to murder Israeli civilians with impunity. A nation of pacifists somewhere might choose option B; Israel is not that nation.

Is Israel exercising due care to minimize casualties among noncombatants? Reg looks at the death toll and concludes: obviously not. Frankly, I’m inclined to agree. But neither Reg nor I is in a position to know what orders were given to Israeli forces or what measures those forces have taken to reduce civilian casualties. Unless your position is that no nation is ever justified in causing civilian casualties, you can’t condemn Israel for responding militarily to armed aggression in circumstances where civilian casualties are unavoidable.

Must we tolerate any number of civilian casualties, no matter how high? No. Assuming that we accept the inevitability of some civilian casualties as an irreducible consequence of war, we are still right to balk as the numbers soar. The proportionality principle holds. Sadly, its application is not precise. Israel’s war planners presumably do not see things the same way as their critics in other countries. Outside observers may differ among themselves. Still, as the fighting drags on and the death toll continues to mount, I suspect there will at some point be agreement among observers that proportionality has been breached. If Reg’s post is any indication, we might be fast approaching that point, if we are not there already.

It might be that there was another, more appropriate response to the massacre perpetrated by Hamas on October 7, one that did not entail bombing or invading Gaza, one that did not put Palestinian civilians at risk. But I don’t know. None of us do.

October 28
REG WHITAKER

I am sorry that Steve has taken my argument as a one-sided dismissal of Israel and of the grief and anger of Israelis at the Hamas slaughter of innocents. In fact, I said nothing that offered any justification or rationale for Hamas, nor any reason to doubt that an Israeli response was both inevitable and morally justifiable. I must object, however, to my argument being described as a “rant against the very idea of a national right to self-defence, unless of course he simply wants to disarm Israel of that justification for striking back at Hamas.” That’s just unfair, but it is sadly typical of the way all attempts to debate rationally about this ghastly conflict seem to break down quickly into accusations of bias or worse.

My point was not to deny the right to national self-defence, which I explicitly accept, both as a truism (all viable states will defend themselves) and as a right recognized under international law. What I object to is the assertion, contrary to international law, of the right as a trump, that in this case Israel’s rights claim can be taken as a blank cheque, where the price exacted on Hamas, and on Gaza, is without limit. Here I simply invoked the proportionality limitation on the right to self-defence. Steve actually accepts this but he appears to take the blurred line between proportionate and disproportionate response as reason to condemn my concern as anti-Israeli. I didn’t invent or fabricate the 10-to-1 ratio of Palestinian to Israeli casualties in past confrontations, or the present body counts. I take these facts as grounds for legitimate concern that the Israeli response will be disproportionate.

In trying to parse what possible rational objectives Hamas may have had in launching its October 7 assault (aside from sheer ideological zealotry and bloody-mindedness), two possibilities stand out. The first, already achieved, is to put the Palestinian question back on the Arab agenda and stop the slide of the Saudis, Emiratis and other Sunni Muslim countries into normalizing relations with Israel at the cost of putting the Palestinians out of sight, out of mind. The second may have been the utterly cynical and callous calculation that Israel would respond with such disproportionate fury against the Palestinian population as to turn the Islamic and Arab world, and indeed wider global opinion even in the West, against Israel. In other words, this is a trap, which Israel and its Western state backers may be drawn into.

The choice was never between doing nothing and doing everything. It was between balance and imbalance. That finding balance in Israel-Palestine relations, or indeed in the Middle East generally, is devilishly difficult (see the fable of the frog and the scorpion) doesn’t mean that searching for it isn’t the responsible way to go.

RONALD BEINER

Reg writes, “I didn’t invent or fabricate … the present body counts.” Honest question: Is there a source for these present body counts apart from claims from the Gaza Ministry of Health (i.e., Hamas)?

STEPHEN NEWMAN

It is possible I didn’t grasp the full subtlety of Reg’s argument concerning the right to national self-defence. I would dispute his claim that Israel is using the right as a trump or blank cheque “where the price exacted on Hamas, and on Gaza, is without limit.” I say this while acknowledging that the rising number of civilian casualties is reason enough for me to hope that Israel’s leaders will rethink their approach to eradicating Hamas. That Hamas needs to be eradicated is something I don’t question. Degrading its capacity to carry out operations like the October 7 massacre is a second-best solution, but one that Israel might be wise to settle for, to spare Gaza any further misery.

A technical point: A friend wrote me after my first post appeared on this listserv to question my understanding of proportionality. He said that it was a misapplication of the principle to look at gross casualty figures or to compare casualty rates, as I do and as Reg does in his postings. Rather, he insisted, the principle of proportionality applies to individual military operations and requires parties to the conflict to ascertain, as best they can, whether the military significance of the chosen target outweighs the likely damage to civilian lives and property incidental to the attack.

I take him to mean that when Israel bombs a structure in Gaza it has an obligation to be reasonably certain that the structure houses a valid military target of sufficient consequence to justify the attack. Further, it must take into account the likelihood of civilian casualties and take steps to mitigate these (e.g., warning civilians to vacate the target area and/or employing “precision bombing techniques” or specialized munitions). This calculus must be performed for each sortie.

I did a little reading about the subject online. Anaïs Maroonian, who wrote about proportionality in international law in an online journal published by the U.S. Military Academy, states that proportionality “governs the protection of civilians and civilian objects in the conduct of hostilities. It has a limiting role that impacts targeting, including in the choice of weapons used, the precautionary measures required to be taken, and the anticipated incidental civilian harm, which must not be disproportionate to the expected military advantage.”¹ So it seems my friend was right to question my application of the principle.

Do gross figures matter? Does Israel stand condemned by its own actions if it inflicts ten times more casualties on Palestinians than it suffers at the hands of Hamas terrorists? If my new understanding of proportionality is correct, both Reg and I are wrong to conclude that the numbers alone, however disturbing, demonstrate a violation of the law of war. But I don’t think the real issue here is whether or not Israel can be found guilty of violating the proportionality principle. What will upset any compassionate person is the infliction of so much death and suffering on innocent civilians caught up in the war.

I agree with Reg’s surmise as to what Hamas’s leadership was thinking when it undertook its murderous rampage on October 7. I don’t agree that a normalization of relations between Israel and its Arab neighbours would necessarily push the Palestinians out of sight and out of mind. The price exacted by the Saudis for normalizing relations with Israel might be progress toward a two-state solution. On the other hand, the notion that Hamas counted on an over-the-top Israeli response to its raid hoping that this would turn the Arab street and world opinion against Israel strikes me as entirely plausible.

BOB CHODOS

New York Times columnist David French, a lawyer who served as a judge advocate general with the U.S. Army in Iraq, wrote about the concept of proportionality in his October 12 column. Here is what he had to say:

As the war continues and as the destruction mounts, you will hear a number of voices condemn Israel for a disproportionate response, but many of these critics fundamentally misunderstand what proportionality means in the law of war. The U.S. Army’s “Law of Land Warfare” field manual – which is deeply grounded in the international law of armed conflict and governed our urban operations in Iraq and Afghanistan – defines the legal obligation of proportionality as requiring “commanders to refrain from attacks in which the expected loss or injury to civilians and damage to civilian objects incidental to such attacks would be excessive in relation to the concrete and direct military advantage expected to be gained.” It also requires that commanders “take feasible precautions to reduce the risk of harm to civilians, other protected persons and civilian objects.”

Proportionality does not require the Israel Defense Forces to respond with the same degree of force or take the same proportion of casualties as Hamas. In addition, as the manual states, “the proportionality standard does not require that no incidental harm results from attacks.” If you’re a soldier on patrol and someone fires at you with a rifle, you don’t have to respond with a rifle. You can use a tank round or a missile in response, unless you have reason to believe the tank round or missile will cause extraordinary collateral damage. But if you’re taking fire from a single house, proportionality prohibits you from destroying the entire block. Throughout the war on terrorism, American forces used powerful, longer-range weapons to attack individual targets. That does not violate the laws of war.

In reality, inflicting disproportionate casualties can be one of the goals of a fighting force. Ukraine appears to have inflicted substantially greater casualties on Russia than the Russian Army has inflicted on Ukraine. That doesn’t mean Ukraine’s response was disproportionate under the law of armed conflict. In every fight, the goal is to inflict as many losses as possible on your opponent while taking as few losses as possible.²

REG WHITAKER

Thanks to Steve and Bob for the interesting material on proportionality in the international law on warfare. Points taken. I would still maintain, however, that when a state invokes the right of national self-defence to justify armed response, it surely cannot be open-ended, or – to use my earlier metaphor – a blank cheque. Some broad idea of proportionality of the response to the threat must be considered.

Whether this conforms to the strict terms of proportionality in the law of warfare or not, it will certainly affect public approval. Comparative casualty figures do matter perceptually. Granted that, as I have said before, it is devilishly difficult to combat terrorists embedded in the world’s most densely packed urban agglomeration without inflicting severe civilian damage; one can even sympathize with the IDF’s conundrums when faced with such complexity. But there comes a point where the body count, not of Hamas fighters but of women, children and the elderly, mounts to the point where Israel loses the sympathies of those who initially were in full support – where the blank cheques issued by Israel’s allies are withdrawn.

Urging Israel to undertake a proportionate response to Hamas is not anti-Israeli; it might even be pro-Israeli. Pessimism about the likelihood of Israel heeding such advice is unfortunately realism born out of experience. That’s sad, perhaps even tragic, for everybody concerned, especially Israelis and the Palestinians of Gaza. As the scorpion said to the frog halfway across the Jordan River after the frog asked why the scorpion had stung him so that both would die: “What do you expect? This is the Middle East.”

October 29
WILLIAM SCHABAS

May I try to shine a bit of light on this discussion about self-defence and the use of force?

There is much talk of Israel’s inherent right to self-defence. It is enshrined in article 51 of the Charter of the United Nations. Like self-defence in domestic law, a right all of us can invoke if we use force to repel an attacker, it must be exercised “proportionately.” You don’t normally reply to a slap on the face with a baseball bat. So it is in international law. A state cannot use a nuclear weapon to defend itself against a minor border incursion. Ruling against the United States in 1986, the International Court of Justice referred to a “specific rule whereby self-defence would warrant only measures which are proportional to the armed attack and necessary to respond to it, a rule well established in customary international law.”

For many years, Israel has endured Hamas rockets. Its Iron Dome defence system appears to have been fairly effective. Casualties have been very slight, a combination of Iron Dome and the ineffective targeting of the rockets. It seems likely that the rockets were not the main cause of deaths in Israel resulting from the October 7 attacks. As for the infiltration of Palestinian fighters into Israel, the significant casualties will be stopped in the future by better border defences and better military intelligence. In other words, the best “self-defence” for Israel calls for changes and improvements within Israel. The destruction of Gaza appears to go well beyond self-defence.

The final paragraph in Bob Chodos’s post, a quote from an American military lawyer, says that “inflicting disproportionate casualties can be one of the goals of a fighting force.” This is a confusing statement because it is not about proportionality in the exercise of self-defence. But in the context of the post, it seems to be suggesting that a state acting in self-defence can respond in a disproportionate manner. That is wrong.

Proportionality in the exercise of self-defence is not the same as proportionality in the conduct of hostilities. Proportionality in the conduct of hostilities is a different issue altogether. It applies to both sides, the side acting in self-defence and the aggressor. But the confusion in the final paragraph of Bob’s post is aggravated by the fact that in discussing the objective of inflicting disproportionate casualties on the opponent another fundamental principle, that of distinction, gets lost.

The principle of distinction means that noncombatants and civilian objects should not be targeted. Some civilian objects, like hospitals and schools, are singled out in this respect for special protection. But they are actually nothing more than examples of a general rule. Any disproportionality in the amount of force used can never be invoked to justify attacking civilian objects. The reference to “inflicting disproportionate casualties” in Bob’s post refers to killing and wounding of combatants and has nothing to do with civilians or civilian objects.

Proportionality in the conduct of hostilities refers mainly to the killing and wounding of noncombatants and the destruction of civilian objects to the extent that this is a consequence of a lawful attack on military objectives. Disproportionate attacks on lawful targets, that is military objectives, aimed at causing disproportionate damage to an enemy must still endeavour to minimize the collateral damage to noncombatants and civilian objects.

Caution should be exercised in taking guidance from the United States military on the lawful conduct of hostilities. It has a bad track record, going back at least to August 6, 1945 – not to mention the war in Vietnam, where there were about 60,000 American deaths and about three million Vietnamese deaths, the majority of them of noncombatants.

STEPHEN NEWMAN

I’m sorry, Bill, but I want to be sure I understand you correctly. Are you saying that, because the rockets Hamas has fired at Israel have succeeded in killing relatively few people, Israel has a (legal? moral?) obligation to ignore them? To me that’s like saying I should ignore the man firing an assault rifle in my direction because his aim is bad. You observe that Israel’s Iron Dome missile defence system has proven very effective and suggest that this, too, is reason for Israel not to make a forceful response to Hamas’s rocket attacks. To me this is like saying I should ignore the man firing at me with an assault rifle because I’m wearing a bulletproof vest.

Again, I want to make sure I understand you. You say that the appropriate response to the infiltration of Hamas fighters into Israel is a better border defence. You do not mention that the “fighters” who infiltrated into Israel butchered some 1,200 civilians. Is building a better defence the only appropriate response in your view? To me that would be like saying the only appropriate response to a home invasion that took the lives of several members of my family is to replace the shattered front door with a stronger one. Here in Canada I would call the police in the expectation that the coercive power of the law enforcement establishment would be brought to bear on the perpetrators. But that option is not available to states, which must deal with external aggression on their own.

You begin your post by saying that a person slapped on the face is not entitled to respond by slugging his attacker with a baseball bat. By analogy, a state “cannot use a nuclear weapon to defend itself against a minor border incursion.” Again, I’m inclined to call you out for describing the brutal murder of more than a thousand people and the kidnapping of another two hundred or so as a “minor border incursion” and likening the atrocities committed by Hamas to a slap in the face. If I am violently assaulted by a man who has attacked me in the past and who has made known to one and all his intention to kill me, I would think I am entitled to use whatever degree of force I deem necessary to preserve my life.

Perhaps a better analogy than the one you use is this: a man comes at me with a baseball bat and I am armed with gun. Am I forbidden by proportionality from shooting him? I would think not. A baseball bat is a deadly weapon. I am not required by any principle of morality or law to throw away my pistol and look for a baseball bat with which to defend myself so that my assailant and I are equally matched.

I think you misunderstand David French, the New York Times columnist and military lawyer Bob quoted in his post. When French says that armies seek to impose disproportionate casualties on the enemy he is stating a truth about war fighting. There are no rules of war that limit how many enemy combatants you may kill. There are no rules of law that say if a combatant fires at you with an assault rifle you may not return fire with a rocket launcher.

There are rules about killing noncombatants, as French points out. Basically, a soldier is never justified in deliberately targeting a noncombatant. Things get complicated when a combatant fires at you from a position where you cannot return fire without putting noncombatants in jeopardy. Here, according to French, is where proportionality comes into play. A soldier is allowed to return fire in the situation just described when on balance the military objective outweighs the risk to civilian life and property. In short, far from being in disagreement with French, you agree with him on the meaning and implementation of the principles of proportionality and distinction in combat situations.

Finally, you appear to put great emphasis on the numbers of casualties suffered by each side in a conflict. It is not entirely clear whether you have in mind all casualties or only civilian casualties. You point to American and Vietnamese losses in the Vietnam War and note that the majority of Vietnamese dead were civilians; however, the figures you give are for total casualties (combatant and noncombatant combined).

You also make reference to the atomic bombing of Hiroshima by the United States. It is the deliberate killing of civilians rather than the staggering number of civilians killed that makes the bombing of Hiroshima problematic (to say the least). That a single bomb killed so many and in such gruesome ways commands our attention. It horrifies us. But strictly speaking, proportionality is beside the point in this instance. The wrong is the deliberate targeting of civilians. I would say the same thing about Vietnam. The wrong done is not the killing of three million people; the wrong done is the deliberate killing of noncombatants in violation of the principle of distinction. The killings would not have been any less wrong if fewer Vietnamese noncombatants had been killed.

If Israel is eventually judged to have done wrong in bombing Gaza in its effort to eradicate Hamas, it will not be because Israel ought to have regarded Hamas as a minor nuisance or because x thousand Gazans died or were injured in the bombing. It judged to have done wrong if noncombatants were deliberately targeted. The deliberate targeting of noncombatants has been alleged by Israel’s critics, but is not yet proven. The lack of proof, I suspect, is why Israel’s critics have thus far focused on the number of casualties, as if the number of dead and wounded offers proof of guilty intent. It doesn’t. We await future inquires to learn the truth.

ARTHUR MILNER

I’m not sure this discussion of the legality of appropriate response is useful. Israel’s allies don’t care about legalities and will see that Israel appears before no court and that no Israeli ministers’ bank accounts are frozen. But “appropriate response” also has a common-sense meaning. Israel is losing badly in the court of public opinion. Eventually Western governments may respond to their publics – and to decades of instability that Israel has caused. And that day is, one hopes, coming closer as we speak.

No strong military response would be “appropriate” to those who distrust Israel, which includes me. It is widely accepted that Israel intentionally promoted Hamas to undermine the Palestinian Authority and the demand for a Palestinian state.⁴ Now, because of Israel’s stupid and dangerous tactics and its obsession with an Israel from the river to the sea, 1,200 Israelis are dead. How many Palestinian civilians is it appropriate to kill in response?

This is what I would consider an appropriate response: Israel should renounce its claim to the territories (Gaza and West Bank, including East Jerusalem), announce the Green Line as Israel’s international border, beg the U.S., the UN, the EU, and everyone else to send in peacekeepers to force its settlers and soldiers out of the territories, and beg the peacekeepers to stand on the Green Line to protect Israel from Palestinians and Palestinians from Israel. Beg them. Do it today.

MARK CRAWFORD

All sounds good to me, Arthur! The amount of land needed to build a corridor to Gaza could be transferred to Palestine so that the Palestinians could have room for their airport expansion.Presumably this would also include some land from the post-1967 settlements, which should make such an agreement a bit more acceptable. A Palestinian state comprising half of the former Palestine should be big enough to resettle Palestinian refugees in the remaining areas, which is what some Mapai (Labour) politicians were thinking prior to 1967, I believe. Yes, the UN, U.K. and U.S. should act to prevent further bloodshed. The humanitarian crisis in Gaza is already underway.

JOHN RICHARDS

For what it’s worth, I am with Arthur. I see no reasonable option in the short run. I want rid of Netanyahu; I want rid of Hamas. I want to minimize deaths among Gaza civilians. I want an independent Palestine in Gaza and the West Bank with territory at least as large as at the 1967 war. None of this is in view. The one consolation of this awful month is that the idea of two states has been resurrected.

BOB CHODOS

Arthur, these are all good suggestions, but having done all that, Israel will still be faced with a religiously inspired terror group on its borders that will be building its capacity for the next attack. And what you’re talking about are not peacekeepers but combat troops. “Peacekeepers” are useless when there’s no peace to keep.

ARTHUR MILNER

I don’t pretend to know what the IDF can do in Gaza that is humane and effective. Here’s a guideline. What would the IDF do were Hamas’s terrorists and their hostages hidden in tunnels deep under Tel Aviv?

October 30
WILLIAM SCHABAS

Proportionality is a principle. It is the same principle regardless of the status of those involved. It is assessed on a case-by-case basis, bearing in mind the reality of the threat posed by the attacker. The Charter of the United Nations does not suggest that the right of self-defence is in some way dependent upon the status of the perpetrator of the attack. As for the principles of proportionality and distinction in the conduct of hostilities, these are above all focused on the protection of noncombatants. But even Hamas and ISIS fighters are entitled to humane treatment if they are captured, and to protection against summary execution or gratuitous attacks on their lives that are not required by military necessity.

Notes

1 Anaïs Maroonian, Proportionality in International Humanitarian Law: A Principle and a Rule, Articles of War, October 24, 2022.

2 David French, What It Would Mean to Treat Hamas Like ISIS, New York Times, October 12, 2023.

3 See excerpts from the Hamas charter at https://irp.fas.org/world/para/docs/880818a.htm

4 Listen to Thomas L. Friedman on Israel’s ‘Morally Impossible Situation for example. Tom Friedman is no radical.