In the second episode of The West Wing ever aired, President Bartlett’s new personal physician is murdered just before the credits roll. He is traveling to Amman, Jordan to volunteer for a week at a teaching hospital when his military plane is shot down over the Mediterranean Sea. President Bartlett, generally uncomfortable with military issues, tells his Chief of Staff that he is going to bomb those responsible.
In the following episode, the new President is presented with a series of options that are labeled “Proportional Responses.” Bartlett replies by asking if there are any alternatives to the “Proportional Response.” When the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs tells him that there is not, President Bartlett argues that there is, in fact, an alternative: The “Disproportional Response.” Hit the enemy so hard that they will never, ever attempt such an act again. A plan is drawn up and, when President Bartlett, played by Martin Sheen, returns, he is told that there will be significant loss of civilian life and that humanitarian aid to the region will be disrupted.
The Chairman tells the President that such a disproportionate response would be understood by the world as a new President “dolling out” a $50,000 punishment for a “fifty buck crime.” The President recoils and accepts the “Proportional Response” plan understanding that a proportional response is neither good nor bad, it simply is what is, and that it does not preclude using other options in the future. These early episodes of The West Wing are on my mind as I listen to the international outcry against Israel’s “disproportionate” response to Hamas ending the cease fire and constantly firing larger, more dangerous rockets, with greater range, than ever before. It is time to consider the equation being presented, to understand what is and is not included when determining proportionality, and to draw conclusions about the future.
The basic argument seems to be as follows: Yes, Israel has been subjected to terror. Yes, Israelis in the south, and now increasingly east and north, have been living with daily rocket and mortar attacks for over seven years. Yes, it is awful. And, yet, only 20 Israelis (read “JEWS”) have been killed by rockets and mortars from Gaza in eight years. Therefore, 600 plus Palestinian deaths in less than two weeks is “disproportionate.”
Yes, it is tough to live in Sderot and other Gaza neighbor communities. Sure, your kids sleep with you at much older ages because they are afraid to sleep by themselves. Sure, their playgrounds are covered with equipment pocked with shrapnel holes.
And sure, Hamas regularly tries to kidnap your children living on the border. And yet, only 20 Israelis have been killed over all these years. Therefore, when Palestinian children, innocents, are dying in larger numbers during Operation Cast Lead, Israel’s military response is “disproportionate.”
Yes, Hamas refuses to give up violence and terror. Yes, Hamas indoctrinates its children to hate Jews, Israel, the US and others. Yes, Hamas is dedicated to destroying Israel. Yes, Hamas is another proxy of Iran, a country whose president declares regularly that Israel will be wiped off the map. And yet, only 20 Israeli Jews have been killed, murdered, by Qassam and Grad missiles, mortars and rockets in all these years. Therefore, when Israel sends its massive military force into Gaza to fight Hamas “gunmen” and Palestinian civilians die, Israel’s military response is “disproportionate.”
It is as if this is a simple algebra-ratio problem:
If the number of Jews murdered over 8 years is less than x then Israeli action that causes y deaths is disproportionate.
By focusing only on a number of Jews vs a number of Palestinians dead, the equation fails to consider the following:
A sworn enemy dedicated to your destruction, living on your border, smuggling enormous quantities of weaponry into its area and using it at greater distances with greater impact in order to bring about your destruction, changes the equation.
Some in the world will argue that this is precisely what Israel is trying to do to Hamas. However, if the rockets and the terror stopped tomorrow, really stopped, if Hamas put forth its efforts to build its country instead of digging weaponry tunnels, if it spent its money building, investing in its people instead of buying munitions, and if Hamas stopped terrorizing Israelis, Operation Cast lead would not, would never have been, necessary.
It is time to stop engaging in the argument about proportionality. It is an un-winnable argument. Why? Because those who claim that Israeli responses are disproportionate are not the least bit interested in proportionality in the first place. Some are simply opposed to any military action at all. As such, any Israeli response is disproportionate. Israel should simply turn its cheek, take it, and not respond. They are not Anti-Semites or Anti-Israel. They are simply complete pacifists.
I suspect, however, that the majority of those who wish to engage in the disproportionalist argument are, at best, not friends of Israel. At worst, they celebrate the suffering that Jews experience and glorify the bravery of Hamas. In either case, engaging in the argument about proportionality is really arguing about the right of Israel to exist. And therefore, I suggest that we not engage in the proportionality debate at all.
Rather, Israel was attacked. Those attacks persisted for eight years. Tens of Israelis died, many more were injured and tens of thousands, if not hundreds of thousands, were living in terror from daily Qassam, Grad, and Mortar attacks. Moreover, during the eight years, the enemy demonstrated an intention to increase the frequency of the attacks as well as increasing the range of the weapons, now bringing Beersheba and soon, Tel Aviv, into range, where the majority of the population lives. These attacks, by an enemy committed to Israel’s destruction, were not just about disrupting lives, they were, they are, about removing the Jewish People from the Land of Israel. Nothing more and nothing less. Operation Cast Lead is not about proportionality or disproportionality; rather, it is about the right to exist or the absence of that right to exist.
We, the Jewish People, need not argue about the right to exist. We do. We always have. We always will. The Land of Israel and the State of Israel exist and will continue to exist. Israel has the incontrovertible right to defend itself. It has showed incredible restraint for many years. The time for argument about proportionality, if there ever was a time, is over. The time to stand in support is eternal. That is where we should stand and that is what we should argue.
When President Bartlett walks out of the White House Situation Room after approving the limited military strike against Syrian intelligence, he turns to the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs and says, “Fifty Buck Crime? I have no idea what we are doing here.” A Qassam is not a fifty buck crime. A Grad is not a fifty buck crime. A mortar is not a fifty buck crime. An intentional, constant attack against innocent civilians is an existential crime and should be responded to as such.