Proportionality and Israel`s Use of Force

The recent Israel-Gaza War has once again highlighted how politicians, reporters and commentators criticise Israel for using “disproportionate force.” This terminology seems to be used every time Israel is engaged in asymmetrical warfare such as the recent Operation Protective Edge against Hamas in Gaza. Unfortunately, there appears to be confusion between “disproportionate use of force” (see here and here for example) when often what is meant is “disproportionate civilian casualties due to Israeli force”. An explanation of both terms sheds much light onto the matter. 

“Disproportionate civilian casualties due to Israeli force” would mean that Israel’s military response to Hamas’s rockets has led to a greater number of Palestinian fatalities than Israeli casualties. When citing the number of those dead or hurt in each side to highlight the disparity in civilian casualties, it is this phrase that is really being referred to. According to the logic of this argument, Israel’s operations are illegitimate because they cause mass Palestinian suffering and civilian deaths, so much so that Israel’s comparatively smaller death toll does not warrant a large response or even one at all.

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