There has been some discussion - around the blog o’sphere; from human rights and humanitarian organisations; international bodies; governments and in the main-stream media - about “disproportionate use of force” and Israel’s “right to self-defence”.
I was trying to avoid being yet another opining blogger making pronouncements on the current violence in Lebanon and Israel, adding to the pile, but, having read this post and some of the comments (I largely agree with Copernicus‘ and EWI’s comments), I felt compelled to get it out of my system, regardless of whether or not I’m merely typing to myself.
One - I have no equivocation or ambivalence as to whether Israel has a right to defend itself and the civilian population from attack: They do, without question.
Two - I have no equivocation or ambivalence as to whether, in defending itself, that Israel must abide by international standards (including humanitarian and human rights laws). This necessarily means that Israel’s response to attack must be proportionate.
By “proportionate”, I mean that Israel should go after their attackers: In the present instance, Hizbollah. If they go beyond that, Israel should be condemned and sanctioned. Attacking civilians is clearly going beyond the pursuit of Hizbollah.
So, for instance:
This means that if civilians are targeted, this is disproportionate. Under humanitarian law, civilians are protected persons. So, for example, if you warn the population of a town that they must evacuate or “be destroyed”, and then - when that population is obeying such instructions and fleeing their homes - an aircraft attacks the convoy of civilians, this is disproportionate.
This means that if acts of “collective punishment” are carried out or if civilian objects as well as military medical facilities and ambulances are destroyed, this is disproportionate. (Collective punishment is classed as a “serious violation” of humanitarian law.) This means that if such things as water supplies, electricity supplies, storage tanks, airports, roads, ambulances are attacked, this is disproportionate.
By a remarkable coincidence, humanitarian and human rights laws carry the same meaning of “proportionate”:
The well established principles of distinction and proportionality as well as the prohibition to employ weapons, projectiles and material and methods of warfare of a nature to cause superfluous injury or unnecessary suffering are at the core of this branch of international humanitarian law.
From these principles more specific rules were developed, such as the prohibition of direct attacks against civilians or the civilian population as such or against civilian objects, the prohibition of indiscriminate attacks and the obligation to take precautionary measures with a view to avoiding, and in any event to minimizing, incidental loss of civilian life, injury to civilians and damage to civilian objects.
(Moreover, as experience around the world has shown, if the civilian population is attacked, the likelihood is that the ranks of paramilitary group X will be swelled by those who are angry, alienated, outraged and radicalised by the experience. If a permanent state of war is the objective, then attacking civilians is probably a safe bet to achieve it.)
And before anyone says words to the effect of: Hizbullah are a merciless terrorist organisations, and it is they who are killing civilians, and it is they who are taking hostages and kidnapping - let me say this:
That may be so, and I do not dispute it: but I hold our democratic governments to far higher standards than gangs of heavily-armed criminal thugs.