Take out your calculators. While you’re at it, a set of blinders, too. Israel’s imminent Gaza campaign is going to get ugly. If you’ve been paying close attention, the moral and mathematical problem has already been revealed.
More Palestinian civilians undoubtedly will be killed in the latest chapter of this ongoing war between Israel, a democratic nation, and Hamas, a brutal terrorist entity. The word “de-escalate” was uttered by progressives even before Israel began to retaliate. “Ceasefire” was the operative word on American college campuses this week, along with “Intifada!”—words otherwise irreconcilable in their meanings.
Very soon the IDF will accelerate its Hamas manhunt. Going house-to-house will invariably include collateral damage. There will be calls for Israel to exercise “restraint.” Another phrase will enter the national conversation: “proportionate response.” Is the death toll lopsided with a far larger Palestinian body count?
All these words mean the same thing: “Israel, put down your weapons. You are disqualified from getting justice for the biggest massacre of Jews since the Holocaust. A terrorist can’t be touched if it might result in a civilian death.”
No other nation, most especially the United States, with its atomic payload over two Japanese cities, the bombing of Dresden, Germany and Vietnamese villages, its post-9/11War on Terror against the Taliban and al-Qaeda, and Allied Coalition Forces removing ISIS from Mosul, has ever been held to such an exacting standard of precision while responding in self-defense.
I know about this topic. During Israel’s last war with Gaza in 2014, I wrote what became a widely decried Op-Ed in the Wall Street Journal, in which I examined the crazy-making moral position Israel finds itself in.
That dilemma in Gaza is present, still.
“An eye for an eye,” found in the Old Testament, along with Hammurabi’s Code, is often mistaken for blood vengeance when, in fact, it’s a call for proportionate justice. The loss of an eye creates a debt for the repayment of the wrongdoer’s eye—no less, and no more.
Vengeance and justice are really the same. Too much of the former is unjust, but there is no justice if victims are not made to feel vindicated. That’s why the language of revenge is always framed in mathematical terms: “measure for measure,” “settling the score,” “evening the debt,” “demanding payback.”
It is the handiwork of CPAs, not lawless vigilantes. It has worked all throughout the world to keep the peace long before courtrooms were introduced to resolve disputes.
This kind of rational, proportionate revenge fails in the context of warfare, however. Measurements are invariably inexact—the nearly 3,000 murdered on 9/11 were surely dwarfed by the number of dead Iraqis and Afghanis. Got a problem with that? Should the War on Terror have come to an end when we killed 3,000, or the moment Osama bin-Laden was assassinated? Most Americans would not have felt satisfied, I suspect.
These disparities in body count are especially present in Fourth Generation Warfare, where enemy combatants wear no uniforms, hide behind civilians, and shirk the laws of war. Exploiting these asymmetries is Hamas’ specialty.
For nearly 20 years, Hamas has launched tens of thousands of rockets at Israel. Fortunately, most either landed harmlessly or detonated in the sky courtesy of Iron Dome. Until October 7, relatively few Israelis were killed by Hamas. Does proportionality require Israel to not deploy its missile defense system so it can achieve a more balanced body count of dead Jews?
Hamas is seeking the annihilation of all Jewry. Should their intent not matter simply because, in the past, their aim was off?
Making matters worse is that Hamas chooses to fight Israel on a battlefield that looks exactly like its home turf—because that’s what it is: A war inside the homes of its fellow citizens, or in mosques, hospitals, and schools. Because Hamas places no value on human life—whether it be Jewish or Muslim—it regards this theater of war as a home court advantage. The rules of engagement are discarded in favor of a civilian death strategy that culminates in the global condemnation of Israel.
What this all means is that Gazan civilians are going to die—and a lot them. But the Geneva Convention, which prohibits the targeting of civilians, was not written with Gaza in mind—both the necessity of urban warfare, and a complicit civilian population that offers homes as command centers and children as human shields. The parents are civilians, of course, but are they “innocent”? Remember, Hamas was democratically elected. Gazans saw Hamas’ genocidal campaign platform, and cast their ballots accordingly.
Hamas knows the West suffers from short-term memory lapses. The Iran Hostage Crisis? 9/11? Munich Olympics’ Massacre? London Subway Bombing? Boston Marathon Bombing?
Ring a bell, anyone?
Hamas also knows that the West faints at the first sight of blood. The New York Times, MSNBC and BBC view dead Palestinian children as Pulitzer Prize-worthy material. Dead Israeli children merit not even a footnote.
Public sentiment is worsening each day—especially on the Arab street, which, as Europeans have come to learn, gravitated to their streets—replete with death chants and flag burning. Until last week, Americans didn’t realize how much Muslims enjoy gathering in large mobs and calling for the death of another country and its people. Soon you’ll hear “Death to America!” in Detroit, “Intifada!” in Brooklyn, and the burning of American flags in Pico-Robertson—all protected by the First Amendment, and the protocols of political correctness.
In a less antisemitic world, the evil handiwork of Hamas would have generated enormous sympathy for Israel and a judgment that Hamas is a menace to humankind—like Nazis and ISIS. Instead, we have Jewish students afraid to walk around campus, a female synagogue president fatally stabbed in Detroit, and rallies around the country glorifying Hamas as heroes.
Given the grisly crime scene in southern Israel, justice is an unsolvable equation. When you chop the heads off 40 infants, and gang rape and mutilate scores of teenage girls, there is no equivalency in “eye-for-an-eye” parlance, no precise number for getting even. The proportionate response is infinite.
IDF soldiers are in a war, but more accurately—they are on a mission. Setting anguish and hesitancy aside, they know they must kill all who are responsible for these monstrous crimes. Human shields are tragic, but the world should be denouncing Hamas for using them, not Israel for trying to avoid them. Israel is now justifiably guided by a moral imperative, and they will not be denied.
For those shouting “ceasefire” and “proportionality,” would they prefer to see IDF soldiers getting even by slitting the throats of 40 Palestinian infants, and then raping Palestinian teenagers. Sorry, Jews won’t oblige, and no moral principle in Judaism would excuse it—for any reason.
Besides, the people demanding Israel’s surrender are the very same ones who refuse to even acknowledge the depravity of what Hamas did.
A mammoth debt was created on October 7, and satisfaction is owed. Settling this score won’t be easy. The wrongdoers committed unspeakable acts. Numbers can’t be assigned. In Gaza, the math of revenge will have no equal.
Thane Rosenbaum is a novelist, essayist, law professor and Distinguished University Professor at Touro University, where he directs the Forum on Life, Culture & Society. He is the legal analyst for CBS News Radio. His most recent book is titled “Saving Free Speech … From Itself.”