Israel and Gaza

I have not had a free moment (or at least enough time) to respond thoughtfully to the important comments in the posts below (1, 2). Here is a piece I have co-authored with some friends, “Conflit israélo-palestinien: un cycle électoral de la violence?” I will post English and Arabic translations later. Here are two essays from others whom I respect in the region: 1, 2.

I wish I had the magic key to bring peace to the region. I don’t. But I do think I know about some things that make the situation worse and some that could make it better. More later.

18 Responses to “Israel and Gaza”

  1. Trade would be a great thing, but it doesn’t seem realistic in the near-term. I don’t think Gaza has the legal or moral infrastructure to support it. Contracts and property are not secure enough to facilitate non-trivial trade.

    Rockets are crossing the border today, and suicide bombers would like to. Opening it up will likely do a lot more harm than good.

    What should Israel do?

  2. Alan Gura

    the latest word from Hamas is that they reject an end to arms smuggling, any international force in Gaza, and PA control of their side of the crossings. So how is it Israel making things worse? They’re killing terrorists, taking territory from terrorists, and destroying terrorist arms.

    If the US had a border with an al-qaeda controlled territory that was being used to launch attacks against Americans, I doubt we’d see all these calls for open borders. Oh, and how about the rich irony that all these radical asshats who riot against free trade, globalization, etc. are suddenly the chamber of commerce when it comes to a terrorist group.

  3. Nena Bartlett

    If Israel were ONLY killing terrorists and destroying their arms, maybe they couldn’t be making things worse. Call it what you want but according to the essay from the Palestinian that Tom linked to as well as many others, Israel’s reaction was disproportionate. The U.S., faced with a similar situation, probably would have reacted the same way– but that doesn’t make it any better… or more diplomatic.

  4. Tom G. Palmer

    I am in favor of free trade, not against it, and I am for it in the case of Israel and Palestine for the same reasons I am for it elsewhere. Because the freedom to trade is a fundamental human right and — and here it is of special relevance to the case of Israel and Palestine — because it tends to produces incentives for peace.

    Trade also creates incentives to create the infrastructure (courts, mediation, property, security) that makes it more orderly, reliable, and efficient.

    I understand that people coming across the border to Israel must be searched for weapons and examined for evil intent. That seems self evident and I am not calling on the Israelis to open themselves up to attack. But the current policies aren’t working very well. Maybe there is simply no long-term stable solution, but I hope that that is not the case and it is far too early to give up on it.

    I should add that not only the immediate parties in the current dispute, the Israelis and the Palestinians, are bearing the cost of this conflict. The U.S. government, by supporting one side with aid and diplomacy, imposes costs on the people of the US, as well. And perhaps they should speak out about how their tax dollars are being spent.

  5. Tom,

    I agree with everything you say about trade. I’m enthusiastically for it, and I suspect Israel is too. Hopefully, some day, the legal and social institutions will exist to allow significant trade between Palestinians and Israelis.

    In the meantime, I think “Trade” is practically a non sequitur as an answer to how Israel should react to rockets from Gaza. If there are no good answers, they have to find the least bad one. And if they have found it, it shouldn’t be criticized as though it were a mistake.

  6. Tom G. Palmer


    I did not say that the best or only response to rockets is trade. Of course not. The rocket launchers have to be stopped, with violence if need be. But the Israeli policy of blocking trade with Gaza has not helped to create a positive climate in Gaza.

    I doubt that this policy will lead to a lasting peace. And I believe that the cost in innocent life is terribly high. I have yet to hear convincing arguments that this sustained assault, with a high cost in civilian lives and injuries, is the least bad option.

  7. Well, if the arguments aren’t convincing, then it shouldn’t be hard to disprove it by citing a single counter-example.

    I agree that the situation is tragic. I just hear so many people criticize Israel without even trying to suggest something that’s both realistic, and better, that I hope for either an attempt or an acknowledgement that Israel might be making a serious effort to do the very best thing possible.

  8. Tom G. Palmer

    This is not the sort of “argument” that is solved with a single counter-example; it’s the wrong logical category to use in such a discussion. The question is whether this response, with the level of innocent victims, is justified. To say that “some response” is justified is not to say that “any response” is justified. But eliding the difference seems to be the mainstay of the more fervent defenders of the actions of the Olmert government. Killing people who are launching missiles is not objectionable per se, but dropping a nuclear bomb to kill them, thus killing hundreds of thousands of others, is not justified. So what level of force is acceptable, and what level of risk to innocents? “Counter examples” will not tell us much about that.

    On December 24 of last year, the Israeli military announced that 65 rockets had been launched into Israel. That certainly merited a response. And on the same day, the IDF announced that they had killed some of the rocket launchers. That was certainly a justified response. Killing those who launch rockets at innocent people is justified. I will go a step further and say that assassination of the people who order them is justified. But consider the ratio of civilian deaths. Are there any ratios that would be justified, if the goal were to stop the rockets? Yes, I think that there would be. (All use of violence entails risk to innocents; even a police officer who justifiably fires a weapon at a murderous hostage taker risks innocent lives.) But this ratio is astonishing and grossly disproportionate. It seems that since 2001 18 Israelis have been killed by rocket fire. Those people were victims of unjustified aggression against civilians. How many civilian Palestinians have been killed by Israeli weaponry in the past week? How many would there have to be before one would argue that the response was unjustified?

  9. Alan Gura

    Proportionality means using force necessary to achieve a legitimate aim and no more. It doesn’t mean, identical behavior, or eye for an eye. Under your view, I guess, a proportional response could be Israel indiscriminately shelling Palestinian civilians, rocket for rocket, mortar for mortar. That’s not the way it goes.

    The fact is, since Israel is entitled to stop the shelling of its population, it is entitled to use whatever means minimally necessary to achieve that. Anything less, and Israel is really not entitled to protect its citizens.

    Also the whole body-count obsession misses the point. The palestinian rockets are depriving Israel of sovereignty because they make life unlivable in Israel. If few have died, it’s because they’ve moved out or are living in bomb shelters. You wouldn’t tell survivors of the london blitz that the V2 wasn’t all that bad, because after all it didn’t kill them. But then, few people are really sorry about axis civilian losses in that war. And it’s not like Israel has replayed Dresden or Nagasaki.

  10. The single example was meant to disprove that Israel had chosen the least bad option. I think if you could have defined a less-bad action (that would still successfully accomplish legitimate goals) then you would have succeeded in demonstrating that Israel’s choice wasn’t the least bad one.

    So, what are you saying with these ratios? Are you saying that if, while trying to avoid killing any civilians but defending its people and trying to destroy enemy offensive capabilities, the ratio of Palestinian/Israeli innocent civilian deaths exceed some magical “n”, then Israel should have packed up and gone home, even if it knew that there were more weapons and terrorists that it could destroy given more time?


    I don’t believe that there is such a number. It’s certainly not obvious what it would be, or I think you would have named it.

    Nuking Gaza wouldn’t have been wrong because of the ratio, but because of the intentional murder of innocents that were not necessary to kill for any reasonable attempt to defend itself. Yes, the larger the number makes it worse, but it’s already wrong. I think it’s you who is confused about logical categories.

  11. And, consider the hypothetical case where you could define such a ratio.

    If it’s not justified, given the current Israeli body count, to risk the death of more than p innocent Palestinians, then Hamas could keep Israel from ever justifiably defending itself merely by plausibly threatening to “martyr” p+1 civilians as soon as Israel launches a defensive strike.

    This is not very different, in my opinion, from how the vast majority of Palestinian innocent deaths have occurred in this action (only in multiple, separate events).

    Being sufficiently evil would assure victory.

    I think there’s a bug in that theory.

  12. Tom G. Palmer

    I have meetings all day today and two writing deadlines this weekend, but I will try to find some day this weekend to respond to these intelligent, but not convincing, points.

  13. This seems to be one of the few cases where Tom and Lew Rockwell/Mises basically are of the same opinion.

    Here in Austria 90%+ of the people I know think the actions of the Israelis are disproportionate (and we also have some interesting coalition). Support is mostly limited to people of Jewish ancestry, a few on the left (“we always have to support Israel because of our history”) and some people on the extreme right. The latter deeply dislike Jewish people but hate Muslims even more (they fear “Eurabia”). One of the most funny things: a guy who has books written by Honsik, Irving and Hitler at home supports Israel on this issue. This is a very interesting mix.

    But here is a reasonable political statement:

    Statement of Congressman Ron Paul

    United States House of Representatives

    Statement on H Res 34, Recognizing Israel’s right to defend itself against attacks from Gaza, Reaffirming the United States strong support for Israel, and supporting the Israeli-Palestinian peace process

    January 9, 2008

    Madame Speaker, I strongly oppose H. Res. 34, which was rushed to the floor with almost no prior notice and without consideration by the House Foreign Affairs Committee. The resolution clearly takes one side in a conflict that has nothing to do with the United States or US interests. I am concerned that the weapons currently being used by Israel against the Palestinians in Gaza are made in America and paid for by American taxpayers. What will adopting this resolution do to the perception of the United States in the Muslim and Arab world? What kind of blowback might we see from this? What moral responsibility do we have for the violence in Israel and Gaza after having provided so much military support to one side?

    As an opponent of all violence, I am appalled by the practice of lobbing homemade rockets into Israel from Gaza. I am only grateful that, because of the primitive nature of these weapons, there have been so few casualties among innocent Israelis. But I am also appalled by the longstanding Israeli blockade of Gaza — a cruel act of war — and the tremendous loss of life that has resulted from the latest Israeli attack that started last month.

    There are now an estimated 700 dead Palestinians, most of whom are civilians. Many innocent children are among the dead. While the shooting of rockets into Israel is inexcusable, the violent actions of some people in Gaza does not justify killing Palestinians on this scale. Such collective punishment is immoral. At the very least, the US Congress should not be loudly proclaiming its support for the Israeli government’s actions in Gaza.

    Madame Speaker, this resolution will do nothing to reduce the fighting and bloodshed in the Middle East. The resolution in fact will lead the US to become further involved in this conflict, promising “vigorous support and unwavering commitment to the welfare, security, and survival of Israel as a Jewish and democratic state.” Is it really in the interest of the United States to guarantee the survival of any foreign country? I believe it would be better to focus on the security and survival of the United States, the Constitution of which my colleagues and I swore to defend just this week at the beginning of the 111th Congress. I urge my colleagues to reject this resolution.

  14. Hamas’ founding document calls for the extermination of Jews worldwide. If Hamas ever were to become sufficiently strong, they’d systematically annihilate Jews in Israel. The “disproportionality” argument entirely misses the point because it ignores this very real threat that Israel is trying to avoid.

    It also is based on a senseless equality notion — would those who make it think things would be just fine if things were brought into balance with more Israeli deaths? Zero is the optimal number of Israeli deaths. And for as long as they advocate and pursue wholesale murder, “all of them” is the optimal number of Hamas deaths.

    I just heard a Canadian government official point out that 10,000 rockets have been fired from Gaza to Israel over the past seven years. That Hamas has not eliminated Jews from Israel isn’t for lack of trying, but rather that they are incompetent. But they’ve been increasingly well-armed, and its unimaginable that Israelis can or should tolerate such a homocidal enemy next door.

    Given this, I find it difficult to under

  15. Oops.

    I find it — not difficult — but impossible — to understand Ron Paul’s assertion that the Gaza blockade is a “cruel act of war.” Presumably the Israelis should allow perfectly open borders? Allow Hamas to bring in any weapons it wishes?

    Tom, you suggest this war won’t bring lasting peace; I am sure you are right. But letting Hamas go along with business as usual won’t bring peace either. There cannot be peace when Hamas openly insists on exterminating Israelis as part of its party platform.

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