Grasping the ethics of the crisis requires us to understand properly the concept of proportionalityby Jeff McMahan / August 5, 2014 / Leave a comment
Introduction: setting the terms of the debate
Thus far in the war in Gaza, more than 1800 Palestinians have been killed, most of them apparently civilians. Sixty three Israeli soldiers, two Israeli civilians, and one foreign worker in Israel have also been killed. The great disparity between the casualties on the two sides raises the question of whether Israeli military action has been disproportionate. This question remains important even if the war is now coming to an end. I will argue that Israel’s action has indeed been disproportionate, though this will require an explanation of what proportionality is, as it is a notion that is widely misunderstood.
Despite the bombings of two Palestinian schools that the UN had designated civilian sanctuaries, I will assume that Israeli forces have not been attacking civilians intentionally. What I will argue is that the killing of Palestinian civilians as a foreseeable but unintended side effect of defensive military action has been disproportionate in relation to the aim of protecting Israeli civilians and soldiers from attacks by Palestinian fighters.