Tuesday, December 27, 2005

Proportionality Packs 

It's a shame about the security barrier, alternately called either a life-saving fence or apartheid wall depending on who's doing the calling. While at one time the barrier seemed like it might be the prophesied Israeli security innovation that could actually satisfy an international committee, now even that moment seems to have passed.

Israel continues to do what it must and the rest of the world continues to condemn it -- all the while acknowledging Israel's right to do, well, something, just not any specific thing. I know I'm being a little harsh there. Technically they haven't yet ruled out Israel's simply surrendering to the Arab/Islamic world and boarding rickety ocean-going boats to circle the globe begging for someone to give them another place to live. Then again, the committees haven't really had much of a chance to study that one yet, so let's not jump the gun.

Any cynicism nothwithstanding, though, Israel has not given up its quest for a diplomatically acceptable method of not getting killed. Unfortunately absolutely everything tried so far has been condemned either as disproportionate, or else as collective punishment -- which is apparently both disproportionate and damaging to any hopes of winning this year's Mr. Congeniality award at the UN.

Let's start with a quick rundown of what has been tried and found wanting already, and then move on to looking for other overlooked possibilities.

I guess it all started with basic riot control gone horribly wrong. Tear gas and rubber bullets are bad, bad, bad, and also very mean and cruel -- and disproportionate:

...a message was also delivered by the CHR "Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in the occupied Palestinian territories", Giorgio Giacomelli. He briefly discussed a report he submitted to the CHR updating his October 2000 report to the 5th Special Session. The update focused on the continuing use by the Israeli military of disproportionate and unrestrained force in the form of live ammunition, rubber-coated metal bullets and tear gas against civilians.
So basically, Israel is expected to let rioters and intifada-ers do what they like. This of course sends a critical message to potential suicide bombers, a message that says basically "start shooting that goodbye video, dude, you're coming to Israel!"

When suicide bombers blow up in innocent Israeli civilian crowds, they leave behind only fragments too tiny to punish. So Israel had to look elsewhere if there were to be any consequences at all to blowing up its citizens. One of the most common methods was destroying the suicide bomber's family house. From Israel's vantage point, this technique had a lot of advantages: 1) no Palestinian was hurt or killed, 2) no Palestinian was actually made homeless since Iraq or Saudi Arabia would hand out enough martyr money to build another house, and 3) it had at least the slightest possibility of causing future candidates to think just a moment about the potential impact of their actions.

The international community immediately saw right through it and hurried to put a stop to it (I mean to the house demolitions, not the suicide bombings):

Although the Israeli authorities often justify such demolitions citing security concerns, they also acknowledge cases in which the destruction has been meted out for purely punitive reasons. Punitive house demolitions violate of the Fourth Geneva Convention and the 1907 Hague Regulations prohibitions on collective punishments and the destruction of private property.
So instead Israel tried a new tactic. Perhaps it would be possible instead to make it more difficult for bombers to even reach their targets. That way no Israelis would have to die, and the Palestinian real estate market wouldn't suffer the periodic price fluctuations from sudden influxes of foreign martyr money -- the mythical win-win! Unfortunately, finding a diplomatically acceptable method of keeping a Palestinian suicide bomber away from his Israeli target is easier said than done. Certainly Israel should never have even considered such an egregious measure as curfews, which are justified under international law only when the Detroit Pistons win the NBA championship.

[UN Security Council meeting] Equally deplorable are the imposition of a curfew on the entire city of Ramallah...
Apparently, some even consider curfews to be war crimes (again, except for Pistons fans):

Mofaz was Chief of Staff during the Intifada and is thus responsible for atrocities committed against the Palestinians; killing of a number of Palestinian civilians, invasions, using Palestinians as human shields, demolition of Palestinian homes and other collective punishment measures such as curfews and closure. A British lawyer is currently preparing a case to try Mofaz for war crimes.
Ok, so that's obviously a non-starter. But how about roadblocks to make it harder for bombers to move around while still allowing much more civilian freedom than the curfews? Nope, forget about it. Disproportionately inconvenient:

[Palestinian testimony to UNHCR:] The people of Palestine were having great trouble going from one village to another because of roadblocks and checkpoints that interfered and often resulted in people having to return to their homes.
How bad was it?

The situation created by Israel in the occupied territories had pushed people to acts of suicide.
I think he means acts of suicide euphemistically. Acts of explosive homicidal rage against civilian women and children might also work in that sentence, but let's not fuss over the details.

What about curfew's bastard son, the closure?

Indiscriminate or disproportionate military actions are strictly prohibited. IHL also prohibits "collective punishment." The extent of Israel's current policy of "closure," by imposing constant curfews and blockades in the West Bank without adequate security justification, amounts to collective punishment.
The pattern is clear. It's impossible to punish the suicide bomber individually, and impermissible to punish anyone collectively. Clearly the whole punishment thing was problematic so Israel gave up on it and moved on to the idea of focussed prevention with targeted assassinations of active militants:

JEAN-MARC DE LA SABLIERE (France) [statement to UN Security Council] condemned the 17 April attack [Sheik Yassin], saying that the practice of extrajudicial killings violated fundamental principles of the rule of law. The disproportionate use of force in populated areas endangered efforts to obtain a ceasefire of Palestinian movements, and could only lead to the radicalization of the Palestinian people and undermine the prospects for a resumption of dialogue.
Amusingly, he went on:

France recognized Israel’s right to self-defence and had condemned attacks against Israeli civilians, he said. However, the fight against terrorism must be conducted with strict respect for the rule of law. Violence was not a solution.
Violence certainly is the problem. But France feels that, now as in World Wars past, it cannot be a solution. Surrender is. Israel has yet to take this advice, but it does stand a chance of avoiding a French veto in the Security Council which is good to know. In addition, cowering in bed apparently isn't yet a war crime -- to the best of my knowledge -- and was the approach recommended by many, but it has so far proven ineffective, so the search went on.

Now and again, Israel has tried ceding land -- for peace, you know -- but this hasn't worked either. Each concession has been too small, too late, too disconnected. Too bad. If I understand world opinion correctly, Israel only cedes land so there will be someplace in which to imprison the Palestinian recipients.

Lastly, speaking of imprisonment, the security barrier elicited condemnations every bit as colorful as those which preceded it:

"The wall is being used as a way of expanding Israel's territory," the special rapporteur, John Dugard, said on Thursday before presenting a report to the Geneva-based UN Commission on Human Rights. "It amounts to illegal territorial gain." ... While Israel had real security concerns which could not be ignored, its response was excessive and disproportionate to the Palestinian attacks, he said.
So what's an Israeli leader to do? Everything is disproportionate. Israel's very existence is a disproportionate affront to Palestinian aspirations and a disproportionate distraction to French diplomats who really should be concentrating on cheese tariffs.

Is there anything that can be done? Fortunately, I think there is, but it won't be easy. I suggest tackling the problem head on: disproportionality. If that is what is bothering everyone so much, then we must simply strive for proportionate responses, which will then probably satisfy everybody. Admittedly, however, this is a little tricky given the breathtaking creativity Palestinians pour into finding unique and diverse ways of attacking Israel. Finding a single method of responding which is proportional to all the Palestinian attack modalities is a daunting task.

But there is a way around that roadblock: the Proportionality Pack.

The IDF must immediately issue every soldier with a Proportionality Pack, and provide sufficient training in its proper and proportionate use. But a quick look at the spectrum of attack types the Palestinians have managed in recent years shows what the Proportionality Pack's designers (that's me) have to deal with.

We've had suicide belts, attempted poisonings, bags of rocks, molotov cocktails, slingshots, AK47's, Kassams, knives, and even the occasional donkey bomb,

So it's pretty obvious what we need in each soldier's proportionality pack. They need a belt of explosives, rocks, bottles and flammable liquid, slingshots, various sized knives, and alternate weapons like AK47's. While almost guaranteed to be effective with such a flexible array of responses at hand, it would be quite heavy -- and that's before we even worry about the donkey. But the problem is then also the solution. Each soldier is issued a donkey which will carry the rest of the Proportionality Pack for him, all in one neat self-contained unit. Of course some food has to be added for the donkey, unless the soldier is operating in an area known for frequent donkey bomb attacks in which case the donkey can probably be blown up before it gets too hungry.

So no matter what manner of attack an Israeli soldier comes up against, he (or she) will have the ability to respond in kind. Protestors throwing rocks? Sling a few back. Bottles of flaming liquid raining down on your jeep? A quick return barrage of molotov cocktails, carefully aimed to avoid bystanders, ought to do the trick. The Palestinians should quickly get the message, and even the UN Security Council should be able to recognize the humanitarian gesture of IDF soldiers pelting young protestors with their own rocks. And it all works because the Proportionality Pack has thought of it all, every weapon against Israel is in there for use in return.

Oh, except for a Reuters photographer.

If you really, really liked this -- or even really, really hated it -- there's lots more: