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Lex talionis and its discontents in Lebanon

If it is said, as it has been said by the EU, that Israel’s current actions in Lebanon are disproportionate, some people (eg, commenters on this thread at crookedtimber) claim instantly to be ignorant as to what “proportionality” could possibly mean. Well, it may not be facetious to point out that there is a classic and well-known definition of proportionality, which goes like this: “an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth, a hand for a hand, a foot for a foot”, in the books of Exodus and Deuteronomy. It is known as the lex talionis, and we have, among many others, Calvin’s commentary on it in Harmony of the Law:

[A] just proportion is to be observed, and […] the amount of punishment is to be equally regulated, whether as to a tooth, or an eye, or life itself, so that the compensation should correspond with the injury done […] so that he who has plucked out his brother’s eye, or cut off his hand, or broken his leg, should lose his own eye, or hand, or leg. In fine, for the purpose of preventing all violence, a compensation is to be paid in proportion to the injury.

A just proportion instead of escalating deeds of violence: such is the law, and the germ of this idea has been at the centre of law ever since. (Compare the notion in English law of “reasonable force”, oxymoronic though it may often prove to be in practice.)

Someone reluctant to accept talk of “disproportion” in Israel’s case, however, may perform a further rhetorical move. It is to say: okay, that’s fine for talk of eyes and teeth, but where is the calculus, where are the lookup tables, to enable us to calculate the exact “proportionality” in the complex situation of Lebanon? If you cannot easily say what would be “proportionate”, it is senseless to talk of disproportion.

That argument fails, however. Suppose Fred steals my burger and eats it. He has no other burger of his own that I may take in recompense. So deciding what it is justly proportionate for me or a magistrate to do is not an obvious matter of repaying him with exactly the same action. It will require some thought. However, if I shoot Fred dead in revenge for his theft of my burger, everyone will agree, without the need for further reflection, that my action was disproportionate, to say the very least.

In the case of Israel’s actions in Lebanon, we are enjoined to discuss proportionality or the lack of it in terms of a response to the kidnapping of two Israeli soldiers. Few will suggest that a pedantic notion of the exactly proportionate response, ie to kidnap two members of Hizbollah in return, was the correct deed. Even so, that does not logically prevent a judgment of disproportionality on actions such as bombing power stations and airports, and the foreseeable civilian deaths that ensue.

It is always very important to choose the correct starting place for a narrative of crime and retribution. George W Bush put it simply, as is his wont:

We were headed toward the road map, things looked positive, and terrorists stepped up and kidnapped a soldier, fired rockets into Israel.

Fatally inconvenient to this whole narrative on which arguments about “proportionality” depend, however, is the fact that, the day before the soldiers were snatched, the IDF entered Gaza in a pre-dawn raid to grab – or to “arrest” or “detain”, as it was reported – two civilians, sons of a Hamas member, in Rafah. It is noteworthy, however, that most major news sources did not report this as a “kidnap”, the word they reserved for the snatching the day after of the Israeli soldiers. However, if the soldiers’ abduction was, as Ehud Olmert declared, an “act of war”, then “kidnap” is hardly more appropriate here. Soldiers in war are not kidnapped but captured.

Still, in telling a story, you have to start somewhere. And it is desired that we start with the taking of the soldiers. Gideon Levy writes:

It’s no accident that nobody mentions the day before the attack on the Kerem Shalom fort, when the IDF kidnapped two civilians, a doctor and his brother, from their home in Gaza. The difference between us and them? We kidnapped civilians and they captured a soldier, we are a state and they are a terror organization. How ridiculously pathetic Amos Gilad sounds when he says that the capture of Shalit was “illegitimate and illegal,” unlike when the IDF grabs civilians from their homes.

As Levy notes, in this affair there is no proportionality in definitions, as with any case of “asymmetric warfare”. Rhetorical disproportion thus does its part to enable acts whose characterization as “disproportionate” may itself come to seem a gross euphemism.

  1. 1  Steven Poole  July 18, 2006, 11:17 am 

    Update: Shmuel Rosner of Ha’aretz does a witty job explaining other terms of Unspeak rolled out in the current crisis, in The war-clichés dictionary, Part 1.

  2. 2  dsquared  July 18, 2006, 2:27 pm 

    there is a graduated response here; to begin with, the IDF “did not attack civilians”. It then escalated this somewhat to “minimising civilian casualties” and thence to “doing its utmost to avoid civilian casualties”. If things get worse it will have to take the final step to “not intentionally targeting civilians”. Curiously, online IDF wannabes tend to treat all these terms on the ladder of force as if they were the same rung.

  3. 3  Steven Poole  July 18, 2006, 6:45 pm 

    Very good point: I hadn’t considered such exquisite gradations of protestation.

  4. 4  Steven Poole  July 18, 2006, 8:24 pm 

    Gerald M Steinberg repeats the bogus argument in yesterday’s Wall Street Journal:

    Beyond the rhetoric, European officials offer no framework for a proper and “proportionate” level of force in response to mass terror aimed at the ultimate goal of “wiping Israel off the map.”

    His job seems appropriate: “Mr. Steinberg directs the conflict management program at Bar Ilan University”.

  5. 5  Paul Ward  July 19, 2006, 1:18 am 

    On the Radio 4 Today programme (18.07.06) the Foreign Secretary when cornered by the surprisingly fiercesome interviewer on the issue of Israeli proportionality responded thus: “well, I don’t think the Hisbollah rocket attacks show proportionality either”.
    I interpreted Miss Beckett’s comment as meaning that ‘both sides are responding disproportionately’. I know Miss Beckett’s reputation as a debater is second to none but this one has me stumped. It seems to show what lengths a minister will go in order to avoid criticising the Israelis even if it means saying at least three absurd things before breakfast.

  6. 6  anon  July 19, 2006, 8:29 pm 

    If “proportionality” were truly at the center of law, as you claim, then there would be no penalty under the law for attempted crimes, whether they be attempted theft of a hamburger or attempted murder. After all, the “victim” of an badly-aimed bullet does not suffer at all, so the “proportionate” response would be nothing.

    Of course, in fact all civilized nations punish attempt. In fact, in some places attempt carries the same penalty as a completed crime. Why? Because the purpose (at least the CENTRAL purpose, as you say) of law is NOT to be proportionate. Rather, there are other more pressing concerns, such as stability, deterance, public safety etc.

    Frankly, I think you are wrong to superimpose legal norms on international affairs, which are mostly extralegal, particularly when dealing with the likes of Hamas or Hezbollah, who recognize no law other than their own warped interpretation of the Koran. But even if you accept that Israel should operate under some hypothetical legal norms in conducting military affairs, there is still no reason why “proportionality” should be the measure of compliance.

    What if, for example, Israel decided that the safety of its own citizens was more important than other values like proportionality? I hardly think that makes the Israelis immoral. Of course, you could argue whether Israel’s actions will ultimately make its people safer, and well-meaning and intelligent people can disgree on that one. Some people might argue that Arabs and Lebanese will be better off in the long-run if Hezbollah and Hamas were destroyed.

    But you certainly couldn’t say that Israel was wrong simply because its actions were disproportionate. The only relevant question is whether the damage caused by Israel’s military was more than necessary to protect Israel’s citizens.

  7. 7  abb1  July 19, 2006, 10:13 pm 

    AP reports:

    …However, Livni [Israeli Foreign Minister] said Israel’s offensive is not just a reaction to Hezbollah’s raid, but a response to the broad threat of Hezbollah to Israel’s security. From that perspective, she said, Israel’s air strikes on Lebanon are proportionate.

    This is all bullshit, there’s no such thing as ‘proportionality’ without context. If you are an independent observer familiar with the facts, you know that Israel is a villain and the Hezbollah is a natural reaction to its villainy; and that there will be bigger and meaner Hezbollah after this and that proportionality has nothing to with it.

    They don’t even attack Hezbollah mostly, they attack Beirut. This is a show of force and brutality and of willingness to use force and brutality and of being able to do it with impunity (or so they hope).

  8. 8  SW  July 20, 2006, 1:00 am 

    abb1 – It is peculiar to imagine Israel doing anything with visions of “impunity”: the extent to which they can bear the consequences of their actions is carefully calculated in anything and everything Israel does. No country is more reviled and no country is more carefully scrutinised by its neighbours, many of whom seek to see it destroyed. Of course they do not expect “impunity”. To imagine Israel as the Bully of the Middle East, beating up on anybody it wants to with “impunity”, is hardly looking at it in “context”. It is true, though, that their current actions are a show of force and brutality.

    You are right that there is “no such thing as ‘proportionality’ without context”: proportionality is a way of measuring the context. Which context you choose and how you assign relative quantities to those contexts is how you construct the rhetorics of ‘proportionality’.

    ANON above is getting quite confused here. First, “I think you are wrong to superimpose legal norms on international affairs, which are mostly extralegal, particularly when dealing with the likes of Hamas or Hezbollah, who recognize no law other than their own warped interpretation of the Koran.”

    To which one might respond, “Nope, no, no, and partly true.” International affairs are determined by vast, often labrythine legal networks, treaties, boundaries and conventions; Hamas and Hezbollah do recognize many laws outside of their theological interpretations, even if they don’t like some of them (Hamas is the democratically-elected govt in Palestine – hardly a completely extralegal position; Hezbollah has seats in the Lebanese government); and how “warped” their reading of the Koran is is unclear.

    Second, the whole argument about “attempt” is silly. An attempted crime is frequently punished less severely than accomplished crime, suggesting that there is some degree of proportionality; some attempted crimes cannot be punished, but lesser crimes that have been accomplished in the attempt are punished; but more importantly, get the comparison right: how serious the intended crime is affects how much punishment will be meted out when the attempt is prosecuted (i.e. it is proportional – an attempted sale of marijuana is going to get punished less than an attempted murder).

    Third, the whole argument in the blog entry seems to me to be about the rhetorical use of ‘proportionality’ – first, confronting a glib denial that proportionality is a possible way of viewing a situation by pointing out that ideas of proportionality are important in the law (something you have utterly failed to refute); and then pointing out that ‘proportionality’ can be misused depending on how people construct the story.

    You end with: “But you certainly couldn’t say that Israel was wrong simply because its actions were disproportionate. The only relevant question is whether the damage caused by Israel’s military was more than necessary to protect Israel’s citizens.” That is one of many relevant questions, but surely “more than necessary” is a type of proportion? Another question might be whether any damage caused by Israel’s military protects Israel’s citizens. Another question might be whether your use of the word “damage” to speak of the blowing-up of children is disgusting in and of itself.

  9. 9  abb1  July 20, 2006, 12:36 pm 

    You are right that there is “no such thing as ‘proportionality’ without context”: proportionality is a way of measuring the context.

    No, at least not according to this post. Steven writes: there is a classic and well-known definition of proportionality, which goes like this: “an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth…

    See, suppose someone knocked your eye out. Would it be ‘proportional’ for you to take his? I don’t know, was it an accident? Or was he trying to murder you? Was it self-defense? Revenge? Insanity?

    See what I mean?

  10. 10  anon  July 20, 2006, 6:37 pm 

    (this is anon from 8:29 PM last night)

    To SW: Your response just changes the original definition of proportionality to something so general, and so obvious, that it becomes a meaningless truism. If by proportion, you simply mean that any action must be compared against SOMETHING else, then of course proportionality is relevant to law (although I never said it was irrelevant–I just said it wasn’t “central”, as the original post had said).

    But Unspeak’s post, and the likes of Putin and Chirac, were not talking about obvious truisms. They were speaking of a very specific type of proportion: namely, that the punishment for a crime should be centrally determined by its proportionality to the harm inflicted by the crime. This, I continue to believe, is nonsense.

    Just look at a few examples of the punishments that civilized places inflict on various crimes: No country gives you a proportionate punishment to mass murderers, because it’s impossible: The mass murdered can only have one life taken from him, even though he has taken multiple lives from society.

    On the other hand, the punishments for lesser crimes are usually disproportionately severe: If I steal $50, $100, or $1000, I will be fined far more than that, and perhaps be incarcerated. Such punishments are rightly disproportionate to the harm inflicted, because otherwise no one would be deterred from stealing.

    Now, let’s go back to your “truism” definition of proportionality, which basically states that every punishment is proportional to SOMETHING. When you apply your truism to my discussion of attempt, you conclude that “how serious the intended crime is affects how much punishment will be meted out when the attempt is prosecuted.”

    Well, that’s exactly the point I was trying to make. That attempt is punishable, not because the attempt causes harm, but because the INTENDED EFFECT was to harm. Now, let’s apply your observation to the current mideast situation. The “intended crime” (or, if you prefer, the intent) of Hezbollah, Hamas, Syria, and Iran is to wipe Israel off the map, and all of the above have made charter documents, statements by leaders, and innumerable actions to demonstrate that intent. If a punishment should be proportionate to the “intended crime,” then the proportionate response of Israel to such actions would be to wipe Hezbollah, Hamas, Syria, and Iran off the map.

    Given your logic, Israel is indeed being disproportionate. It is showing a disproportionately large amount of restraint.

    But let me be CLEAR: I am NOT recommending that Israel try to wipe entire countries off the map. This is because I continue to insist that their is MORE at stake than simple proportionately. More important than acting within anyone’s conceived ideas of proportion is acting in a way that would bring about peace to the region in the long run.

    The more I look at the blogosphere, the more comments I see from anti-zionists who insists that Israel’s actions are unfair, versus zionists who insist that Israel is acting justifiably. The talk about proportionately is just a symptom of a larger discussion of blame that is totally useless.

    Frankly, I’d rather not listen to either side blaming the other, and I think the time would be better spent discussing whether Israel’s action might do some good in the long run. And no, I don’t want to hear foolish platitudes about how Israel is a democracy, or about how “no good ever came from violence,” so therefore nothing Israel does can be wrong or right, depending on your point of view.

    And I definitely don’t want to hear cheap barbs about how I am “disgusting” because I don’t acknowledge the plight of Lebanese children with every passing breath. What the hell have you ever done for the Lebanese children? Probably no more than me. But my point is that I do care about all people suffering on both sides of this fence, and wish that serious people could get together to disuss solutions, rather than silly blame games focused on “proportionality.”

  11. 11  abb1  July 20, 2006, 7:45 pm 

    proportionality is a way of measuring the context.

    That is not true, it’s exactly the opposite: the ‘eye for an eye’ equation deliberately ignores the context; in fact, that’s the whole point of it.

  12. 12  whocares  July 21, 2006, 12:20 am 

    The “burger” “no burger” analogy is quite invalid in this case, because we are talking about lives, not things.
    For the jews (strange people), life has an infinite value while for their suicidal enemies obviously it does not. So, even 1 kidnapped/captured soldier makes a harsh response valid.

    But let’s concentrate on something more palpable. In January 25, 2004 there was an agreement between Israel and Hizbullah. Israel returned 480 enemies and they returned 4 israelis (see Wikipedia). As you can probably see, there is a proportion of 120 to 1. I think it is valid to say that this is a good measure of proportionality – agreed by both sides – and hence much more valid then the 1:1 (eye for eye).

    Knowing that 20 israelis were killed, to mantain the proportionality there would need to be 2400 enemies killed. The highest estimate as of today is far away from this number.

    So, yes, there is disproportionality.

  13. 13  SW  July 21, 2006, 1:21 am 

    Hi, abb1 – When I pointed out that proportionality is a measure of the context, you answer, “That is not true, it’s exactly the opposite: the ‘eye for an eye’ equation deliberately ignores the context; in fact, that’s the whole point of it.”

    Read the next sentence I wrote, the one after that. Sometimes one sentence explains a previous sentence. Dare I say that you were . . . deliberately ignoring the context?

    The next sentence was this: “Which context you choose and how you assign relative quantities to those contexts is how you construct the rhetorics of ‘proportionality’”.

    In the case of Exodus and Deuteronomy, the context for which proportions are being drawn up is the context of injury: the eye, the tooth, the hand, the foot. In this case, the injured must be repaid equally, not more and not less, and so it shall come to pass that the punishment must equal the crime. The context chosen was the injured party and his or her specific injury, values were assigned to the injury by way of equivalence, and the brilliantly evocative expression, “An eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth, etc” was born.

    As a rhetorical effect, this context does deliberately ignore other contexts (e.g., mitigating factors, the intentionality of the assault). Hence, certain contexts are _chosen_, as I said, in the formation of this rhetoric of proportion. I trust you would agree that if some contexts are “chosen”, then others are “ignored”, or elided, or forgotten, or dismissed. This blog is, after all, about Unspeak, and how rhetoric not only smuggles in meaning, but dismisses alternate meanings. Make sense?

    Hi, Anon from 8.29pm last night – I’ll be back in a minute – it’s late. But I do want to respond.

  14. 14  SW  July 21, 2006, 2:52 am 

    Hi, Anon from 8.29pm last night. Yeah, no.

    First, proportionality remains central to the law. This does not mean that every crime can have an identical punishment, which would be really silly and pedantic. If I steal $100 from you, the law does not allow you simply to take $100 from me. A mass murderer cannot be executed as many times as he has victims. Give the writers of Exodus and Deuteronomy a little poetic licence!

    But it does mean that certain crimes are small crimes causing small amounts of damage (say, “an eye”) for which you are punished in small amounts (“an eye worth of punishment”) and certain crimes are enormous (say, “a tooth”) and you are enormously punished if convicted (“a tooth worth of punishment”). This is why, under most circumstances and in most countries, if you steal a loaf of bread, you do not have your hand chopped off, you do not get branded, you do not get flogged, you do not get executed. In those cases, the amount of harm done by the punishment is far worse than the crime itself. It is one reason why we find so outrageous savage punishments meted out to criminals for petty crimes.

    Let me give you another example of proportionality in the law. There are, in some states in the US, laws that seek to punish recidivism. The most famous is the “Three Strikes and You’re Out” law in California. The purpose of this is to say that there is a cumulative proportionality of harm done: if you have committed more crimes, you have committed more harm, and so you are going to be punished more severely on your third crime. There are a number of arguments against this (many of which I find convincing, such as the violation of the fifth amendment’s double jeopardy – I guess the Supreme Court and I will have to agree to disagree on this), but surely one of the most compelling arguments against it is that it can be so unproportional _to the harm caused_: those poor fools who got put in prison for life when their third felony was shoplifting.

    And all of this applies to intent, as well. Plotting a robbery, whose harm would be financial and limited, is less serious than plotting a terrorist act, whose harm would be far worse.

    So, yes, ideas of proportionality are central to the law, based on the damage done or havoc wreaked by the crime. The US has the eighth Amendment to the Constitution addressing exactly this (” . . . nor excessive fines imposed . . .”)

    Second, I don’t speak for Chirac, Putin or Unspeak (Poole) – but here’s how I think you are misunderstanding Poole. Poole does not appear to me to be arguing that “an eye for an eye” etc. is the best and only approach. He is examining the rhetorical use of proportion and the word “disproportionate”.

    I won’t recap the whole thing, but let me address this with your own argument. The intent of some of these groups is indeed to wipe out Israel: fine, so a proportional response is to wipe out those groups and countries (I know this is not what you are arguing). On the other hand, Israel displaced the Palestinians and have committed atrocities against the Palestinians: a proportional response is to fight back against Israel. However you frame it, you can justify extraordinary and vicious “proportional” responses, ones that certainly do not lead to peace. The way one frames it is likely going to be the “rhetorical disproportion” Poole comes to at the end of the blog above.

    But this isn’t simple relativism. Healthy debate also acknowledges that if you look at the context a certain way, you can still argue accurately that some responses are disproportionate. And what happens if responses are disproportionate? Escalation. Ignoring this is another type of failure: one that is facilitated by the stupid term “blame game”, a term that disowns responsibility and that suggests a coherent understanding of cause is just a child’s “game”.

    And this comes to the final point: you want serious people to come together and to talk about this. Lovely idea. How can anybody seriously talk about this topic, when people are using the word “damage” to describe the blowing-up of children, whether those children are Israeli or Lebanese. “Damage” is what happens to my car when I park badly and hit a traffic light. Now, I don’t know you; you don’t know me. I have no doubts that you mean what you say and I am sympathetic to your sympathies, to the extent that I can understand them from what you’ve said. But when you says that Israel must protect its citizens by inflicting “damage”, as if they’re going to throw rocks through Lebanase windows, you are going to lose the interest of those people for whom “damage” is widowhood, orphaning, etc. The same would be true if you were a Palestinian, talking about “damage” to Tel Aviv discos. The way you put it, Israel has “citizens”, the Lebanese have objects that get damaged.

    By the way, you talk about the punishments meted out by “civilized” places and then go on to allude to the death penalty: how “civilized” is a society that uses the death penalty?

  15. 15  abb1  July 21, 2006, 9:38 am 

    SW, I’m not sure I agree that the extent of the injury should count as ‘context’. Context is the set of circumstances surrounding the injury not the essence of it.

    Yes, of course people try to create their own context to justify their actions and preferences. That is exactly what I was trying to demonstrate by posting that quote from the Israeli Foreign Minister.

    But I think in this particular case there is a way to provide and analyze the (more or less) full and objective context; after all the history of active colonisation of Palestine by Europeans is less than a 100 years. It’s realtively easy to find a starting point and follow the chain of events. And then we may be able to see the logic of this current event. But what does it have to do with ‘proportionality’?

  16. 16  SW  July 21, 2006, 4:50 pm 

    Abb1, in answer to your last question: it depends . . . but it matters a whole lot if you are looking at the political rhetoric.
    Rhetorically, ‘proportionality’ and qualms about ‘disproportionate’ responses fill the airwaves; it is worth asking what sort of merit these rhetorical claims have, what they are based on, how they are being conceived. Is there any basis for reality in these claims about proportionality? Sure. The politicians aren’t just making this shit up. Proportionality is an important factor in the law and governance, in retribution, in concepts of what is fair and just. At the same time, are these constructs of proportion and disproportion weighted heavily in the rhetoric? Sure. The point is, simply saying proportion is meaningless is no more useful than saying that everything has to be measured in quanta of established proportions.

    In terms of the “full and objective context” – well, I have my own opinions about that (not the least of which is that the Middle East is not simply a problem of the past 100 years). But what does ‘proportionality’ have to do with real-life, outside of the vagaries and specifics of political rhetoric? Let’s start with a recent, famous example of ‘proportionality’: Zidane and Materazzi are two guys on opposite teams playing football, and Materazzi tweaks Zidane’s nipple and says something to him. Zidane headbutts Materazzi in the chest. Was the response proportional? There are numerous ways to argue that it was ‘disproportionate’ (that smack talk is just a part of the game, hardly meriting the physical assault etc.) One interesting thing about the commentary was the underlying suggestion that if Materazzi made a racist comment, perhaps Zidane was justified: that a headbutt might then be a proportional response. So, already we have a debate about what is a proportional or disproportionate response in a real-life situation.

    FIFA punished _both_ players, Materazzi only a little bit less than Zidane (in FIFA’s imagination, Materazzi’s punishment was roughly proportional to the less severe crime of slandering one’s mother, or whatever it was that Materazzi said, compared to the physical assault). However, one might argue that any punishment for words spoken on the field is disproportionate: the insults are expected, normal, whatever – and so punishing them is excessive.

    Fine. You accept that “proportion” is playing a part in this simple little history of the World Cup Final. Now imagine that Materazzi and Zidane are countries. After all, what is the World Cup but sublimated war, conquest, international relations played out by 22 men on flat grass field? The Republic of Materazzi (RoM) and the Zidane States (ZS) are old enemies. RoM and ZS exchange words, RoM causes small but very provocative trouble, and ZS launches a bombardment. Because the UN is so weak and has none of FIFA’s power, and because the US is not there to issue a red card to ZS, the two are not separated, they are not asked to explain their actions. They escalate.

    While it seems silly to use the story of Zidane and Materazzi in this manner, it is not without some merit as an analogy for international relations. Finding the “starting point” and “following the chain of events”, which – as I understand it – you think is the way of talking this through, will nevertheless depend on a number of factors, including an assessment of the proportionality of the responses that make up the chain of events. Whenever somebody, in looking at this history, talks about escalation or de-escalation of conflict, there is likely to be some formulation based on proportionate and disproportionate responses.

  17. 17  abb1  July 21, 2006, 5:52 pm 

    These are not two players. If Syria was bombing Lebanon or Iraq Iran, then your analogy would’ve worked. Here we have something else: extremely powerful European colonialist regime hated by indigenous population throughout the region brutally attacking its indigenous neighbor. See, I just tried to compress all the context into one short phrase and it sounds kinda inflammatory, but that’s what I mean by ‘context’ here.

    Otherwise, all you get is: he called me motherfucker and I punched him in the nose. But perhaps I am a serial killed who murdered all his family?

  18. 18  SW  July 21, 2006, 6:09 pm 

    Right, you just keep shifting the point of discussion. Of course there are more players. You were questioning proportionality, and I was illustrating it; by the way, proportions can still be applied to your nose-punching story. (You are a serial killer who murdered all his family, and he only called you ‘motherfucker’? As Anon from above might have said, that’s very restrained).

    So, I’m not quite sure where you are going with your line of inquiry. After all, just about any time you compress the ‘context’ when discussing a conflict, you will end up with something inflammatory. Clever rhetoric often does this in such a way that the listener does not quite realise just how inflammatory something is: hence the use of ‘proportional’ and ‘disproportionate’, which can be packing a huge amount of assumed context into a small phrase, or ignoring a huge amount of context (but doing so in such a way as to help the listener not recognise what is being ignored).

    As for “European colonialists” and “indigineous peoples”: well, if that’s what you want to discuss, go ahead, but I won’t bite. You’d have such a hard convincing me that there is any merit whatsoever in a discussion based on those terms – whether that merit is intellectual, historical or practical – that it’s probably not worth your time.

  19. 19  abb1  July 21, 2006, 6:24 pm 

    I guess what I’m trying to say here is that if we analyzed the response and found it ‘proportional’ in the ‘eye for an eye’ sense, then it would definitely sound like an endorsement of this response, right? Well, I simply reject this. A right, correct response should’ve been completely different, as far as I am concerned; it wouldn’t involve any shelling and shooting, it would involve ending the occupation, releasing prisoners, compensating the refugees, etc. And that’s why I don’t see anything here worth calling ‘proportional’.

  20. 20  SW  July 21, 2006, 6:35 pm 

    I’m sorry: I did not spell “indigenous” correctly, somehow combining ‘indigenous’ with ‘igneous’ – as if straight out of Peter Jackson’s King Kong.

  21. 21  SW  July 21, 2006, 7:41 pm 

    Well, Abb1, if you’re talking about “compensating the refugees”, you’re thinking proportions in some way (X amount of dollars is proportionate to Y amount of suffering, displacement, income lost, etc.) – but that is a pedantic response.

    I think that you have a good point, insofar as judging proportions can validate or endorse a position (or, by judging something ‘disproportionate’, invalidate it): but that is the point I have been trying to make all along. I will say it one last time: when judging proportions is a rhetorical position, it can occasionally be useful and accurate but also misleading, obfuscating and, considering the blog we’re on, a version of Unspeak.

    But, a “response” to what? I’m not quite clear on that. I have at no point argued in favour of escalation, or indeed that ‘an eye for an eye’ is the optimal way of carrying out affairs of state.

  22. 22  Elie E  July 21, 2006, 9:56 pm 

    With all the Latin terminology involved over here, Mr. Poole has done some serious over-simplification of the whole issue.

    1. Let’s not forget that Hezbollah is an internationally recognized terrorist organization. Despite this fact, they remain an important part of Lebanon’s government.

    2. Katyushas and Qassams, my friends, kill and maim anyone who is unfortunate to be under their random path. When a country/terrorist organization sends 1300 such projectiles into another soverign country, the latter country has full right to defend itself to the best of its ability. Disproportionate? No – it’s called war. Not nice? Neither are missiles and rockets. But a government has the duty to protect its civilians.

    In fact, this very discussion should be a non-issue, because it is Israel’s responsibility to defend her citizens.

    As for the “eye for an eye”, it seems that none of you have any idea what that is talking about – the original text, of course, is the Bible, and if you read it in context, it comes out very clearly as “the VALUE of an eye for an eye”. What that means, is there is a fine that one who injures someone else’s eye, he must pay the damages as to, among other factors, the injured party’s loss with regards to his future abilities to provide a living for himself, etc.

  23. 23  Paul Ward  July 21, 2006, 11:05 pm 

    Dear Elie
    I fear you may have over-simplified Mr Poole’s over-simplification. I note with amusement that you slipped in that overworked phrase ‘internationally recognised’ – everyone in the diplomatic world knows that this really means ‘the US and her allies’. The EU have long resisted placing Hezbollah on their list of terrorists and are even less likely to do so since Hezbollah’s participation in the Lebanese political process.
    If the Shia-dominated southern Lebanon have their armed Hezbollah and the predominantly Jewish northern Israel have their IDF – what is the difference between them?
    For a long time now this conflict has been a simple feud between those that now know little else but hate for each other. To stop it simply requires forceful intervention from the international community. In a sane world this would have happened a long time ago. But this is no sane world and international gangsterism has now replaced international law and we helpless spectators must wait for the mafiosi-in-chief to make his decree finally putting an end to the hostilities.

  24. 24  sw  July 22, 2006, 2:16 am 

    Ellie E – you miss the point of the post entirely, clearly did not read the post or the subsequent comments, and then are indulging yourself in the grossest of oversimplifications: to imagine that what is happening in Lebanon right now is simply an act of defense on the part of Israel is shockingly naive. There are those of us not entirely unsympathetic to the Israeli point of view who would still cringe at that type of banal chest-thumping and the vicious violence it justifies.

    In the second part of your post, you talk about an ‘eye for an eye’ and enlighten us as to the original source of this quote (most of us assumed that Exodus and Deuteronomy, name-checked some three times on this page, were sufficient). Please read the post again, and, if I may, I would direct you to my comments, numbers 12 and 13 for example.

    You say, “In fact, this very discussion should be a non-issue, because it is Israel’s responsibility to defend her citizens.” Actually, how a government defends its citizens should probably not be a subject beyond discussion.

    Paul Ward, I quite agree with the tail end of your concluding paragraph, but I think that on your way there you risk simply conflating all the different populations, varied ethnic and religious identifications, the alliances and parties and cultures, the disparate grievances, militaries and militias into a sort of human mire. I don’t think you go that far; in contemporary American parlance, you don’t “rise to the level” of saying they’re all human mire. But asking sarcastically if there is any difference between two groups and suggesting that the conflicts in the Middle East are just as “simple feud” has a somewhat contemptuous tone: and sending in an international force to occupy the whole place on the basis that it is currently populated by a moronic gaggle of thick-witted goons who are stupidly and unreasonably angry at one another is hardly a recipe for success.

  25. 25  Paul Ward  July 22, 2006, 9:59 am 

    Dear SW
    Thanks for re-writing my comment in your more colourful language. But you are putting a lot of words into my mouth which if nothing else is very rude. My question was a simple one and not intended to be sarcastic at all. My remark reflects my view that characterising peoples in terms of ‘good guys and bad guys’ is in most cases not a helpful paradigm. If the Israelis had the means they would probably try to wipe out many Arab groups to a man – likewise many Arab groups would like to do so to the Israelis. In fact my remarks were intended to put the rest of us in the dock – not just those who stand idly by and watch but those that actually seek to keep the pot boiling for their own selfish purposes.
    Most of the ethnic groups you refer to have co-existed peaceably for many centuries prior to the founding of the Zionist state. In a feud the first step is to separate the groups, the second to address the underlying grievances (mostly Arab I would say). It certainly shouldn’t be beyond the wit of man to solve it – it is perhaps the lack of political will or too much of it that this weeping sore has gone on for so long. In my view people should direct much of their anger at the chief mafiosi – the true architects of the chaos in the Middle East. By the way I and most comfortable first worlders like me probably don’t have the slightest inkling what it’s like to be living in southern Beirut or even in that open air prison known as the Gaza strip. If we did we might all be a little more activist in challenging the inertia and pusillanimity of our politicians who once again carry a heavy burden of responsiiblity for this latest round of carnage.

  26. 26  abb1  July 22, 2006, 2:12 pm 

    Well, Abb1, if you’re talking about “compensating the refugees”, you’re thinking proportions in some way (X amount of dollars is proportionate to Y amount of suffering, displacement, income lost, etc.)…

    Btw – not necessarily. The reality (context) of this particular issue is, of course, that Israel doesn’t want these people to come back because of their undesirable ethnic background. So, each of the refugees can be offered a choice: Israeli citizenship and return of his/her property (what you would call ‘proportional’ option) – or a sum of money to forgo all claims. Amount of the payoff in each case could be tuned to optimize the cost vs. number-of-citizens-with-undesirable-ethnic-background function.

    So, in the end the optimal compensation is very unlikely to be proportional. See, it’s all in the context.

  27. 27  sw  July 23, 2006, 3:10 am 

    Paul Ward – I wasn’t quite putting words in your mouth; I quite carefully said that what you were suggesting risked such interpretation – perhaps not carefully enough! It still seems quite clear to me when re-reading my post that I wasn’t arguing that you were so naive as to actually believe the Middle East “is currently populated by a moronic gaggle of thick-witted goons who are stupidly and unreasonably angry at one another . . .” On the other hand, if you now state that your question was sincere and not sarcastic, and if you are so cynical that you generalise almost blithely about how the Israelis and “many Arab groups” simply want to perpetrate genocide on the other, and that such a characterisation is an accurate measure of people in the Middle East, I’m not quite sure how to respond, other than to think that the words I apparently so rudely put in your mouth somehow belonged there.

    And really, please. You write, “Most of the ethnic groups you refer to have co-existed peaceably for many centuries prior to the founding of the Zionist state.” Good God. The Shias and the Sunnis lived in a peaceable kingdom of quiet harmony, slapping each other on the back and giving each other great big hugs whenever they met, until the invasion of the Zionists? There were no wars there until Zionists appeared; Saladin the Kurd was just a figure in a fairytale told to scare the little children at night; there were no crusades; there were no colonial invasions of, say, India or Spain or Cypress? Come on.

    You did write this, though: “By the way I and most comfortable first worlders like me probably don’t have the slightest inkling what it’s like to be living in southern Beirut or even in that open air prison known as the Gaza strip. If we did we might all be a little more activist in challenging the inertia and pusillanimity of our politicians who once again carry a heavy burden of responsiiblity for this latest round of carnage.”

    One of the problems of propaganda is that we willingly believe it – we allow ourselves not to notice the contradictions, the unspeak, the rhetorical flourishes. And I think that you are right in your comment to point out the failure of empathy: political apathy extends to a failure to interrogate our politicians, and a comfortable state of ignorance sets in, which facilitates this failure of empathy.

    Oh, of course, abb1, not everything is proportional. Your examples, though, are hardly convincing. And, regarding what you say about what I would ‘call proportional option’, Paul Ward has pointed out how rude it can be to put words into somebody’s mouth! I would say that I would describe it as an option based on one type of proportion; your second option I would also call an option, based on a different set of proportions.

  28. 28  Paul Ward  July 24, 2006, 11:35 am 

    Dear SW
    How did you get to be such an exciteable and pugnacious chap?
    Raymond Williams makes reference to the ‘selfish ease of society’ and there may be a suspicion that people in the first world are poorly informed partly because they don’t want to be informed. Do we end up with the politicians we deserve? Perhaps. But I am not a cynic yet; a bit despairing certainly (especially in recent times). But I’m not yet in that dark place that Orwell arrived at on the wild and remote Island of Jura. In writing 1984 Orwell must have reached a point of unrelenting pessimism that took him well beyond mere disillusioned idealism.
    There seems to be a fair degree of consensus amongst historians that Salah al-Din was a man of considerable personal courage, compassion, and chivalry judged that is by the standards of his times. I believe he ushered in for Jerusalem and its immediate region a period of religious tolerance that was picked up by the Sultanate in Istanbul under the Ottomans. For another five hundred years religious rights of all groups were codified in law and this may well be ascribed as Saladin’s true and lasting legacy.
    The French General Gouraud’s arrival in Damascus in the immediate aftermath of the first world war is quoted as saying at Saladin’s tomb: ‘my presence here consecrates the cross over the crescent’. It was certainly an ill-omen. The Balfour Declaration by the British gave political reality to a Zionist dream – the Zionists were long regarded as an extremist sect within Judaism. The Israeli state or the threat of it initially became a crucial part of imperial geopoliticking. But it took acts of terrorism by jewish guerrillas and full American backing militarily and otherwise for the Israeli state to become a reality. By definition then from the very beginning the Israeli state was composed of firebrands, extremists, and zealots whilst a more moderate jewry were seriously under-represented.
    It seems unlikely that the current crisis in the Lebanon with its clear links to the preceding civil war and foreign occupations would have occurred without the destabilising effects of the Palestinian dispora. All roads lead back to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict in that sense.
    But it should not be forgotten that the Israeli state owes its existence principally to American patronage and remains a vital instrument for extending American hegemony throughout the region.
    The American commitment to regime change in Iran and the fact that for the Americans (or certain fundamentalists within its ranks) Iran remains the key to sorting out the current mess is the wider context in which the Lebanese crisis must be viewed.

  29. 29  john heaven  July 24, 2006, 2:41 pm 

    I’m quite interested in this discussion of proportionality. I think you’re missing the point a bit, though: proportionality (as I understand it, anyway) is that any action must intended to achieve a certain goal, capable of achieving it and not in excess of that necessary to achieve it. As well as that, there cannot be a huge disparity between the suffering caused by the solution to a problem and the suffering caused by the problem.

    On that last point: is there a huge disparity between the suffering caused by Israel and to Israeli people? According to BBC News, it’s currently at 372 (or more) Lebanese and thirty-seven Israelis.

    If that’s not an overwhelming disparity (one to ten), then imagine this: if those two captive Israeli soldiers were sitting on top of the Hizbullah arsenal, would Israel bomb them? I’m not a hundred per cent. sure that they would, which leads to the question of whether Lebanese lives are viewed as being equal to Israeli lives.

    Before signing off, it’s important to recognise that the entirety of suffering (Israeli and Lebanese) — whomever is to blame — is despicable. It would be absurd even to ask whether Hizbullah is acting proportionately in firing rockets into civilian areas with no apparent objective whatsoever.

  30. 30  sw  July 24, 2006, 2:59 pm 

    Dear Paul Ward,
    I certainly did not mean to besmirch the reputation of Saladin the Kurd. He was, as you say, courageous, chivalrous and compassionate: indeed, the reason why I call him Saladin the Kurd is because I have an almost Hitchens-like obsession with the formation of a Kurdish state and take pleasure in reminding people that this great hero was a Kurd. But Saladin was a warrior, too, who conquered not only crusaders but other Muslims. That many (but not all) Muslim colonisers were more tolerant than their Christian brethren (often with a tolerance that would be remarkable to this day, let alone for that time) is worth noting, as you do. But that hardly speaks to a placid Middle Eastern history of peaceful co-existence before Israel. The conflict between Shias and Sunnis has been bloody and vicious; the Armenian Genocide, although organised by secular Turks, had its roots in the Armenians’ status as what we would now call “second class citizens” in the Ottoman Empire. At the end, you suggest that Iran (and American interests in Iran) needs to be understood as the wider context for the current Israeli-Lebanon war: yes, true, but can you understand Iran and its role in the Middle East without understanding the longstanding disputes, wars and conflicts between Shia and Sunni, quite independent of Israel? The Israeli-Palestinian situation has notoriously become the scapegoat for any and all other regional disputes.
    You then go to the birth of Israel as an historical context, not without reason. Sure, any history of the birth of Israel will include a discussion of the role of terrorism, usually the King David Hotel bombing in 1946, and the role of Western backing (particularly British). But you aruge that “By definition then from the very beginning the Israeli state was composed of firebrands, extremists, and zealots whilst a more moderate jewry were seriously under-represented.” It is impossible to continue this discussion on a blog without becoming indelicate. You argue, not without reason, that the birth of Israel was massively destabilising in the Middle East; you argue, not without some evidence, that Israel was founded by “firebrands, extremists, and zealots whilst a more moderate jewry were seriously under-represented”. In doing so, you are demanding that there is an acknowledgement of an historical context. And yet there is another historical context, and it is the Holocaust. That context should give pause to notions of “moderation” and “extremism”, let alone under-representation. The Holocaust does not justify what happened to the Palestinian people, I know. But it is a context, nonetheless. And this is exactly why blogs are less than ideal for discussing the birth of Israel: it is sometimes best that a bunch of strangers not disucss certain topics over tea break.
    I’d much rather spend time explaining how I got “to be such an exciteable and pugnacious chap”: genetics.

  31. 31  sw  July 24, 2006, 3:10 pm 

    Dear John Heaven,

    Yes, you write: “proportionality (as I understand it, anyway) is that any action must intended to achieve a certain goal, capable of achieving it and not in excess of that necessary to achieve it.” Right, that is certainly one way of looking at it. But it carries its own baggage: if Country X kills 10 citizens of Country Y, it is arguably proportional that Country Y intends to achieve a certain goal (by invading Country X to prevent more murders of its citizens), that Country Y is capable of achieving it (has a sufficient military), and is not in excess of that necessary to achieve it (what – doesn’t rape and pillage as it overthrows Country X’s hostile government?). Well, this last part is a problem: what is excess? Destroying a city that had nearly been rebuilt after a civil war?

    But you do refine it usefully: something that is done “proportionally” is done without excess; a “disproportionate” response is one with excess. And yet, you are still left with the vagueness of “excess”, which can be disputed by both parties.

    The disparity you notice between numbers of civilian dead might, for some Israelis, be proportionate: it is partly how wars are won. That is one reason why wars are so awful. And I don’t think it peculiar to either Israelis or Lebanese that they value the lives of their fellow nationals over the lives of others.

  32. 32  john heaven  July 24, 2006, 3:35 pm 

    Hi sw,

    I wrote that the action (not the state) must be capable of achieving the goal. In this case, whether military action is capable of achieving the goal intended is not clear: firstly, the rocketing has not stopped and the soldiers haven’t been returned; Hizbullah’s ranks are likely to swell as a result of the action; and, thirdly, the flow of weapons from Syria and Iran is likely to continue.

    I should have written a legitimate goal, by the way.

    I’m mighty flattered that I’ve got a response from someone.

  33. 33  sw  July 24, 2006, 3:59 pm 

    Hi, John Heaven,

    Yes, but “legitimate” again is arguable, right?

    And whilst I agree with your assessment as to whether an invasion of Lebanon will actually achieve its purported goal, the other options (do nothing, work through diplomacy) might have had similar consequences for Israel (expansion of Hezbollah power, increased Hezbollah legitimacy and support from other countries, further bombing of Israel). In other words, it will never be entirely clear whether the intended action can achieve its goal. Theoretically, whether or not a military invasion can staunch a terrorist group remains somewhat untested in recent years (initial optimism after the invasion of Afghanistan and the fall of the Taliban are giving way to more pessimistic reports, but this might be a failure of post-war planning and the distraction of a war in Iraq; otherwise, it might have been a good example of using military power to invade a country hosting a terrorist organisation to unseat the government and destroy the terrorists’ infrastructure there).

  34. 34  abb1  July 24, 2006, 5:38 pm 

    Indeed, to do nothing or work through diplomacy are not very good options.

    There is one other option, though, but this one is, apparently, so bizarre and ‘disproportional’ that no one would dare to mention it: to address legitimate grievance of the natives in the region and correct the current and past injustices according to the international law and basic decency.

  35. 35  sw  July 24, 2006, 7:35 pm 

    Certainly, abb1, your option would have to be considered in any diplomatic venue for there to be any progress. Sadly, addressing “past injustices” is rarely accomplished in any meaningful way, whether the injustice is from colonialism, genocide, displacement, war. South Africa’s and Rwanda’s valiant efforts are exceptions.

  36. 36  Paul Ward  July 24, 2006, 9:50 pm 

    Dear SW
    I think Dawkins and his tribe may well have sealed our fate the blisters.
    I think 10% genetics the rest nurture. But to delve into that in your case would probably also be indelicate on a blog.
    As California and Europe ‘cook’ in soaring temperatures and environmental catastrophe looms all our leaders can sing is ‘growth, growth, growth’. No I’m not that sanguine about modernity and the argument of Hitchens and other cheerleaders of the Enlightenment only stands up if it can hold on to its moral superiority. The long view of the twentieth century is a terrible spectre in carnage and a damning indictment of, above all, modernity itself. The First World War amounted to the industrialisation of killing and seemed to set the tone of, certainly became the primary causal link in, much of the horror that followed . Ironic that you should mention your genetic make-up as the Holocaust was carried out as much by scientists with the very reasonable objective of purifying the gene pool (incidentally why do the criminals, homosexuals, gypsies, never get a mention?). It was pure Darwinism taken to one possible logical conclusion. Why even our chaps before the war suggested neutering the poor for fear they were also polluting the gene pool. I mean, gawd help us if we leave it up to the scientists.

    Did I dream it or were the Israeli scientists trying a while back to develop a ‘genetic’ bullet. A sort of doomsday type biological weapon that would only target the Arab genotype. The project was abondoned because the differences between jewish and arab genotypes turned out not to be sufficiently measurable. You have to wonder what would have happened if they had succeeded. The end of, to paraphrase Winston Churchill, a lower grade race perhaps?

  37. 37  sw  July 24, 2006, 11:48 pm 

    Dear Paul Ward,

    I’m afraid I have no idea about plans for a ‘genetic’ bullet – googling it, though, is quite unpromising, as the only sites that I could find promoting it were very disagreeable ones. It’s not a topic I intend to pursue.

    Otherwise, I have little overall disagreement with your comments about modernity per se. Except, I suppose, that I cannot but help hold onto a small glimmer of optimism – the result, no doubt, of conditioning. And, of course, I do not hold Darwin or Evolution responsible for the misapplication of its principles in eugenics. After all, rejecting eugenics would also be “pure Darwinism taken to one possible logical conclusion”.

  38. 38  Paul Ward  July 25, 2006, 12:03 am 

    Dear SW
    Perhaps even google has its limitations.
    I do not hold Darwin responsible; merely reason without a ‘moral’ framework.
    Good luck on your journey.

  39. 39  sw  July 25, 2006, 12:08 am 


  40. 40  abb1  July 25, 2006, 10:57 am 

    Sadly, addressing “past injustices” is rarely accomplished in any meaningful way…

    I would argue that quite often the past injustices have indeed been addressed in a meaningful enough way, as in most cases the colonialists simply packed up their stuff and left. Even the Afrikaners who lived in South Africa for centuries – apparently a large number of them left in the 1980s and 90s. That could be yet another option, except that most of the Israelis consider it out of bounds.

  41. 41  abb1  July 25, 2006, 1:00 pm 

    Sadly, addressing “past injustices” is rarely accomplished in any meaningful way…

    Why, in most cases the past injustices were addressed in a meaningful enough way – by coloniers packing up and leaving. That’s the other option.

  42. 42  john heaven  July 25, 2006, 8:11 pm 

    Hi sw,

    I don’t think whether Israel’s goal is a ‘legitimate’ one is arguable in this case: nobody claims that Israel isn’t entitled to defend itself.

    You say the other options might have had the same consequences: well that is precisely the point, and really illustrative of the meaning of proportionality.

    If exactly the same number of rockets had been fired — so the goal would have been achieved to the same extent — then diplomacy (or even doing nothing) would have been more proportionate because either would have spared the Lebanese dead and left much Lebanese infrastructure intact.

  43. 43  sw  July 26, 2006, 6:55 am 

    Hi John Heaven,

    Well, there are those who might disagree with you at the outset, and say that Israel cannot defend herself because any defense of Irael is a defense of an essentially illegitimate colonisation of Palestinian land. That would not be my argument.

    But as for what you then go on to say: right, this goes back to the very beginning of the discussion of proportionality. It depends on what you decide to measure.

    I can take a glass of water with a drop of vodka in it and compare it to different amounts of wine. If I compare the volumes of liquid, then I might say that a glass of one is proportionate to two glasses of another; if I compare how much alcohol they contain, then I might have different volumes that would qualify as proportionate. “Proportionate” does not really mean temperate, or wise, or even necessarily equal. As you said before, it means that there is not excess: but then you have to decide what constitutes “excess”.

    In your example, Israel’s hypothetical response would have saved lives and Lebanese infrastructure, but in many ways refusing to respond to an aggressive assault and bombing campaign with violence is a “disproportionate” response, albeit a dovish rather than hawkish “disproportion”.

    How you judge proportion, to go back to Poole’s Post, depends upon your “starting point”.

  44. 44  Paul Ward  July 26, 2006, 10:26 am 

    Dear John & SW
    Your hot-air balloon of semantic knit-picking is in danger of taking off into the stratosphere. Can I throw you a rope and bring you back to earth and the real world?
    The ‘starting point’ you refer to was ‘Operation True Promise’ – the brainchild of Sheik Nasrollah. Hezbollah – a terrorist group if you are of the US/Israeli persuasion or a resistance movement if you are not – has had a long history of hostage taking with Israel just as Israel has carried out kidnappings in kind. These have invariably been followed by protracted negociations and then by ‘prisoner’ swaps. Nasrollah the spiritual and strategic leader of Hezbollah has used this tactic very effectively resulting in early 2004 in signiifcant numbers of Arab prisoners being released by the Israelis – many of them Palestinians. This greatly enhanced both Nasrollah and Hezbollah’s prestige in the Arab world. Nasrollah warned Israel at a rally in 2004 that he intended to carry out more hostage-taking to get more prisoners released – in particular Nasrollah had promised he would effect the release of Samir al-Qantar who has been held by the Israelis since 1979. According to chatter on the wire Nasrollah received information from a high ranking source in the IDF that Israel would never re-occupy the Lebanon. Whatever the truth of this clearly Nasrollah thought he could achieve his stated objective through the capturing and subsequent exchanging of the Israeli soldiers. Hezbollah guerrillas then carried out an incursion into Israeli territory capturing two Israeli soldiers and then retreating back into Lebanese territory. The Israelis sent a rescue force that included a tank which was destroyed. Eight Israeli soldiers are believed to have been killed in the operation. The Israeli’s fairly swiftly declared it an act of war and responded with wide-spread aerial bombing aimed initially at cutting off Hezbollah guerrillas. Subsequent bombings of southern Beirut and southern Lebanon looked suspiciously to many like a policy of collective punishment however. President Bush’s response to this sudden alarming development was to ignore it. Some might think that a bit odd.
    Hope this helps chaps.
    If you decide the Israeli response was proportionate you’ll be in a minority group of two – that is with Bush and Blair. If you decide it was disproportionate then you’ll be with the rest of the world.
    Good luck with your ruminations.

  45. 45  john heaven  July 26, 2006, 11:12 am 

    That’s very patronising, Mr. Ward.

    This whole thread centres on one piece of vocabulary: proportionality. So it’s hardly surprising that the odd participant discusses what the word actually means, is it?

  46. 46  sw  July 26, 2006, 2:07 pm 

    Thank God you’re back, Paul Ward. Yes, I’m sure it will help immensely.

    As an aside, it’s interesting that Paul Ward seems, deep down, unable to stifle a fascination with semantic nit-picking:

    “a terrorist group if you are of the US/Israeli persuasion or a resistance movement if you are not”

    ” . . . and then by ‘prisoner’ swaps.”

    Careful use of “guerilla” and “soldier” . . .

    One man’s “knit-picking” is another person’s attention to semantic nuances. Or is that just being pedantic?

  47. 47  Paul Ward  July 26, 2006, 10:09 pm 

    Hi SW
    Thanks for the clever put down – I absolutely kicked myself when I spotted that ‘knit’ (and clenched my teeth). But you know I am grateful to you as it has taught me a valuable lesson in humility. And of course not to trust that goddamn spellchecker.
    Still now that I have helped a wee bit with your example – I mean you can correct the bit about ‘refusing to respond to an aggressive assault and bombing campaign’ to ‘refusing to respond to an incursion into their territory and capturing of two of their soldiers’. Given the sequence of events it might have been farer to say that the ‘resistance movement, Hezbollah, responded to a widespread bombing campaign with the launching of numerous rockets’. Re-phrasing your example in this manner to reflect the true unfolding of events may assist you in coming to the right conclusion within the parameters of your example and once, of course, you have got your semantic nuances sorted vis-a-vis ‘disproportionality’.
    And SW you really don’t want to know what I have a fascination with deep down. I’m not sure I do.

  48. 48  sw  July 26, 2006, 10:41 pm 

    Hello Paul Ward,

    And you are right to point out the bias in my own example. One problem, though, with identifying bias is that the direction of the bias may not accurately reflect the person’s stance: it only suggests that a position (subtly or not so subtly promoted through the biased perspective) has in some way insinuated itself into that person’s lexicon. It may be calculated, it may be lazy, it may be coincidental. So, while identification of such bias may provide good circumstantial evidence of guilt, it is far from hanging proof. The efficacy of much propaganda is based on its subtle inflection, and Unspeak appears to recognise this: “climate change” for “global warming”, for example. Many people who are avid environmentalists speak of “climate change”. (See this link, from this site:

    Similarly, to talk of “proportional” – whether arguing that something is proportionate or not – takes killing and destruction and makes of it a mathematical equation, far more easily debated than description of the body counts making up these proportions. The bias, then, is partly that there is a rational, calculated basis for the response (even a “disproportionate” one), and not blood-lust, Mercury, or greed. At the same time, just as “climate change” is not meaningless, so “proportional” is not meaningless.

  49. 49  Paul Ward  July 26, 2006, 11:32 pm 

    Dear SW
    Wow, what a veritable dust-storm.
    Personally I prefer ‘climate catastrophe’.
    I rather thought that ‘disproportional’ was merely Diplomatic lingo which when translated into the vernacular might read something like: ‘Oi, John, you’re way out of order son’.

  50. 50  Paul Ward  July 27, 2006, 1:48 am 

    Hi SW
    It is me again. I know but I just can’t help it.
    When you say:

    ‘say that Israel cannot defend herself because any defense of Israel is a defense of an essentially illegitimate colonisation of Palestinian land. That would not be my argument’
    Does this mean that you believe that it is morally defensible to defend yourself after occupying someone else’s land? And would you also believe that it is morally defensible to defend your homeland from a potential invader/occupier? Obviously if you do you offer a diabolical prescription for perpetual conflict by blessing both sides. But you can’t be that diabolical can you SW? Or can you?

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