Wednesday, December 5, 2012

What's a Proportional Response?

This is the blog of an archives. We don't do yesterday's news; for that you've got better blogs. No, we do old stuff, from old times, when no-one did any blogging at all.

Here's a fascinating document from December 13th 1955, in which the Ministers' Committee for Security and Foreign Affairs discussed a clash which had taken place two nights earlier on the north-eastern coast of the Sea of Galillee: IDF infantry units had assaulted the Syrian positions the length of the coast (about ten kilometers), killing some 50 Syrian troops and capturing 30; six Israelis had been killed in the action. The commander of the action had been a young Lt. Colonel named Ariel Sharon; there are lots of pictures of the event here, and further details in Hebrew are here.

There are many interesting themes in the document, and I expect to come back to some of them in the next few days. Today I'd like to look at Ben Gurion's explanation for the background of the action:

We're in a difficult situation with the Arabs, because when they wish to destroy or murder, they don't have to kill hundreds of us at a time. Instead, they make our life miserable day by day. Maybe they can't do otherwise, since they're afraid to send an entire military unit against us. So they send a small squad, and the squad crosses the border and waits for nightfall. Under cover of darkness they wander around until they find an object or a person, and they destroy it or kill the person. Their intention is to do this for years and wear us down...
We can't do what they do, even if we wished to, because we can't kill civillians, say to start killing Arab civilians we meet along the way..
So we have two options. We can resign ourselves to this situation, or we can not resign ourselves to it. This government was created to not resign itself to such a situation. I announced this in the Knesset. Based on that announcement, I called [Eedson] Burns [the UN commander in the area] and informed him that this government would respond and he should tell [Gamal] Nasser...
On the Sea of Galillee they've got a system. They shoot at our fishermen, and they shoot at our police boats. The entire lake is in our territory, no-one disputes that. It's the begining of the fishing season, and they've been shooting a lot. It's merely a coincidence that none of our people was hurt, but the boats have been hit. We can't accept this situation... In Syria there's no efficient regime, they're perpetually on the verge of a putsch. Either we'll aquiesce with the loss of our right to fish, or we'll have to destroy their fortifications. We could do as they do, and simply shoot back, but then we'll hit their civilians, beause their troops are all protected by their fortifications. I said: we're not going to target their civilians, their women and children, their villages, so we'll have to take and destroy their fortifications. [p.3-5]
Later in the discussion Minister of Finance Levi Eshkol elaborated a bit further:
There haven't been many casualties on the lake, perhaps because many fishers stay away from that part of it. We slowly get used to the situation. It's far from Tel Aviv, it's far from Jerusalem, we're not there - yet that's where they're trying to kill our people...


  1. Israel has nothing to be ashamed of, but others sure do, especially those who pay lip service to the distinction between the sides when it comes to those that do not actively participate in hostilities.

    Thanks for this post!

  2. Proportional response? How do you compare savages who have lusted to see Jewish blood shed for the past century, with a modern, productive, humane nation, with an incredibly beautiful code of Tohar Neshek observed by its Defense Forces? That's the true disproportionality. Tragically, the enemy wasn't kidding when he said he loves death while we love life. What a tragic imbalance this is in terms of humane attitude!