The Israeli assault on Gaza has prompted the charge that Israel's use of force is disproportionate. Some of those levelling this charge do recognize Hamas's share of responsibility for the current situation, since Hamas presides over - whether by organizing or by authorizing - never-ending rocket attacks on Israeli towns. Others levelling the charge do not recognize this; they don't have the interests of the people of Israel at heart. But, in any case, what is meant by 'proportionate'?
If the insistence on proportionality is supposed to entail that Israel's military response to rocket attacks from Gaza should be on the same scale as the attacks themselves, then this would amount to forbidding effective retaliation - a response, that is, which could put an end to those attacks. Proportionality would mean Israel was debarred from defending its citizens from external violence, a form of moral self-restraint which no sovereign state can accept. For it is clear that nothing short of a severe military blow to Hamas has a chance of getting it to desist. Proportionality in the sense of a reply to Hamas aggression that will be effective has, therefore, to mean Israel using greater force than merely reciprocates Hamas-type rocket attacks.
At the same time, given Hamas's political and military 'implantation' within the population of Gaza, and given the general social geography of that narrow strip of land, an attack in force of the kind Israel has now mounted is bound to be disproportionate in a different sense - that is, by bringing loss of life and severe injury, including among Palestinian civilians, in much larger numbers than have been suffered by Israelis on account of the rocket attacks from Gaza. Before the eyes of the world an effective military response from Israel (if it is that) appears as a massive escalation in violence in which innocent lives are lost and ruined.
No one will thank me for saying so, since it states the obvious, but there is no escape from this continuing tragedy until the prosecution of peace becomes an overriding regional and international ambition. And that means, among other things, that Israel itself should be in the forefront of prosecuting it: hit back at terrorist organizations within restraints imposed by the laws of war; but at the same time talk peace (with whomever will talk it), evacuate the settlements without more ado, call on the help of the new US administration and other major international players, their help in urgently supporting a new peace process, in isolating every organization that blocks it, in making it a priority to find a settlement at last. The general lines of such a settlement are already known.