Australia/Israel Review

Scribblings: “Disproportionate” and “Excessive” Force

Oct 29, 2015 | Tzvi Fleischer

Scribblings: "Disproportionate" and "Excessive" Force

Tzvi Fleischer

Any use of force by Israel today against violent Palestinian groups is routinely described as “excessive” or “disproportionate”. There are lots of reasons for this, but the main one is that a whole network of largely European-funded NGOs, both Palestinian and pro-Palestinian, exist solely to find ways to make such claims. They are happy to both use unreliable witness testimony and twist international law norms to hold Israel to impossible standards no one else is expected to meet. This material is then added to and amplified by the UN and its bodies – which not only have a permanent anti-Israel majority thanks to the size and power of the Arab and Islamic state contingents there, but also have had, since the 1970s, a permanent bureaucracy dedicated solely to promoting the Palestinian “cause.”

In any conflict, the difference between Israeli and Palestinian casualty figures is also pointed to as if it is decisive in proving disproportionality (though such comparisons have actually no relationship at all with the international law concept of “proportionality.”) And Israeli methods of enforcing law and order are always denounced as human rights violations or “collective punishment” – another concept which is being completely abused.

It’s therefore worth comparing the record of what is generally regarded as one of the more civilised countries in the world when confronting a situation similar to the one Israel has repeatedly faced with the Palestinians.

In the years 1936-1939, Britain faced a major revolt by the Arab population of mandatory Palestine, often using terrorist tactics. The process of suppressing this revolt is estimated by British scholars to have killed in excess of 5,000 Arabs and wounded almost 15,000 (not all of these were victims of the British – a substantial minority were killed by other Arabs in inter-factional conflict.) It also is estimated to have involved detaining some 50,000 people, hanging 146, and sentencing to life prison terms nearly 2,000 – plus the demolition of some 5,000 homes in reprisals. And there appears to have been some genuine collective punishment employed – imposing fines on whole villages or towns, demolishing buildings or even whole villages as reprisals for attacks.

This was out of a much smaller Palestinian population than that which exists today – certainly under a million according to census figures from 1931. One Arab scholar estimated that over 10% of the adult male population between 20 and 60 was killed, wounded, imprisoned or exiled during the revolt.

Moreover, the casualties were not at all “proportionate” using the silly standard applied to Israel’s conflicts – around 262 British soldiers and civilians were killed compared to the 5,000 Arabs.. In addition, some 300-400 Jews were killed by Arab attacks (there were limited Jewish reprisals as well – some terrorist in nature – which killed Arabs.)
Let’s compare this to Israel. In no conflict with the Palestinians since 1948 has Israel killed anything like the number of Palestinians killed in the great revolt – either absolutely, but especially as a proportion of the population. Neither the recent Gaza war, nor the Second Intifada of 2000-2005, compares.

Meanwhile, Israel has demolished a total of 5 homes as a punishment since 2005. During the second Intifada, this punishment was used more extensively – a total of 664 homes was demolished over five years, a small fraction of the British total of 5,000 over three years.

And of course, Israel has never hanged Palestinian prisoners, nor is it even likely to have detained anything like the percentage of the population represented by those 50,000 out of a total population of under a million detained by the British during the revolt (this is notwithstanding demonstrably false Palestinian claims often circulated alleging ridiculous total numbers detained.)

Israel should not be above criticism, and should not be judged in comparison to the genuine abusers and horror stories, such as the Syrian regime.

However, it should be judged by what other democracies have done faced with similar mass terror situations. This is not what we have now – where actors with a vested interest in finding Israel guilty creatively and selectively mine international law to develop all-but-impossible standards to apply.

Antisemitic and Proud

A story from Algeria illustrates the extent to which violent antisemitism has become the norm in much of the Arab world – not only nothing to be ashamed of, but even something to be proud of.

“Diga Man” is a reasonably well-known team of three young Algerians who make hidden camera prank videos. Their latest one is called “A Jew in the Streets of Algeria: What happens?” For this prank, one member of the team wore a Jewish yarmulke (skullcap) and asked passers-by in the street how to get to the Jewish cemetery. A number of people simply ignored him and refused to respond, but in one case a group of young men started to hit and kick him. In another, a bunch of school-age children asked if he was Jewish then started to attack him and chase him down the street.

What was particularly shocking was the reaction of the “Diga Man” team. They seemed to think that the behaviour shown in the film was admirable and said in the video that it demonstrated that “Palestine is always in our hearts, it has to be supported, no matter if they are oppressed or are the oppressors.”

Yet to be clear, there was absolutely no sign anywhere in the film that the fake “Jew” was either Israeli or Zionist. “Diga Man”, reflecting what was apparently a widespread view, thinks supporting “Palestine” means violently attacking any Jew one sees anywhere. Palestinian partisans always maintain that they are not antisemitic, have nothing against Jews as such and are only against Zionism. The problem is that at least for much of the Arab world – including many Palestinians – this just isn’t true.


This article is featured in this month’s Australia/Israel Review, which can be downloaded as a free App: see here for more details.



Israeli PM Netanyahu with Gilad Shalit following the lop-sided 2011 prisoner swap deal that led to his freedom (Image: Isranet)

Essay: Redeeming the hostages

Apr 26, 2024 | Australia/Israel Review
The anti-Israel schadenfreude which followed the Iranian attack on Israel represents a disturbing side of human nature (Image: X/Twitter)

The Last Word: The iniquity of schadenfreude

Apr 26, 2024 | Australia/Israel Review
Yayha Sinwar: The “Butcher of Khan Yunis” who became the mastermind of October 7 (Image: Shutterstock)

Demented or just diabolical

Apr 26, 2024 | Australia/Israel Review
A meeting between Israeli leaders and officials and their US counterparts to discuss Gaza (Image: Flickr)

Rafah: Squaring the circle

Apr 26, 2024 | Australia/Israel Review
Image: Shutterstock

Biblio File: Navigating the diplomatic labyrinth

Apr 26, 2024 | Australia/Israel Review
NZ Foreign Minister Winston Peters at the UN (Screenshot)

AIR New Zealand: Grading NZ’s new government 

Apr 26, 2024 | Australia/Israel Review