Jonathan Tobin has expertly dissected many of the problems with the UN report on the May 15 incident in which more than 1,000 Palestinian and other “protesters” tried to storm the border between Israel and Lebanon. But I can’t resist piling on. Michael Williams’ report is such a perfect example of the double standard to which Israel—and occasionally the United States—is held.
Williams admits the “demonstrators” were hardly Gandhi types: He writes they “unearthed 23 anti-tank mines, threw stones and two petrol bombs across the fence and attempted to climb it and bring it down.” He also admits Israeli troops were not eager to shoot anyone: Only after “a verbal warning and firing into the air” did the soldiers open live fire, and then only to prevent the protesters from tearing down the fence and invading Israel. It’s not even clear Israeli troops caused all 11 fatalities, since Lebanese forces were using live rounds, too.
This was not exactly a Hama-style massacre. If the Israeli soldiers were guilty of anything, it was being unprepared for this surprise tactic; they didn’t have crowd control equipment handy. But that’s because no protesters had previously tried to storm the border. Perhaps the Israelis should have anticipated this contingency and prepared for it. But at worst that’s a tactical failure–not a war crime.
It is absurd to argue, as the UN does, Israeli actions violated international law because the actions of Israeli troops were “not commensurate” to the threat they faced. That’s a judgment easy to make in a far-away, air-conditioned office; it’s a different matter when a large number of enraged people bent on destroying your country, and armed with bombs and stones, are about to overrun your positions. Even faced with such a dire provocation, Israeli troops still showed commendable restraint–for which of course they get no thanks at all.
The use of the “incommensurate” argument is particularly rich–though hardly surprising. It has become a favorite trope of the anti-Israel Left which seems to believe soldiers must under all circumstances calibrate their response exactly to the sort of tactics they face. So should Israel be car-bombing Lebanese civilians, kidnapping Lebanese soldiers, or randomly firing rockets into Lebanon–the tactics of Hezbollah?
In 2006, Israel responded to Hezbollah’s provocations with the bombing of Hezbollah infrastructure and a limited ground incursion into the south. Inside Israel, the IDF’s tactics were widely criticized for being indecisive; outside Israel they were damned for not being commensurate. But perhaps because they were not commensurate, they did shock Hezbollah and establish a degree of deterrence that had been lost. Maybe the May 15 incident will have the same impact on “protesters” thinking of storming Israel’s borders in the future. If so, the result may well be saved lives on both sides.