On March 9, 1916, Mexican revolutionary Pancho Villa attacked the border town of Columbus, N.M., killing 18 Americans. President Woodrow Wilson ordered Gen. John J. Pershing and 10,000 soldiers into Mexico for nearly a year to hunt Villa down, in what was explicitly called a “punitive expedition.” Pershing never found Villa, making the effort something of a failure. Then again, Villa’s raid would be the last significant foreign attack on continental U.S. soil for 85 years, six months and two days.
The more vexing question, both morally and strategically, is what Israel ought to do about Gaza. The standard answer is that Israel’s response to the Kassams ought to be “proportionate.” What does that mean? Does the “proportion” apply to the intention of those firing the Kassams — to wit, indiscriminate terror against civilian populations? In that case, a “proportionate” Israeli response would involve, perhaps, firing 2,500 artillery shells at random against civilian targets in Gaza. Or should proportion apply to the effects of the Kassams — an exquisitely calibrated, eye-for-eye operation involving the killing of a dozen Palestinians and the deliberate maiming or traumatizing of several hundred more?
Surely this isn’t what advocates of proportion have in mind. What they really mean is that Israel ought to respond with moderation. But the criteria for moderation are subjective. Should Israel pick off Hamas leaders who are ordering the rocket attacks? The European Parliament last week passed a resolution denouncing the practice of targeted assassinations. Should Israel adopt purely economic measures to punish Hamas for the Kassams? The same resolution denounced what it called Israel’s “collective punishment” of Palestinians. Should Israel seek to dismantle the Kassams through limited military incursions? This, too, has the unpardonable effect of resulting in too many Palestinian casualties, which are said to be “disproportionate” to the number of Israelis injured by the Kassams.
By these lights, Israel’s presumptive right to self-defense has no practical application as far as Gaza is concerned. Instead, Israel is counseled to allow goods to flow freely into the Strip, and to negotiate a cease-fire with Hamas.
But here another set of considerations intrudes. Hamas was elected democratically and by overwhelming margins in Gaza. It has never once honored a cease-fire with Israel. Following Israel’s withdrawal of its soldiers and settlements from the Strip in 2005 there was a six-fold increase in the number of Kassam strikes on Israel.
Hamas has also made no effort to rewrite its 1988 charter, which calls for Israel’s destruction. The charter is explicitly anti-Semitic: “The time will not come until Muslims will fight the Jews (and kill them); until the Jews hide behind rocks and trees, which will cry: O Muslim! there is a Jew hiding behind me, come on and kill him!” (Article Seven) “In order to face the usurpation of Palestine by the Jews, we have no escape from raising the banner of Jihad.” (Article 15) And so on.