Make the punishment fit the crime?

Make the punishment fit the crime?

You can’t.

Shoot thousands of rockets into Gaza, as Hamas has shot into Israeli cities over the years?

Kill civilians (heaven forbid) in equal numbers on both sides, one by one?

That’s a merciless child’s game.

Yet, in effect, it’s what blinkered people are suggesting when they question the “proportionality” of Israel’s response to Gaza.

An interesting exchange of letters in Wednesday’s New York Times brings the issue to mind. One writer notes that “Israel is once again criticized” – by Times columnist Nicholas Kristof, on Sunday – “for ‘killing more than 1,300 people in Gaza’ after ‘shelling that had killed fewer than 30 Israelis since it began in 2001.'”

And another, alluding as well to American attacks on Japan in World War II and against the Taliban after 9/11, sagely observes that “the goal of these responses is not ‘retaliation.’ It is the prevention of future attacks. A ‘proportional’ response uses enough force to stop future attacks – no more and no less.”

Kristof’s statement is absurd on many levels.

First, it’s true that Hamas killed “fewer than 30 Israelis,” but not for lack of trying. Is Israel to be penalized for protecting its citizens? For not building arsenals and bases in its cities that would expose them to danger?

And what of the Israelis who were terrorized by the constant attacks, over so many years? Are two, or four, or eight, or 18 traumatized Israelis the equivalent of one dead Gazan in this calculus?

And what about those whose psyches have not been damaged (but how have they not?) but whose lives have been disrupted, whose livelihoods have been lost, on both sides?

And what about those children who can’t get to school – or to sleep – because of bombardments, on both sides?

It’s not a question of proportionality; it’s a question of rationality. The numbers of the dead and the extent of the damage in Gaza were horrific, but it is irrational to expect – to demand – that Israel stand idly by while its people are threatened.