07/30/2014 07:16 pm ET Updated Sep 29, 2014

Tunnels and Sovereignty

All the chatter about disproportion in war, laced with macho innuendo about size, stature, relevance and subordination is of course a sideshow compared to the horrific slaughter and existential threat of the Gaza-Israel war.

To explain both my horrified reaction to the Gaza casualties and support for Israel's operation to destroy the tunnels, I am looking for even imperfect references that might resonate with Brazilian readers.

But at the outset I'll state some points that seem lost in the tendentious noise: Hamas is not a legitimate representative of the Palestinian people; just ask the Palestinian Authority. Hamas is a terrorist organization that lost upwards of $200 million in monthly revenue when the post-Morsi Egyptian military government shut down the tunnels from Egypt to Gaza.

Israel is a sovereign state, which for some elusive reason, allowed Hamas to build an elaborate system of tunnels that now extends deep into Israeli territory. The purpose of the tunnels is not to smuggle money and stuff to break the economic siege. The tunnels are for military attacks against Israel, from inside of Israel. Israel's unsustainable occupation of the West Bank, a moral and ethical blow to its democratic bona fides, does not justify these terrorist tunnels.

I can't describe the cynicism better than this Washington Post editorial:

"The depravity of Hamas's strategy seems lost on much of the outside world, which--following the terrorists' script -- blames Israel for the civilian casualties it inflicts while attempting to destroy the tunnels. While children die in the strikes against the military infrastructure that Hamas's leaders deliberately placed in and among homes, those leaders remain safe in their own tunnels."

Now, a more parochial thought experiment that might illuminate Israel's challenge. The United States and Mexico share a 3,110 kilometer border (Brazil's Bolivia border is 3,423 kilometers). The Mexican paramilitary cartels, known to use terrorist tactics to intimidate Mexican civilians, police and competitors, have also built tunnels for illicit traffic, including weapons and people, in and out of the United States. The cartels generally target only Mexicans on Mexican territory.

What if the cartels decided to use the tunnels to retaliate against the U.S. Border Patrol or civilian targets on the American side of the border? Or what if they started firing rockets across the border? What would be the proportionate response? I know sovereignty-loving Brazil prides itself on its peaceful borders, but is it a stretch to contemplate how Brazil might respond if Bolivian paramilitaries used force against Brazilian targets? Hard questions, imperfect analogies.

Back to Israel and Gaza. Yes: Israel has missed opportunities to support moderate Palestinians in building a modern government on the West Bank. Still, might Israel be given some benefit of the doubt in its imperfect defense of its own sovereignty?

This article was originally published in Portuguese in Folha de São Paulo. It is originally available here.