Israel and Hamas

On the issue of the war in Gaza right now I differ in some respects from both sides of the political debate. This is unusual for me, as I normally fall pretty squarely where the majority of the conservatives fall, and yet I found myself in an argument earlier today with two people I agree with 90+% of the time.

Basically, my position is this: I tend to think that in terms of an attack, period, being justified, Israel is in the right of things. I think that, as far as being justified in defending themselves from Hamas, they are doing nothing wrong. I think that Hamas was the provoker and that history is on Israel’s side.

BUT – but – I cannot fully say “I side with Israel” when the number of civilian casualties on the Palestinian side is so exponentially higher than the number of civilian casualties on the Israeli side.

I know what Hamas is doing, intentionally setting themselves up in front of schools and civilians so Israel is “forced” to attack there. What Hamas is doing is probably worse than what Israel is doing.

But, like the atomic bomb, certain things are wrong whether we want them to be or not. And the intentional inflicting of so many civilian casualties, especially when Israeli casualties are so few, is wrong. The numbers are simply too stacked to say that Israel is blameless in this.

So when people ask me “Well, what SHOULD the Israelis be doing about the attacks, then?” my answer is simply “Not this.” I believe it was in “Saving Private Ryan” when the answer given to the question of where the troops should fall back to was “Not here”. While I don’t know what the Israeli response should be I don’t pretend to know. I just know that what they’re doing right now is wrong.

I recommend Vox’s coverage of the war for an interesting view of the events unfolding.

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12 Responses to Israel and Hamas

  1. Crude says:

    I’m pretty much on that side of things as well. That said, I’m sympathetic to the idea that it’s a bad idea to claim that.. what, Israel should only fight to a draw? That they should limit themselves to only as many civilian casualties as Hamas is able to cause? Part of the problem there is that, at least according to what I read, Hamas -targets- civilians. Israel does not.

    If I’m wrong about that, so be it, but I’d need to see some persuasive data on that front.

    • I don’t necessarily disagree with you. My sympathies lie with Israel. I just think that, when the casualties are stacked one way so much, you need to figure out a different way to do things.

      I don’t claim to know what, but I also don’t think that Israel can claim to be blameless with so many civilian dead.

  2. Crude says:

    Also, on Chrome you have a page error. Your Perelandra review shows up multiple times in a row on the front page.

  3. The Deuce says:

    I have to say that I disagree with this. We all get frustrated when liberals say “There has to be another way!” without actually suggesting a coherent other way. If you don’t know what Israel should do differently, how can you expect Israel to know? And they don’t have the luxury of just sitting back and thinking about it while Hamas fires rockets.

    The relative number of casualties on each side is not a good metric of the justness of an action. Ideally, in any conflict, you prevent your own side from having *any* casualties whatsoever, while destroying your enemy’s ability to make war. What makes a military response just is not how many of your people your enemy actually slaughters, but what your enemy is *actively trying* to do.

    In fact, the most just thing you can do is to make a military response overwhelming and decisive, so that your enemy’s warmaking ability is broken and he is utterly demoralized and realizes he has no hope of victory, causing him to give up, thereby ending the conflict.

    The number of civilians killed on each side isn’t a good metric either. While it’s wrong to deliberately *target* non-combatants, it’s inevitable that they will be killed, particularly when the other side is deliberately trying to get them killed. In Israel’s case, not only are they not targeting civilians, they are even giving warning shots ahead of time, which is going above and beyond, imo. They aren’t obligated to get more of their own people killed to prevent Hamas from getting its own people killed in spite of this.

    Also, one more point that may be controversial: Imo, to the extent that a civilian is not being used as a hostage, but is *deliberately* guarding a military target, they are rightly classified as an active enemy combat participant and not a civilian, just as a terrorist doesn’t have to don a military uniform to be a combatant.

    • I have to say that I disagree with this. We all get frustrated when liberals say “There has to be another way!” without actually suggesting a coherent other way. If you don’t know what Israel should do differently, how can you expect Israel to know? And they don’t have the luxury of just sitting back and thinking about it while Hamas fires rockets

      Quickly, but this doesn’t work. I can know what NOT to do without actually knowing what the best action is.

      • The Deuce says:

        You don’t need to know the *best* action, but you do need to know a *better* one to say that one exists.

        In the case of doing something intrinsically evil (like deliberately targeting civilians to demoralize the other side, torturing an innocent child, etc), the better alternative is ready-made, because in that case *any* alternative that doesn’t involve deliberately committing an intrinsic evil – including just doing nothing at all – is better.

        But in this case, nobody who is apprised of the facts has an argument that Israel is committing an *intrinsic* evil. People are understandably squeamish about the results (which are primarily Hamas’ fault, and in many cases probably partly the fault of the human shields themselves), but that doesn’t mean that Israel is acting unjustly here, or that they really have a superior alternative.

      • You don’t need to know the *best* action, but you do need to know a *better* one to say that one exists.

        No, I only need to know that it is wrong to do evil, period (which you readily admit). If not doing evil means losing this war, then so be it.

        Actually, scratch that, here’s a plan I DO tentatively endorse: http://voxday.blogspot.com/2014/08/4gw-and-gaza-ii.html

        (If there’s one thing about Vox Day I agree with more than anything else, it’s his foreign policy positions.)

        But in this case, nobody who is apprised of the facts has an argument that Israel is committing an *intrinsic* evil. People are understandably squeamish about the results (which are primarily Hamas’ fault, and in many cases probably partly the fault of the human shields themselves), but that doesn’t mean that Israel is acting unjustly here, or that they really have a superior alternative.

        I would say that targeting somewhere knowing in advance it will result in the death of thousands of innocents is intrinsically evil, but let’s say I’m wrong. Don’t you think that SOMETHING must be off in an approach where the number of civilian deaths are so absurdly skewed?

      • The Deuce says:

        No, I only need to know that it is wrong to do evil, period (which you readily admit).

        No, it’s the same reason that moral culpability depends on moral free will. For a person to have done something wrong, it must be the case that they could have done something better. You can’t be responsible for not doing that which you couldn’t have done.

        If not doing evil means losing this war, then so be it.

        Then you must establish that simply losing the war and letting their civilians be bombed daily until Iron Dome fails would be a morally better option for Israel’s leaders to take than bombing Hamas.

        I would say that targeting somewhere knowing in advance it will result in the death of thousands of innocents is intrinsically evil

        First of all, Israel doesn’t *know* that there will be civilians in the places they bomb. They attempt to get the civilians out first in case there are. Second, they aren’t targeting places with “thousands of innocents” at once. In some of the bombings, they aren’t killing any at all. Cumulatively, they’re over a thousand by now.

        But, more to the point, it is *not* intrinsically evil to target a place knowing that civilians will be killed as a result. You make that decision every time you go to war by targeting a country or organization. What is intrinsically evil is to kill innocent bystanders wantonly or gratuitously, as a deliberate target rather than as collateral damage that you try to minimize within reason. But again, nobody apprised of the facts can make a case that Israel is doing that. They’re doing the very opposite, using very targeted strikes that limit the damage to small areas, and they’re firing warning shots ahead of time to get people out. They are making more than reasonable attempts to spare civilians. The argument against this is that the results of the conflict make people feel bad, and so Israel must have done something wrong, but that’s not really an argument.

        Don’t you think that SOMETHING must be off in an approach where the number of civilian deaths are so absurdly skewed?

        Not necessarily, and to say otherwise results in perverse implications. For instance, the civilian deaths would be less skewed if Israel waited for Iron Dome to fail, allowing a few thousand of their own civilians to die before responding the way that they have. But that would obviously be immoral, and would result in *more* deaths overall.

        What matters is what your enemy is ACTIVELY TRYING to so (in Hamas’ case, kill as many Israelies as possible and destroy the nation itself), not how much he’s actually succeeding. Ideally, you should try to make a conflict with an aggressor 100% lopsided, with all the casualties on his side, and everyone on your side successfully defended. This is no different in principle from a home invasion by murderers, where the ideal solution is that you kill or otherwise stop all of them, without anybody in your family being harmed.

        Furthermore, conflicts with an even number of casualties on both sides are the worst and bloodiest, because neither side will give up under those conditions, ensuring that it drags on and on, and far more are killed in the end. Ideally, you want your opponent to be overwhelmed and demoralized so he gives up and hostilities end.

        But in this case, you are right. The number of civilian deaths DOES indicate that something is off in the approach. Specifically, there is something seriously off in Hamas’ approach of deliberately causing their civilians to die pointlessly. That’s the PRIMARY cause of the lopsided death count, and in Hamas’ case it’s intentional, not a side-effect they’re trying to avoid.

        There is also something off in our approach, playing the moral equivalence game and giving Hamas hope that their human shield tactics are not in vain, because of the possibility that America will respond to the carnage they’ve deliberately caused by intervening and giving them what they want in reward.

        Actually, scratch that, here’s a plan I DO tentatively endorse: http://voxday.blogspot.com/2014/08/4gw-and-gaza-ii.html

        I had read that already, and it’s interesting, but that’s a more medium to long-term plan. For Israel, the immediate task at hand is to stop the daily barrage of rockets being fired into their cities for at least a few months, before they can even try to implement something like Vox’s plan.

      • All I can say is, good reply, though I do want to point out that I never advocated the United States stepping in in any capacity, actually. But thanks, good stuff to chew on.

  4. Res says:

    I don’t think that Jesus would agree that history is on Israel’s side. Speaking Christianly, anything Israel commits is an intrinsic evil. Speaking ordinarily, Israel may or may not be a just state, nonetheless it is defined negatively like liberalism and hence is good. Unlike Mitt Romney, I am not a liberal supporter of libertinism, and am able to discuss Kierkegaardian philosophy without inserting an accent aigu into every second syllable.

  5. “But, like the atomic bomb, certain things are wrong whether we want them to be or not. And the intentional inflicting of so many civilian casualties, especially when Israeli casualties are so few, is wrong. The numbers are simply too stacked to say that Israel is blameless in this.”

    I think you’re getting confused here between “accepting inevitable civilian casualties” and “intentionally inflicting civilian casualties”, when the two things aren’t the same at all. By way of analogy, Britain and America both have very high standards of proof in criminal trials in order to minimise the chances of convicting an innocent man. Inevitably, this means that a lot of guilty people get off as well, but it would be a mistake to say that we “intentionally let criminals walk free”.

    As for the casualty figures, the Deuce has already expressed my opinions better than I could myself. I would also add that in the Second World War America suffered far fewer civilian casualties due to German actions than Germany lost to American, but nobody in their right mind would claim on this basis that American involvement in the war was unjust, or that America should have given the Nazis a sporting chance to kill American citizens as well.

    Finally — and I have a feeling this is going to be extremely controversial, but here goes: let’s not forget that Hamas was democratically elected as the government of Gaza, and that they’ve never made any secret of their refusal to accept a compromise peace. Now, obviously not everybody in Gaza voted for them, but for the inhabitants as a whole, they voted for the Ceaseless War With Israel Party, so why are they apparently so shocked that war has broken out with Israel? It’s what they chose at the ballot box, after all. Not, mind you, that I think this means that the inhabitants of Gaza all deserve to die or anything like that, but surely the fact that they voted for a violently anti-Semitic party has some bearing on the moral calculus here?

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