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Why Israel’s assault on Gaza fails the test for a just war

2014 July 31
by Paul Vallely

Israel is under attack and has a right to defend itself. But the argument “They fire rockets at us, so we fire back” is not enough. A morality of equivalence is not enough in determining whether a war is just.

Classically there are six Just War criteria. The first three demand that there must be just cause, good intention and legal authority. Israel can claim all those, though lawful authority is incomplete; Israel may be a democracy, but many Palestinians in the region are second-class citizens, and there is no wider authority from the United Nations.

But there are three other criteria which are more problematic. Every other way of resolving the problem must have been tried first. There must be a reasonable chance of military success. And the means used must be in proportion to the end that the war seeks to achieve. On these Israeli conduct is questionable.

It is not necessary to kill people to defend yourself. The Iron Dome defensive rocket shield shows that. The fact that some Israelis are sitting on the heights, eating popcorn, watching the “entertainment” below, as Gaza is bombarded, is also an effective demonstration of the imbalance of power. And the key area on which the Israeli case founders is proportionality.

Over 1,000 Palestinians have died compared with 56 Israelis, only three of them civilians. More Palestinian children have been killed than Hamas fighters. The paucity of the argument that ordinary people just have to move out of the line of fire (after warnings that a bombardment is imminent) has been exposed by the shelling of the UN shelter, despite UN officials giving the Israeli military the coordinates of the shelter no fewer than 12 times.

Responsibility grows commensurate with power. The Israeli army is the most powerful in the region. The country is backed by the world’s greatest power, the United States. Its Secretary of State may harbour private doubts, as was shown when a microphone picked up John Kerry’s off-air sarcasm about Israel’s self-justifications, but Washington continues to support Israel politically and financially.

There are interesting parallels on power and responsibility. Democracies have more responsibilities than dictatorships, just as adults have more responsibility than children; tit-for-tat does not work in parenting. States have more responsibility than individuals, which is why the terrible fiasco over botched executions in the US has such resonance; the victims’ families may demand ‘an eye for an eye’ but the state has a higher moral purpose than vengeance. It is also why it will not wash when Rome says “the percentage of paedophiles in the church is no greater than in the general population”; we expect the church to be better than the world to which it preaches.

In Gaza it is by no means certain that the policy of bombardment has a reasonable chance of success of Israel’s stated objectives of ending Hamas rockets. Uprisings in the occupied West Bank suggest things could get worse before they get than better.

All this suggests Israel has passed a tipping point and stands increasingly condemned in the court of international public opinion.


from the Church Times

One Response
  1. Peter O'Brien permalink
    July 31, 2014

    As ever, a succinct and clear analysis from Paul.

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