The morality of Israel’s killing Palestinian civilians

Why is militant Islam Like EbolaI have been engaged in a Facebook exchange with someone who believes that killing civilians is always immoral. This moral stance means that, because Israel is killing civilians more effectively than Hamas, he believes Israel is morally more culpable than Hamas in the current conflict. He therefore cannot support her, and his sympathy for Palestinians outweighs his sympathy for Israelis.

Because his is an argument I hear frequently; because Progressives think their overarching pacifism is virtuous; because this man was invariably polite in expressing his views, appearing more misguided than malevolent; and because there were other people auditing this exchange on Facebook, I took the time to respond at some length his arguments. Although doing so seemed like a somewhat futile effort while the ceasefire held, given that Hamas took up arms again the minute the ceasefire ended, this issue is not going away any time soon.

The man’s core operating principle is that killing civilians is so verboten that he can never approve of a group, party, or nation that commits such acts. I know he felt virtuous when he wrote that, but I tried to get him to see that, in certain circumstances, his pacifism will leave him with more innocent blood on his own hands (morally, speaking) than his own ostensibly high-minded position would.

I asked him to imagine that a large, well-organized, well-funded terrorist group (which we’ll call “Hamas” for short) carries out a series of attacks against a Jewish nation (which, for convenience’s sake, we’ll call “Israel”). The attacks are not as deadly as Hamas would wish, but Hamas plans to continue with the attacks — eventually someone will die — with the culmination being a coordinated attack through Israel which will, if successful, kill upwards of 10,000 Israeli civilians.  This man’s moral calculus would mean that the only way for Israel, as a moral nation, to avoid the impermissible immorality of killing innocent civilians in Hamas’s ambit would be for Israel to surrender immediately and, indeed, for it to do so regardless of the seriousness of Hamas’s provocation.

In a perfect world, against an equally moral enemy, this moral purity might work. Of course, in that perfect world, the enemy too would have held itself to this high moral standard — never kill a civilian — and wouldn’t have attacked Israel in the first place.  Sadly, though, we do not live in a perfect world.

In an imperfect world, which happens to be the world we inhabit, Israel knows that Hamas’s goal is to slaughter every man, woman, and child in Israel. Israel doesn’t have to go down the primrose path of conspiracy theories and paranoia to reach this conclusion about Hamas’s end game. Instead, Hamas has made the death of Israel’s citizens — all of them — the centerpiece of its charter, it preaches this goal from every political and religious pulpit, it acts upon this goal whenever possible, and it has spent millions of dollars in foreign aid, including money from Israel herself, to plan a terrorist attack intended to kill those 10,000 of Jewish civilians.

Despite this stark reality, the man I’m debating insists that Israel still has only one moral choice: she must refrain from fighting back if that fight means that she might kill even one civilian. Only in that way, he says, can he give Israel his support.

Israel, however, has figured out something that this man, either because he’s blinded by the self-righteousness of his own idealism or because he’s as genocidal as Hamas, refuses to grasp: If Israel takes this allegedly moral high ground and surrenders to Hamas, she will effectively have killed all off all of her own civilians. In other words, no matter what choices Israel makes, the nature of her enemy means that Israel will have the blood of innocents on her hands.

As between those two choices — either kill a few hundred Palestinians civilians or watch 6 million of your own people being brutally slaughtered — a non-suicidal nation will always opt to value its own citizens’ lives first. Moreover, a moral nation, such as Israel, even as it recognizes that civilian deaths are inevitable, fundamentally values life and does everything possible to protect both its own and its enemy’s citizens.  Still, Israel recognizes that the nature of war, sadly, is death.

Put this way — living in the real world rather than the idealistic fantasy world — it’s clear that the responsibility for civilian deaths lies entirely with Hamas. Israel, by choosing a course of action that minimizes civilian deaths is on the side of the angels.

My debating opponent was unimpressed by this argument and, to the extent I refused to condemn Israel for killing any Palestinian women and children, accused me of a lack of empathy and sensitivity. My counter was that it is he, not I, who is guilty of those sins. First, as I noted above, his world view means he would rather see Israel commit suicide to the tune of 6 million more dead Jews, rather than allow Israel to defend herself at the cost (the sad, but necessary cost) of an almost infinitely smaller number dead Palestinians. Viewed that way, his position is unbelievably callous.

Moreover, pulling back from Gaza and looking at the big picture, one can see even better how un-empathetic and unkind his position is. By allowing the cancer of fundamentalist Islam to spread (in the form of Hamas, ISIS, al Shabaab, Boko Haram, Al Qaeda, the Taliban, the Iranian Mullahs, etc.), he is consigning millions of people and many generations to the living death of life under Islamic fundamentalist rule. To back up this point, I gave him a down-and-dirty list of the horrors of life under radical Islam. (And please note that I’m not talking about the more house-broken version of Islam of the type that prevailed in Turkey before Erdogan started an internal jihad.)

Life under radical Islam means executions and lots of them. The short list of capital crimes includes female adultery, homosexuality, theft, blasphemy, conversion to another faith, heresy, killings in self-defense, etc.  If someone is spared execution for those sins, life under Islam means brutal whippings (sometimes to death) or the amputation of bits and pieces of the human body.

Fundamentalist Islam and slavery are a matched set. Slavery is rife in the Muslim world. Indeed, though few will acknowledge it, the Muslim world was the opening act in the Western slave trade that Britain and America eventually stamped out, something America did at great cost to herself.

Radical Islam means institutionalized misogyny. In sharia nations, women have no rights. Being denied the right to vote, leave home unaccompanied, drive a car, get a divorce, or engage in any other ordinary life actions would be bad enough but, too often, for women radical Islam and death go hand in hand. In Muslim territory (e.g., under the Taliban, under ISIS, under Boko Haram, under al Shabaab, in Pakistan, etc.), women die from lack of medical care; they die from honor killings; they die because, when married at 9, they have babies at 12; they die because they’re beaten to death; and they die because men fear them so much that the men would rather kill women than give them any rights, power, or freedom. Just as one example of this primitive fear, in Saudi Arabia a few years ago, the religious police forced 15 schoolgirls to burn to death, rather than allow them to escape a burning school-house without their veils.

When fundamentalist Islam holds sway, disease follows in its wake. Across large swaths of the Muslim world, imams routinely speak out against vaccinations which are seen as a Western evil. This is why children all over Muslim Africa and the Middle East die or are rendered invalids by polio, diphtheria, measles, and all sorts of other diseases that have been banished from the First World.

Grinding poverty is radical Islam’s constant companion. The teachings of Islam, when applied with fundamentalist rigor, have proved to be antithetical to economic success. To date, sharia nations have discovered only two ways to wealth: conquest and oil. Failing those, their people are consigned to lives of unimaginable, pre-modern squalor.

Endless war is an Islamist mandate. Democratic, free-trading nations seldom go to war against each other. Muslims always do. It’s no accident either. The Qu’ran envisions only two states of existence: submission to Islam (but it better be the correct type of Islam) or jihad until such submission is achieved. The number of Muslims Israelis have killed in their defensive wars pales when compared to the number of Muslims other Muslims have killed.  The Iran/Iraq war in the 1980s (Shia v. Sunni) saw more than 2 million people killed on both sides.  Iran’s most ferocious weapon was its battalions of young children who had been raised to kill. Hardened Iraqi commanders said that facing those soul-less children was the most frightening thing they’d ever seen.  Fast forward to Syria, and the three-year long civil war (Sunni v. Shia) has seen more than 200,000 people killed or displaced.

Fanatically-practiced Islam doesn’t just mean war outside of a nation’s boundaries. It’s also a recipe for endless internal strife. In America, Republicans and Democrats insult each other, and then we all join together to bemoan how rude the other side is. That’s our version of “ugly” politics. In the Muslim world, competing tribes and races simply slaughter each other. In the Sudan, the Northern Arab Muslims first killed all of the countries’ Christians. Once that was done, they embarked on a racial purge, killing black Muslims. Tribal and sectarian allegiances mean that for too many Muslims subordinate to sharia regimes, life is short, ugly, and brutish.

Complete fealty to Islam primes a population for subjugation to tyrants. With its emphasis on submission and fatalism before the will of Allah (in other words, fundamentalist Islam’s complete absence of free will),the Muslim world is an open invitation to tyrants of every sort. Tyrants begin by brutalizing their own citizens. Bashir al-Assad’s comfort with the fact that, since 2011, hundreds of thousands of Syrians have been killed or displaced is part of a long tradition amongst Muslim rulers. Indeed, although the dead are his own citizens, he killed half of them. Likewise, Saddam Hussein was a murderous madman who is estimated to have killed 100,000 Kurds, as well as the hundreds of thousands who died in the long war with Iran. Qaddafi was famed for the brutal tortures he visited upon his poor subjects.

Coincidentally or not, the closer a culture hews to radical Islam, the more brutal it is at the level of ordinary civilians. Pakistan is a garden-variety Muslim country. Its news services routinely report on women accused of adultery who are gang raped and murdered. What doesn’t make the news is the casual brutality of pedophilia, wife and child beating, and horrific animal torture that is the norm in Pakistan and other predominantly Muslim countries. And let’s not even start with the honor killing that appears everywhere that Muslim populations achieve critical mass.

Anyone who subscribes to a moral relativism that says that life is too precious to allow Israel to defend herself when a rabid Islamic force is waging war against her – and to castigate either Israel or me for being callous about death – is unforgivably ignorant about the reality of life in the Muslim world.

The reality is that tyrannical regimes don’t walk away on command. They will kill or let die all of their people rather than relinquish their power. Moreover, one of the ways in which they maintain control over their citizens is to encourage those beleaguered, abused, pathetically ignorant citizens to enjoy killing “the other.”  The best way to show ones compassion and empathy for Muslims and Arabs around the world is to discourage the fanaticism that consigns them to lives of almost unbearable suffering.

Intelligent empathy demands that, when it comes to the existential war between the Judeo-Christian tradition, on the one hand, and Islamic fundamentalism, on the other hand, one has to look at the big picture, rather than focusing obsessively on the tragedy (and it is tragic) of one dead child.    The best way to show ones compassion and empathy for Muslims and Arabs around the world — especially the woman and children trapped in those societies — is to discourage the fanaticism that consigns too many of them to lives of almost unbearable suffering.

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  • Texan99

    We have a lot of attitudes about “civilians” that don’t work well when a country doesn’t distinguish between its military and the rest of its citizens. And even if those attitudes still applied well to modern conditions, there never has been, and never will be, a war in which there are no civilian collateral-damage deaths. A nation that adopts a no-civilian-casualties rule won’t exist for long, and the issue will become moot quickly.

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    Paci-fascist is a better description of the idiot on FB. He is actually suggesting suicide by pacifism is taking the higher moral ground. I am surprised he didn’t suggest that Israelis leap to their death en masse from Masada and save Gazans from pushing them – it’s for the children, you know.

  • ferninphilly

    Book- just a word of advice: when debating with the other side on Facebook I recommend that you start by laying some ground rules (put up a FB post stating “I am happy to engage with you but I want to set some ground rules first). The first and most important of these ground rules (and one that will allow you to “win” (for whatever that is worth) most of these engagements is this:
    1. Please do not engage in ad-hominem attacks and please Do Not Question the Motives Behind My Beliefs unless you have concrete (not fabricated or theoretical or presumptuous but actual, concrete evidence that my motives are malicious).
    Then add “do these seem like fair ground rules to you? Once they say “yes” you’ve got them.
    Proof? When his only comeback is that you are “callous” he is not attacking your argument but rather your motivation for making it (the most common weapon in the liberal arsenal). I can’t stress enough that you must, at the beginning, get them to agree not to do this. It’s been my experience that liberals think that their arguments are logically and rationally sound and will almost always agree to conditions thinking that they are pragmatic, intelligent, and just-plain-smarter than you because you are a knuckle-dragging conservative. In the end they will almost always resort to questioning your motives and going after you personally when trapped (and you will trap them because their arguments are not based in fact).

    • Bookworm

      What a brilliant idea. I have to admit, though, that in this case, I broke the rule in an earlier phase of our debate by saying I simply could not understand his moral algorithm — which, while a true and logical statement, could also be perceived as an insult.

  • roylofquist

    I live in rattlesnake and scorpion country. We don’t go looking for them but if they come around we don’t try to negotiate.

    • Bookworm

      I engage in these negotiations, not so much for the direct opponent, but for the other people following the Facebook thread. Many of them haven’t even thought about the issue. If they do, I want them to think about my side too, not just the MSM side.

      • Ymarsakar

        The easiest way is to engage directly the audience, not the enemy.

        The Vietcong didn’t engage the US Marines directly to look good to the villagers. They waited until the Marines were gone, then went into the villages to apply direct pressure.

        Direct leverage is always more effective than indirect leverage.

      • roylofquist

        Dear Book,

        Firstly off, the flippant:

        “Never try to teach a pig to sing. It wastes your time and it annoys the pig.”

        In my limited experience Facebook is much like a largish party, see and be seen, press the flesh. Discussing Kierkegaard will relegate you to a quiet corner. I understand the sentiment but I also suspect that your Facebook allusions may be a clever literary device. Strawmen (koff, koff)? If so, congrats for being far more clever and subtle than our Dear Leader.

        Anyhoo, back to the subject at hand. We are faced with a problem of cognitive dissonance. Our views on the conduct of war are the product of thousands of years of our Judeo/Christian culture. The formal statement of these view started centuries ago with Just War Doctrine as developed by the Roman Catholic Church and their current manifestation is rooted in the Geneva Conventions (four as I recall). There is an implicit assumption, explicit in the case of Geneva, that both sides agree to abide by them.

        So what happens when this is not the case? WWII confronted us with this dilemma in spades by way of the Axis Powers. Nazi Germany can be rationalized as a western nation gone real bad, but what of the suicidal cult of Japan? Cognitive dissonance.

        So how to resolve this conundrum? I believe that Justice Jackson nailed it – “the Constitution is not a suicide pact”.

        When facing an existential threat the Marquess de Queensbury rules are no longer relevant. It’s rattlesnakes and scorpions all the way down.


        Sorry for going all windy.

  • Charles Martel

    I consider pacifism to be a strain of moronism with a lot of preening thrown in. I came to that conclusion when I read the letter that that rancid little man, Mohandas Gandhi, wrote to the Jews imploring them not to sully their karmas by resisting the Nazi genocide against them.

    Ever since I realized what a moral turd he was, whenever Gandhi’s little pacifist turdette imitators come trailing behind him with their self-righteous rhetoric, I reach for my gun. Not to hurt them, because it is a sin to harm mental defectives, but because I know, thanks to their gold-veneered cowardice, it will be up to non-pacifists like me to face the evil they’ve abetted: Marxists/Nazis/Hamas/Islam/MS-13.

  • FunkyPhD

    Just for the sake of clarity: isn’t Hamas’s goal to kill every Jew in Israel?

  • sabawa

    Moral-schmoral……the Hamas(ies) just want to kill, kill, kill. And they keep making more babies and teach them the same thing. Hopeless squalor provides thousands of hours with nothing to do but plan evil. It’s a horrible truth.

  • Danny Lemieux

    Book, you friend can hold such view because it costs him nothing and satisfies a need to put himself on a higher moral plane than the rest of humanity. I have another term for pacifists: “war’s enablers”.

  • JKB

    But there is a terrible conundrum. Human Rights Watch reports that young Palestinian men are over represented among the Gaza dead.

    They are not sure why, but are certain it is some evil plot by Israel.

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  • Brian Richard Allen

    During WW-II German industrial output increased steadily despite allied bombing of factories and rail yards and other industrial sites. Only after the allies began their systematic morale-sapping destruction of enemy cities and of their civilian populations, did production begin to fall and eventually to falter.

    By way, only, of the total defeat of the axis gang – including, in Japan, by the employment of atomic bombs – were hostilities brought to an end!

    And only by its similarly and at whatever cost, totally defeating its islamanazi foe, will Israel ever achieve a lasting peace.

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