Disregard for Just War theory’s application to Gaza

He misses something pretty elementary:

But it is also significant, is it not, that Israel’s concessions were withdrawals from foreign countries they had invaded. And it remains true that the number of Israeli civilian casualties from Hamas’s war crimes amounted over eight years amounted to 18; while the civilian casualties inflicted by Israel’s aerial and ground assault on Gaza amounted to somewhere between 800 and 900 in less than a month, depending on the sources.

That makes the ratio of Palestinian civilian casualties to Israeli civilian casualties over the decade of conflict with Gaza roughly 1: 4000. I’m not sure how any theory of just war can possibly defend such an imbalance.

I hope he’s not playing dumb to make the discussion seem more provocative than it would otherwise be, because that’s pretty unconscionable.

Without ratifying his numbers, the low number of Israeli casualties is a tribute to their incredible measures of self-defense, including public and private bomb shelters and a high-tech rocket alert system that tells people they have 15 seconds to get to a bomb shelter before a mortar/rocket lands.

Just war theory says that Israel has the obligation not to forgo such measures of self-defense, and therefore maintain a high ratio of some kind. There’s an essential fallacy here in Andrew’s argument: that the Israelis would become more just in this conflict if more of them died.

Sorry, they’re not going to dismantle bomb shelters to help various observers’ sense, through mathematics, that two sides are killing each other more humanely. In the meantime, Hamas and Hezbollah feel no need to build bomb shelters for civilians — Western officials and pundits don’t put public pressure on them to do that.

But Andrew has already confessed his personal inability to apply Just War Theory’s casus belli to Operation Cast Lead. He wants to apply only jus en bello, holding Israel’s conduct, rightfully, to high standards. Andrew has written:

And under just war theory, any possibility that the goal of restraining Hamas or undermining it could be achieved by non-military means renders the current Israeli counter-attack illicit.

Any possibility”? Couldn’t one say the same thing about WW2 or the Rwandan massacre, that even after the violence had began, there was still some possibility of “restraining or undermining” Germany or the radical Hutus through “non-military means.”


[…] fair to say, I think, that Israel’s actions in Gaza fail every traditional just war justification. In the history of the West, the laws of war are clear enough. You do not launch a just war if it leads to greater evils than the status quo ante.

You don’t launch a war, if you seriously believe it will lead to “greater evils.” You can’t predict that, not even with the powers of Andrew Sullivan.

[UPDATE: How does The Dish square its standard of “greater evils than the status quo ante” with its belief that we must in the near future pull out of Iraq regardless of the human costs for Iraqis? From a post today:

If Obama does not have the courage to withdraw regardless of the consequences, he will end up entrenching Bush’s insane gamble, not ending it, as he was elected to do. ]

On the other side of it, escalation by Hamas could have precipitated “greater evils” without Operation Cast Lead even starting. Longer-range missiles — imported, not homemade — started coming from Gaza into Ashkelon, deeper into Israel. Ashkelon is actually where Gaza’s electricity is produced, so one lucky hit there might have created quite the “greater evil” for both sides.

Andrew continues:

[…] I need to repeat: There is no “just war” excuse for Hamas’ murderous terrorism or for its refusal to acknowledge or peacefully co-exist with Israel. But there’s no reading of traditional just war theory that can defend what Israel is now doing and has done either. Maybe I am missing an element here. Or maybe just war theory cannot account for modern terrorism. But if that is the case, then an argument must be made for a new framework of just warfare that can account for that. It does seem to me that the combination of apocalyptic terror and WMDs shift the equation. But with Hamas, we are not talking about WMDs.

So supporting Operation Iraqi Freedom, as Andrew did, was more acceptable than supporting Operation Cast Lead, as the vast majority of Israelis did.

And we have to acknowledge something the neocons rarely do: Hamas is more democratically legitimate than the King of Jordan,

Yes, in their first and possibly only election, before they kicked out all Fatah officials and punished any show of Fatah support.

But many voices, especially in Fatah, told the neocons that they were demanding the Palestinians elections too soon and Hamas would reap the benefit. Two, in the long run, I’m sure neocons would be happy to see all Jordanian citizens (including its Palestinian citizens, who number more than half of Jordanians) get the vote in Jordan. Andrew, like James Baker, I thought supported both of these positions that delay democracy. Yet here, it’s convenient for him to allude to the opposite position.

an unelected plutocrat who runs a torture state.

A torture state which apparently did not contribute to Jordan’s “double agent [who] turned again after Gaza” and killed CIA officers in Afghanistan. That was Israel’s doing, Andrew said.

… It’s interesting that Andrew has identified his prime opposition in this debate about just war theory and Gaza to be “neoconservatives,” not the majority of Israeli people or Jewish Americans. He wrote:

Maybe the long-term gains [of Operation Cast Lead] will shift the balance here. But those now arguing for exactly that proposition are those who believe the Iraq war has been a great success.

I’m sorry, but the majority of millions arguing for that proposition regarding Gaza do not believe the Iraq War has been “a great success.” And they are not neoconservatives. Many of them are residents of Israel who noticed Iranian and Russian longer-range missiles coming from Gaza and hitting Ashdod, a large port city in Israel with chemical plants.


One Response

  1. […] that Andrew has never examined the question. Wieseltier’s criticisms are that (1) Andrew is wrong that it was unjust, and that (2) Andrew has decided to rhetorically underscore the idea that Cast Lead was […]

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