Israel’s Moral Pickle

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Thursday, May 20, 2021


In the past week, the terrorist group Hamas, operating out of Gaza, fired more than 2,000 rockets into Israel. The Israeli Defence Force reports that eight people have been killed. In response, the IDF carried out airstrikes this week resulting in the deaths of a reported 126 people including 31 children, 20 women, and at least a few dozen Hamas militants and senior leadership.

This recent barrage of rockets is said to be a response to violence and tensions in Jerusalem over the Al-Aqsa mosque and other holy sites.

Unsurprisingly, the response on Twitter was strongly negative. Right off the bat, many were quick to accuse Israel of crimes against humanity and of perpetrating genocide against Palestinians. Additionally, calls of apartheid were once more voiced as tensions rose in Jerusalem over a decades-long legal case concerning the evictions of eight Palestinian families from the Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood in East Jerusalem.

On Wednesday, Representative Alexandria Ocasio Cortez (D-NY 14) criticized President Biden’s statement that “Israel has a right to defend itself against thousands of rockets flying into your territory” saying such statements “dehumanize Palestinians” and could lead to further violence.

For all the hysteria surrounding the Israeli airstrikes, there appears comparatively little concern that Israel is once more, being deliberately and willfully attacked by a group whose charter vows to wipe Israel from the face of the earth.

However benign, the common thread of recent criticism—which places the brunt of the blame upon Israel and accuses its leaders of human rights abuses in Gaza—largely misunderstands the moral and military complexity of its situation.

At the core of these misunderstandings is an apparent unwillingness to acknowledge the invariable dilemmas that Israel, a free state confronts when being attacked by Gaza, a police state.

It is widely known that Hamas doesn’t abide by international rules and standards regarding war, and this conflict is no different. Israel is being forced to engage an enemy that operates contrary to established norms and ignores even the most basic rules of just war.

As a rule, the immunity of noncombatants is considered among the most sacred of just-war principles, but Hamas precludes this by launching rockets from schools, hospitals, and highly populated urban areas, cravenly hiding among its citizens.

Considering that Israel has the right to defend itself from rocket attacks, the real question is how. Adherents of just-war know that one condition of carrying out a retaliatory act is that the response should be proportional to the attack.

Since Monday, Hamas has bombarded Israel firing at least 2,000 rockets largely aimed at heavily-populated areas in and around coastal Israel. In spite of Hamas’s indiscriminate attack, Israel’s response has been comparatively muted—and for good reason.  

According to the rules of proportionality, Israel might argue, albeit incorrectly, that it would be justified in carrying out a literal carpet bombing of the Gaza Strip. Of course, Israel knows better. The overriding concern in war, next to one’s victory, is to win with the least possible civilian casualties. Since Hamas cowardly uses its civilians as shields, a truly proportional response is neither morally justifiable nor practical.

Instead, Israel has to be surgical in terms of its response. Practically, this means that Israel should design its response to do maximum damage to the true aggressors, Hamas, while attempting to minimize civilian deaths. The awful truth which no one wants to admit or ignores is that to the extent that civilian casualties occur when Israel targets Hamas, they are mostly inevitable.

No one in Israel is glibly arguing for bombing Gaza because they have some sick, racist desire to kill Palestinian people. The argument is just the opposite. It’s fundamentally a national security calculus, which is where Israel comes to reside in the moral pickle many of us in the West refuse to understand.

If Israel surgically defends their national security against a brazen act of indiscriminate warfare, there is a high likelihood that some civilians will die since Hamas uses its people as shields and Gaza is small and densely populated. If Israel passively condemns Hamas without offensively retaliating, it is sending a message to its leaders that attacking Israel carries no consequence and so, the attacks will continue in an escalating fashion.

Neither option has a particularly desirable outcome, but one option must ultimately be preferred to the other. Israel’s critics might disagree that precision airstrikes amount to exercising restraint, but the reality of the situation is that is exactly what it is.

Sean is a senior at Regent University pursuing a B.A. in Government with dual concentrations in American government & politics and international relations & foreign policy. His academic interests include the relationship between faith and public life, the interplay of institutions and society, and everything foreign affairs related.

The views expressed in this article are the opinion of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Lone Conservative staff.


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About Sean Preston

Sean is a senior at Regent University pursuing a B.A. in Government with dual concentrations in American government & politics and international relations & foreign policy. His academic interests include the relationship between faith and public life, the interplay of institutions and society, and everything foreign affairs related.

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