The war that Hamas erupted in Israel over the weekend marks the deadliest day for Jewish civilians since the Second World War: since the Einsatzgruppen mobile killing units’ open slaughter, the rapacious cleansing of the ghettos, and the mechanized extermination of the death camps. Given the still-tumultuous history of the Jewish people since then, that’s saying something. But it’s not to say that it’s anything new. A pogrom of the old order, the indiscriminate slaughter of innocent men, women, and children by Palestinian terrorists—still ongoing—is but the latest rendition of the moral obscenity of ancient race hate and religious animus.
Hamas, the Palestinian Sunni-Islamic fundamentalist terror and nationalist organization that governs the Gaza Strip, mounted a staggeringly effective surprise assault on Israel Saturday morning, breaching the Israeli border by air, sea, and land and attacking more than 20 population centers and military bases. It now appears that more than 700 died as the result of a single morning of butchery. Since then, the death toll is said to have now eclipsed a 1,000 Israeli souls. Many more thousands have been injured. Unknown dozens—or more—have been stolen, kidnapped and dragged into Gaza. But, of course, a correction is required: the numbers do not only involve Israelis. The nature of terroristic assault is indiscrimination. Nationals from other lands have been caught up in the killing as well, including Africans, Europeans, and Americans. And then, of course, there are the innocent Palestinians—those ordinary Palestinians who abjure the violence and want nothing more than to live a normal life and to see the flourishing of their children—who will be, and even now are, caught in the deadly crossfire. All these lives, every single one, rests solely at the feet of Hamas.
There are those who will cavil at this. They will blame Israel for this fresh round of hell. They will blame it on Israel’s so-called occupation. They will blame Israel for making the Gaza Strip an open-air prison. They will blame Israel for making Palestinian life a tedious cycle of check-points, surveillance, and limited movements. They will blame, and blame, and blame Israel again and again and again and will believe in their mind that, somehow, these aspersions justify the massacre of the innocents: 260 young people dancing at a festival—with more raped, wounded, and taken hostage, 100 dead villagers in Be’eri, the bullet-ridden cars, some with bloodstained seats, on the highway near Sderot—its occupants apparently ripped from their ambushed vehicles and also hauled back into Gaza. As the information gets more granular, the horror mounts. Hamas’ social media platforms are saturated in misinformation and it’s hard to know what material is truly from the present terror and what has been repurposed or misattributed. But they’ve posted video and images—some clearly authentic—trophies, really, of young Jewish women being paraded along Gazan streets chocked with mobs of Hamas supporters unhinged by paroxysms of rage. The girls’ obvious trauma and the blood-stained crotch of their clothes betray their savage treatment. Other images show unarmed soldiers, in civilian clothes and without gear or weapons of any kind, lying slaughtered in a bathroom. There’s others of a family held captive, the children crying over a murdered sister. Yet another show the torment of an elderly Israeli who was bedridden and unable to be hauled away to captivity. So she was simply doused in fuel and burned alive. We later learn of the horrors at Kibbutz Kfar Aza, and dozens of murdered children–at least forty infants–some of whom have been decapitated. Whatever the grievance, real or imagined, there is clearly no justification possible for the intentional carrying out of such things.
The tired lie that all of this is because of the Israeli occupation of the West Bank and Gaza has never been less believable. We can beg the question of whether there is or is not an occupation. The fact remains that such complaints certainly had no grounds prior to 1967—and the 6 Day War that was launched–and lost–by Israel’s neighbors—and yet Palestinian terror still existed. Terror—and multiple attacks by neighboring countries—has persisted against Israel since she declared independence in 1948. So, the “occupation” that everyone is screaming about can only actually reference the very presence of Israel as a state itself. Time and again, it appears nothing will appease her enemies except for Israel to cease to exist. Time and again the old aphorism is made to ring true: if the Palestinians lay down their arms there will be peace with Israel; if Israel lays down her arms there will be no Israel.
Hamas’ present bloodlust only proves the case. They did not mount a military operation. It was thuggery. As the Israeli Defense Minister Yoav Gallant asserted, “[Hamas] did not distinguish between women, children, and elderly, it harmed all of them.” The Hamas fighters who launched the operation, however militant, were not soldiers. They are simply terrorists.
Israel has promised a resolute response. They will make one. There have been calls by world leaders, rightly, encouraging Israel to be proportionate. As Providence readers know—or should—proportionality is an important consideration within just war tradition. It is found in both the moral consideration of whether to go to war in the first place—where it is a called proportionality of ends, as well as in the moral considerations of how to fight a war justly—where proportionality becomes a weighing of actions at the tactical level. In both cases, the shared characteristic is that the action being contemplated should be expected to result in greater good than greater harm. Additionally, not doing the action should be presumed to result in greater good than greater harm.
Unfortunately, many of those calling for a proportionate response make the common mistake of apparently believing that proportionality requires Israel to only exert that degree of force that Hamas has exerted against it—or to only do that level of harm that Hamas has exacted against Israel. This is the wrong weighing. It is wrong because the criteria against which a proportionality claim is weighed is not what the enemy has done, but what you intend to do; that’s to say: the war aims. In a just war, the aim of war is, ultimately, peace. Peace, in turn, ultimately can be achieved only when the causes leading to war have been rectified: when the threatened innocent are made safe, when injustices have been righted, or when evil has been appropriately punished. Taken together, this is to say that a just war is aimed at peace through decisive victory. The enemy need to have know they’ve been licked. A war that is right to fight is right to win. The moral calculus the Israelis must make is whether war—and what actions within that war—will lead to greater goods or greater evils. This calculation will be weighed against whether not going to war—or not fighting a certain way—will lead to greater evils or greater goods.
In helping to answer this, the terroristic aggression over the last few days appear to most observers to be a game changer. There now seems no reliable path–if there ever was–to peace that includes the existence of Hamas. An offshoot of the Muslim Brotherhood, Hamas has, from its metastasis in 1987, engaged in violence against Israelis, Palestinians, and anyone else who stood against its diabolical ambitions–including, foremost, the obliteration of Israel. In response to this latest iteration of Hamas terror, the only morally and strategically responsible war aim for Israel is the destruction of Hamas’ ability to harm Israel. In all likelihood, this end is coterminous with the destruction of Hamas itself.
There is, perhaps, a strategic opportunity here. Hamas has held Gaza in its totalitarian grip since 2007. Let’s presume there really exists, as conjectured above, those “ordinary Palestinians” who loath the violence and are willing to work alongside Israel to find a way to live together (I know this is a safe presumption because I know such Palestinians). If so, the idea of a Gaza Strip without Hamas might be a boon to not just Israel. But there is, as there always is in this part of the world, a catch.
Eradicating Hamas will not be easy and much of the cost will be borne by those ordinary Gazans. Already, the Israeli Defense Minister has called for a complete blockade against Gaza: no electricity, no food, no water, no nothing. Siege warfare is a terrible form of warfare. It hurts everyone under siege without distinction. But it can be a morally viable one, in extreme circumstances. Articles 17 and 18 of the Lieber Code, which has influenced International Law since the American Civil War, recognizes that “war is not carried on by arms alone.” In certain cases, therefore, it admits that it can be lawful to starve the hostile belligerent so that it leads to the speedier subjection of the enemy. Lieber understood this might involve subjugating the innocent to the same treatment–because making distinctions is impossible. Additionally, it is being reported that the Israeli Defense Force will largely forgo its practice of warning residents in targeted buildings that the building is about to be bombed. There is a history to this. It is common practice for Hamas to use residential buildings, mosques, churches, schools, and other civilian infrastructure for military purposes—for staging operations, storing munitions, and even for launching missiles and the like. Israel has gone to great lengths, including dropping no-yield (dud) munitions on top of buildings (so called roof-knocking) in order to rattle the building and thereby warn residents to get out before the next (lethal) shot is taken. There are tactical reasons for forgoing this now. Presumably they include not warning Hamas itself to get out of those buildings and, perhaps, to prevent Hamas from relocating their stolen hostages to those buildings to use of human shields.
Whatever the various tactical motivations, taken together, the tactics of blockade and no-warning strikes will harm ordinary Palestinians. Israel should take every opportunity to balance the requirements of mission effectiveness, force protection, and non-combatant protection that it can to minimize unnecessary—and counterproductive—harms. Where possible–and I don’t pretend to know if it is–they should allow vetted Palestinians to seek refuge outside the Strip. Hamas, alone to the greatest degree possible, should made to bear the brunt of justice alone. This will likely include ground operations. Especially if under siege, a ground assault has the best change of ending the fight quickly and restoring some measure of normalcy as rapidly as possible. Occupying Israeli soldiers, moreover, can begin to resupply Palestinians as they secure particular sections of Gaza.
Israel must do everything possible to minimize the toil on the innocent, and to multiply hell on the monsters.
The rest of us have a job as well. First, give Israel whatever material and diplomatic assistance they need. Second, give them room. Calls by certain world leaders—including from within our own administration—for Israel to already begin considering a ceasefire is premature and foolish. The international community must give Israel the time and space to fight this fight the way it must be fought in order to secure the greatest possibility for a meaningful, durable peace for themselves and with those Palestinians for whom a durable peace with Israel is desired. Achieving this will not be quick. But it can begin in a nanosecond.
There are no joy here. It will be a terrible path to walk. But it might be that the only way out is through.