Discover more from Conviction by Jason Hicks
It is a self-defeating argument to condemn Israel based on the ratio of deaths
If proportionality in war were about the ratio of deaths, that would make it about revenge instead of self-defense
“But Israel has killed so many more people!”
If one judges the outcome of a war based on the ratio of deaths, that would imply the goal is revenge: seeking an eye for an eye.
But we shouldn’t want a war for revenge.
If the goal of a war is self-defense, then that war has to be judged by whether and how it achieves that aim.
This is why the International Committee of the Red Cross’s work on international humanitarian law describes proportionality as being violated if it “would be excessive in relation to the concrete and direct military advantage anticipated.”
Think about it.
If Israel paused the Iron Dome, more of its citizens—innocent civilians—would die.
But would that make the conflict more just?
Yet that’s precisely what’s implied by the all too common refrain about the ratio of deaths between Palestinians and Israelis.
It is the goal that matters. Not the ratio.
The stated goal of Hamas is to kill Jews and that is what they did on 10/7.
The just goal in response to such an atrocity is to end the ability of Hamas to attack again.
“But what about the civilians harmed in those defensive actions?”
I recommend Michael Walzer’s “Responsibility and Proportionality in State and Nonstate Wars” for those who’d like to read an extended discussion of that question.
If Israel is attacking a force launching attacks hiding among civilian areas, “the primary responsibility for their deaths then falls on the…militants who were using [the civilians as human shields].”
That does not mean the IDF has no responsibility to minimize and to avoid civilian deaths, even when Hamas is deliberately hiding among civilians. And there will be difficult decisions and debates as to how best to do that.
Hamas doesn’t have debate about that.
And as Walzer goes on to say:
“It is a central principle of just war theory that the self-defense of a people or a country cannot be made morally impossible.”
When people bandy about international law to criticize Israel, step back and ask yourself: are they making self-defense impossible?
There are some things that can never be justified, because they cannot create a military advantage toward a just end.
Acts like those of Hamas on 10/7 cannot be justified, because the murder and kidnapping of the innocent, the rape and torture, cannot possible advance a just goal.
Whereas many of the things Israel is condemned for, such as sieges and bombing in civilian areas, may be tragically necessary when fighting an enemy that hides in civilian areas and so must be judged in that light.
It is an injustice to try to restrain Israel from necessary actions to end the ability of Hamas to terrorize the innocent.