Obvious, really – with a thousand dead on one side, including many non-combatants, and only one civilian on the other side, and 45 military men.
But the argument is becoming so muddied with claim and counter-claim, with allegations that Hamas routinely and callously hides its rocket launchers in schools and hospitals, that an examination of the basics of just war theory should be made.
A just war is a proportional war: if one boy steals another boy’s pocket money, then he should be punished. But not beaten to a pulp by a gang of six men, we would all agree.
If a member of a diplomatic mission is found to be a spy, it is fair enough for him or her to be expelled – but not for the home country to sit a tank outside the offending embassy and fire short-range missiles into it.
Israel has a grievance and legitimate security concerns. But the answer to its problem is not to wipe the Palestinian people off the face of the earth, no matter how much many of its political leaders and supporters would like this to happen.
Some years ago I attended an academic Middle East conference in Madrid. By halfway through the second day I, like many of the ‘civilian’ observers, was frustrated and astonished by the pointless invective, the shrieking arguments, that most sessions dissolved into. There are zealots on both sides – and people who have suffered great grief.
The Palestinians suffered a vast and egregious injustice when their homeland was summarily taken from them in 1948. The Jewish people suffered the horrors of the Holocaust. But two wrongs don’t make a right – and it wasn’t the Palestinians who ran the concentration camps.
Israel currently (July 27) has hit 3,289 targets in Gaza, according to The New York Times. (The figure apparently does not include all missiles launched, unlike the figure for Gaza-launched rockets, which is 2,325.) There are 1,023 dead in Gaza, and 46 in Israel, of whom only one is a non-combatant.
Under just war theory, a response to violent provocation has to fulfil these four criteria: just cause (a reason for taking up arms, such as an invasion or widespread murder and torture); right authority; right intention; and reasonable hope of success.
Proportionality emerged centuries ago as a key determinant for the justice of a war. From St Augustine, one of the fathers of the Catholic Church, who wrote and thought much about the possibility of a just war, to the modern philosophers such as Michael Walzer and Paul Ramsey, the justification for war has been thoroughly examined and discussed.
A good Jew, like a good Christian or Muslim, should be prepared to go to war to defend his loved ones, and restore social justice. The problem for Israelis is that the massive social injustice has been done, and continues to be done, to their enemies.
The hackneyed cry that “Israel is fighting for her survival, surrounded by enemies” rings hollow because of the geopolitical realities. Israel has a handy friend in the superpower United States – despite the distaste felt by many, including the President, for the way Israel comports itself. In addition, the countries surrounding Israel which are theoretically about to crush her to dust are disorganized, poverty-stricken, and prone to internal revolutions and wars which take up all their time and energy. Egypt, Syria, Jordan – which of these is a feasible threat?
And amid all this terror and pain and destruction, the negotiators who have tried and tried, and failed so often, to get the antagonists to lay down their weapons and make a long, hard, considered attempt to stop the violence for good.
John Kerry, the US Secretary for State, appears to have been making great and heart-felt attempts. The European Union man in the Middle East, Tony Blair, has been nowhere to be seen (except at a reception in London to celebrate the anniversary of him becoming leader of the British Labour Party). However, peace negotiation is not, I am told, part of his brief. So what on earth is he, or the post, for? The central issue of the Middle East is peace.
A speaker on the Australian Broadcasting Corporation’s PM programme is, as I speak, stating that 70 per cent of Israelis, in polls, regularly support a two-state solution. Yet, simultaneously, a majority supports the punitive actions against Palestinians, and Hamas in particular.
Someone, somewhere, has to exert influence on the Israelis. This is not a just war. Israel is not despised for what it is – but for what it does.