War Crimes and Criminals

War Crimes and Criminals

Over the last week-plus, hundreds of thousands of commentators, journalists, politicians, protestors, social media users, and others have accused the Israeli government/Defense Forces of innumerable heinous war crimes.  Here, for example, British Tory MP Crispin Blunt not only accuses Israel of violating the laws of war but also suggests that his own government is implicit in Israel’s crimes because it has “given unequivocal support to the state of Israel.”  Israel, he intones ever so derisively, is not distinguishing between civilian and military targets, as evinced by the number of dead Palestinian children, and is also responding “disproportionately” against the thoroughly overmatched Palestinian people.

Part of this type of response is just rank antisemitism.  “How dare the Jews defend themselves against wanton slaughter, rape, and torture?  Who do they think they are?”

Part of it is a misinterpretation – willful, we’d guess, in Blunt’s case – of the term “proportionate.”  And part of it is the result of the collapse of moral reasoning into chaos and disarray, as described so eloquently (and quoted so many times in these pages) by Alasdair MacIntyre.

Antisemitism, its pervasiveness, and its longevity are subjects that we have discussed often before and will, undoubtedly, do so again, perhaps even this week.  Consequently, today, we will focus on the term “proportionate” and, especially, on the morality of the war and its expected outcome.

When we, as a society, talk about the “laws of war,” we are, most often, talking not about concrete and binding legal agreements, but rather about the centuries-old tradition of “just war” theory.  Historically, just war theory has two components: jus ad bellum (the right to wage war) and jus in bello (right conduct in war).  Because it is largely inarguable that Israel meets all the traditional requirements to wage just war against Hamas, we’ll skip jus ad bellum and get right to Israel’s expected conduct, where the question of “proportionality” is relevant.

Unfortunately, “proportionality” is, more often than not, a term employed by those who wish to tie the hands of powerful nations – usually the United States or Israel.  Although the term has a specific and important meaning in just war theory, its contemporary advocates use it misleadingly, bastardizing its definition in order to limit the range of responses that can be employed against less sophisticated enemies.

Fortunately, Andy McCarthy, the man who prosecuted the Blind Sheik (among others), wrote an excellent column yesterday for The New York Post that addresses the willful misuse of the concept of proportionality, saving us the trouble:

[Proportionality] is a principle that requires military commanders, when they determine battlefield targets, to weigh the importance of the military objective against the likelihood of “collateral damage” – i.e., civilian casualties and damage to civilian infrastructure. 

Significantly, proportionality does not mean an army is prohibited from attacking if it knows there will be collateral damage.

To the contrary, if the military objective is important enough, collateral damage is a baleful but unavoidable consequence of warfare.

The military commander is obliged to try to minimize collateral damage, but not to the point of refraining from attacking important military targets.

If important targets are not hit, wars last far longer, and there’s nothing humanitarian about insisting on more carnage.

Proportionality is not about exacting an eye for an eye or a tooth for a tooth.  Israel would be neither justified nor particularly wise to rape the exact number of Palestinian women as were raped by Hamas or behead the exact number of Palestinian babies as were beheaded by Hamas.  That definition of proportionality is both morally blinkered and tactically stupid.  It would result in further atrocities but no justice and no advancement of the legitimate ends of war – which, of course, explains why many Westerners, especially in the media, are so keen to hold Israel to this imbecilic standard.

In general, those who natter on about the “proportionality” of Israel’s response to its enemies do so in bad faith, with the explicit intent of defaming Israel, regardless of what it does.

Beyond this, there is a third set of standards for judging a “just war.”  It is a newer part of the tradition than the other two but is undoubtedly more valuable in assessing the morality of specific actions in the current context.  Indeed, jus post bellum (right conduct after war) may be the most important part of the just war tradition in Israel’s case.

Israel itself has several considerations as it ponders its expected behavior after the war.  How is it going to prevent the mass slaughter of its own people again?  How can it enable the residents of Gaza to live more freely, more comfortably, and more prosperously than they have been allowed to live under Hamas?  Is it better, for example, for Israel to be more delicate in its assault against Hamas, perhaps sparing some civilian casualties but leaving Hamas in power?  Or would it be more moral for Israel to risk additional civilian collateral damage in a more aggressive attack, if it means that the people of Gaza can be liberated from the brutality of life under Hamas and live more securely after the war?

More to the point, when addressing the morality of current Israeli action, one must also look at the conduct of other parties in the wake of previous wars?  Clearly, Iran and Qatar bear significant moral responsibility for the current plight of the Palestinians (not to mention the Israelis) because they have spent the last several years rearming Hamas, ensuring that previous Israeli attempts to disarm and defang the terrorist organization were failures.

Likewise, the entire Arab world has some post-war failings for which to answer.  Israel fought major wars against the entire Arab world in 1948, 1967, and 1973.  It fought an additional war in Lebanon in the early 1980s.  With a few notable exceptions (Egypt and, in time, Jordan), the Arab nations have all behaved reprehensibly in the aftermath of those wars.  Have you ever wondered why, 75 years after the founding of Israel, there are still “refugee camps” in the Palestinian territories?  The answer, bluntly, is that the camps are useful to those in the Arab world who wish to make Israel look bad, to make it look like a vicious oppressor, to spread the venomous blood libel of the Israeli “apartheid” state.  Indeed, for more than 75 years, the entire Palestinian people have been pawns of the Arab nations (and Persian Iran, since 1979), who have used them to make Israel appear cruel and inhumane.

In a sense, then, the otherwise execrable Crispin Blunt, MP, is right.  What is happening in Gaza is a war crime.  This is largely inarguable.  The moral responsibility for that war crime, however, falls on many shoulders, vanishingly few of which are Jewish.  Hamas bears the greatest percentage of the blame, of course, but the late Yasser Arafat, the current head of Fatah, Mahmoud Abbas, and most of the rest of the Muslim world are also to blame to a significant degree.  And so, for that matter, are the Western governments that have supplied financing to Hamas under the guise of humanitarian aid, either knowing full well that that aid would be diverted or believing, under the influence of dream world Gnosticism, that they were doing “the right thing.”

The “Palestinian Question” could have and should have been solved in 1947.  That it wasn’t solved then is both a tragedy and a crime against humanity.  More relevantly, it will be very difficult to solve today and impossible under any circumstances until all participants – Israeli, Arab, Persian, and Western – regain some moral clarity.

Stephen Soukup
Stephen Soukup
[email protected]

Steve Soukup is the Vice President and Publisher of The Political Forum, an “independent research provider” that delivers research and consulting services to the institutional investment community, with an emphasis on economic, social, political, and geopolitical events that are likely to have an impact on the financial markets in the United States and abroad.