Morally right to kill threats

Bren Carlill

23 June 2006 – The Courier-Mail  

Israel makes mistakes but that doesn’t mean its cause is not just


THE Arab-Israeli conflict rolls on, confusing as ever. Earlier this month Australian newspapers reported an impending reconciliation referendum for the Palestinian population.

But after a family was killed last week on a Gaza beach, apparently by a Hamas mine (though Israel was blamed), the terrorist organisation cancelled a 15-month unilateral ceasefire and resumed attacks against Israel.  

The referendum looks increasingly likely to be stillborn.  

Some might be tempted to sigh that both sides are as bad as each other. But there exists a simple test to determine which side is morally superior.

From that day in AD311, when Christianity changed from a personal religion to one practised by leaders, Christian theologians have wrestled with the question of whether it’s ever just to use violence.  

The notion of pacifism is appealing. To refuse to raise one’s hands – even in self-defence – is, to some, what Christianity is all about. But a country’s leadership cannot follow such principles.  

Personal sacrifice is up to the individual. Collective sacrifice – decided by a ruler – is wrong and contrary to biblical teaching.  

This being the case, early Christian theologians understood that armed force is sometimes justified and occasionally even necessary. This understanding evolved into the “just war” theory and it came via the minds of some of Christianity’s biggest names — Augustine and Thomas Aquinas among them.  

The laws and conventions of modern warfare, including the Geneva Conventions, stem from “just war” theory. And in modern wars, killing or capturing the top tier of the enemy, and then neutralising the second tier in the same fashion, and so on, is the most economical method – in terms of blood, money and time – for an army to defeat its enemy.  

This realisation led Israel to adopt a policy of targeted killings against Palestinian terrorists, most recently two Islamic Jihad fighters who were on their way to launch yet more rockets at Israeli towns.  

The policy has been particularly successful. Hamas didn’t declare that ceasefire 15 months ago because it suddenly became peaceful. No. It called a halt to its attacks on buses and cafes because it was losing.  

Israel had “taken out” the top two tiers of leadership and was working its way through the third, and Hamas needed a breather.  

However, Israel’s policy hasn’t been without controversy. Sadly – tragically – innocent civilians occasionally die during these pinpoint strikes. The strike against the Islamic Jihad terrorists also resulted in the deaths of seven innocents, killed as they gathered around the van containing the Islamic Jihad rockets.  

A second Israeli missile hit the car a minute after the first, and it’s thought that the explosives on the Palestinian rockets multiplied the blast.  

How can these deaths be justified? The Caiaphan Principle holds that it is justified to harm some innocents in order to save the life of a much greater number of others. The source comes from the Gospel of John, where Caiaphas holds, “Ye know nothing at all, nor consider that it is expedient for us, that one man should die for the people, and that the whole nation perish not.”  

This is not to say that Israel believes the lives of seven Palestinian civilians should be exchanged for some peace and quiet. What it means is that if Israel does everything it can to minimise civilian casualties, then the risk that some might be harmed along with the terrorists is acceptable.

Remember that when Israel killed the leaders of Hamas and the Popular Resistance Committees, in April 2004 and a fortnight ago respectively, civilians weren’t harmed.  

Israel has never targeted civilians, though obviously and regrettably sometimes it makes mistakes. Palestinians, on the other hand, target civilians almost exclusively and rejoice on the streets when successful.  

The ratio of civilian to combatant deaths on both sides is striking. For every two Palestinian civilians killed by Israel, three Palestinian combatants (be they guerrillas, terrorists or the sanitised militants) are killed. That’s a ratio of one civilian to 1.5 combatants (not including the more than 400 Palestinians killed by Palestinians in the past five years).  

The statistics are reversed on the other side. Slain Israeli civilians make up 3 1/2 times the number of dead Israeli soldiers.  

The results are clear. Israel doesn’t target civilians and the Palestinians do. Yes, Israel makes mistakes, as last Tuesday’s tragedy makes clear, but this doesn’t lessen the justness of Israel’s cause or methods.  

Nor does it deny Israel’s right and duty to defend its citizens against rocket and bomb attacks on its towns and villages.