There Is No Military Objective In Gaza (guest post)


“There is no feasible or achievable military goal, legitimate or otherwise, for Israel’s bloody campaign in Gaza.”
The following is a guest post by Muhammad Ali Khalidi, Presidential Professor of Philosophy at City University of New York Graduate Center.

It is part of the ongoing series, “Philosophers On the Israel-Hamas Conflict“.


There Is No Military Objective In Gaza
by Muhammad Ali Khalidi

Many of the philosophical discussions about the brutal conflagration currently taking place in Gaza are premised on the idea that there is a viable military objective for the Israeli onslaught, namely the elimination or deterrence of Hamas. But there is no need to wade into discussions of the niceties of proportionality or the doctrine of double effect. That is because there is no feasible or achievable military goal, legitimate or otherwise, for Israel’s bloody campaign in Gaza.

The stated goal of the Israeli military campaign is the elimination, destruction, or deterrence of Hamas. But it is clear from the five previous major assaults on Gaza since 2006 that Hamas has not been eliminated, destroyed, or deterred one bit. Israel has repeatedly attacked Gaza with the declared aim of eliminating or dealing a decisive blow to Hamas, has assassinated its top political and military leaders, and has destroyed Gaza’s infrastructure, and each time Hamas has emerged stronger and more determined. The current commander of Hamas’ military wing, Mohammed Deif, lost his wife, 7-month infant son, and 3-year-old daughter in an Israeli airstrike in 2014. Mass killings don’t deter, they just breed more violence.

Could this be the final battle in which Hamas is smitten once and for all? Even if it were, there will be other Palestinian militants waiting to take on Hamas’ role, as long as Palestinians are denied the right of self-determination and subject to unspeakable systemic violence. Even if Hamas is eliminated militarily, some other group will rise up to take its place. In fact, there are organizations like Islamic Jihad waiting in the wings. For the past 16 years, Israel has prevented the importation into Gaza of anything that could conceivably be used to make a weapon (including concrete, glass, fishing ropes, and numerous other items), yet Palestinian militants have always found a way around even the most draconian Israeli methods of siege and control.

As of this writing, Israel’s bombardment of Gaza has killed over 10,000 Palestinians, including more than 4,000 children, more children than have been killed in global armed conflict in each of the past four years. Since 2000, and before this assault, Israeli forces have killed 7,779 Palestinians in the Gaza Strip, with many more injured, some permanently; of those, 1,741 were minors, according to the Israeli human rights organization B’tselem.  Any Palestinian living in Gaza today who is over 20 years old has experienced the trauma of numerous major Israeli attacks, has endured life under aerial bombardment multiple times, and is likely to know someone, a relative, friend, neighbor, or acquaintance, who has been killed or injured by the successive Israeli onslaughts.

As long as millions of people are living under a form of military occupation enforced through a total blockade on the movement of people and goods, and as long as they live under an apartheid regime, they will find ways to resist. They will sometimes do so peacefully (as in the Great March of Return in Gaza in 2018-2019), and at other times violently, but they will not drop their demand to live with justice and dignity.

So what’s the Israeli government supposed to do? It could reach roughly the same conclusion that the government in South Africa arrived at in the early 1990s and dismantle the system of apartheid and military occupation, giving every person between the Mediterranean Sea and Jordan River equal citizenship rights, regardless of religion or ethnicity.

Of course, it will be objected that Hamas is not the African National Congress and that the Israeli government cannot be expected to make an accommodation with terrorists. But the ANC was once branded a terrorist organization by both the US and UK. In the late 1980s, the ANC mounted multiple attacks against South African civilians in its effort to overthrow apartheid. Those attacks were not on the scale of the latest brutal Hamas assault, but the point is that the ANC military wing deliberately targeted civilians just a few years before the dismantling of apartheid.

It is sometimes said that Hamas will not rest until it has eliminated all Jews from historic Palestine.  But just a few days ago, Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh said they were ready to start negotiations for a two-state solution with Jerusalem as its capital.  If that solution is off the table because successive Israeli governments have made sure that the two-state solution is unattainable (through rampant settlement and land expropriation), then the one-state solution would seem to be the only option. If Israel dismantles apartheid and acknowledges the right of self-determination for all, no credible Palestinian leader or organization could possibly resist.

The problem is that the Israeli government sees no room for self-determination for anyone but Jews in the land of Israel, including the occupied territories. The current Israeli cabinet’s statement of principles reads: “The Jewish people have an exclusive and inalienable right to all parts of the Land of Israel.” And Article 1 of the infamous Jewish Nation State Law of 2018 states: “the right to national self-determination in the State of Israel is unique to the Jewish People.” Despite its blatantly racist character, that law was upheld as constitutional by the Israeli Supreme Court, which is supposed to curb the legislature’s more extreme excesses.

It might seem utopian to call for one state in Israel-Palestine. But earlier this year, hundreds of thousands of Israeli Jews took to the streets to protest what many considered to be their country’s move towards a far-right Jewish theocracy. Enfranchising the Palestinians who live in their midst, enclosed by walls and separated by fences, might be the best way of avoiding such a dystopian outcome.

The regime in South Africa did not decide to end apartheid as a result of a moral epiphany. It happened partly under international pressure and increasing isolation, thanks to the global boycott campaign, led initially by students and trade unions. That campaign is emulated by the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) movement for Palestine, including the Palestinian Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel (PACBI), which has now been endorsed by over 100 philosophers (and counting) in this statement on Gaza.

Philosophers are generally not much good at history, but I’m lucky to have lived long enough now to be able to draw some lessons from it. I survived the Israeli invasion of Lebanon in 1982, which left around 20,000 Lebanese and Palestinians killed, at least half of them civilians. The objective of that campaign was to eliminate the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO). Several years later, Israel was negotiating with the PLO. I also lived through the Israeli onslaught on Lebanon in 2006, which left over 1,000 civilians dead, 30% of whom were under the age of 13. The announced objective: to destroy Hizbullah—which is much stronger today than it was 17 years ago.

People can argue over whether Israel’s military ends justify the means that it’s pursuing to wage its war on Gaza, and whether the obscenely high number of innocent Palestinian civilians killed is proportionate to its objectives. But that all presupposes that there is a viable military objective, and there just isn’t.


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Omer
Omer
6 months ago

Israel is to blame for much of the conflict, granted.

But should it not have retaliated against “the brutal Hamas assault”? Don’t they have a duty towards their citizens to safeguard them from rape and rampage?

Sadly wars are sometimes justified. Even if (as always) it is uncertain how they would end. And even if both sides are to blame for much of the causes.

What other reaction you propose Israel should undertake? (and I agree they should also work towards ending the apartheid regime).

Your post seems to presuppose there are other ways of handling the situation from the perspective of Israel, if so what are they?

TakingLivesSeriously
TakingLivesSeriously
Reply to  Omer
6 months ago

Israel does have a duty to protect its citizens. It also has a duty not to kill innocent children. Israel could meet these duties by ending the apartheid.

Ending the apartheid does not mean “victory” for Hamas. Hamas leaders have committed horrific terrorist crimes. Israeli leaders have committed war crimes. Both leaders can be tried in an international court for their crimes. That kind of solution usually doesn’t require killing thousands of children along the way.

Platypus
Platypus
Reply to  TakingLivesSeriously
6 months ago

Honest question. What do you think is involved in “ending the apartheid” in Gaza?

Presumably the key change would be removing the blockade, which would leave Hamas in charge, and let them more freely import fuel and weapons.

But wouldn’t that be a “victory” for Hamas?

TakingLivesSeriously
TakingLivesSeriously
Reply to  Platypus
6 months ago

As Khalidi writes: “dismantle the system of apartheid and military occupation, giving every person between the Mediterranean Sea and Jordan River equal citizenship rights, regardless of religion or ethnicity.”

That is a fatal blow to Hamas, given their ideology.

GradStudent
GradStudent
Reply to  TakingLivesSeriously
6 months ago

Is this supposed to be some kind of common effort between Hamas and Israel? So is the idea that Hamas also makes some gestures of good will, like handing over weapons or access to their tunnel infrastructure? Or does Israel have to make the first steps unilaterally by easing up the blockade etc?

It seems to me quite easy to say “dismantle the system” but when both sides are so far up the ladder of escalation, it seems odd to ask one side to let down their guard when the other is evidently intent on indiscriminately murdering them.

TakingLivesSeriously
TakingLivesSeriously
Reply to  GradStudent
6 months ago

Since both sides are up the ladder of escalation, we should just let Israel bomb Gaza (actually, we should insist that Israel has an obligation to bomb Gaza — apologies for betraying “professional and moral failure” again), and let Hamas throw its rockets.

Makes sense.

GradStudent
GradStudent
Reply to  TakingLivesSeriously
6 months ago

Apologies if my question somehow upset you. I am genuinely interested in what the envisioned scenario here is. I am by no means an expert on the topic and I would love to learn.

For what it’s worth, I found your response below in response to Platypus helpful.

My only worry would be to what degree Hamas really relies on popular support and to what extent they’ve simply made themselves the dictatorial governors of Gaza, relying on force and not the kind of popular support that could be changed in response to Israeli policy.

Platypus
Platypus
Reply to  TakingLivesSeriously
6 months ago

Thank you, TakingLivesSeriously. That’s helpful.

I think where we disagree is that I don’t think Israel has the ability to *unilaterally* create one democratic state with equal rights for Palestinians and Israelis. Hamas doesn’t want a liberal democracy, and it isn’t going to deliver a fatal blow to itself!

TakingLivesSeriously
TakingLivesSeriously
Reply to  Platypus
6 months ago

I see your point. Khalidi mentions this worry, too. I thought the idea was that a major political shift (probably with the help of regional powers and PLO) would make Hamas irrelevant. Hamas is an attractive force for angry Gazans under the conditions of apartheid. But its appeal would disappear if Israel had a radical change in attitude, and it would also lose its regional support. (Except for the support it receives from Iran, which certainly is a serious problem for any talk of peace…)

Platypus
Platypus
Reply to  TakingLivesSeriously
6 months ago

Good points about the appeal of Hamas and the influence of Iran — I appreciate the good-faith replies.

Yep
Yep
Reply to  TakingLivesSeriously
6 months ago

I think that’s correct. 85% of Hamas fighters are orphans. Going by the demographics of Gaza, well over 60% of people in Gaza is under 25, it’s safe to say that the bulk of Hamas militants are people who grew up in atrocious conditions, had their family and probably many friends and acquaintances murdered by the state of Israel. It’s not hard to see why these people would join a radical group that aims to fight whoever does these things to them.

If the material conditions that were at the basis of their hatred disappear, the hatred itself will dissipate over time too.

Hamas exists because many Palestinians feel there is no other way to a just, lasting peace. And it’s hard to blame these young people who grew up in Gaza, completely enclosed, no self-determination, no prospects for the future but destitude.

David Wallace
Reply to  Yep
6 months ago

And it’s hard to blame these young people

If you read some of the accounts of just exactly what those young people did on October 7th, you might find it gets a little easier.

William Bell
Reply to  Platypus
6 months ago

Hamas is fine with working within a democracy, they first came to power in an election and then stopped participating in the democratic system only after Fatah (under US and Israeli pressure) launched a coup. They’ve made overtures to Fatah for new elections, but these have been blocked by Israel: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fatah%E2%80%93Hamas_reconciliation_process

krell_154
krell_154
Reply to  TakingLivesSeriously
6 months ago

You don’t really believe this, do you?

The first thing Hamas would do in that situation, is using newly acquired freedom of movement to arm themselves and kill thousands of Israelis.

How do I know this? Well, they kinda keep repeating that this is exactly what they’ll do as soon as they have the opportuinity.

Yazan Freij
Yazan Freij
Reply to  Omer
6 months ago

Israel also has a duty towards the subjects under its military occupation (effectively all Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza). I fail to see why its duties towards its citizens should be prioritised in this case given that denying Palestinians citizenship (whether as equal citizens in Israel or in their own independent and soverign state) is a root cause of this endless cycle of violence.

Michel
Reply to  Omer
6 months ago

To my ignorant ears, “safeguard” and “defend” sound very different from “retaliate”.

And when the retaliation seems likely to harm the very hostages you failed to protect in the first place… Well, again, to my ignorant ears, that sounds rather unlike “safeguarding,” “protection,” or “self-defence.”

“Retaliate” sounds to me a lot more like “revenge”. But what do I know?

Raja
Raja
Reply to  Omer
6 months ago

Israel has a duty to protect its citizens, of course. But why is the assumption that this duty has to be military? Israel could declare its desire to start immediate (re)negotiations for a two-state solution. Yes, this Israeli government certainly won’t do this, given its composition, but providing the Palestinians with hope for a just future when their rights to self-determination and territory are realized is the best way to get rid of radical elements like Hamas.

Mohan Matthen
6 months ago

Thank you, Muhammed Ali, for so clearly exposing the fundamental absurdity of Israel’s stated war aims. Just after the shocking and unforgivable October 7th attacks, Netanyahu vowed to eliminate Hamas completely. (I take it that this was to cover his earlier open support of Hamas as a counter-weight to Hezbollah.) But he is fully aware that, as Muhammed Ali argues so well, it is impossible to eliminate Hamas without also eliminating a very large proportion of the Gazan population. (And even then it may be impossible.) This really the reason for all the bombing. It’s not unintended “collateral damage.”

There is the question Omer asks: What should Israel do to retaliate against the horrific and unforgivable attack on October 7? I don’t know. Perhaps they have to pursue the leaders responsible by stealth and over time. This, supposedly, is what they did after Munich. They can do it again. What they can’t do–at least not with any shred of justification–is to destroy every building that houses even a single member of Hamas. They cannot do this and justify themselves by saying that Hamas was using the other residents of the building as “shields.”

Python
Python
Reply to  Mohan Matthen
6 months ago

Yes, Muhammed, this is truly an excellent post. Thank you for writing with such (moral) clarity

David Wallace
Reply to  Mohan Matthen
6 months ago

‘[I]t is impossible to eliminate Hamas without also eliminating a very large proportion of the Gazan population. (And even then it may be impossible.) This really the reason for all the bombing. It’s not unintended “collateral damage.”’

Just narrowly on this: if the IDF plan is just to kill all of Hamas’s members with airstrikes (and in the process obliterate the whole city), why is there a ground incursion? Wouldn’t it be a lot safer and simpler just to keep bombing? To my amateur eyes, the war so far looks like an attempt to capture the city, not destroy it: air strikes to degrade fortifications and eliminate concentrations of forces and leadership targets, then a fairly methodical ground assault supported by more air power. And that description seems to match what the IDF is currently saying about its objectives. (Which is not to comment on whether capturing the city would be either advisable or moral.)

Mohan Matthen
Reply to  David Wallace
6 months ago

I didn’t mention airstrikes. I don’t know how IDF plans to proceed and I don’t know what they plan to do if they capture the city.

Chris
Chris
Reply to  Mohan Matthen
6 months ago

When you mentioned “the reason for all the bombing” what did you mean by “bombing” in that case? “non-airstrike bombing”?

Mohan Matthen
Reply to  Chris
6 months ago

I was using the term loosely. Explosions. Destruction. Projectiles. I’m not sure it matters. But if it does, then I’ll try my best to get clearer in my own head.

David Wallace
6 months ago

I find this too sweeping. In 2014, ISIS was perpetrating atrocities in Europe and the Middle East. It is no longer doing so. That is not because its enemies made peace and addressed the root cause of the conflict: it is because ISIS was militarily defeated, at great cost in lives. ISIS still exists, but the war against it has greatly damaged it and greatly reduced its threat. And a lot of how that happened is that ISIS previously had a base in which it could operate with relative impunity, and that base was removed from it. (Ditto with Al-Qaeda and Afghanistan; again Al-Qaeda still exists, again it is drastically reduced in capability.)

Perhaps there are specific reasons why that is unfeasible for Hamas. (In particular, I think it is highly reasonable to worry that Israel has no good plan for who will control Gaza after it removes Hamas, in which case it might revert to a fortress for Hamas or a successor.) And perhaps it is feasible but morally unacceptable given the harm that will come to civilians in Gaza. (Indeed, perhaps the wars against ISIS and Al-Qaeda were unacceptable for similar reasons.) But there is no systematic principle that military power cannot achieve lasting reductions in a terror group’s capabilities.

On a separate point, I don’t find the comparison between the ANC and Hamas persuasive. The ANC actually signed the Geneva convention. They were imperfect in keeping to it (but then so are state actors) but their leadership consistently and sustainedly tried to prevent civilian casualties, including censuring individuals and abandoning some tactics. This from the Truth and Reconciliation Commission report (source: same link as in the OP): “ANC had, in the course of the conflict, contravened the Geneva Protocols and was responsible for the commission of gross human rights violations…of the three main parties to the [South African] conflict, only the ANC committed itself to observing the tenets of the Geneva Protocols and, in the main, conducting the armed struggle in accordance within the international humanitarian law“. There’s no comparison between the imperfect way the ANC fought and the level of savagery and sadism which Hamas showed a month ago – and which they have explicitly said that they intend to keep doing.

Yazan Freij
Yazan Freij
Reply to  David Wallace
6 months ago

Al Qaeda was defeated militarily only for the more savage and sadist ISIS to take its place. Experts are now warning that even more extreme organizations can emerge in the coming years making use of power vaccums in different countries. Unfortunately, the current mainstream Western rhetoric by following a gross double standard when it comes to Israel will just play into the hands of these extremists.

Benj
Reply to  Yazan Freij
6 months ago

ISIS was formed in the mid-2000s, in Iraq and Syria, from the remnants of the Saddam-era Iraqi military and security forces, after the latter were preposterously dissolved by Bush/Cheney-appointed recent graduates from Liberty University. Al Qaeda was formed in the early 1990s, in Afghanistan, from the ‘Mujaheddin’ militias armed by the USA to attack the invading USSR. To think that ISIS in some sense “took the place” of Al Qaeda requires a vision of a sort of contagion, something unlikely to be realized in any genuine phenomena of human affairs.

giulia
giulia
Reply to  David Wallace
6 months ago

I find this to be a bit unfair to the OP.
You first argue, by drawing an implicit parallelism between Hamas/ISIS and the response strategies adopted to defeat or deflate both, that “there is no systematic principle that military power cannot achieve lasting reductions in a terror group’s capabilities.” I really don’t see that this claim can be plausibly attributed to Prof Khalidi here. The place where he comes closest to making a “sweeping” generalisation of the sort you’re criticising is the short sentence “Mass killings don’t deter, they just breed more violence.” Other than that, the OP’s analysis and resulting assessment are quite clearly and explicitly context-sensitive.

You then say that you find the “comparison between the ANC and Hamas” unpersuasive. But, again, the OP did not at any point say, or suggest that they think, that Hamas is ‘like’ the ANC. 
On my reading at least, the parallelism with South Africa was invoked (a) on the basis of salient similarities such as the enduring presence of brutal apartheid regimes, not a comparison between Hamas/ANC per se; and (b) as an exemplification – perhaps even a reminder – of how political and diplomatic (vs military) moves can be successful and have been successful in recent history. 
The latter point is especially relevant when coupled with the subsequent remarks as to the repeated failures of Israel’s military ‘strategy’ over the years: combined, they speak against the defensibility of pursuing this same strategy now. (Where by ‘same’ I mean ‘abominably violent and unbearably more horrifying version of’.) Rather, they speak in favour of pouring all efforts into a political solution.
Again, and at any rate, that’s my read of Prof Khalidi’s argument.

I hope this is more or less clear, and I also hope I’ve not dramatically misunderstood your comment.

Gabe
Gabe
Reply to  David Wallace
6 months ago

On the point about the ANC: I think you’re right that Hamas isn’t really equivalent to the ANC, but there were other significant parties in the anti-apartheid movement that were much more like Hamas (the APLA pan-Africanists, for instance, openly engaged in eliminationist rhetoric and violent, indiscriminate attacks). It seems to me the existence of such groups doesn’t change the fact that the Apartheid system had to end, and in fact the end of Apartheid was probably the most effective measure to undermine the appeal of the APLA and others. I take it much of Khalidi’s point is preserved if we switch the comparison from ANC-Hamas to APLA-Hamas

David Wallace
Reply to  Gabe
6 months ago

That’s an interesting point, but now I’m way out of my depth on South African history.

William Bell
Reply to  David Wallace
6 months ago

Re: ANC vs Hamas

Look into the Hamas-Fatah Reconciliation process, you don’t necessarily have to deal with Hamas-controlled organizations in order to make peace if you let that play out.

Re: ISIS vs Hamas

ISIS spread by conquest, Hamas won an election. While they’ve since been in power undemocratically, the impression I get is they’re not treated as occupiers. When areas of Iraq were liberated from ISIS, locals dispensed mob justice about ISIS members who remained. I doubt Hamas will find so little sympathy, particularly with the ongoing mass slaughter of Palestinians.

Ray V.
Ray V.
6 months ago

There are major issues with Israel’s response.

If a nation is invaded, then defensive war is legitimate to defend its sovereignty.

Israel has not been invaded. This was a terrorist attack out of an occupied territory.

Gaza is not a democracy. The people of Gaza are, morally speaking, exactly the same as the citizens of Israel. They are immune from attack. They are subjugated by both Israel and Hamas. So how can it be permissible to kill them indiscriminately?

Also, the argument that is given is that Israel’s defense is an argument that is prospective, not current as Israel is not being invaded.

It is extremely understandable that Israel wants to rid itself of Hamas because of the prospect that Hamas will strike again.

This is not a causus belli though. Gaza is not a sovereign country but an occupied territory. Israel is facing a future threat, not a current threat.

They are sacrificing the lives of Palestinian civilians and the hostages for future lives—the lives that might be taken by Hamas at some future date.

The response does not fit the rules of war in any way. In the rules of war, the lives taken are supposed to be currently defensive, not prospectively defensive to ensure future security.

Particularly, the military cannot eliminate civilians at this rate. By double-effect principles, you are permitted to eliminate the military capacity of a current threat but certainly not permitted to eliminate civilians to make it easier for your soldiers to fight in a certain area or because there is some small chance there could be something of military value where civilians are gathered.

If that were permissible, what is the point of any jus in bello rules as everyone could violate them at any time?

If one is not attacking a sovereign entity in defense, a siege to starve the population and kill them with thirst is not appropriate. Even if one is, it is questionable.

Morally speaking, this is therefore much more like a law enforcement action than a war.

But in a law enforcement action, you cannot kill bystanders in the way.

An attack on this scale also doesn’t make sense if you consider that the reason this happened was a total failure of Israel’s security apparatus. Israel has means to protect itself with security. It has successfully done so. The security catastrophically and astonishingly failed. However, the level of security that Israel is capable of should be considered a reason to not kill Palestinians indiscriminately since there are many other options to remove the current threat Hamas poses gradually.

Just war theory is clear about proportionality but also about last resort, which—even assuming a sovereign entity is being attacked—is not a standard which is satisfied.

The attack is terrifying and horrific but Hamas used very simple means to execute it. The drones are not military drones but hobby/commercial drones. They used mopeds and grenades and they have many homemade weapons. One cannot eliminate a capacity of this sort because anyone can muster this kind of capacity. This is a capacity any terrorist group has—-the capacity to do atrocities on civilians with limited means.

So the attack is only temporarily cutting back on whatever stockpiles they have. It is being treated like a permanent solution but it is not one. It cannot be one.

This is not merely a problem with Israel. The US also made these seem moral and strategic errors in going after terrorists, violating all standards of moral decency and many international laws. This did not work out. ISIS now exists and the Taliban controls more of Afghanistan than it did when the US invaded. The US has effectively made the Taliban the complete rulers of the nation. Bin Laden escaped.

We have washed our hands of it but it was pointless.

It simply isn’t legitimate to have a ‘total war’ scenario against terrorists because terrorists are the most evil perpetrators, and therefore international law is moot—no quarter can be given and no peace can be sought— and also claim that you are fighting a conventional war.

The claim is that Hamas cannot be negotiated with for terms of peace. But if it is a conventional war, why not? And if it is not a conventional war, then it is being waged completely unjustly.

As with the US war against Afghanistan and Iraq, Israel is trying to have it both ways. Terrorists are special and unlike all other enemies and this is a conventional war of self-defense. The latter doesn’t work and the former doesn’t allow civilians to be killed.

David Wallace
Reply to  Ray V.
6 months ago

Just narrowly on the right of self-defense: after 9/11 the security council unanimously and repeatedly affirmed that states have a right of military self-defense against large-scale terrorist attacks by non-state actors. I’ll defer to experts, but I don’t think there is a lot of space in international law to argue that Israel lacks a right of self defense here. And I don’t think the status of Gaza affects that. If it’s a sovereign territory, 10/7 was an attack on one state by another. If it’s occupied territory, there is an enemy military active in that territory. If it’s part of Israel, this is an armed insurrection. Those are all situations where use of force is lawful.

Of course, all that is compatible with thinking that Israel is exercising its self-defense right imprudently and/or morally, or indeed with thinking that it has no moral right of self-defense even if it has a legal one.

Scott Paeth
Reply to  Ray V.
6 months ago

To provide an illustrative hypothetical here — Imagine if, instead of Gaza City, Hamas had managed somehow to occupy Tel Aviv, and was using the Jewish citizens of Tel Aviv as “human shields.” Would it be likely that Israel’s policy in that case would be to bomb the city to oblivion, irrespective of civilian casualties? I suspect not.

krell_154
krell_154
Reply to  Scott Paeth
6 months ago

Do states have equal responsibility to protect their citizens as they do to minimize the harm done to citizens of the regime they are in war with?

Scott Paeth
Reply to  krell_154
6 months ago

Yes. The principle of noncombatant immunity is central to just war theory. But also, as Ray notes, civilians under occupation specifically are entitled to the same protection as civilian citizens of the occupier.

Last edited 6 months ago by Scott Paeth
JDRox
JDRox
Reply to  Scott Paeth
6 months ago

It is getting frustrating to have to keep making this point, but Israel’s policy is *clearly not* to bomb Gaza into oblivion irrespective of civilian casualties. This doesn’t mean that their actual policy is permissible, but it is hard to resist the thought that people are straw-manning the Israeli position because their actual position is not obviously indefensible.

Scott Paeth
Reply to  JDRox
6 months ago

Really? I can imagine it’s often frustrating to have to make an argument in the face of the transparent facts of the matter, but I can hardly sympathize with you. Perhaps you have a technical definition of “oblivion” in mind that can allow you to say that this is not Israel’s policy, but I disagree. And I think your use of the phrase “irrespective of civilian casualties” is telling here, since that’s EXACTLY what I am referring to.

Repeatedly in this discussion the claim has been made that, the words and actions of Israel notwithstanding, there is a lack of evidence that it is failing to use discrimination in targeting civilians. But I’d say that the burden of proof goes the other way, and certainly SHOULD go the other way — given the massive civilian casualties, coupled with the words of numerous Israeli leaders, it is incumbent on people who wish to argue that Israel is in fact practicing discrimination to demonstrate how that is the case. Thus far, I have yet to see a convincing argument on that front.

JDRox
JDRox
Reply to  Scott Paeth
6 months ago

If Israel’s policy is to bomb Gaza into oblivion irrespective of civilian casualties, why are they using large numbers of expensive precision munitions instead of a much smaller number of cheaper but more powerful traditional munitions?

Scott Paeth
Reply to  JDRox
6 months ago

If those “precision munitions” were as expensive as you claim, then Israel clearly failed to get their money’s worth if they were intended to minimize civilian casualties.

I’ll also add that failing to do the maximum possible amount of damage is not a very compelling case for “seeking to minimize civilian casualties.”

JDRox
JDRox
Reply to  Scott Paeth
6 months ago

I didn’t claim that Israel is seeking to minimize civilian casualties, at least if that means at the expense of other aims. That is at the other extreme from not caring at all about civilian casualties. My point is just that they care some significant amount about civilian casualties–they are taking civilian casualties into serious account in their decision making–and clearly don’t have a policy of acting “irrespective of civilian casualties”, which is what you suggested. Perhaps they don’t care enough about (Palestinian) civilian casualties. I am open to that being true. But the claim that they don’t care at all isn’t credible.

Scott Paeth
Reply to  JDRox
6 months ago

So, just so I’m clear, you’ve decided to focus on the clearly hyperbolic expression in my statement in order to not address the central moral claim, which is that, were this an area largely populated by Jews rather than Arabs, they would not be using these, clearly disproportionate, tactics.

JDRox
JDRox
Reply to  Scott Paeth
6 months ago

There was a whole debate on the other recent thread about this very claim, so I can hardly be expected to know that you didn’t think it was true. And if you didn’t think it was true, it would have been much more straightforward for you to just say “I was being hyperbolic” in response to my initial comment.

I do think your hypothetical is interesting, although I need you to spell out the argument for why it shows that Israel’s conduct in Gaza is immoral. Morality is about what’s permissible to do, not what people would do. I wouldn’t divert a trolley to run over my child to save five strangers, but that’s not relevant to the question of whether such a diversion would be morally permissible or even required.

Scott Paeth
Reply to  JDRox
6 months ago

I mean, again, I’m not sure what meaning of “oblivion” you might have thought I meant that was literal — like total and complete absence of being? Regardless, let’s move on.

As for why my hypothetical shows that Israel’s strategy is immoral, the very brief version of the answer is that it demonstrates that a) If this is the case, it implies Israel has the means to achieve similar objectives with less destructive means and b) that its choice of means is based on the ethnic or religious identity of the people against whom the means are being used.

In the case of a) once again that’s a violation of the principle of discrimination in just war theory, and in the case of b) it’s racist. And taken together it implies that the reason why Israel has decided to use these means is because they value Arab lives less than Jewish lives.

JDRox
JDRox
Reply to  Scott Paeth
6 months ago

Sorry if I’m misunderstanding you, but it seems like you’re saying it’s racist for a government to give preferential treatment to its own citizens. That seems…false. In any case, one of Israel’s aims in all of this is to protect Israeli citizens. That is clearly a legitimate goal for a government to have. When bombing Gaza, that goal must be traded-off against the goal of not killing civilians. But if they were bombing Tel Aviv, there would be no tradeoff, since the civilians are themselves Israeli citizens. It seems perfectly reasonable, not racist, for this change in circumstances to lead to a change in behavior.

Scott Paeth
Reply to  JDRox
6 months ago

I’m not saying that its racist for a government to give preferential treatment to its own citizens as such. It may be wrong to do so, but it’s not racist. But it IS racist to make distinctions between populations on the basis of their ethnicity — e.g., to engage in a massive bombing campaign against Arabs in the full knowledge that, if they were Jewish, you would not do so.

And again, to emphasis a point made elsewhere in the thread, occupiers ARE morally obligated to treat those under occupation with identical respect to their human rights as their own citizens. And I maintain that, even after the formal withdrawal of Israeli settlers from Gaza, it is still functionally under occupation and has been during that whole period until today.

JDRox
JDRox
Reply to  Scott Paeth
6 months ago

First, I don’t think the race part of it is playing much of a role here. If there were a Jewish anti-Zionist terrorist group attacking Israel ala Hamas, I think Israel would treat them much like they’re treating Hamas. But at this point we’re just speculating.

Second, I don’t think it’s true that Gaza was under occupation before all this, or even functionally under occupation, at least under standard definitions of ‘occupation’. You might have some expanded definition of ‘occupation’, but on that expanded definition I’m pretty skeptical of the moral principle you enunciate. (I mean, I actually accept the principle as written, but as written it begs the question. Of course human rights must be respected, full stop. But we are assuming that that permits some wartime activities that unintentionally but foreseeably result in civilian deaths, which means that such activities don’t violate people’s human rights. The real question is about protecting human rights, not respecting them. And I don’t think there’s a moral obligation on governments to equally protect the human rights of its citizens: e.g., in a just war, it is permissible to protect the human rights of those contributing to the war effort more vigilantly than the rights of people not contributing to the war effort.)

giulia
giulia
Reply to  JDRox
6 months ago

It is my understanding that according to the internationally recognised definition of ‘occupation’ Gaza was and continues to be occupied.
See for instance https://www.icrc.org/en/document/ihl-occupying-power-responsibilities-occupied-palestinian-territories
and https://www.hrw.org/news/2023/10/27/how-does-international-humanitarian-law-apply-israel-and-gaza

Last edited 6 months ago by giulia
JDRox
JDRox
Reply to  giulia
6 months ago

According to your first source, “A territory is considered occupied when it is placed under the authority of a hostile army.” But Gaza wasn’t under the authority of the IDF, it was under the authority of Hamas. I know the source says that Israel has occupied Gaza since 1967, but while that may have described things from 1967-2005, I don’t see how it described things in 2010. Your second source says that “Israel has maintained effective control over Gaza [since 2005]“. This seems clearly false: Hamas has effective control over Gaza, not Israel. If Israel had effective control over Gaza they wouldn’t have allowed the tunnel system to be created, all those rockets to have been launched, or the 10/7 attack to have been planned and conducted. Those things happened only because Hamas, not Israel, had effective control over Gaza. I understand that “having effective control” doesn’t entail having absolute control, but there are loads of other examples of things happening in Gaza that Hamas but not Israel wants, and hardly any examples (that I know of at least) of things that Israel but not Hamas wants. Anyhow, maybe I’m missing something, if so I apologize, but I need the argument to be more spelled out than it is in these sources.

David Wallace
Reply to  JDRox
6 months ago

I believe it’s pretty contested in the academic international-law literature: I’ve read plausible arguments either way. (fwiw I find the ‘no occupation, but still obligations under IHL’ case most persuasive, but this is not my area).

JDRox
JDRox
Reply to  David Wallace
6 months ago

I’d be interested in reading any plausible pro-categorize-it-as-occupation arguments if it wouldn’t be too hard to link to them. As may be obvious, I’m struggling badly to appreciate the other side on this one.

giulia
giulia
Reply to  JDRox
6 months ago

I take it that the reasoning goes more or less like this:
1) A territory is considered occupied when it is placed under the authority of a hostile army.
2) Gaza remains under the authority of Israel’s army insofar as Israel’s army (not Hamas) controls the borders of the territory (more specifically, it controls the movement of goods, resources and people across those borders). 
3) Israel’s army is a hostile army.
4) Therefore, Gaza is considered occupied by Israel’s army.

… I’m not sure whether this is what you were after? Apologies if I’ve misunderstood your question.

TF Rector
TF Rector
Reply to  giulia
6 months ago

“Authority” is cashed out in terms of “effective control”, which itself comprises a number of elements, most importantly, in this context, the following: control over airspace, territorial waters, land borders, basic civilian “means of life” facilities like water and electrical power, and crucial governmental functions like the population registry (management of citizens’ juridical identities). Israel controls all of these. Regarding the one land crossing with Egypt: the Israeli military decides who can cross, and at any time can unilaterally close the crossing. So they control that too.

Some interpretations of “effective control” require as a sine qua non a deployed force of troops on the ground, or an entirely subordinate local governing proxy,—since Israel has (had) neither, on that construal it is not an occupying authority. But this interpretation is rejected by the UN (GA and various specialized subagencies), EU, ICRC, African Union, ICC, the major international and Israeli human rights NGOs, and the international legal professional bodies that have been asked to render an opinion. They all hold that Israel is an occupier, and therefore has the duties that come with this. I think many also cite Israel’s full-spectrum surveillance oversight and precision targeting ability as sufficient for the “military presence” part of the conception. (Hence the shock that Oct 7 could even happen)

To my knowledge it is only Israel itself and the US that formally claim the withdrawal in 2005 ended the occupation.

There’s also, I think, consensus on the notion that IF you reject “effective control”, and so occupation, then you have to accept that Gaza has been under “siege” by Israel for 17 years.

Were this the case, IHL’s siege laws would have been in effect all that time, not just in the last few weeks, when the Israeli government ordered an explicit “complete siege”—no food, water, fuel etc. Because it purposively deprives civilians of the basic objects indispensable to survival, that order violates international humanitarian law: https://ihl-databases.icrc.org/en/customary-ihl/v1/rule103

Last edited 6 months ago by TF Rector
JDRox
JDRox
Reply to  giulia
6 months ago

Gaza remains under the authority of Israel’s army insofar as Israel’sarmy (not Hamas) controls the borders of the territory (more specifically, it controls the movement of goods, resources and people across those borders). 

Borders are always shared…if I’m understanding correctly this entails that any state surrounded by more powerful hostile states counts as occupied. That doesn’t seem right. But even if we use ‘occupied’ to apply to such cases, we then need to distinguish at least two very different ways a state can be occupied.

I found TF Rector’s account more helpful, but I guess I’m still struggling with the distinction between a massively overmatched state and an occupied state. It seems like many or perhaps most very small states (e.g., Vatican City, Monaco) will count as occupied by this definition, at least assuming Gaza does. The claim that Gaza has been under siege fits much better with how I think about occupations and sieges, although I guess that doesn’t matter much. But maybe it does, insofar as you’re trying to change hearts and minds, saying that Israel has been occupying Gaza for the last twenty years seems like an unnecessarily controversial way of describing the situation when you could describe it as a siege instead.

CDW
CDW
Reply to  JDRox
6 months ago

Your comparison to Vatican or Monaco leave out the key “hostile army” provision in “(1) A territory is considered occupied when it is placed under the authority of a hostile army.” I think Gaza’s enforced economic dependence on Israel and exploitation as a source of cheap laborers over the past decades also supports the view that it is occupied.

giulia
giulia
Reply to  JDRox
6 months ago

In addition to what CDW wrote: if Italy also enforced unilateral control over who exits and enters the Vatican (and when), over what goods can go in and out (and when), over the supply of water, electricity and other infrastructure (whether it is supplied, when, for how long), and over institutions such as the population registry – then it probably also would count as an occupying power. But none of these characteristics apply to the relationship between Italy and the Vatican State.

JDRox
JDRox
Reply to  giulia
6 months ago

I’m not sure we’re not debating semantics in the pejorative sense here, but my point is that Italy pretty clearly “controls” the borders of Vatican City. Yes, those borders aren’t under the control of a hostile army, but my point is that if hostilities developed between the Vatican and Italy that’s wouldn’t (by my lights) entail that Vatican City was now occupied by Italy. And if Italy started trying to starve Vatican City out by not letting food, water, electricity, etc. in, it still wouldn’t be occupying Vatican City in any intuitive sense, but rather putting it under siege. Let’s say you agree with me, and hence that Israel wasn’t occupying Gaza in *any intuitive sense*. Maybe you still think that Israel technically counts as having occupied Gaza under international law. Still, wouldn’t it be practically and politically more effective to agitate about the unlawful and immoral siege than to agitate about the unlawful and immoral occupation, given that the claim that Gaza was under siege is so much more intuitive than the claim that Gaza was occupied?

David Wallace
Reply to  Scott Paeth
6 months ago

I find it difficult to think through a counterfactual as baroque as “the enemy has captured and fortified my capital city, but I still have dominance in air and artillery”. But if I try to fill in the details, it is *not* obvious that a country would avoid large-scale lethal force in trying to retake it.

The nearest realistic analogy I can think of is the liberation of France in WW2. The Allies killed thousands of French civilians in that campaign, I believe.

That said, I agree that countries work much harder to avoid the deaths of their own citizens than the citizens of enemy states. I don’t think that in itself is racist, and Israel is hardly unique in doing so.

Ray V.
Ray V.
Reply to  David Wallace
6 months ago

The bombing is not a legitimate response to the terrorist attacks for the moral reason of Dr. Khalidi but also the reason that the attacks are not aggression of one nation on another nation’s sovereignty nor an attempt to protect a group of people from people from an imminent threat posed to their lives. The threat that is posed is prospective and this legitimates targeting the threat alone.

However, if one argues that it has a military purpose as in conventional warfare and is not directed at the civilian population, then we would have to agree it is done to protect Israeli soldiers, and to hasten a campaign that doesn’t need to be hasty in terms of protecting the lives of Israeli citizens because Gaza is surrounded.and Hamas cannot be re-supplied.

The Hamas fighters and their weapons are underground. These bombs don’t hit their military assets. At best, they merely assist the Israeli soldiers in a ground invasion.

Thus, the purpose of bombing is political, with an eye to assuring the Israeli public of the effectiveness of government action.. This is not a legitimate reason to take lives.

Israel has no legitimate right to trade the lives of Palestinian civilians for its soldiers or to assuage Israeli citizens’ impatience for swift action.

In fact, no military does. Attacks are legitimate if done on known military assets. Most of the attacks were not of this sort. This is true in prior attacks on Gaza as well.

However, it is particularly glaring in this case, given that Israel is an occupying power. It didn’t permit civilians time to evacuate, it did not assist their evacuation, it attacked many illegitimate targets such as journalists’ private homes, journalists themselves, ambulances, hospitals, schools and clinics. It denied occupants food and water. It used illegal weapons.

It may sound surprising to Americans, given the rhetoric of disregard for Palestinian lives, and the tacit permission given by the US government to attack hospitals but mosques, universities, bakeries, etc. are also illegitimate targets.,Cultural and economic infrastructure is also not supposed to be destroyed.

The Fourth Geneva convention was written after WWII so anything that happened during WWII isn’t helpful in assessing the permissibility of the current situation.

Israeli government officials openly made statements that the government’s intentions were contrary to adherence with international law. It stated an intention to be indiscriminate, and that it did not distinguish and would not protect civilians. The language used was clear that Palestinian lives have no value. The intention is not ambiguous.

Even if we did not have this evidence of their speech, the massive death toll is indefensible. By any standard modern people hold, moral or legal, the burden to protect life is is on the Israeli military. That’s true even if it were were a conventional war, which it clearly is not.

1) it is not treated as a conventional war. Palestinians are not treated as they would be in such a war. They are treated and spoken of, at best, criminal accomplices of Hamas. At worst, as a population Israel intends to eliminate completely. Civilians are never regarded as criminal accomplices in international law. In fact, one point of such laws is to refrain from that idea as it obviously will lead to grotesquely immoral violence.

2)! This conflict is not, by any definition, a conventional war. So there is a much greater burden to refrain from killing Palestinians.

The Fourth Geneva convention was written after WWII so anything that happened during WWII isn’t helpful in assessing the permissibility of the current situation.

David Wallace
Reply to  Ray V.
6 months ago

Narrowly on three points:

1) “ The Hamas fighters and their weapons are underground. These bombs don’t hit their military assets. At best, they merely assist the Israeli soldiers in a ground invasion.”

It is perfectly possible to use airdropped precision munitions to attack bunkers and tunnels; indeed, many deployment modes of such weapons are designed specifically for that purpose.

2) “mosques, universities, bakeries, etc. are also illegitimate targets.”

They become legitimate targets if Hamas uses them for military ends. And there is abundant evidence, including UN reports, that this happens. Of course this doesn’t excuse Israel from having to consider proportionality issues.

3) “ The Fourth Geneva convention was written after WWII so anything that happened during WWII isn’t helpful in assessing the permissibility of the current situation.”

My analogy to WWII wasn’t about permissibility; it was about whether nations are willing to kill even their own or allied citizens if necessary for their war aims.

Christa Peterson
Reply to  David Wallace
6 months ago

2) “mosques, universities, bakeries, etc. are also illegitimate targets.”

They become legitimate targets if Hamas uses them for military ends. And there is abundant evidence, including UN reports, that this happens.

What UN reports? I only know of ones that failed to find evidence for the alleged practice, for example:

The Mission focused on allegations that Palestinian fighters had launched attacks from within civilian areas and from protected sites (such as schools, mosques and medical units); used civilian and protected sites as bases for military activity; misused medical facilities and ambulances; stored weapons in mosques; failed to distinguish themselves from the civilian population and, in so doing, used the Gazan civilian population as a shield against Israeli attack. … The significance of these allegations is twofold. First, the alleged conduct might constitute a violation by the Palestinian armed groups of their obligation of care to prevent harm to the civilian population or the prohibition against the deliberate use of civilians to shield from military activity. Second, the Government of Israel and others argue that certain attacks by Israeli armed forces on civilian objects or protected sites were justified by the unlawful use that Palestinian armed groups made of them. In the words of a report by the Israeli armed forces on its shelling of a United Nations compound in which at least 600 Palestinian civilians had taken refuge, such attacks were “the unfortunate result of the type of warfare that Hamas forced upon the IDF, involving combat in the Gaza Strip’s urban spaces and adjacent to facilities associated with international organizations.” (113)

On the basis of its own investigations and statements by United Nations officials, the Mission excludes that Palestinian armed groups engaged in combat activities from United Nations facilities that were used as shelters during the military operations. …

The Mission is unable to make any determination on the general allegation that Palestinian armed groups used mosques for military purposes. It notes that, in the one incident it investigated of an Israeli attack on a mosque, it found no indication that the mosque was so used.  

On the basis of the investigations it has conducted, the Mission did not find any evidence to support the allegations that hospital facilities were used by the Gaza authorities or by Palestinian armed groups to shield military activities and that ambulances were used to transport combatants or for other military purposes.  

On the basis of the information it gathered, the Mission found no indication that the civilian population was forced by Hamas or Palestinian armed groups to remain in areas under attack from the Israeli armed forces. (122)

There of course should be abundant evidence, if it is actually a routine occurrence; Gaza is the most surveilled place on earth. But there does not seem to be.

It’s not really very surprising that this wouldn’t be a big strategy for Hamas, because Israel bombs civilian objects all the time. Same UN report: 

Statements by political and military leaders prior to and during the military operations in Gaza leave little doubt that disproportionate destruction and violence against civilians were part of a deliberate policy. (258)

The Mission found numerous instances of deliberate attacks on civilians and civilian objects (individuals, whole families, houses, mosques) in violation of the fundamental international humanitarian law principle of distinction, resulting in deaths and serious injuries. In these cases the Mission found that the protected status of civilians was not respected and the attacks were intentional, in clear violation of customary law reflected in article 51 (2) and 75 of Additional Protocol I, article 27 of the Fourth Geneva Convention and articles 6 and 7 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. In some cases the Mission additionally concluded that the attack was also launched with the intention of spreading terror among the civilian population.(414)

krell_154
krell_154
Reply to  Christa Peterson
6 months ago

In the past 48 hours, there were several video reports by Israelis, showing tunnel entrances in hospitals, children playgrounds, residential buildings and launch pads in the immediate vicinity of mosques.

There are videos of Hamas fighters shooting from the inside of the “Qatari hospital”

That’s pretty good evidence.

(Unless we think that IDF is planting those, and faking videos, of course)

Christa Peterson
Reply to  David Wallace
6 months ago

fwiw I would not call this a UN report, but there are a number armed groups in Gaza and Hamas is probably least likely to be storing a mortar under a blanket in a UN school, because it has its own infrastructure.

The IDF has now bombed like 1 in 10 buildings in Gaza. If Hamas was so widely using these buildings as substantive military infrastructure there should be much, much more evidence than one mortar under a blanket. Israel has been making this claim for decades. Why do you think there is so little evidence? Why haven’t they pushed for an international organization to be allowed to inspect a site like al Shifa?

(Unless we think that IDF is planting those, and faking videos, of course)

Israel’s public messaging during military operations, as a matter of policy, aims to mitigate international pressure to end them rather than convey accurate information. It is not very factual. It is completely routine for them to baldly misrepresent what is in a photo. One of the “hospital tunnels” I believe you are referring to was immediately identified as the opening to a sump tank. 

I am totally baffled by how widely people in these comments take Israel to be putting out reliable factual information rather than obvious propaganda. Do people just… not notice? This is not a good showing for a discipline that takes itself to be the discipline of critical thinking 

Michael Kirley
Michael Kirley
Reply to  Christa Peterson
6 months ago

For those interested, a UN report–or UN summary of a UN report(?)–concerning the incident in the UNRWA link can be found here (pages 16-17 are the relevant ones, I think): https://www.securitycouncilreport.org/atf/cf/%7B65BFCF9B-6D27-4E9C-8CD3-CF6E4FF96FF9%7D/s_2015_286.pdf

krell_154
krell_154
Reply to  Christa Peterson
6 months ago

What do you think all those secondary explosions are, that you can see in the videos of airstrikes in Gaza?

I just saw a news segment today with pretty detailed evidence of a tunnel used by terrorists in immiediate vicinity of a hospital. Then a basement are in the hopsital with weapons.

I have seen news reports, and videos of weapons (rockets, shells) in playgrounds, schools, near a mosque.

I saw a video today of a Palestinia firing an rpg from a hospital.

A video of several fighters shooting from rifles from inside the hospital the other day.

Should Israeli army make 20 videos a day of this stuff? Would it ever be enough for someone who has decided long ago that Israel is lying?

JDRox
JDRox
Reply to  krell_154
6 months ago

On the one hand, I agree with Christa that it seems suspicious that there isn’t more evidence, and even the “rocket under a blanket at a school” story seems fishy to me. Nobody took a picture of it or anything? Sounds like fake news. On the other hand, the UN report says Hamas and/or other militant groups would launch rockets at Israel from the field behind the school, which comes pretty close to using the school for military ends. In any case, I’d be interested in a more full presentation of the evidence on both sides of this issue. It’s hard for me to believe this narrative is completely false, but (and now I repeat myself) I feel like it should be easier to find/produce clear evidence of this than it seems to be.

Skeptic
Skeptic
Reply to  JDRox
6 months ago

Here’s what I was able to dig up though (these alleged examples are from various conflicts going back to 2007):

In addition, Fatah and Hamas forces engaged in battles in and around two Gaza Strip hospitals on Monday. After Hamas fighters killed Fatah intelligence officer Yasir Bakar, Fatah gunmen began firing mortars and rocket-propelled grenades at Shifa Hospital in Gaza City, drawing Hamas fire from inside the building, killing one Hamas and one Fatah fighter.

In the June 9 incident, four armed Palestinians drove a white jeep bearing “TV” insignias to a fence on the Gaza-Israel border and fired at Israeli soldiers. The Israelis returned fire, killing one Palestinian. Spokesmen for Islamic Jihad and the Al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigade, an offshoot of Fatah, claimed responsibility for the attack. An Islamic Jihad spokesperson denied that Palestinians had put press markings on the jeep used in the June 9 attack, and accused the Israeli military of doing so after the fact. However, photos taken by the Associated Press as the attack was under way show the letters “TV” written in red on the front of the jeep.

https://www.hrw.org/news/2007/06/12/gaza-armed-palestinian-groups-commit-grave-crimes

A PBS journalist claims to have spoken to a doctor at Shifa hospital, who told them Hamas was “hiding either in the basement or in a separate underground area underneath the hospital.”

https://www.pbs.org/wnet/wideangle/wa-blog/gaza-er-hamas-hiding-in-shifa-hospital/4086/

This Forbest article compiles many quotes by journalists. Unfortunately, it doesn’t like to original sources, but the ones I checked do check out (Sreenivasan Jain, John Reed):

https://www.forbes.com/sites/richardbehar/2014/08/21/the-media-intifada-bad-math-ugly-truths-about-new-york-times-in-israel-hamas-war/?sh=41763c654b15

Mr Shriteh [an ambulance driver in Gaza] said the more immediate threat was from Hamas, who would lure the ambulances into the heart of a battle to transport fighters to safety.”

https://www.smh.com.au/world/hamas-tried-to-hijack-ambulances-during-gaza-war-20090126-gdtb5x.html

David Wallace
Reply to  Christa Peterson
6 months ago

 there are a number armed groups in Gaza and Hamas is probably least likely to be storing a mortar under a blanket in a UN school, because it has its own infrastructure.

I’m not sure it’s that relevant which armed group it is. Various armed groups participated in the October 7 atrocities, and ‘Hamas’ is being used as a shorthand for them. Terrorist groups usually have complicated and fluid interrelations and when Israel says ‘we are at war with Hamas’ I’m pretty sure they mean ‘we are at war with the network of Hamas-aligned armed groups in Gaza who perpetrated the October 7 attacks’, not ‘we are are war specifically with Hamas-construed-narrowly, and will studiously respect the neutrality of, e.g., Islamic Jihad’.

The IDF has now bombed like 1 in 10 buildings in Gaza. If Hamas was so widely using these buildings as substantive military infrastructure there should be much, much more evidence than one mortar under a blanket.

I’m genuinely confused by this.

1) There’s logical space to argue that Hamas is not putting weapons specifically in mosques and schools. Where is the logical space to argue that Hamas is not putting weapons in civilian buildings at all? Is the idea that they have no such weapons? (Then where are the rockets coming from that are being fired every day at Israel? Where did the weapons used on October 7 come from?) Is it that they’re kept in distinct military bases separated from civilian infrastructure? (Then where are they, and why hasn’t Israel obliterated them?) Is it that they’re in the tunnel system under the civilian buildings? (Then those tunnel systems have exits in civilian buildings, and so the civilian buildings are not after all civilian – but more importantly: rockets can’t teleport, so the rockets can’t be fired from the tunnels, and have to be fired from the surface – and all surface structures in Gaza are officially civilian.)

2) Quite apart from (1): why would bombing buildings provide evidence of what those buildings are used for? Dropping a bomb on a building tends to destroy its contents. (Perhaps the point is that the buildings ought to display secondary explosions if hit? As a matter of physics I’m not sure how universal that is, but in any case the IDF has published several videos that show secondary explosions. Maybe the IDF should not be trusted, but then why think anyone is in a position to provide good evidence here, and so why think the absence of good evidence is good evidence of absence?)

JDRox
JDRox
Reply to  David Wallace
6 months ago

I find (1) a relatively convincing a priori reply, and in conjunction with Skeptic’s a posteriori evidence and my priors I’m basically convinced. However, I don’t find (2) compelling: bombs don’t destroy *everything*, and so I would expect there to be abundant evidence of mostly destroyed weapons caches in the remains of many of the buildings the IDF has bombed. (Not every building, but if 25% of the bombed buildings had weapons in them when they were bombed, I’d think there’d be evidence of weapons in the remains of 25% of those buildings (.25x.25), which would leave us with a lot more photographic evidence than we have given the massive total number of bombed buildings.

Scott Paeth
Reply to  David Wallace
6 months ago

I don’t really think I can help you if you think the point of the hypothetical is that the scenario is credible or likely. The point of the hypothetical is to demonstrate that the choice to engage in the bombing of a massive urban center with little to no regard for its civilian population is based on the ethnic character of the people who live there.

As I noted elsewhere, a) Gaza is not an “enemy state” nor are the civilians who live there “enemies” — they are under Israeli occupation, and b) the question is not whether a state is racist for caring more about its own citizens, but whether a state is racist for pursuing a policy based on the ethnic character of people being targeted.

David Wallace
Reply to  Scott Paeth
6 months ago

The reason I explored what the situation would have to be like is that I am unconvinced your counterfactual is true: in the situation you describe, I think a state (including Israel) might well think it had no choice but to wage urban warfare in its own capital, despite the harm to its own citizens.

As I mentioned upthread, the point of my WWII analogy is not to demonstrate a legal or moral point but to provide evidence that states are indeed willing to fight war in a way which kills thousands of their own or allied citizens in order to liberate their territory from a hostile force.

Scott Paeth
Reply to  David Wallace
6 months ago

on the subject of France in World War II, two points:

First, I don’t think that in most cases allied bombing campaigns in World War II meet the criterion of discrimination and non-combatant immunity under JWT.

Second, The principle of double effect states that civilian deaths are morally permissible only if they were not intended. Laurie Johnston noted in America Magazine the other day: “It is true that the principle of double effect acknowledges that civilian deaths might not be blameworthy if these deaths are an unintended side effect of an otherwise legitimate attack. But that certainly would not excuse waging a war against cities where it is clear that most of the casualties will be civilians. The situation in Gaza is such that it is all but impossible to carry out an invasion that actually respects the principle of non-combatant immunity, given the density of the urban environment and the fact that half of its residents are children.”

https://www.americamagazine.org/faith/2023/10/17/johnston-just-war-gaza-civilians-246311?fbclid=IwAR3pV5P6HfrzvcgDNrQK3Ohc8L0PA6wcWwONcVAUsVBUeTl2_BPYEIF2w14

Last edited 6 months ago by Scott Paeth
Reza Hadisi
Reza Hadisi
6 months ago

Thanks for writing this, Muhammad. I thought it was a nice clarification of the open letter.
 
I’m sure you’re aware of it, but just to emphasize: I do think there are important limits to the analogy you draw between Hamas and the ANC. I think of Hamas as a deeply anti-democratic and fundamentalist group that has committed horrible crimes. I am assuming that calling for a ceasefire and dismantling the apartheid is compatible with thinking that one day the leaders of Hamas should be tried for their crimes against civilians, as some of the Israeli leaders should be tried for their war crimes.   
 

Hypatia
Hypatia
6 months ago

As a fellow Lebanese who experienced the 2006 war first hand, and whose parents lived through the invasion in 1982, I have been deeply disturbed by the fixation on providing philosophical rationalizations for genocide and the efforts to shame and silence philosophers who have expressed solidarity with Palestinians. It means SO MUCH to see this post. Thank you Muhammad Ali Khalidi for being a beacon of truth and moral clarity in our community.

Taylor Koles
Taylor Koles
6 months ago

“It is sometimes said that Hamas will not rest until it has eliminated all Jews from historic Palestine. But just a few days ago, Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh said they were ready to start negotiations for a two-state solution with Jerusalem as its capital. … If Israel dismantles apartheid and acknowledges the right of self-determination for all, no credible Palestinian leader or organization could possibly resist.”

If Professor Khalidi had read the article that he links here, he would have been immediately aware that Haniyeh’s statement is not in any way a unanimous statement of Hamas’s aims, since the article also cites Ghazi Hamad (a senior member of Hamas’s decision-making body) insisting that Hamas not only continues to oppose the existence of Israel, but will continue the use of terror attacks on civilians in pursuit of the annihilation of Israel. It should also be noted that Hamas’s 2017 charter defining its mission is inconsistent with a two-state solution (see in particular point #2).

There is a remarkable tendency among commentators on both sides to believe that their preferred side of the conflict unanimously endorses the humane and politically reasonable aims that they themselves hold despite enormous amounts of evidence to the contrary. And Professor Khalidi’s piece here is unfortunately another instance of this credulous tendency. If you believe that “no credible Palestinian leader or organization” would resist a two state solution, that must only be because “credible” refers to credibility from your moral perspective, not popularity and support from a subset of the Palestinian community and allies.

The real, hard, situation here is of course of a kind that philosophers are characteristically bad at assessing – both Israeli’s and Palestinians are engaging in this conflict based on a variety of mixed internal and external motives and there is no side in the conflict that acts simply from an ethical perspective we should endorse.

grymes
grymes
Reply to  Taylor Koles
6 months ago

It seems deeply uncharitable to suggest that Hamas represents Khalidi’s “preferred side of the conflict.” Arguing that Israel has no viable military objective does not entail anything as simpleminded as being on Palestine’s side, much less being on Hamas’s side. More generally, calling for a political solution, while pointing out that some people associated with both sides are amenable to such a solution, obviously does not require taking sides.

Samuel
Samuel
Reply to  Taylor Koles
6 months ago

What do we gain from the use of the “if X had bothered to read the article he links, he would know…” trope? I don’t see any reason to believe Prof. Khalidi hadn’t read it. And in any case, there’s a lot to be said for the strategy of focusing one’s attention on those representatives who signal that they are willing to speak, and not on those with whom negotiation is impossible.

Yes, the situation demands a good deal of sensitivity on our part. Or anyway, we must resist the impulse to impose a simplistic ethical perspective on a real, hard situation characterized by a variety of mixed internal and external motives. But shouldn’t we bring this same sensitivity to bear in the assessment of one another’s positions? Perhaps this would prevent us from projecting credulousness, or uncritical support for one’s ‘preferred side’, into guest posts like this one.

Gabe
Gabe
Reply to  Taylor Koles
6 months ago

I agree that this is a worrisome tendency in political discourse writ large, and I think you’re right that his claim that no credible Palestinian movement would resist a two state solution is too strong (or perhaps relies on a moral conception of credibility less relevant to the immediate practical problem). But I think a weaker version of the claim seems to me very defensible: a clear Israeli move toward a lasting and just solution to the current situation would lend credibility to non-violent, compromise-oriented segments of Palestinian society and weaken the position of the hardliners. This occurred in South Africa: the relatively peaceful end of apartheid tremendously weakened the position of the hardline African nationalists, who eventually had to accept a multiracial South Africa (with the exception of some diehards).

There’s no guarantees here, of course. Hamas, even if weakened, won’t go away. However, current Israel policy has actually focused on empowering Hamas to weaken the PLO and create a situation in which they can claim they have no reasonable negotiating partners, because the Israel hard right is unwilling to give up on their illegal settlements. This direct opposition to peace has not made Israelis safer, as we have tragically seen. It seems to me the Israel has an obligation not only to the Palestinians but to their own people to reverse course and work for lasting piece. Otherwise, I think Khalidi’s core charge–that Israel doesn’t really have a justifiable endgame–is just undisputable.

Also, I’ll note that you also haven’t read the full link you posted (though I don’t blame you for not reading the full Hamas charter). In article 20, it states:

Without compromising its rejection of the Zionist entity and without relinquishing any Palestinian rights, Hamas considers the establishment of a fully sovereign and independent Palestinian state, with Jerusalem as its capital along the lines of the 4th of June 1967, with the return of the refugees and the displaced to their homes from which they were expelled, to be a formula of national consensus.

This is, of course, a quite ambiguous claim and I don’t want to claim that Hamas is a good-faith actor. However, I think it does illustrate that even Hamas contains some more pragmatic elements, and a move toward lasting peace might bring out these elements or at least divide the pragmatists and the hardliners.

David Wallace
Reply to  Gabe
6 months ago

It’s also possible to think both that Israel urgently needs to rethink its long-term strategy and return to good-faith negotiation with reasonable actors, and that 10/7 demonstrated that Hamas is an unacceptable security threat that requires a military response.

D Ecles
D Ecles
Reply to  Gabe
6 months ago

Right of return from the get-go is a nonstarter. That is a surefire request to kneecap the negotiations before they happen. Golan Heights also. It’s not all senseless landgrubbing. There are security issues that the pre-67 War border cannot be seen as realistic to be given back by the state of Israel.

J. Bogart
J. Bogart
6 months ago

I doubt that it is a requirement that a military objective be something the military is certain to succeed at, at least with respect to whether a particular campaign is carried on consistent with international law. Likelihood of success may have some role in assessing whether a war is just. The post does point to something the various open letters glide over, namely, what an appropriate military target or objective is, both of which matter to assessing proportionality. I have some doubts about “destroying Hamas” as a military objective (rather than a war aim or a political aim). Destruction of the military arm of Hamas would be. Israel is not making much of an effort to destroy the infrastructure of and kill the personnel of the Hamas Ministry of Health, and I do not think that it ought to in order to achieve Israel’s military objectives.

Scott Paeth
Reply to  J. Bogart
6 months ago

As you note, certainty of success is not the criterion, likelihood of success is. But the argument of the post is that the problem is not the certainty of success, but the certainty of failure. I confess that this is something that I’ve thought recently as well: The stated goal of totally eliminating Hamas is not in any way a realistic ambition, as Hamas is simply a synecdoche for violent Palestinian resistance to occupation.

As long as conditions in Gaza are as inhumane as they’ve been for the last decade, and as long as Palestinians are denied basic human rights throughout both Israel and the occupied territories, violence will always been a strong possibility. And when even nonviolent protests are brutally suppressed, violence becomes a near certainty.

If Israel truly wants to reduce violent Palestinian resistance, the way to do that is not to continue to immiserate the Palestinians, but to give them freedom. This won’t immediately reduce all violence, because there will continue to be militants who want to continue the struggle, but if the average Palestinian sees their material conditions improve substantially, they will have less and less reason to support violent factions. And if the PA actually does something to reduce its own corruption and self-dealing, then it will gain the legitimacy necessary to clamp down on violent factions.

Bob Schober
Bob Schober
6 months ago

Military maneuvers and goals are to me beside the point. The real cause is the 2,000-year-old argument over who has the Right — Arabs or Jews — to occupy the land of the Temple, Abraham and Mohammed. Until this disagreement is somehow, some way put to rest, tribalism and religious fervor will ensure the slaughter will continue. After all this time and all the death and destruction, can Palestinians and Israelis find some common ground on which to build peace and coexistence? I hope so for the sake of the children.

TF Rector
TF Rector
6 months ago

This is an excellent intervention. Thank you for making it.

Bob Schober
Bob Schober
Reply to  TF Rector
6 months ago

Thanks. Einstein said a problem cannot be solved at the same level it was created.

GradStudent
GradStudent
6 months ago

But just a few days ago, Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh said they were ready to start negotiations for a two-state solution with Jerusalem as its capital.

I think there is important context in the article the author links that the author has omitted:

Ismail Haniyeh’s ostensible willingness to engage in dialogue with Israel seemed wholly at odds with the statement of another member of the Hamas politburo, Ghazi Hamad, who declared last week that the terror group intends to perpetrate further massacres akin to the October 7 if only given the chance, until Israel is destroyed.

This also has a bearing on a crucial point in the argument further on. The author writes:

If Israel dismantles apartheid and acknowledges the right of self-determination for all, no credible Palestinian leader or organization could possibly resist.

But who is the credible Palestinian leader or organization that Israel can make this deal with? Given their profound antisemitism, anti-democratic attitudes, and inscrutable position, Hamas does not seem like a plausible candidate. And as long as Hamas keeps control of the Gaza strip, they will likely continue their efforts to prevent any other leaders or organizations from becoming significant.

This, of course, does not justify all means in the fight against Hamas, but it seems that Israel unilaterally “dismantling apartheid” is not a plausible way forward without some kind of partner in negotiations.

Gabe
Gabe
Reply to  GradStudent
6 months ago

Unfortunately, Israel has actively worked to empower Hamas (and thus weaken the PLO) in order to create this situation–a situation in which right-wing, racist settlers can illegally continue to eat up the west bank and displace Palestinians, and the right-wing government can claim that no just and lasting peace can be achieved because the Palestinians are divided and radicalized. Netanyahu himself has explicitly gloated about this. Tragically, we have seen that this strategy ultimately hurts Israelis as well as Palestinians.

Given this situation, though, I agree that even a much better Israeli government would have a hard time starting negotiations. However, here is something it could do unilaterally: restrain the settlers in the west bank and begin to remove them. This would greatly strengthen the PLO’s position and help to deradicalize Palestinians, as well as gain favor from other Arab states. And even if it doesn’t, it’s the right thing to.

I agree the situation in Gaza is harder, and there are few easy solutions. But a stronger PLO means a weaker Hamas, and that’s important if Israel does actually want to remove Hamas without a permanent occupation of Gaza.

krell_154
krell_154
6 months ago

So, this post’s message reduces to: Israel has no militarily viable, or morally acceptable, response at its disposal to the events of October 7th. The only thing they could do is to completely change their political course and fullfill all Palestinian demands.

I find it hard to see how this does not embolden and further incentivize terrorism – because in this scenario, Hamas would get what they want as a result of their actions on October 7th.

Or are we in the territory of ”what happened on October 7th isn’t terrorism, but legitimate resistance”?

As for the idea that military response cannot destroy Hamas, or improve the security situation in the long run, I have seen a lot of people saying that, without any relevant military expertise. I have a feeling they might be surprised by the effectiveness of Israel’s military campaign.

TakingLivesSeriously
TakingLivesSeriously
Reply to  krell_154
6 months ago

The only thing they could do is to completely change their political course and fullfill all Palestinian demands.”

If by “Palestinian demands,” you mean “ending the apartheid” — yes, that’s the message.

 find it hard to see how this does not embolden and further incentivize terrorism – because in this scenario, Hamas would get what they want as a result of their actions on October 7th.

I don’t think Hamas is seeking to end the apartheid in the sense that Khalidi or the open-letter was describing. Both the letter and Khalidi insist on equal rights for “all” current residents of the region. Hamas does not want that.

Also, ending the apartheid by giving equal rights to everyone is an obligation. It doesn’t matter if Hamas demands it or not (again, I don’t think that’s what Hamas wants!)

Or are we in the territory of ”what happened on October 7th isn’t terrorism, but legitimate resistance”?

No. For the millionth time.

As for the idea that military response cannot destroy Hamas, or improve the security situation in the long run, I have seen a lot of people saying that, without any relevant military expertise. I have a feeling they might be surprised by the effectiveness of Israel’s military campaign.

Israel’s military campaign has been very effective in killing around 3000 children. I’m not really surprised though.

exhausted.
exhausted.
Reply to  TakingLivesSeriously
6 months ago

Yes, those primed to see Jews as cunning baby killers—and given the history and scope of blood libel against Jews especially with regard to babies and children, tons of people have been and are thusly primed—will presumably be (1) less likely to feel surprised by claims that the state of Israel is an effective child killer and (2) more likely to make such claims. The tepid gestures against October 7th, together with the tepid recognition of Hamas’s openly expressed, repeatedly enacted, genocidal, evil intentions and their sense of the conflict as primarily ethno-religious rather than land- or rights- based, are rhetorically unconvincing, not only because of their curt, frustrated, nostril-pinching tone (e.g., “No. For the millionth time.”), but also because they are followed with a decision to echo historic, anti-Jewish blood libel. Taking a universalist moral posture toward Israel while speaking out functionally in favor of Hamas’s short-term wishes is just a deceptive (perhaps self-deceptive) way of siding with Hamas and calling for Jews to undermine themselves. It also reminds one of Tucker Carlson’s expressions of support for an “open borders Israel.” How is Israel to “give rights to everyone,” including those who actively refuse to recognize its legitimacy and thus its capacity to give rights to anyone, as well as those who side with groups calling for genocide against its people and thus for violating, to the utmost extreme, the rights Israel provides its citizens?

TakingLivesSeriously
TakingLivesSeriously
Reply to  exhausted.
6 months ago

I am not surprised by the Israeli government’s killing of the Gazan children because:

Since 2000, and before this assault, Israeli forces have killed 7,779 Palestinians in the Gaza Strip, with many more injured, some permanently; of those, 1,741 were minors, according to the Israeli human rights organization B’tselem.

There is a long inductive basis for how IDF conducts its wars. This has nothing to do with the Jewish people. The best advocates of the Palestinian cause are groups like B’tselem and Jewish Voice for Peace because PLO is corrupt and useless, and Hamas is a group of fundamentalist terrorists. It’s a very unfortunate fact, but secular/democratic voices in Palestine are crushed and ignored, given how angry people are.

We are exhausted of having to qualify our plea for basic rights for Palestinians with a condemnation of Hamas. In any case, my tepid condemnation of Hamas is more than the concern your comment is showing for the Gazan children.

exhausted.
exhausted.
Reply to  TakingLivesSeriously
6 months ago

Last thing, I hope.

I’m not trying to politic with any of my comments, which is why I am not going out of my way to assure you that I am concerned for Gazans (or the dear dear children!!!). That would be to slide into the transparently disingenuous, moralistic hysterics that I am criticizing. It goes without saying that many innocents have been killed and maimed in Gaza, and that they should ideally not have been killed or maimed. But these small provisos are typically used more as bluffs or alibis, as if commenters are running for office, with which people gaslight critics like me. Most of these provisos appear to be utterly in bad faith. I might seem callous toward Palestinians, but the truth is that I’m just not engaging in the collective concern-feigning. I could seem just as callous toward Uyghurs, or toward displaced and murdered Sudanese. And so could you and virtually anyone else in these comments.

Please look into JVP and see that they are not representative of the *vast* majority of Jews (like over 90%), and are partly funded and operated (if memory serves) by actors in States that literally prohibit anyone with an Israeli passport from entering. Their vision of “peace,” in truth, is “Jews accept being murdered or politically dominated by those who sympathize with or have practiced Jew-murdering.” JVP literally and publicly honors people who have successfully committed acts of terror in Israel, i.e., who have successfully murdered Jews in cold blood. JVP is essentially a token org for antisemites and the antisemitic-curious. (I’m unfamiliar with B’tselem, so I won’t say anything one way or the other about their standing with respect to Jewish issues and the Jewish mainstream.)

exhausted.
exhausted.
Reply to  exhausted.
6 months ago

Ugh ok, one more thing. On the whole I appreciate this newer articulation of your claim/criticism. And in many ways I agree with your characterization of intra-Palestinian political and ideological conflicts. Though I would add that not only are there broadly liberal-left Palestinians whose voices are suppressed and/or “crushed,” as you say, in Gaza and the West Bank, but many of them outside of those areas, the comparatively far less censored ones, are largely overlooked. My speculation on the latter would have to involve invoking the fact that many of these people express agreement with broadly liberal-left Israeli politics rather than flat denunciation of virtually everything Israelis do. Which to some extent speaks to your invocation of the popular sentiment of anger… the manifest reality of of which is multiply worrying. In terms of these marginalized left voices, though, I worry that the cultural shape associated with this anger has rendered these voices illegibly left to those within its grip in a way that damages the preconditions for genuinely good and obviously existentially necessary political deliberation and negotiation.

TF Rector
TF Rector
Reply to  exhausted.
6 months ago

Please stop insinuating that people posting on this forum are motivated by anti-Semitism. You have no grounds for this.

TakingLivesSeriously
TakingLivesSeriously
Reply to  TF Rector
6 months ago

To be fair, I understand exhausted’s worries about antisemitism. There’s certainly plenty of that everywhere, including among philosophers. I certainly have some antisemitic prejudices too, and I appreciate it when people point them out to me.

Though, I don’t think “blood libel” has really influenced me. It just wasn’t a thing in the Arab/Muslim context that I grew up in – I recently had to google it to see what it means (is it only a Christian thing?)

Anyways — I feel bad to have made exhausted think that I had blood libel in mind. I was really just pointing to Khalidi’s post that IDF has been doing similar actions for years.

Signing off now!

TF Rector
TF Rector
Reply to  TakingLivesSeriously
6 months ago

I have not seen it even remotely evidenced on this forum. And while I understand the concern, accusations like that are also systemically deployed in bad faith to silence or disarm criticism of Israeli state policy. This can’t be allowed go unchallenged. We are supposed to be committed to open, honest debate and discussion here. This is not twitter.

exhausted.
exhausted.
Reply to  TakingLivesSeriously
6 months ago

I appreciate the good faith responses, TLS. (Unlike the pseudo-litigious e-scold ‘rector’ who suggests that I’m making claims about cartoonishly evil yet obscure motives, when the evidence of at-least functional antisemitism is in plain sight for anyone who reflects on what some of these letters and attendant comments do and do not say, the tone with which they say what they say, and the word-choice.)

As a Jew who has been maimed by an Arab—who certainly did not appear to be any kind of extremist—in the United States, and in a plainly non-political context (e.g., not a protest or counterprotest), there’s lots of violent antisemitism out there, and lots of gaslighting about it and the potential for it. So I greatly appreciate your stated willingness to reflect on these things. Life and limb depend upon it, as I am daily reminded by my own body.

Blood libel, to my knowledge, is not just a Christian pastime. As far as I understand, much antisemitic propaganda in MENA (including Farfour, the Mickey mouse show for Palestinian children) includes claims that Jews eat Arab babies and use their blood to make matzah. Also consider the ambient environment in which, related to the child-specific component, Jews are euphemistically referred to as “pedophiles” in conspiracist contexts (e.g., “cabal of pedophiles”), and in which white collar crime infotainment focuses on Jews harming children. There is plainly a worldwide obsession with talking about Jewish evil, and that, whether the evil is real or imagined, is antisemitic.

I watch a good deal of middle eastern media, including Palestinian-run media, and would be willing to point you toward these outlets if you’re interested in hearing what they say and how they say it. Of course it’s not entirely univocal, so it’s not always clear what precise inferences to draw, but I’ve found it quite eye-opening.

exhausted.
exhausted.
Reply to  TakingLivesSeriously
6 months ago

Maybe that you aren’t “surprised” by a claim that Israel has been an “effective” child killer—as if that’s not just Israel’s goal, but its sufficiently obvious goal—should be a reason to reflect and question your priors. Likewise the frustrated curtness of your recognition of what Hamas did to civilians in Israel on October 7th and of what Hamas’s (repeatedly stated and acted upon) desires are not.

Philosophy Bear
Reply to  krell_154
6 months ago

Israel has an obligation to change course and fulfil at least Palestinian core demands. The fact that terrorists are also demanding that does not abnegate that obligation. There are times when one should refrain from doing something because it is being fought for in an immoral way, but in this case Israel’s wrongs are too great, and the existence of terrorism so predictable given the degree of oppression involved, that refusing to meet those demands because terrorists are fighting for them would be little more than a pretext.

CHEYNEY RYAN
CHEYNEY RYAN
6 months ago

All of the current policy literature on America’s recent military debacles support Prof.Khalidi’s general point. See, for example, Why America Loses Wars: Limited War and US Strategy from the Korean War to the Present by Daniel Stoker of the U.S. Naval War College. Wars have to have clear military objectives; and, as Clausewitz argued, they only have clear military objectives when they have clear political objectives. (This is the major point of a recent book by Gideon Rose of the Council of Foreign Relations, How Wars End.) The Israeli government says its goal is to destroy Hamas. It does not even bother to tell us what will happen after that; plus, there is zero reason to believe that military actions like Israel’s can possibly achieve this stated goal. This too, by the way, was anticipated by Clausewitz in his discussion of trying to destroy groups like Hamas by purely military means. I was giving a lecture at West Point/ US Military Academy a few weeks ago, and – – off the record – – everyone I spoke with felt that Israel’s bombing of Gaza would be at best futile, at worst counterproductive. It made about as much sense as bombing Belfast to destroy the Provisional IRA or, more recently, bombing Afghanistan to destroy the Taliban. Add to this a point I have stressed elsewhere: the complete incompetence of the Israeli government/intelligence establishment in anticipating the Hamas terrorist attack. Hamas spent two years planning its attack; at six camps in Gaza, it carried out extensive rehearsals of everything it did, including taking hostages, flying gliders into Israel, etc Yet the Israeli government/intelligence establishment remained absolutely clueless, and totally unprepared. Why should we have any more confidence in the Israeli government’s competence in responding to the Hamas attack?

I might add that some of us, when we were young men, had the experience of being conscripted into another aimless war – – Vietnam. That was a war which, whatever its abstract goals, was run by incompetent fools and liars who had no idea what they were doing. We have lived with the legacy of this ever since. I think that, in addition to haggling over fine details of who should or should not be killed in Gaza, political philosophers would do well to step back and reflect on what history has taught us about this inhuman enterprise called war.

TF Rector
TF Rector
Reply to  CHEYNEY RYAN
6 months ago

Thank you, this is insightful.
A colleague of ours, Oded Na’aman, has written a very moving essay on the aftermath of October 7th, in which he discusses Simone Weil’s reflections on war and force: https://www.bostonreview.net/articles/letter-from-israel/

Weil, in 1940: “Force is as pitiless to the man who possesses it, or thinks he does, as it is to its victims; the second it crushes, the first it intoxicates. The truth is, nobody really possesses it…Thus it happens that those who have force on loan from fate count on it too much and are destroyed.”

Andy Stroble
Andy Stroble
Reply to  CHEYNEY RYAN
6 months ago

Cheyney has the chops to make this point. I appreciate it. I might add that the Dhammapada says, “Never by enmity is enmity appeased.” (5)

David Wallace
6 months ago

The topic of the OP is whether Israel has any “feasible or achievable military goal, legitimate or otherwise“. In that context it seems worth looking at what the IDF’s official spokespersons are saying. Jonathan Conricus made a fairly clear statement to Sky News on this just a few hours ago – https://twitter.com/jconricus/status/1722157044919108065 . On his account, the goal is to kill or capture Hamas’s leadership and destroy all of their tunnel systems and other infrastructure. Whether or not that’s a legitimate goal (or being carried by legitimate means) it’s not obviously unachievable for the IDF.

Here’s the Guardian’s transcript of his comments:

The mission [inside Gaza] is to engage with Hamas and simply to dismantle each and every Hamas stronghold that is buried underground in bunkers. We are doing that in slow and meticulous order according to plan. Our advances are good, solid.
It is a very challenging battlespace to be in. Hamas has prepared the battlefield, unfortunately, very well.
And it is totally enmeshed with tunnels. Many of them short tactical tunnels that are just basically fighting positions, that allow Hamas to move from one ally to another. To emerge and then submerge. And some are longer and deeper and wider. But we are slowly getting to all of them and there are gains achieved each day of the fight.
The directive is definitely to kill or capture … all the leaders of Hamas. Those who planned, facilitated, and executed the murderous 7 October massacre in Israel. We’ve said so clearly. All of them are dead men walking. And it’s only a matter of time inside Gaza and outside of Gaza, until these Hamas leaders will either be captured or killed by Israel.

(It’s from their live feed so I can’t easily give a stable link.)

Mohan Matthen
Reply to  David Wallace
6 months ago

The OP argued that it was not possible for IDF to destroy Hamas completely or to destroy them in a way that would ensure that there was no successor. That’s not a tactical goal of the kind that IDF has assigned itself. It’s a broader strategic goal that the above is meant to serve.

Here is an excerpt from Netanyahu’s remarks to cabinet on October 7th (from the PM’s website)”

“Since this morning, the State of Israel has been at war. Our first objective is to clear out the hostile forces that infiltrated our territory and restore the security and quiet to the communities that have been attacked.

The second objective, at the same time, is to exact an immense price from the enemy, within the Gaza Strip as well. The third objective is to reinforce other fronts so that nobody should mistakenly join this war.”

These come closer to war aims. The first comes closest to what the OP was talking about. The second is what many are complaining about.

David Wallace
Reply to  Mohan Matthen
6 months ago

This might be terminological. I don’t think “kill or capture Hamas’s leaders, destroy Hamas’s military infrastructure” is a tactical goal (the kind of goal one has as a small step towards winning a war, e.g. ‘take that building’.), I think it’s a strategic goal (the kind of goal that defines what ‘winning a war’ means). It’s not a grand strategic goal (the kind of goal that ‘win a war’ just contributes towards.) Israel’s grand strategic goal might be ‘achieve security for the Israeli people’ or ‘drive the Palestinians from our land entirely’ or something else entirely, and of course there is plenty of room to debate whether its war effort contributes to its grand strategic goals, but that’s a higher level of analysis than military goals, which I thought was what was being discussed here.

Incidentally, I think Netanyahu’s “first objective” was to drive Hamas out of Israeli territory. He was speaking at a point where Israel did not have control of its own southwest territory; it wouldn’t have that control for some hours. His second objective, arguably, developed into the IDF’s currently-stated war aim (I think Netanyahu and others spoke on 10/7 in rage and panic).

Skeptic
Skeptic
Reply to  David Wallace
6 months ago

I think tactics vs. strategy is a red herring. The OP is about whether Israel’s military actions are likely to achieve a valuable goal that would justify the price paid in civilian lives and wellbeing (not to mention risks to regional stability, Israel’s relations with its neighbors, and risks to Israel’s military). It’s obvious that the only goal that could possibly fit this bill is enhancing Israeli security. Destroying Hamas is of instrumental value insofar as it advances this goal.

This is relevant to applying the proportionality principle. Most debates on this site about how to apply the principle to the current situation have focused on who Israel’s bombing campaign is intentionally targetting, the number of civilians killed/likely to be killed, and how to balance costs and benefits. But if Israel isn’t pursuing a goal that’s likely to achieve some very good outcome, then we could conclude that its actions are disproportionate without settling these other questions about proportionality.

One of the big reasons to doubt that destruction of Hamas is likely to enhance Israeli security is well known and is mentioned in the OP: to the best of our knowledge, Israel has no plan for what to do in Gaza should it succeed in destroying Hamas, nor is it clear that there is a feasible plan to be hatched.

Senior Biden administration officials have expressed concern and frustration about Israel’s lack of an “exit strategy” in Gaza.

Secretary of State Antony Blinken posed questions on the subject to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and members of the Israeli war cabinet over the weekend, and received the impression that the matter has barely come up for discussion so far, sources in Israel and Washington who are familiar with the discourse between the countries told Haaretz.

The U.S. administration is unsure whether Israel has a long-term plan for a future reality in Gaza after Hamas’ defeat. Blinken and other administration officials sense that Netanyahu is unwilling to discuss the matter, not even at intra-Israeli forums like the security cabinet.

https://www.haaretz.com/israel-news/2023-11-06/ty-article/.premium/growing-concern-in-wh-israel-has-no-exit-strategy-pa-in-no-rush-to-take-over-gaza/0000018b-a0d4-dc0b-a1cb-e5d6fc0e0000

I have yet to see anyone who defends the war directly address this rather important question. The Bush administration had a plan for post-invasion Iraq, it was just a bad one. To reiterate, to the best of our knowledge, the Israeli government has no plan for Gaza, not even a bad one.

David Wallace
Reply to  Skeptic
6 months ago

“ The OP is about whether Israel’s military actions are likely to achieve a valuable goal that would justify the price paid in civilian lives and wellbeing.”

It isn’t. The whole framing of the OP is that discussing proportionality and the cost in civilian lives is irrelevant because in any case there are no realistic military goals that could be achieved. From the start of the OP:

“But there is no need to wade into discussions of the niceties of proportionality or the doctrine of double effect. That is because there is no feasible or achievable military goal, legitimate or otherwise, for Israel’s bloody campaign in Gaza.”

Skeptic
Skeptic
Reply to  David Wallace
6 months ago

I took the author’s point in that passage to be the one I make in my second paragraph: we don’t need to determine how many Gazans will die or whether they’re being deliberately targeted because the lack of a serious goal precludes a proportionality-based justification. I agree that it’s worded unclearly. But my interpretation is the only way I can see to make sense of the ‘because’ in that passage. If the author were making a purely descriptive claim about the existence of a military objective, offering the second sentence as justification for the first would be completely incoherent. Beyond that, isn’t it obvious from the OP taken as a whole that the author is citing Israel’s lack of a plan as grounds for a moral evaluation of the war? And if the grounding of said evaluation has a different structure than the specific one I laid out in terms of proportionality, does the difference matter?

I suppose one could interpret the OP as assuming that a goal’s being military and strategic gives actions undertaken in its pursuit the relevant kind of moral justification. I think charity rules out this interpretation.

Moti Gorin
Moti Gorin
6 months ago

Thank you for this essay. It raises the central issue some other discussions have neglected, which is how Israel expects to use military means to solve what is at bottom an ongoing political crisis.

Philosophy Bear
6 months ago

Sadly, I suspect this is too optimistic. I suspect Israel may indeed have a military objective, to permanently occupy Gaza, and to ethnically cleanse it by driving the Palestinians into Egypt. There is evidence this is at least on the table.

Of course, this in no way vindicates Israel, since ethnic cleansing is a morally illegitimate objective.

Daniel
Daniel
6 months ago

Surely the rescue of over two hundred civilian hostages currently held in Gaza counts as a valid military objective. The elimination of Hamas leaders and fighters could also count as a valid military objective if killing these members of Hamas would save Israelis targeted by rockets, among other things. It may be true that Israel’s “stated” goal is the total elimination of Hamas, which is unattainable, but surely these more moderate objectives are motivating this war as well.

Now, I very, very much doubt Israel can justify its use of military force in Gaza in light of these legitimate goals. But this is because Israel’s use of force is disproportionate to the goals, not because there are no viable goals.

Scott Paeth
Reply to  Daniel
6 months ago

Rescuing hostages is absolutely a valid military objective. However, bombing the areas where they are most likely being held seems like a better way of killing them than of rescuing them. But the larger point of the article is that the rhetoric of Israel’s military and political leaders states the objective as the “elimination” of Hamas, and that is absolutely not a valid military objective (in the sense of being achievable, not in the sense of being desirable).

Kaila Draper
6 months ago

There has been a lot of interesting discussion on Daily Nous related to what is happening in Gaza. But it is striking to me that so far no one has offered even a remotely plausible justification for the mass murder (i.e., killing of thousands of innocent bystanders) being committed by Israel. (Nor has anyone offered a remotely plausible justification for the mass murder committed by Hamas on October 7.) This is not surprising. Are there any historical examples of justified mass murder?

At this point, perhaps discussion of fine details of international law or just war theory is a little beside the point.

J. Bogart
J. Bogart
Reply to  Kaila Draper
6 months ago

What do you have in mind by “justified mass murder”? Mass non-combatant casualties and legitimate military targets? Or mass non-combatant casualties and just war? Or mass non-combatant casualties and legitimate strategy? Or what?

Kaila Draper
Reply to  J. Bogart
6 months ago

Setting aside some hypothetical scenarios, bombing that kills thousands of “innocent bystanders” is mass murder. (The combatant/noncombatant distinction only roughly corresponds to the crucial moral distinction between those who are morally liable to defensive or punitive violence and those who are not morally liable to such violence. I use “innocent bystanders” to refer to the latter.) Murder (killing people who are not liable to being killed) is very difficult to justify. Mass murder is extremely difficult to justify. Showing that a single murder would save thousands of lives, or that murdering thousands would save millions of lives, would, on my view, count as a plausible justification for murder. But no one in the discussion here has come close to providing such a justification for the mass murder taking place in Gaza right now. No one has even made a serious utilitarian case for it (although I wouldn’t count that as a plausible justification).

J. Bogart
J. Bogart
Reply to  Kaila Draper
6 months ago

Thank you. I have a sense of combatant/noncombatant but not of “morally liable to to defensive or punitive violence”. Would you help with that?

Rod Jones
Rod Jones
Reply to  Kaila Draper
6 months ago

Lately, I keep returning to an assertion of Elizabeth Anscombe: “choosing to kill the innocent as a means to your ends is always murder.” It’s from her 1958 essay Mr. Truman’s Degree.

CHEYNEY RYAN
CHEYNEY RYAN
Reply to  Kaila Draper
6 months ago

As one who studies the history of war, I’m hard-pressed to find a precedent for the humanitarian crisis currently being inflicted on Gaza. I would ask those who regard it as justified to provide a parallel historical case where the infliction of such suffering on tens of thousands of children etc.is now regarded – – by anyone – – to have been justified by the logic of “self-defense”.

The New York Times reports this morning a massive uptick in diarrhea, chickenpox, scabies, and respiratory infections among children and the infirm in Gaza. Since mid-October, more than 33,500 cases of diarrhea have been reported, more than 9000 cases of scabies and lights, more than 12,600 cases of skin rash, and nearly 55,000 cases of upper respiratory infections in the densely populated areas where hundreds of thousands have fled. Within days, all of the Gaza Strip’s 120 municipal water wells are expected to shut down due to lack of fuel. Shelters are so overcrowded that an average 160 people are sharing toilet, and there is one shower for every 700 people. The story goes on.

I would suggest that anyone who would justify this sort of thing by appeal to “collateral damage”, etc., should exercise caution given the murderous policies that such thinking has justified in the past. As a historical note, when the language of “discrimination”, “proportionality,” etc. was first (re)introduced into moral philosophy during the Vietnam War, it was done so by just war theorist Paul Ramsey to justify America’s criminal policies in that war. In 1967, Ramsey wrote, “No Christian and no moralist should assert that it violates the moral immunity of noncombatants . . . to direct the violence of war upon vast Vietcong strongholds whose destruction unavoidably involves the collateral deaths of a great many civilians.” He went on to ridicule Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., for failing to appreciate how he slaughter of innocent children etc. was in fact permissible within the “complexities” of just war thinking. The leading pacifist thinkers of the time like Walter Wink and John Yoder maintained that just war thinking was so “morally slack” that it could justify anything and everything.

Kaila Draper
Reply to  CHEYNEY RYAN
6 months ago

Yes, I think a sense of history is very useful in this context. And to paraphrase and expand upon Thomas Nagel, “beware of utilitarian [or double effect] apologetics for mass murder”.