This is a must read by Professor Jerome Slater, of the State University of New York at Buffalo, which just appeared in International Security, the Quarterly Journal of the Belfer Center at Harvard University’s John F. Kennedy School of Government.
The article is about the 2008-9 Gaza war known as “Cast Lead” but just as the television program MASH was ostensibly about the Korean War but REALLY about Vietnam, this piece is about the war that took place last week. I could not resist printing the conclusion. But you must read the whole piece.
Here is the link, which, for some reason isn’t live. Just copy it and read. This could be the definitive piece on the morality and even legality of this horrible war.
Cast Lead violated every major principle of just war morality. Israel did not have a just cause in Cast Lead, despite the (largely ineffective) Palestinian terrorist attacks on its territory, for one can hardly divorce those attacks from the context of more than forty years of Israeli occupation, repression, and killings; the destruction of governmental, economic, public health, educational, and other societal institutions and infrastructures; the deliberate impoverishment of the Gazan people; the drastic restrictions on the importation of food, coldly calculated by the Israeli government so that they would fall short of causing mass starvation but be highly punitive; and the various humiliations, often deliberate, inflicted on the civilian population as a matter of routine.
To be sure, because the Palestinian armed resistance to the Israeli occupation frequently has taken the form of terrorism, the argument that Israel still could not claim a just cause or a right of self-defense is necessarily morally complex. For example, some have argued that no state can ignore terrorist attacks on its territory, and this is undoubtedly true if understood as a statement of the facts of life. As a moral argument, however, it would be far more persuasive if Israel had no way to end terrorism other than the use of massive force.
As I have demonstrated, even if Israel had a genuine claim to the just cause principle of self-defense, Cast Lead would have violated another crucial just war requirement—that the use of force is allowable only as a last resort after all nonviolent alternatives have been exhausted. As the record shows, Israel broke a series of cease-fires with Hamas and refused even to explore Hamas’s offers for a long-term truce and possibly even for a political settlement of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
Its methods aside, Operation Cast Lead was a war crime, the crime of international aggression. It also violated every principle governing morally acceptable methods of warfare, because Israel’s deliberate destruction of Gazan political, economic, and societal infrastructures and institutions was, at a minimum, grossly indiscriminate. The overwhelming evidence of how Israel has implemented the iron wall strategy throughout its history, as well as the unrefuted and detailed evidence of its behavior in Cast Lead, makes it difficult to avoid the conclusion that Israel’s policies in Gaza constituted an intentional violation of the most important and widely accepted moral principle that seeks to minimize the destructiveness of warfare: that innocent civilians may never be the intended object of military attack whether directly or indirectly, as in attacks on civilian institutions and infrastructures.