While Hezbollah’s kidnapping of two Israeli soldiers was unwarranted, Israel’s weeks of disproportionate and indiscriminate attacks in Lebanon are morally unacceptable from the time-honored vantage point of just war theory.
Unfortunately, America’s reflexive Israel-can-do-no-wrong camp immediate leaps in a variety of directions at such an observation, all of which rationalize state-sponsored violence as righteous.
One leap falsely attacks critics of the war as being pro-Hezbollah–with the embedded, albeit unstated, hint of anti-Semitism.
Another leap contends that civilian deaths and injuries are justified because Lebanese live among the Hezbollah terrorists. It is the guilt-by association-argument–civilians in the wrong place at the wrong time lack immunity from missiles.
A third leap demonizes Hezbollah as a way to defend Israel. Demons don’t deserve to be valued as human beings and do deserve to be wiped out. If civilians get killed in the crusade to rid the landscape of demons, that’s the cost of purifying the land. Moreover, no matter the bad that Israel does, it isn’t as bad as what Hezbollah does.
A fourth leap comes from end-times preachers who contend that civilian deaths are part of God’s plan for Christ’s glorious return. The Second Coming trumps the taking of innocent human life.
These excuses and defenses all divert attention away from this fact: noncombatant civilians deserve the right to life. From the simple, Christian pietist perspective, Lebanese civilians are precious in God’s sight, whether one agrees with their religious convictions or approves of their actions, just as noncombatant Israeli civilians are.
Seminary professor Glen Stassen writes in Kingdom Ethics, “All members of an enemy nation retain the sanctity of their lives, for they were created in the image of God.”
Leaning on Michael Walzer’s work, Just and Unjust Wars, Stassen writes: “Bombing a military target like a tank or a weapons factory may have the indirect effect of killing some civilians. That is a realistic and allowable consequence of war (though nonetheless horrible), so long as it truly is unintentional and indirect, and its cost in lives is proportional to the gain.”
The Baptist ethicist goes on to explain, “This is the principle of double effect–that is, the primary effect of the war is to kill soldiers and destroy military targets, but the secondary effect is some spillover death (to civilians) and destruction (to nonmilitary targets).”
However, Stassen points out that civilian right to life means that “extra care” must be taken to avoid killing civilians.
An example of “extra care” appears in what the Free French air force did in bombing raids against the Germans in occupied France. Walzer recounts that the civilians lived near factories that were military targets and that bombing factories meant the death of French civilians. So French pilots flew low, at considerable risk, for greater precision bombing, meaning less possibility of civilian deaths.
Given media reports and messages from Lebanese Baptists, one is hard pressed to see how Israel is practicing “extra care” to ensure noncombatant immunity.
Lebanon’s Daily Star reported, “Israeli attacks on Lebanon claimed the lives of at least 10 civilians, six of whom died in an air raid on a marketplace in the South.”
The newspaper said: “Israeli warplanes raided Southern Lebanese towns and pounded the Bekaa and the Chouf areas, and committed a new massacre in the Southern town of Nabatiyeh, where six people from the Hamza family, Saad Hamza and his wife and children, were killed in attack on their home.”
“At least 400 civilians have been killed in the Israeli offensive on Lebanon, not including the six people who perished in Tuesday’s air strike.”
Save the Children estimated last week that 45 percent of the civilian casualties and 200,000 of the refugees were children.
The death of four United Nations peacekeepers also illustrated Israel’s lack of “extra care.”
“UN peacekeepers in south Lebanon contacted Israeli troops 10 times before an Israeli bomb killed four of them, an initial UN report says,” the BBC reported. “The post was hit by a precision-guided missile after six hours of shelling, diplomats familiar with the probe say.”
One of the most noted Christian thinkers about peacemaking, Stassen, writes: “A war that fails even one of these [eight] criteria is unjust and by the logic of just war theory we must oppose it. It is not enough to have a just cause if other possible resorts are not tried, nor is it adequate to have a just cause if the war is carried out by unjust means.”
He writes, “It is easy to see how stringent application of just war theory places severe limits on war-making, in both senses—whether or not to fight a war, and how a war is fought.”
Just war theory tells us that Israel’s missiles and shells are no more just than Hezbollah’s rockets.
The Bush administration and congressional Democrats continue to drag their knuckles against an immediate ceasefire, while noncombatants suffer the consequences.
Thankful a rising voice from within the Christian community—Americans and others—are pointing out the issue of disproportionality and pressing for an immediate ceasefire. That may be of cold comfort to victims, however.
Robert Parham is the executive director of the Baptist Center for Ethics.