moral equivalence

NZ Bear eloquently sums up the underlying hypocrisy of supporting IDF assasinations while condemning suicide bombers (emphasis mine) :

The responsibility for the death of Sheik Shehada --- and the civilians killed --- lies with the Israeli military. They carried out the attack. They bear the responsibility for its consequences, for good and ill.

This doesn�t mean the attack was morally wrong. If the planners of the attack judged that by killing this one man --- and the civilians around him --- they would be saving hundreds of innocents down the line, then it was morally justifiable. But to imply that the �ultimate responsibility� for Shehada�s family lies with anyone other than the IDF is exactly the same twisted moral calculus that terrorists like Shehada use to justify the murder of Israeli citizens. �The Israeli�s have left us no choice, they say --- we have no other options but to use these tactics!�

When a terrorist blows himself up on a streetcorner and murders a score of Israeli civilians, what do we hear? It is the fault of the Israelis; their oppression of the Palestinian people has left them no choice! And now, when the IDF�s actions have resulted --- accidentally, and yes, that does make a difference, but resulted nonetheless --- in the death of civilians? It is the fault of the Palestinians, of Hamas, because, in Alterman�s words, � If you ask for war, you are asking to have your civilians slaughtered, unless you can keep the war on the other side�s turf. Well, Hamas asked.�

This is barbaric nonsense.

Yes, it is barbaric. Murdering civilians deliberately is barbaric. Even if there is no such thing as a civilian, there IS such a thing as a noncombatant. The kids at the disco, the patrons at the sbarro, the kids sleeping in their bed - these are people who were murdered. If their murder serves your ends, then it's your decision whether or not to do so. But trying to pin blame on the other side - essentially, blaming the victim - is vile.

I have to disagree with NZBear here - he says that it may be moral, but you have to take responsibility. I think that responsibility is a given - but that includes admitting that sometimes our means are achieved by immoral ends. Killing someone by targeting his family is immoral, and you cannot invoke potential future actions to argue that the net effect is to save lives. That way lies the nightmare of the movie, Minority Report in fiction and the detention of Jose Padilla in real-life.

Bottom line is, the attack was immoral. It was the IDF's responsibility. This is exactly the same moral equivalence problem that conservatives are fond of decrying when it serves their political ends. The IDF needs to acknowledge the immorality of the action even as they argue its necessity.

Sharon's statement about the civilians was "We of course have no interest in striking civilians and are always sorry over civilians who were struck". The IDF's position is that these children who were living in their homes were "human shields". Ha'aretz has this to say in response:

Dozens of incidents in which people have been killed have taken place in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip during the 22 months of the current war of terrorism. Last December 30, three Palestinian children were killed by Israeli artillery fire north of Beit Lahia, in the Gaza Strip. On April 8, three civilians (including two young girls aged five and 10) were killed when Israeli soldiers opened fire on the Brazil refugee camp in Rafah. On May 5, a mother and her two children (aged three and four) were killed near Qabatiyah by a tank shell.

However, these killing actions - and dozens of other incidents in which hundreds of Palestinian civilians have been killed - are substantively different from the one that occurred on Tuesday night in the Daraj neighborhood, near the Jabalya refugee camp. The reason for the difference is that this particular killing event, in which at least nine children and four adults - lost their lives, was the result of a direct, deliberate and conscious decision by the prime minister of Israel to drop a one-ton bomb on a residential neighborhood.

The prime minister of Israel did not want to commit a terrorist act. He did not want to kill Lilah Hamis Shehadeh (41), Iman Shehadeh (14), Mohammed Ashwa (40), Ahmed Ashwa (3), Mona Fahmi Hwaiti (22), Subhi Hwaiti (4.5), Mohammed Hwaiti (3), Iman Hassan Matar (27), Ala Matar (11), Diana Matar (5), Mohammed Matar (4), Iman Matar (18 months) and Dina Raid Matar (2 months). He only wanted to kill Salah Shehadeh, an arch-murderer. However, when Ariel Sharon decided that the goal of killing Shehadeh justified the means of dropping a one-ton bomb on a residential neighborhood, he made a decision over which a black flag flies. He turned the targeted and justified killing of Shehadeh into a grave and unforgivable act.

the operative principle is, do not kill the innocent. Do not target noncombatants. This is laid out in the Geneva Convention, a treaty signed by the United States and therefore has the force of law in this country second only to the Constitution :

Once a treaty is ratified by the US, it actually becomes part of the law of the land and it can be enforced by the courts. We don't have the constitutional ability to ignore treaties; it doesn't work that way.

The pragmatic side however says that sometimes civilians are targets. That was why we bombed Hiroshima and Dresden. In contrast, the Japanese only attacked military targets (Pearl Harbor). And there is a case to be made for "extra-judicial" killing by Israel. Such assassinations are intolerable under the Constitution and must never occur within the United States, however. There are many people in a fervent rush to equate Israel and the United States - but that is a massive fallacy which I will address later.

So - combining the principle with pragmatism - if you are going to target civilians, then you shoudl do so with full realization of the immoral aspect. What offends me to the core are the attempts by both Hamas/etc and the IDF to evade the moral responsibility. The American military, in contrast, has behaved much more honorably.

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