Thursday, February 4, 2010

Exchange on Kasher


I dissent because of sections like this (which is an important section):

"When Israel does not have effective control over a territory, the moral responsibility for distinguishing between terrorists and non-combatants is not placed upon its shoulders. Gaza was not under our effective control. Therefore, one does not have to jeopardize the lives of the troops in such circumstances just for that sake. If you look at non-combatants in a territory where one does not have effective control and have already made a series of warnings that are known to have been effective, then the lives of the troops come first."

Look at the number of self-contradictions in that paragraph, starting with the ending. How does one judge if a warning has been 'effective'? Presumably, if all non-combatants have left an area, it has been effective, but the issue here is precisely about cases where non-combatants have been killed in Israeli attacks - ie, the warnings have _not_ been effective. As Walzer and Margalit say, there are a whole variety of reasons for not leaving a particular place, especially when (as was the case in Gaza) such warnings are often widely dispersed: one may not get the warning, one may not be able to move, fighting in surrounding areas may make it too dangerous to move (where was the refuge zone in that case?), one may unknowingly move into another area under threat, and so on. He can shrug and say that the "...person who does not know where to go is a myth...", but in fact there were numerous such cases from Gaza. If you and your family must step out into an exterior environment where you may well be killed by a tank round or a drone because you are mistaken for combatants, what good does a warning do?

Kasher's claim is that warning non-combatants substantially removes the necessity for further distinguishing combatants and non-combatants, which will certainly lead to innocent deaths. Earlier in the paragraph, he takes that to an even more extreme level, claiming that "...When Israel does not have effective control over a territory, the moral responsibility for distinguishing between terrorists and non-combatants is not placed upon its shoulders." This means that Israel would simply give up on trying to avoid civilian deaths in any extra-territorial military action. Furthermore, the majority of cases of civilian deaths in Gaza were not inflicted with troops in contact or in danger: they were inflicted with artillery, long-range tank fire and air-strikes of various sorts.

He appears to be arguing, however, that citizenship trumps non-combatant status: that a country's duties to its own soldiers as citizens trumps its duty to non-combatants in a war zone, such that it is permissible _without taking any other criteria into account_ (the distinction is important) to kill civilians in order to protect one's own soldiers lives. He is also inconsistent: if 'reservist' status for policemen in Gaza (and this has been disputed) opens one up for attack while not engaging in military activity, does participation as a reservist in IDF duties open one up to similar attack?

It is a policy of moral bankruptcy to argue that Israel's conduct in Gaza was defensible _because there were not even more civilian casualties_: if 10,000 Palestiian civilians had died, Kasher could as logically have argued that Israel's conduct was defensible because 100,000 were not killed. Similarly, American operations in Fallujah (or, say, Russian operations in Grozny) do not serve to excuse any shortcomings of Israeli operations in Gaza.

As for a 'policy of trigger-happiness', the issue is not in my mind anyway that Israel in Gaza operated like Russia in Grozny: the question is, where there specific policies that tended to lead to unneeded civilian casualties? Articles like this ( suggest that there were.

As for Kasher's article in general... it's a post hoc justification of what happened in Gaza. Doesn't really matter what actually happened - he still would have found a way to justify it.


No doubt we start from radically different premises that inexorably will lead us to irreconcilable conclusions on these issues, but let me deal with your arguments regardless.

Firstly, different from you I found the section you quoted consistent, without contradiction and straightforwardly sensible.

Secondly I don’t grant your test for judging effective warnings. One can think of practical ways warnings might be dispensed—leaflets, radio warnings, time lags between such dissemination and the start of military activities, and so on—but we’d need to separate those warnings from the population’s response to them. If for any number of reasons—including, I don’t know, countermand and pressures from Hamas—the population didn't leave then I still say Israel in its dissemination acquitted itself. If the test was as you suggest, then Hamas could prevail on the regular population to stay put and then malign Israel’s failure to warn. Also the logical absurd conclusion of your test is Israeli military impotence in the face of a population that won’t heed the warnings it gets.

Thirdly, let’s unpack some of the realities on the ground. Israel does not control Gaza. Hamas refuses to heed the visible distinguishing between combatant and non combatant. Worse, it insinuates itself amidst the civilian population to take advantage of enlightened Israeli sensitivity about wanting to minimize civilian wounding and death. And still worse, it then launches its rocket attacks under the hoped for protection of a civilian shield. Assuming after some point and some number of rockets, Israel has to act in own self defense, what is it to do and what harm is it supposed to expose its soldiers to in response to Hamas’s tactics?

Once effective warning is given—something, I argue, to be tested empirically by the actuality of the warnings, not the actual dispersal the warnings lead to, I agree with Kasher and Yadlin and Halbertal, over Walzer and Margalit, that Israel, no state in fact, needs to expose its soldiers to the dangers of boots on the ground assurance that no civilians are afoot before military action begins. And on this basis, I agree with the assessment of, and assignment of, moral blame for Palestinian casualty against Hamas.

Fourthly, you are way too binary when you say “This means that Israel would simply give up on trying to avoid civilian deaths in any extra-territorial military action.” Respectfully, that comes nowhere near to following and elides measures taken to minimize civilian casualty. Those measures include pre action intelligence meant to ensure isolating militarily necessary targets, effective warnings, and tailored strikes. (Both Halbertal and Kasher note the fact of lower civilian to military death ratios in Lead Cast compared to any recent asymmetric campaign and the dearth of outcry against other warring nations than Israel.)

If the above, and Kasher’s analysis, be moral bankruptcy, I had better book an appointment with my moral trustee. But really I don’t think so.

Finally, for myself, I would not, in wanting to criticize Kasher, impugn his motives. Rather I’d try to deal with his arguments on the merits, which I have read you in the main to do, though, by my lights, unpersuasively.

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