My concerns about the disproportionate civilian casualties in the Israeli-Gaza have fallen on deaf ears among my friends. "There's no moral equivalence between the two sides," they respond. "If Israel has to kill innocent civilians to get at Hamas attackers, sobeit." Their argument seems to be that Hamas is much more "evil" an entity than a self-defending Israel, but I am not certain that Israel did enough to mitigate those civilian casualties. That "moral equivalence" argument seems like a rhetorical hand-grenade that makes actual discussion impossible. Am I being soft-hearted or soft-headed when I question the morality of Israel's response to Hamas'attack? Please, if you can, point me toward sources who have addressed this question. Thanks so much. Scott F. W.

I know what you mean. There is the position that there are no circumstances at all in which one is entitled to harm the innocent, in which case both sides were wrong. Was one more wrong than the other, and if so would this sort of justify killing the innocent?

If someone is hitching a ride on the back of his grandmother's wheelchair and decides to attack me, am I entitled to resist when it might involve harm to his grandmother, who is not an assailant? What the Israelis said is that they were not trying directly to kill civilians, but like in the grandmother case, innocents were cynically put in harm's way by their assailants. That is what since the dawn of time weaker armies always try to do, since direct confrontation with the enemy would result in obliteration. Very little fuss was made of the blanket bombing of German and Japanese cities in World War Two, although in these cases civilians were directly targeted. So it is difficult to see why Israel should come under especial opprobrium for resisting assault from civilian areas, and it is also difficult to see why their enemies should be criticized for what they did. Yes, they could have gone to an open area and fought, and that would have involved a rapid, albeit perhaps more noble, death.

You are not being either soft-hearted or soft-headed on this issue, but you do need to ask why you think it is wrong to harm civilians if that is the only way to defeat the enemy in war.Let's assume that both sides have good arguments for what they do, which is often the case, and examine what should be done when they both attack civilians. Hamas after all sent off rockets directly against civilian areas, with no pretense of attacking military units. If you think as I suppose most people do that one has the right to defend oneself in war, then civilians are always going to be in the way, however much that is officially regretted.

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