Body count and Israel-Palestine conflict
Innumerable references have been made to the fatality imbalance in the recent outburst of violence in Gaza. With this many photos have been posted on all forms of social media of wounded or dead Palestinians, normally children. More on this later, but the most telling things about this was the fact that Jon Snow among others had to post children from Syria to make their point. This modus operandi is flawed for several reasons.
Why do people post photos of dying children? It seems to stem out of a Romantic era ideal of childhood, where the innocence of children is the hope for a world better than today. To see these children robbed of innocence seems stark because it points to a lack of hope for the future. This seems the best explanation for why people believe that photos of wounded children constitutes an argument. This reinforces the idea of an unjust war, it holds that conflict should be restricted to combatants and that outside this the war is unjust.
This manner of argument assumes that body count is everything. It is not. More people (and indeed more children) died in the bombing of Dresden than on 9/11, does this render the Allies in the Second World War morally inferior to Al Qaeda? Let us make this relevant to the current conflict in Gaza. Many have said Israel’s superior military gives it a moral culpability that Hamas does not possess. Robert Fisk asks in the Independent ‘What if 800 Palestinians had died and 35 Israelis?’ This assumes that conflict is arbitrary. The death toll is not a random occurrence, it is the result of actions which each side has taken. Netanyahu’s comment is spot on, ‘Israel uses weapons to defend civilians, Hamas uses civilians to defend weapons’. The main reason why Israel has avoided casualties is because of its Iron Dome missile system. It intercepts most of Hamas’s rockets, as it has to given an average of three per day have been fired since 2005. The absurd moral logic of this is that were Israel to weaken itself militarily, to lower the Iron Dome, it would be on the moral level of Hamas. Apparently you have a moral duty to the enemy but not to your own civilians.
Intention is not nothing. Three missiles fired since 2005 constitutes serious murderous intent. If Hamas were equipped with Israel’s military might and vice versa how many photos would appears of dead Israeli children. You only need to read their charter and watch videos of children’s tv instructing children that it is virtuous to grow up and kill all Jews. Hamas has spent its money, largely from EU and UN aid, on tunnels with the intention of suicide bombing in Israel. The blockade it faces was the result of these suicide bombings, which have been reduced since.
Hamas could have used money for bomb shelters but it has not. Even if you contend that it does not use human shields, which there is plenty of evidence to support, it clearly has not invested its aid in bomb shelters. This then leads us to the great genocide lie. Apparently Israel just loves killing children. This is another reason why people love to post pictures of dead Palestinian children. If Israel really is genocidal, it is the most incompetent killer imaginable. The population of Palestine has increased by more than 100% since 1970. If its aim is maximum fatalities, why is it going in on the ground? Why is it willing to shed blood of its own people, why not just launch bombs? Why does it offer warnings in the form of a phone message of a dud rocket? Why has it offered blood donations to Gaza? Why does Hamas encourage people not to flee once a dead rocket has been launched and why has it rejected blood donations?
Medhi Hasan appearing on Moral Maze commented on Israel’s moral need to show restraint. Many on the panel wanted him to discuss Hamas which he was entirely reluctant to do. His point was that Israel’s stronger military might gave it a requirement to act differently. Might is wrong I suppose.
The point is that not every death in conflict is equal. This is the basics of intention based morality. If we were to believe this manufacturers of baby baths in America would be seen as on par with if not more malevolent than the National Rifle Association. As the evidence shows, Israel has taken actions to prevent deaths. Its aim is to wipe out Hamas and destroy tunnels. There is good evidence that with Hamas isolated it may succeed in doing so. Children dying in this end goal is immensely regrettable, but in isolation do not make an argument.
There is a wider point, hinted at earlier. Suppose we concede the point that intention is nothing and all that really matters in any conflict is body count. To gather the morality of a conflict and the justness of a war all that must be done is add up the body count. This beggars the question why people are concerned with Israel and Palestine? Given more killing has occurred in the Syrian civil war in 2011 than on both sides of every single Israel war and skirmish 1948 to present we have to ask where the outrage is about this. ISIS killed more civilians in two days than Israel managed in two weeks. If it is persecuted minorities which warrant attention where was the march for Christians in Mosul? The claim that body count is all and therefore Israel is the greatest evil is fatuous for many reasons.