Of Reports Serious and Unserious

The Goldstone Report, the UN’s attempt to indict Israel for defending itself, has failed on so many levels that only an organization as twisted as the UN could continue to hold it out as anything other than propaganda.  Right now, the PA sees more advantage in using it to attack Hamas, but that may not last much longer.  Daled Amos has done yeoman work comparing the report’s absolution of Hamas with contemporaneous news accounts to the contrary.  At the same time, Max Boot notes the report’s bizarre application of standards that would make national self-defense impossible for Israel were they actually followed.  Gerald Steinberg, in his laundry list of biases, both through active hostility and laziness worthy of the MSM, comes close the uncovering the problem:

Mr. Goldstone’s professional qualifications are anchored in international law, but if anything, this report highlights the absurdity of a vocabulary and framework that are anachronistic. Applying classical concepts and terms to terror and asymmetric urban warfare, in which the entire population is a massive human shield and hospitals are used as command headquarters, as in the case of Gaza, is ridiculous.

The report, according to Mr. Steinberg, fails because it is little more than a collection of category errors, applying what amount to civilian law-enforcement standards to a matter of national self-defense.  If the consequences of international law producing such a document weren’t so dire, the report would be deeply unserious.

For a serious look at the Operation Cast Lead, look to the serious people at Azure, a journal dedicated to revitalizing the intellectual life of religious Zionism.  It has published a detailed analysis of Israeli actions during the operation, according to Just War Theory.  Asa Kasher, the author of the article, co-founder of the Journal of Military Ethics, and a professor emeritus at Tel Aviv University.  Kasher is not seeking to address every action by every soldier, but instead attempts to place the entire operation, its goals, means, and methods as laid out by the Israeli military, in a philosophical framework.  If the Goldstone report attempts to convict the operation by virtue of often-questionable specifics, Kasher makes the case for the overall justness of the war, and the values by which it was fought.

For the time being, then, we should focus on the first stage of investigation mentioned above and restrict ourselves to examining the moral, ethical, and legal requirements to which decisionmakers and participants in military actions are bound. These requirements predate and are not dependant on the specific facts of Operation Cast Lead. However, though we are not in a position to provide a comprehensive answer to all the questions raised about what took place in the Gaza Strip during January 2009, the data collected so far permits us to conclude that a significant part of the criticism directed at Israel and the IDF during and after the operation was, to say the least, based on flimsy evidence.

Just War Theory lays out eight principles forming the “basis of the standard moral discussion of war.”

  • A state must have a compelling justification for taking military action against a state, entity, organization, or individuals outside its borders
  • The use of military force is, therefore, justified only if all other alternatives have been exhausted. In just war theory, this is known as the principle of last resort
  • The principle of right intention demands that a state not only wage war in a just cause, but that all of its intentions, on every level, be equally justifiable
  • The probability of success principle prohibits taking military action—which inevitably involves death, suffering, and destruction—if it is certain to fail
  • The principle of macro-proportionality: The positive results of the operation should be measured in terms of the protection it has provided to the state and its citizens at the conclusion of the military campaign and its aftermath. The negative results should be measured in terms of the death, suffering, and destruction inflicted on the other side
  • The principle of micro-proportionality: in regards to specific military actions that endanger harmless enemy non-combatants
  • The most important aspect of the relationship between a state and its citizens is the obligation of self-defense. This is one of the highest duties of a properly functioning democratic state
  • The principle of distinction, one of the most important when fighting an enemy who both attacks your civilians and hides behind his own:

The principle of distinction presents the combatant with three different standards of conduct to guide him in any military action: (a) a standard he should follow when facing a group comprising enemy combatants and no one else; (b) a standard he should follow when facing a group of enemy non-combatants who are not participating in the fighting and are not in proximity to enemy combatants; (c) a standard he should follow when facing a mixed group of combatants and non-combatants.

Kasher then goes on to examine the Israeli decision to go to war, and its conduct therein, in light of these principles.  Read the whole thing.

If international law seems remote from these considerations, it is a failing of international law, not the ethical framework.  Paul Robinson, of the University of Pennsylvania, gets it right:

Because international law has no enforcement mechanism, it is almost wholly dependent upon moral authority to gain compliance.  Yet the repuration international law will increasingly earn from its rules on the use of defensive force is one of moral deafness.


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