Last updated: September 5, 2014
Every time a nation goes to war against an enemy, someone will inevitably raise a moral question: is this the right thing to do? Those who think about such things call this a discussion of ‘just war’.
A war can be ‘just’—that is, moral--if it fulfils several requirements. One approach used to determine whether a war is moral starts by looking at the results of the war. Then it uses those results to answer four questions. The answers determine whether or not a war was moral.
It works this way: you start with four conditions (“The Consequences of War”, Thomas Hurka, University of Toronto, p. 4). First, a just war must have a just cause—like resisting aggression or preventing genocide (ibid, p. 4). A moral war must also be a response to a specific, relevant wrong (ibid).
For Israel in its 2014 war with Gaza, the specific, relevant wrong committed for which war was a response was daily rocket-fire from Gaza that was aimed at Israel’s civilians.
Israel had a specific wrong it sought to address. It went to war in order to address that wrong. Israel’s behaviour fulfilled the first moral requirement.
The second moral condition for a just war is called, a reasonable hope of success. This means that a war must hope to produce a relevant good (ibid).
The relevant good Israel hoped to achieve was to stop that rocket fire. Rockets from Gaza affected the safety and security of some 500,000 Israelis. Those citizens have a right to live in peace and security. Israel has a responsibility to protect them.
Israel’s war had a clear purpose to produce a relevant good. Its behaviour fulfilled the second condition for moral war.
The third condition necessary to call a war ‘just’ is that it must be a last resort, not a first response. This condition requires that a State seeks a less destructive way to achieve the ‘good’ end.
For this 2014 war, Israel did seek a less destructive approach to get Hamas to stop firing rockets at Israel. The Israel Defense Force (IDF) informed Hamas that it would face war if it didn’t stop shooting rockets at Israel’s civilians. It gave Hamas 48 hours to stop. Hamas didn’t stop (“110 Rockets Fired on Israel Since Wednesday”, Arutz Sheva, July 6, 2014).
The IDF also announced its willingness to broker a cease-fire (ibid). Hamas refused. Israel went to war against Gaza as a last resort. Its behaviour fulfilled the third requirement for moral war.
The fourth condition needed to identify a war as ‘just’ is that the damage caused by war must not be excessive or disproportionate to the relevant good.
It is perhaps this fourth condition that provokes the world to condemn Israel for this war. No one defines ‘excessive’. No one defines ‘disproportionate’. Nevertheless, the UN, EU, US, the UK and Palestinian Authority have characterized Israel’s war response to Hamas attacks as ‘excessive’ and ‘disproportionate’.
Now, because Israel is accused of excessiveness and disproportionality, it stands to be called immoral (and therefore criminalized) for this 2014 war. The question will be, was Israel immoral?
Unfortunately, the answer will not be based upon fact. It won’t be based upon reality. It will be subjective. It’ll be subjective because it’ll be founded upon ‘counterfactual judgments’ (ibid, p 4) which, in turn, are based upon something called, ‘counterfactual thinking’.
Counterfactual thinking is a moral fraud. It doesn’t rely on facts. It is ‘counter’ to fact: it tells you to ignore reality.
It tells you to make things up. It allows your personal prejudices free reign.
In a way, it’s the world’s perfect moral tool to judge the Jewish state, especially if you desire a negative outcome. You see, when counterfactual thinking is applied to a moral question, social scientists have discovered that it promotes the conclusion that “it’s immoral” (“Counterfactual thinking in moral judgment: an experimental study, Simone Migliore, et al, Frontiers in Psychology, May 20, 2014).
Counterfactual thinking is thinking about something that never happened (Migliore, ibid). It instructs you to walk away from reality. Instead, you are to construct mental alternatives to reality (Migliore, ibid). It tells you to make moral judgments based upon what you have imagined, not what’s real (Hurka, ibid p 4).
This means that Israel’s morality in this war will be decided by people who will ignore reality. They will ignore facts. They will construct an alternative to reality—then judge Israel.
Hamas’ Jew-hate will be irrelevant. The thousands of rockets fired at Israel’s civilians will be irrelevant. Hamas' use of human shields will be irrelevant. Reality will be irrelevant.
To judge Israel, the nations will be asked to imagine what Israel could have done about the rocket-fire if only it had…(you fill in the blank).
If Israel didn’t do what you imagine it should have done, it loses. If fails the moral test.
Both US President Barack Obama and UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon have laid the foundation for calling Israel immoral when each declared that Israel should be ‘more careful’.
That’s why everyone has said Israel’s war response in Gaza was ‘excessive’: Israel refused to do what everyone imagines it should have done. It wasn’t ‘more careful’.
How could Israel have been ‘more careful’? No one knows. Israel already did more than any other army in history to warn civilians about an attack. No one knows what else Israel could have done.
But then, in counterfactual thinking, that question is irrelevant. Offering realistic solutions to real problems is irrelevant.
The only thing that counts is what you imagine—and the world’s leaders imagine that Israel should have been more careful, and wasn’t.
That’s how counterfactual morality works. It’s also why Israel will be found guilty of waging an immoral war.
The G-d of Israel watches. He’s taking names. He never forgets.
If you want to know what that means, read you Tanach.