Home » War Update: Not all civilian deaths in war and conflict carry equal moral weight

War Update: Not all civilian deaths in war and conflict carry equal moral weight

As videos of Hamas’ wave of terror against Israeli civilians continue to emerge, deepening the horror of the past few days’ events, there are reports that Hamas is executing kidnapped civilians and vowing not to stop until Israel stops its attacks on Gaza. Given that Israel isn’t about to stop and, in fact, will intensify those attacks in the coming days and weeks, it looks like the terrorist organization will continue making the same mistake I discussed Monday: thinking that murdering (and even decapitating) civilians will help accomplish, rather than hinder, their goals.


There will obviously be efforts to create moral equivalence between civilians killed by Israeli air raids and those murdered by Hamas. But my careful use of language very purposely delineates the difference between the two situations.

In war, civilians are often collateral damage. It isn’t good and it isn’t right, but it’s a consequence of military action. There is a clear difference between military action and deliberately targeting and killing civilians without regard to military value or strategy.

If Ukraine targets the Kerch Bridge in occupied Crimea and civilians die, that is a tragic consequence of a military operation. In fact, in past strikes, Ukraine has intentionally struck the bridge at night, when civilian traffic was lowest, to minimize that collateral damage.

Same with American military actions in Iraq and Afghanistan. A frightful number of civilians were killed, but the vast majority died as a result of military action. That’s why we opposed those wars: Because we knew civilians would suffer. And we were exponentially more horrified by Donald Trump’s pardon of four Blackwater mercenaries who massacred Iraqi civilians, or the Navy SEAL who did the same, because war might be hell, but there is a special place in it for those who directly target the innocent.

War casualties aren’t a math equation or a simple tally of the dead on a ledger. There is a clear moral distinction between civilians dying as collateral damage, and explicitly being targeted. Civilians die as a result of Russian military action all the time, but it has particular resonance when they are intentionally targeted, like at this funeral last week

For all the horrors it has visited upon Ukraine, Russia isn’t accused of war crimes when it strikes military targets, but when it explicitly doesn’t.

Hamas lost the moral high ground when it murdered hundreds of Israeli and other civilians. Now threatening to murder civilian hostages (or doing so already), Hamas is merely doubling down .

Relatives mourn people killed in an Israeli air strike in Gaza City on Monday, Oct. 9, 2023

It should be no surprise, for a people suffering so much, that Hamas might be the worst thing inflicted on the Palestinian people. For all the attempts to blame Gaza’s plight on Israel, the reality is that Egypt itself has blockaded its border with Gaza, while the (corrupt) Palestinian Authority in the West Bank refuses to allow entry to Gaza residents. Hamas is an authoritarian terrorist organization. It took power in Gaza after the 2006 elections, then made sure no elections have been held ever since.

Polling by the Palestinian Center for Policy and Survey Research found that just 31% of Palestinians (and just 38% of those in Gaza) thought that Hamas was “deserving of representing the Palestinian people.” Does that mean that the Palestinian people are just as much anti-Hamas as most of the rest of the world (including the Arab world)?

It might not be that simple. Only 28% of respondents supported a two-state solution, with 70% opposing. Support for a one-state solution, in which Palestinians would enjoy equal rights inside Israel, is at just 21%, with 76% opposing. So if they don’t support either the one- or two-state solution, what is left? (Destruction of Israel wasn’t polled.) Disenchantment with Hamas may be less about its extremism and more about its corruption and lack of results.

As noted Monday, the Arab world is moving toward diplomatic normalization with Israel. Egypt and Jordan were already there. Bahrain, Morocco, Sudan, and United Arab Emirates joined them in 2020. Saudi Arabia is well along that path. Hamas’ stated goal to destroy Israel is increasingly a fringe ideology within the Muslim world itself. That is why Hamas is currently lashing out in a murderous rampage. Its supposed friends and most of the world are moving on, and the only ones who remain sympathetic to Hamas’ cause are Iran, Russia, and naive, idealistic Western leftists.

And the sooner Palestine’s friends in the Western world realize that Palestine’s future is not with Hamas, the sooner we might get some semblance of a peace process back on track.

In the meantime, the cost, both militarily and in innocent lives, will be horrific on both sides, but Israel will successfully cleanse Gaza of Hamas’ leadership. If we’re lucky, maybe Trumpian Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu will be a casualty of his own severe security and intelligence failures.  

With Hamas and Bibi gone, maybe there would be a chance for some semblance of a peace process to restart. Probably not, but just maybe.

Germany may be receiving flak for refusing to send long-range cruise missiles to Ukraine, but it just announced a massive air defense package worth over $1 billion. Ukraine will receive:

  • A Patriot air defense system. This is the world’s most advanced air defense system, with a proven ability to shoot down Russia’s most advanced hypersonic cruise missiles. The package includes a command center, radar array, eight launchers, and 60 missiles.

  • An IRIS-T SLM system. The IRIS is a medium-range system which Ukraine claims has a perfect shoot-down record.

  • Three Gepard air defense vehicles. Gerards (“cheetah,” in German) are formerly decommissioned air defense machine-gun-like systems that have proven absolutely brilliant for taking down drones. These add to 46 already sent, many of them scoured from foreign owners (like Jordan) that had also decommissioned the systems. Indeed, the Gepard’s success must have NATO weapons planners wondering about restarting the entire Gepard manufacturing line, as missiles are inefficient and expensive ways to shoot down cheap drones.

Germany’s announcement also included 10 more Leopard 1 tanks, 15 armored personnel carriers, 20 armored medical vehicles, and 155mm artillery rounds. But the air defenses are a huge upgrade to Ukraine’s growing air shield and should prove invaluable in defending its infrastructure from this winter’s inevitable missile and drone barrages. Indeed, it might be helpful to park those new systems around Odesa, which is currently under-defended and under constant attack. And unlike last winter, Ukraine will have the means to strike back this winter. It won’t be one-way misery.


October 2023