It can be justified if Israel is fighting a just war.

It can be justified if Israel is fighting a just war. Photo: Diario AS

Is Israel waging a «just war»?

On October 7 around 1,200 Israelis were massacred. How can Israel morally justify a ratio of 35 Palestinian deaths for every Israeli one? There is an answer to this. It can be justified if Israel is fighting a just war.

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Michael Cook

(ZENIT News – MercatorNet / Australia, 07.10.2024).- Benjamin Netanyahu, Israel’s prime minister, is scheduled to address a joint sitting of the US Congress on July 24. He will be the first foreign leader to speak to Congress four times. It will be an awkward time for politicians in both the US and Israel. President Biden is fighting for his political future both in his own party and against Donald Trump. Prime Minister Netanyahu could soon be forced out of office if his coalition collapses.

So Netanyahu is desperate to convince Congress to keep supplying his country with armaments and political support. A great deal hangs on his speech. The US is not solidly behind Israel. Dozens of Congressional Democrats have declared that they will boycott Netanyahu’s speech. About 40,000 Gazans have died in Israel’s assault, both civilians and Hamas militants.

On October 7 around 1,200 Israelis were massacred. How can Israel morally justify a ratio of 35 Palestinian deaths for every Israeli one? There is an answer to this. It can be justified if Israel is fighting a just war.

In a recent column in the Wall Street Journal, Lance Morrow, a distinguished journalist who used to write for Time magazine, argued that high civilian casualties are simply the price the world has to pay for exterminating vile evil-doers. “A just war, no less than an unjust one, may involve tragic arithmetic,” he wrote.

And according to Netanyahu, Israel is «waging a just war against Hamas, a genocidal terrorist organisation that perpetrated the worst attack on the Jewish people since the Holocaust.» But the war in Gaza is not just simply because Netanyahu says so. There is a vast amount of literature on what constitutes a just war. Most writers agree that just wars involve these criteria:

there must be a just cause – countering serious aggression or massive violation of human rights;
all other means of settling the dispute must have failed;

– there must be a realistic prospect of success;

– the outcome must not be worse;

– there must be a distinction between combatants and civilians; and

– the destruction must be proportionate to the damage caused by the aggressor.

Governments have argued that if they can tick all these boxes, or at least most of them, their wars will be just. Just war theory underpinned George W. Bush’s decision to go to war in Iraq.

However, the death toll in Gaza has been so horrific that some supporters of “just wars” are having second thoughts. That theory was first proposed by the Catholic theologian Augustine of Hippo in the 5th century.

Other writers have built on his insights up to the present day. Since just wars originated with Catholics, it might be useful for Netanyahu to know what Catholics think about it today. The short answer is that they are deeply sceptical.

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