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Rebutting Israel's "We don't kill civilians on purpose" argument


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February 14, 2010



Zionists try to refute the Goldstone Report by arguing, "Unlike Hamas, Israel does not intentionally kill civilians*." They emphasize the difference between intentional and accidental ("collateral") killing of civilians.

This difference between intentional and accidental killing is, however, only relevant when the aim of the violence is a just one. Accidentally killing civilians* in the course of using violence to stop oppression is one thing. Doing it in the course of using violence to oppress people is a very different thing.

In the case of Israeli violence, the question is not whether Israel intentionally kills civilians*. The question is: What is the purpose of Israel's violence?

Israel uses violence today to prevent the Palestinian refugees from returning to the homes and territory (inside the part of Palestine now called Israel) from which they were expelled by Zionist violence in the past. They were expelled for only one reason--they were not Jewish. This violence has an unjust purpose: ethnic cleansing. Its purpose is to ensure that the population of Israel will be at least 80% Jewish**, which is what Israel's leaders say it must be in order to be a Jewish state. Violence in defense of the right of Israel to exist as a Jewish state is violence in defense of ethnic cleansing. When this violence kills somebody, no matter whether on purpose or accidentally, and no matter whether the victim is a civilian or a soldier, it is 100% unjustifiable homicide. It is a criminal act.


What about Hamas's killing of civilians*?

There are two separate questions involved here. The first question is this: If Hamas does something morally wrong, does that in any way justify Israel's denial of the right of return to millions of Palestinian refugees? The answer is clearly, No. For example, would anybody claim that nineteenth century slavery in the U.S. was justified by the fact that some slaves (like Nat Turner in 1831) wrongly killed white children during their resistance to slavery?

The second question is: Does Hamas intentionally kill civilians*? The latest report (seen by this author) is that Hamas had withdrawn its earlier apology for Israeli civilians* killed by its rockets. This suggests that the killing was intentional. If Hamas intentionally kills civilians*, then that is wrong. But it is a wrong that in no way justifies Israel's violence for the purpose of denying Palestinian refugees their right of return.


Furthermore, if Israel did grant the right of return and compensation for stolen property--as Germany did for Jews--then those individual Palestinians, in Hamas or not, who continued to advocate violence against Israeli civilians* would no longer have enough support from the Palestinian people to carry it out; instead Palestinians would want them to be arrested as criminals.

It's not how many are killed on each side, but why they are killed

Some anti-Zionists argue that the most morally relevant question is: Who kills more civilians*, Israel or Hamas? This is wrong, and the Zionists easily win the argument when it is framed this way. How come? Zionists argue that accidentally killing a thousand people in the course of fighting a just war is morally defensible, whereas intentionally or accidentally killing only one person in the course of fighting an unjust war is morally indefensible. Would anybody, for example, argue that if the Nazis had killed fewer people than the Allies then the Nazis would have been morally justified in their violence? The Zionists win this argument when anti-Zionists merely contrast the numbers of civilians killed by each side, because the contrasting numbers deflect attention from the fact that it is the purpose of Israel's violence, not its magnitude, that makes it immoral.


* "Civilians" in this article is taken to mean noncombatant civilians, and not civilians using violence to oppress others. There are Israeli civilian "settlers" who use violence to oppress Palestinians and they, like the armed forces of Israel, are legitimate targets of Palestinian violence in self-defense.

** "There are 40% non-Jews in the areas allocated to the Jewish state. This composition is not a solid basis for a Jewish state. And we have to face this new reality with all of its severity and distinctness. Such a demographic balance questions our ability to maintain Jewish sovereignty...Only a state with at least 80% Jews is a viable and stable state." David Ben-Gurion [Israel's first prime minister], in a speech given on December 3, 1947 in front of senior members of his Mapai party (the Eretz Israel Workers Party), quoted in The Ethnic Cleansing of Palestine (hardcover), pg. 48, by Ilan Pappe

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