Let’s do a thought-experiment.
We’ll start with a choose-your-own-adventure. Pick a mass-shooting event from recent U.S. history, but try to pick one where the shooter matches your personal demographics as closely as possible. As a white, male American of a similar age, I’ll pick James Holmes, the man who shot up the Colorado movie theater in 2012, killing a dozen people and wounding dozens of others. (I even support the right of individuals to own firearms, damning me even further.)
I’ve never had any association with James Holmes, and living in a completely different state at the time, would have had no means of stopping him from committing his crime. But he and I obviously share a country. Given all of these facts, the question for the thought-experiment is this: What consequences as a result of the brutal crimes of James Holmes should I suffer? What consequences as a result of the brutal mass-shooting that you chose for yourself should you suffer?
If you answered that you and I should suffer no consequences as a result of their crimes, then why do you think innocent Palestinian civilians should be bombed to smithereens by the Israeli government—using bombs that were supplied by the United States government—for the crimes committed by Hamas?
You might ask why innocent Israeli civilians should have been brutally beaten, tortured, kidnapped, and murdered by Hamas for the crimes of the Israeli government. And you’d be correct; they should not have, and that’s the point. The people murdered by James Holmes, and the people murdered by the shooter(s) in the scenario you chose for yourself, did not deserve to be killed by those lunatics, no matter what the perpertrator’s so-called “justifications.”
Likewise, Hamas is an evil terrorist organization that does horrific things to innocent people. A principle, however, must be indiscriminate. It is just as evil to kill innocent Palestinians for the crimes of Hamas, real or imagined, as it is for Hamas to kill innocent Israeli civilians for the crimes of the Israeli government, real or imagined.
The question of whether Israel has the right to defend itself, which U.S. politicians are bending over backwards to assert every hour on the hour, is irrelevant. Israel, being made up of individuals, and like every other individual on planet Earth, has the right to defend itself from aggression. But Israel, being made up of individuals, and like every other individual on planet Earth, does not have the right to defend itself from aggression at any cost.
For example, let’s say that I’m in a movie theater getting ready to enjoy a feature film and I just so happen to be armed. In this scenario, some thug comes up to me with a knife and threatens my life. In response, I pull out my gun and shoot him before he can harm me. If that’s the whole story, then I’ve engaged in self-defense and kudos to me. If, however, in the process of shooting the man who plans to attack me unprovoked, I also shoot dozens of other people, then I have not engaged in self-defense. I’ve engaged in murder. Nobody in their right mind would argue that I have the right to defend myself against my attacker by killing and injuring the other people who are present in the theater with us.
Likewise, when Israel hits a church in Gaza with a missile killing innocent civilians, including the family of a former U.S. Congressman, they are not engaged in self-defense but are engaged in murder as surely as I am in my hypothetical movie theater scenario, and as surely as Hamas was in reality on October 7, 2023. Self-defense is when you attack the people who have attacked or have threatened to attack you, and it ceases to be self-defense the moment you harm an innocent civilian.
But if Hamas uses Palestinian civilians as human shields and constructs rocket-launchers that they hide in hospitals or near churches, then what is Israel supposed to do? Just let Hamas attack them indiscriminately with no response? That’s a fair question, but, again, self-defense at any cost is just another term for murder. Israel has the right to defend itself, but not to murder innocent civilians. Said differently: If defending itself requires Israel to murder innocent civilians, then Israel doesn’t have the right to defend itself. (At least, not in the manner that leads to the murder of innocent civilians.)
So the option of indiscriminately bombing the Gaza Strip is not on the table because it leads to Israel murdering innocent civilians en masse. But that doesn’t mean there aren’t other options. What are they? I’m not a military expert or even a military novice, but out of necessity Israeli military forces are some of the best trained on Earth, so the idea that they could not get into the Gaza Strip and go after Hamas directly in precision offensives is difficult for me to believe.
Would that be a dangerous policy that would result in the loss of a lot of Israeli soldiers? Probably. Are their lives worth less than Palestinian civilians? No, but they’re trained soldiers, and this is a mission from their government to go after the butchers that just killed over a thousand innocent Israeli citizens and will make it so that these terrorists can’t hurt anyone else in the future. It’s not an easy choice, but war never should be. It would be Israel’s responsibility to determine if the cost that they would incur by enacting operations to deliver justice for the crimes that Hamas committed against them is worth it. The answer might be that it’s not. Unfortunately, we live in an imperfect world and sometimes the cost of justice and defense is simply too high. But that still does not justify the murder of innocent people to make it cost less.