This is not a new question. In the aftermath of Israeli’s War of Independence, and the signing of the Armistice in 1948, Arab marauders remained at war with the Jewish State. Jewish settlements were attacked on almost every border. Dozens of Jews were killed. On one occasion, Jews retaliated and attacked the village of Kibia, a haven of marauders who were terrorizing the Jews. In the counter-offensive, Arab “civilians” were killed - leading the world and the United Nations to protest Israel’s “massacre” of “innocent Arabs” with the same two-faced, hypocritical indignation that we encounter today.
Rabbi Shaul Yisraeli, of blessed memory, who later became Rosh Yeshiva of Mercaz HaRav, discussed the halachic [Jewish legal] morality of this counter-attack. He wrote that every community is responsible to uproot murderers and criminals from its midst. If a civilian population is against the terrorists among them, but does not imprison them because of fear of reprisal, then they are not to be harmed during an attack against the terrorists. However, if the civilian population encourages terrorism, educates their children to hate Jews and carry out terror, supports the terrorists, and agrees with their murderous aims, then they too must be considered as the enemy.
In 1981, during the War in Lebanon, the Israeli Defense Forces were faced with the decision whether to send in ground forces against the enemy, knowing it would involve Israeli casualties, or to bomb terrorist camps from the air. The camps were purposely situated within civilian communities, which the terrorists used as shields against Israeli attack. Again, the United Nations came out vehemently against Israel, decrying Israel’s lack of morality while overlooking the barrage of katusha rockets that were being launched daily from Lebanon on civilian centers in Israel.
When asked his opinion, Rabbi Dov Lior, Rosh Yeshiva of the Nir Yeshiva in Kiryat Arba and Chief Rabbi of Hevron, said that if the objectives of the war could be achieved by aerial or artillery bombing in a way that not one Israeli soldier would be scratched, then the IDF should do so even at the expense of civilian casualties.
He cited the Maharal who explains why, in the Bible, the entire city of Shechem was eradicated, when only one of its inhabitants raped Jacob’s daughter, Dina. The Maharal writes: “Even though only one of them committed the immoral deed, because he was a part of a belligerent nation, it is proper to take retaliatory measures against the entire population,” and he adds, “So too, in all of the wars with civilian populations such as the war against Midian, even though there were many who were not involved, since they belonged to the nation which perpetrated evil against us, we are permitted to destroy them in war.”
Regarding the same matter, Rabbi Yaakov Ariel, Chief Rabbi of Ramat Gan, cites a verse in the Book of Samuel (15:6) regarding King Saul’s war against the Amalekites: “Saul said to the Keni, ‘Go turn away from the Amalekites lest I kill you with them.’” We learn from this that Saul intended to go to war against Amalek even though innocent people would be killed. He warned the people beforehand of the imminent attack, and anyone who didn’t take heed would have to accept the consequences.
Indeed, Israel’s ground attack on Jenin was immoral. Instead of risking the lives of Jewish soldiers, who had to fight their way through dangerous alleys, house-to-house, in order to protect “innocent civilians,” we should have first bombed the terrorist camp from the sky with our fighter jets before we sent in our soldiers.
The father of a young suicide bomber, who proudly holds up his son’s picture and says “I am honored that my son murdered Jews,” is he an innocent civilian? When the mother of a seventeen-year-old girl, a suicide bomber who blew herself up in a crowded Jerusalem market, says that she wishes all of her children would grow up to be suicide bombers, is she an innocent civilian? Hardly. People who educate other people to kill are partners in their crime. And if there are indeed innocent civilians that terrorists use as shields to carry out their attacks against Jews, who is responsible if these innocents are killed in the battle? The terrorists, not the Jews.
Let us make no mistake. The Palestinians have declared war against the Jewish people in Israel. The Palestinian population in Judea, Samaria and Gaza is at war with us, not just cells of individual terrorists.
Again and again, Israel has taken incredible pains not to endanger civilians in its war against terror, even to the extent of sacrificing Jewish lives. Despite this, the nations of the world are sharply criticizing the State of Israel for the civilian Arab casualties. I digress to note the hypocrisy of this claim. For all of its claim to morality, when America dropped atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, those bombs did not kill soldiers - they wiped out the entire civilian populations of those cities. How many innocent Vietnamese were wiped out in napalm attacks? How many innocent Afganistan people were bombed in their hospital beds by American B-52s? The nation that committed genocide against the American Indians should not be the nation to preach the Jewish people morality. As for the Europeans, a list of their atrocities could fill up a library of books.
Furthermore, where was the moral outcry of the world when Arabs blew up hundreds of innocent Jews in the attack on the Tel Aviv Dolphinarium, the bombing of the crowded pizzaria in Jerusalem, the massacre during the Passover Seder in Netanya, and on and on and on?
Our happiness over the success of Israel’s recent military campaign against terror is not derived from the death of our enemies, but rather from the vindication of Israel over the forces of evil, for the enemies of the Jewish People are the enemies of G-d. Our strength is in knowing the righteousness of our cause, for we know that the victory of Israel is not only a national victory, but a victory for the Living G-d.
1. “Amud HaYimeni,” Ch.16.
2. Maharal, “Gur Aryeh,” Bereshit,34:13.
3.“T’chumin,” Vol.4, Pg.190.