A Smoother Pebble

Suicide Bombings

Having read this post at Philosophy, et cetera on terrorism, I suggested in the comments that the crucial distinction in Kamm's enemy analogy is whether or not it is necessary to kill.

A tangential issue is that of Palestinian suicide bombings in Israel. In the West it is generally assumed that suicide bombings are an unjustifiable and barbarous violation of the conventions of war (jus in bello). In the Islamic world, clerics like Al-Qaradawi defend the bombing of Israeli restaurants, cinemas, and buses by arguing that as Israel has universal conscription, most Israelis are not civilians; therefore it is acceptable to target Israelis qua Israelis. Disturbingly, I can’t think of a good counter argument.

Some bad counter arguments:

1) Israel is in the right, the Palestinians in the wrong.

There is a fundamental distinction between judging an act permissible under jus in bello and sympathising with its motivation. I am pro-Israel (with some reservations), and thus am against attacks on Israelis. However: In the case of World War One, I am pro-Allied but nevertheless don’t think every soldier of the Central Powers who killed an Allied soldier was a murderer. It should be possible to be pro-Israel, while conceding that the Palestinian people consider themselves to be at war with Israel. Whatever one’s sympathies in the conflict, a Palestinian who kills an Israeli soldier should not be considered a murderer as he would be if he killed the Israeli to rob him.

2) Suicide bombings kill babies and the old, who are obviously non-combatants.

Of course the thought of dead babies and white haired grandmothers with their legs blown off is horrible. But if we were unwilling ever to kill a baby, we would be total pacifists. Almost everyone accepts that defeating Hitler justified killing some babies along the way, and the Israelis themselves kill babies as collateral damage.

3) But the Israelis try to minimise collateral damage, while Hamas deliberately targets civilians.

Now we get to the crux of Al-Qaradawi’s argument. Almost all Jewish males and two thirds of Jewish females between the ages of 18 and 45 are completing their three years of army service, or are reservists who do up to a month’s service a year. Suppose a bomb goes off at an Israeli nightclub. The ultra-Orthodox, who get exempted, and the old aren’t going to be there so the great majority of casualties will be persons on active service or in the reserve; although not in uniform at the instant the bomb goes off.

4) But most won’t be front line soldiers.

By convention any soldier is considered a combatant, whether a quartermaster or a paratrooper.


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