02 January 2009

Acceptable Collateral Damage?

It is always easy to watch hostilities from afar and make one's judgments based on some ethical or moral code that is removed from the daily threat of violence and death. However, as I sit back and watch another round of Israeli and Palestinian violence, I wonder what is acceptable collateral damage in this time of sophisticated weapons and "surgical strikes".

I find myself wondering how Israel justifies killing women and children in order to kill a self-proclaimed terrorist. Is this as simple as killing them before they kill you. Is it a case of these children would have grown up to be terrorists and they would have been encouraged by their mothers to be so, therefore the best solution is to wipe them out before such a reality can eventuate?

I also find myself questioning the wisdom of firing rockets, homemade or otherwise, by Hamas into Israel.

The issue here is not one of whether Israel has a right to protect itself, it is not even a question in my mind of proportionality. Ask yourself this question, when are wars ever about proportionality? Your answer should highlight the silliness of the idea of proportional responses. To the victors go the spoils, and the victors are those that are left standing. Simply, the idea of proportional response will lead only to a series of ceasefires and temporary truces that never address the fundamental problems that lead to the hostilities in the first place.

The issue for me is what constitutes acceptable collateral damage. The recent Israeli attack that killed Nizar Rayan is an example of why this is a question that must be answered. There is little doubt that Nizar Rayan is a senior leader of Hamas. There is also little doubt that he advocates violence. It has been reported that he even sent one of his own sons on a suicide mission to kill Israelis. There is also little doubt that Israel classifies Hamas as a terrorist organization.

However, in order to kill Rayan, the Israelis decided the best method was to drop a rather large bomb on his house. This bomb was obviously large as it destroyed 12 surrounding house as well as the targeted house. The collateral damage issue here that I want to look at is not the property but the 18 people killed in addition to Rayan. Among the dead were his four wives, two daughters, and a son. This is what I wonder when I am wondering how to answer the question of acceptable collateral damage.

I wonder whether Israel could have put together covert Mossad teams and assassinate Rayan. This would have averted any unnecessary collateral damage. Perhaps questionable in international law however I would assert that killing innocent men, women, and children is also questionable under international law.

I am neither pro-Israel not pro-Hamas or Palestine. I am pro-peace and I am pro-humanity. I am against the killing of innocent men, women, and children in the furtherance of any cause.

So, I pose this question, "what is acceptable collateral damage in a time of conflict?"


Brett said...

"Acceptable collateral damage" is an oxymoron. There is nothing acceptable about killing innocent people, especially children.

My suggestion: take the US-funded planes and weapons off Israel and make them fight with home made rockets and stones. It might not bring peace, but it would be a hell of a lot less disturbing than this mess.

Rob Baiton said...


I thought this posting might draw you out of your post Christmas / New Year slumber ;)

Oxymoron, yes! I agree that there is nothing acceptable about killing innocent people and I guess that was my point.

Why is it that people are not jumping up and down about this? Why is there nothing but a little rhetoric here and there but nothing really condemning the murder of innocent people? Why is the world not bringing more pressure in order to end this latest outbreak of hostilities?

It is just sad...

tikno said...

There's no "acceptable" in conflict area, none care about the damage, perhaps including human life.

Rob Baiton said...


I guess that is my point. I do not think that innocent men, women, and children are acceptable collateral damage.

Nevertheless, the lack of real outrage at the killing of innocents is disturbing.

I believe that Israel has a right to self-defense if Hamas is going to continue to fire rockets into Israel.

However, if Israel is going to pursue this idea of pre-emptive self-defense then the Palestinians must also have an equivalent right to defend themselves.

When it is all said and done it is all very messy.

Brett said...

Where did the term 'acceptable collateral damage' come from anyway? I have a feeling that it might have first been used (in the media, at least) during one of the Iraq Wars. In any even, there's a HUGE difference between unintentionally killing civilians and intentionally striking a school, because the Palestinians you're hunting just happen to take shelter there.

The US walked the line with its 'precision strikes' in Baghdad. Remember the flak it got for (oops!) missing military bases and hitting the hospitals or schools next door? Israel has REALLY crossed the line here.

This is such a good topic, Rob, it would be great to explore it further... You up for it? ;-)

Rob Baiton said...


Always :D

oigal said...

"there's a HUGE difference between unintentionally killing civilians and intentionally striking a school, because the Palestinians you're hunting just happen to take shelter there."

Hey Brett.. careful you will trip in your own words..HAMAS deliberately fires rockets into civilian areas and sponsors suicide bombers to kill as many civilians as possible. Israel at least "goes thru the motions" to reduce civilian deaths.

I am not saying which is right but the pretentious bullshit that HAMAS is somehow not even a little responsible for the death of civilians on both sides is just that pretentious bullshit.

Personally I think they should move UN to the GAZA strip and the whole place be declared a UN protectorate. Muslim and Jewish world have proved themselves incapable of chieving anything but the slaughter of children in the region.

Rob Baiton said...


Back after the Christmas / New Year break?

My question was general and did not prefer either side in the conflict. The question posed relates to collateral damage and what is "acceptable", if anything.

Brett said...

@oigal: Who said anything about Hamas? All I was saying was that it is one thing to accidentally kill civilians, it is another thing to knowingly kill them.

pj said...

It would be nice to live an a perfect world but....

I suppose acceptable collateral damage depends on whats acceptable to the parties engaged in the conflict. For example Lincoln may be remembered as the great emacipator and yet he had no issues ravaging the South to protect the Union. The Allies had no issues carpet bombing civilian populations during the WW2. And who can forget the big one in 1945 - can you imagine Truman trying to sell a round invasion of japan based on the casualties involved? All of these examples involve massive collateral damages - should they not have been done even if the outcome of the conflict may have changed as a result? Was it acceptable. History appears to have overlooked their excesses.

Until you have a world government local interests will always trump some idealistic picture of the rights of civilians. Not pretty or nice or even necessarily moral - just human nature.


Rob Baiton said...


Good points all round.

To the victors go the spoils (including how history remembers or forgets the excesses).

We do not live in a perfect world. So, perhaps I was looking at exploring the minimizing of the collateral damage.

It is a sad reality that all conflicts include innocent casualties.

Once again, thanks for your inputs.