Thoughts on War, Noncombatants, and Hostages

Hamas’ invasion of Israel last month has called us to look at several ethical issues around war. Let’s look at the involvement of noncombatants and then the taking of hostages.

It may seem odd to think of there even being “rules of war” but there is agreement on some things. When we think of war we divide people into combatants and noncombatants. Combatants are those who are armed, have some method of identification (e.g. a uniform) and participate in battle. But others may be in the vicinity of battle but are not involved in the battle. They may be medics, chaplains, journalists, or bystanders.

Hamas’ invasion of Israel on October 7th has led to a dizzying number of violations. Hamas didn’t target Israeli soldiers or bases. Of the initial 1200 Israelis killed the New York Times reports 70% were civilians. No war is completely clean and civilians always suffer from wars because they were in the wrong place at the wrong time. But this was blatant. And inexcusable.

Now that we’re into the 2nd month of this war we’re also dealing with wounded Palestinians. Problem is they have also used hospital patients as “human shields” hoping that Israel will not attack. In other words they are counting the Israeli’s having a stronger moral compass than they do.

And now about hostages. Every war has prisoners of war (POW’s); problem is that true POW’s are all combatants who were captured in battle. There is also the expectation that they will be able to receive aid from humanitarian organizations like the Red Cross.

However we may feel about the treatment of the Palestinians in Gaza there is simply no justification for what Hamas has done. I pray they hear this.

More later.

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