Over the weekend, Human Rights Watch reported direct observations of Israel’s use of white phosphorus in highly populated areas of Gaza. Charitably, HRW attributed Israel’s use of white phosphorus as intended to work as an obscurant, creating thick clouds of smoke to interfere with the ability of people to see other military operations.
You may remember that the U.S military did the same thing in Iraq. The problem is that white phosphorus is an incendiary weapon, so when it falls on houses, it sets them on fire, and when it touches human skin, it causes horrific burns.
Israel’s use of white phosphorus follows a pattern consistent in Israel’s attacks against Palestinians: Israel engages in attacks that are certain to cause grave civilian casualties, but declares that these attacks are justifiable because the supposed purpose of the attacks is not to harm civilians.
The United States employs the same ethical standard in its wars, claiming a distinction between war crimes against civilians and other killings of civilians merely because of a philosophical distinction on intention.
Do good intentions heal a wound? Do good intentions bring back the dead?
Furthermore, how can intentions be said to be good when it’s known that a consequence of an action will cause grave harm or death to innocent bystanders? How can someone say that the intention of an attack is not to kill civilians when it’s known that the attack will probably result in civilian deaths?
This philosophy of war has the stink of ethical convenience.