Consider the following three situations.
Situation A) Albert is driving home. It’s an icy night and he suddenly hits a patch of black ice. Despite his best efforts, he hit into another car and tragically kills 3 people.
Situation B) Bob is driving home. He’s had a few drinks and is driving rather aggressively. Trying to pass someone he clips the side of their car, killing 1 person.
Situation C) Charles is driving home. Seeing a group of people he dislikes walking, he immediately turns his car to purposefully run them over. They narrowly jump out of the way, saving their lives.
Whose character is most morally reprehensible? If you’re like me, you’d say that Charles is the worst person here, despite not killing anyone. Albert, on the other hand, is responsible for killing 3 people – but you might even feel sorry for him. Indeed, it would be hard to make a case to condemn Albert more than Charles (or Bob for that matter). Focusing solely on the numbers killed would be cognitively lazy and missing the importance of the context here. Indeed, whether Charles actually hit and killed someone would be almost irrelevant to how we judge his moral character.
Now, there’s an important difference that needs clarification – despite being the least morally reprehensible – Albert was involved in the most tragic situation. Total deaths should definitely cue us to injustices and problems in the world, but they say little* about moral character, intent, and blame.
Yet, In the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, much of the emphasis has been almost solely on the numbers. Despite a low death toll in Israel, 2600 rockets have been fired into Israel, with the sole purpose of killing civilians. Like the Charles example above, the intent was harm, and it was only due to the quick actions of the individuals that their lives were saved.
This of course cues us to an important question – would Hamas be any more morally reprehensible, if Israel did not have the iron dome? If Israel did not have bomb shelters? Or if Hamas had better rocket technology? Imagine if every rocket sent with the intent to kill someone, in fact did – and the death toll was over 2600 in Israel. Would this change how we view the conflict? Would Hamas suddenly be worse, because Israel couldn’t defend themselves? Would Charles be a worse person, if the people failed to get out of the way in time?
This of course begs the many questions related to why are we only focusing on total death for implicating moral responsibility? Indeed, just north of Israel in Syria, the systematic death of 170,000 people has occurred and proportionally little discussion, protest, or action has taken place.
The loss of life is all equally terrible. The more people die, the greater the need to end the conflict. But in terms of placing blame and condemnations, focusing on total deaths is at best lazy, and at worse, systematic bias and prejudice. This post is not meant to free Israel of any culpability, but to encourage others to think hard about what the context of what is happening, both in Israel and in the rest of the world.
* All things being equal, someone who kills more is more morally questionable.