This is a guest post by Anh Le. Anh currently works in the NGO sector on environmental issues but previously taught at the University of Manchester, where he also got his PhD, writing on the ethics of force short of war.
It’s important to note at the outset that what unfolded on Saturday October 7th in Southern Israel when Hamas fighters overran the Israel – Gaza border, infiltrated deep into Israeli territory, murdered more than a thousand Israelis, and took more than a hundred hostages back across Gaza was a war crime (or at least most of it was, the killing of Israeli soldiers, even if most of them were unarmed can be argued to be the legitimate targeting of combatants in an armed conflict). Equally important to note is how the Israel Defence Force (IDF) has responded to the initial attack also violates the International Humanitarian Law, e.g. the blockade of Gaza, indiscriminate bombings of residential areas. At the time of writing, the IDF hasn’t officially conducted a land invasion of Gaza, although some ground incursions have occurred. In this post, I argue that, contrary to what has been taken as a fact – that Israel has the right to go to war against Hamas following its attack on Israel and the only question that is morally, and legally, relevant is how they go about doing that, a question of jus in bello – it’s not clear if Israel’s war meets the criteria of jus ad bellum – the right to go war, and thus if Israel has a right to go to war against Hamas.
I should first make clear that I will not weigh in on the ethics of the situation between Israel and Palestine. The history is protracted and there are others eminently more qualified to unpack it than myself.