In War, There Are Innocents

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MVPJ Steering Committee member Craig Wiesner responds to 2006 news stories quoting a group claiming that in war, there are no innocents. While the specific event happened several years ago, the insights of Wiesner's article are still relevant today.

As guerilla fighters fired thousands of rockets at Israel, and the Israeli military leveled entire neighborhoods in Lebanon, innocent Israeli and Lebanese men, women, and children suffered and died.

They suffered and died without weapons in their hands or under their control. They suffered and died despite having no power to stop those who were firing those weapons from doing so. In a war of this nature, most of those who are harmed are innocent. Given a choice, they would live their lives in peace, never lifting a hand against their neighbors. But they have little choice. Despite what they may think, believe, or pray for, the bombs still come. Whether they land in the middle of a schoolyard in a Jewish settlement or they land in the market square of a Lebanese village, innocents are harmed and die.

Recently, Rabbi Dov Lior got quite a bit of press when, in the name of the Yesha Council of Rabbis, he said “When our enemies hold a baby in one hand and shoot at us with the other, or when missiles are purposely aimed at civilian populations in the Land of Israel in blatant disregard for moral criteria, we are obligated to act according to Jewish morality, which dictates that 'he who gets up to kill you, get up yourself and kill him first.’ There are no innocent parties in a time of war. Rather, one must battle a bellicose city until it is captured. All types of Christian morality weaken the spirit of our army and our nation and cost us the lives of our soldiers and citizens."

Rabbi Lior is wrong.

While it is despicable for guerillas to launch rockets from areas filled with civilians - thus endangering their own people from retaliatory strikes, it is equally despicable for war planes to drop cluster bombs on civilian neighborhoods, leaving deadly little packages littering the land for years to come, just waiting for a child's hand or foot to accidentally set them off. While it is despicable for governments to stand by while militias within their land launch attacks against civilian targets across their borders, it is equally despicable for a powerful army to destroy hospitals, water treatment plants, and other infrastructure critical to civilian survival.

Believing that any human being created by God has less value than any other human being is immoral. Saying that there are no innocents in war is flat out wrong.

Being willing and courageous enough to be the first to stop the cycle of violence and retribution is one of the few true paths to peace. MVPJ Steering Committee member Eric Stietzel recalls a Buddhist telling him how long ago another religious group had come and burned down his village. Asked rhetorically if his people had retaliated, the Buddhist replied "Of course not. But we didn't like them very much."

As people of faith, we share a common belief, variations of which can be found in Christian, Hebrew, and Islamic texts. "He who saves a single human life, it is like saving all of humanity. He who takes a single human life, it is as though he has destroyed the world."

Let us all work together to save human lives, to stop the madness of war, and reclaim the innocence of all of God's creation.