The IDF called off a planned aerial strike on the home of a leading terrorist commander in northern Gaza last night, after hundreds of Arabs gathered around the building, defying Israel to bomb it. Chanting, "Death to America and death to Israel!" in scenes broadcast on Palestinian Authority television, many of the Arabs said they would be willing to give their lives in the struggle. However, their bravado was, unsurprisingly, not tested, as the IDF called off the strike because of the protest. "The attack plan was canceled because of the people there," an IDF spokesman said. "We differentiate between innocent people and terrorists."
Rabbi Zalman Melamed, however, says that there were no innocent people there to be differentiated. "We must do whatever we can to prevent hits on our citizens," he told Arutz-7 today. "From an ethical point of view, there would have been no problem to hit the building, even with all the people there. Their presence there was part of the war against us. From a practical/diplomatic standpoint, of course, we have to measure our steps carefully."
The question of "innocent citizens" arises, says the Dean of the Beit El Yeshiva Institutions, "only when you have armies fighting each other on the battlefront, and the citizenry is detached from the forces. But in this case, in Gaza, where the terrorists and citizens are intertwined, there is no difference between them."
Rabbi Shabtai Sabato, the head of Yeshivat Netivot Yosef in Mitzpeh Yericho, said the question is "military, not ethical."
"The military echelons should know that in a situation of war such as this one, we must do whatever we can to destroy the enemy and not be defeated," Rabbi Sabato told Arutz-7. "That is the ethically-correct thing to do. Therefore, there is no reason to inform them in advance that we are about to hit such-and-such a building. But when they do warn the enemy in advance, this leads to a situation where hundreds of them come to a building and 'dare' us to attack. At this point, the question is no longer one for 'men of ethics,' but rather for the military people who got us into that situation in the first place and have now 'trapped' the men of ethics."
A-7: "But don't the men of ethics have to answer every question put to them, even if the situation should not have happened in the first place?"
Rabbi Sabato responded, "No, because then what results is not ethics, but something that is twisted and warped."