We do not say that Israel is wholly right in its tactics or generally, nor that [Fitzgerald] is obligated to support her, only that his opposition to her ought to be more honest and careful in its sources, and that he not be so quick to suggest those who might support her are derelict in their faith on that account.
The Aquila Report has released its most read articles of 2023. Number 19 on the list is “Are Evangelicals Selling Their Souls for Israel?” by Jim Fitzgerald, a missionary and Presbyterian Church in America (PCA) minister who believes that evangelical support for Israel is mistaken. Fitzgerald is rightly aghast at the killing of civilians that has attended the war, and denounces the October 7th massacres. But these virtues are outweighed by some glaring faults in his article.
He uncritically accepts Hamas’ figures about the number of civilian deaths. Scripture is clear that murder and lying often accompany each other (Ps. 52:2; Prov. 6:16-19; Matt. 26:59; Jn. 8:44), so that people who do the former are suspectable of the latter. It is easy to lie and hard to kill, and if someone has a sufficiently seared conscience to do the latter, he is apt to have no qualms about the former. Scripture is clear as well that we are to have nothing to do with the wicked—and Hamas is in the foremost ranks of that category—and that listening to or associating with them has a corrosive effect and leads to righteousness and truth being overthrown (Prov. 1:10-16; 4:14-17; Prov. 29:12; 1 Cor. 15:33; comp. Ps. 1:1; Prov. 25:5). We should close our ears to all Hamas’ claims, therefore, for their wickedness has forfeited their right to be heard.
But Fitzgerald thinks Hamas’ claims verified by the statements of a single named person, a cardiologist named Dr. Sabra:
How can anyone be so heartless as to say the number dead is not accurate? I think the number is understated.
The attentive reader will note that is opinion, not testimony, and consists only of emotional rhetoric without any evidence in support; further, that it involves an ad hominem attack against anyone who dares think that murderous terrorists might exaggerate civilian casualties for propaganda purposes. Fitzgerald believes the point is buttressed by a nameless “many humanitarian workers” “making the same claim,” and by Israel’s own testimony of the amount of ordinance it has dropped on Gaza, some 30,000 tons as of his article in late November.
That last argument from sheer volume is weak: no amount of ordinance will kill anyone if they leave the target area. Israel issued a blanket warning to evacuate North Gaza before opening its main campaign, and it warns civilians near targets to evacuate before a strike by call, text message, or “roof knocking.” Actually, on technical grounds this arguably proves the opposite of what Fitzgerald thinks. Rather than demonstrating Israel’s “wholesale slaughter of civilians,” as he asserts, it demonstrates its firepower is being used in a way that has resulted in vastly fewer casualties than would be expected given the amount of ordinance dropped.
Without getting too much into the minutiae of what munitions Israel has used or the finer points of the many factors that affect the extent of damage done by explosive blasts and fragmentation, we can nonetheless get a rough idea of how much devastation can be wrought by that amount of bombing. To use the example of a single common munition, the pressures from a Mk. 82 500 pound bomb are enough to collapse reinforced concrete structures about 52 feet from the point of impact, and to collapse other buildings at twice that distance. Those represent blast areas of about a fifth of an acre and three fourths of an acre, respectively, and the area within which fragments may kill or wound is far larger: there is an estimated 10% risk of incapacitating wounding as far as 820 feet from the point of impact, an area of some 48.5 acres. Israel had dropped the equivalent of 120,000 such bombs as of Fitzgerald’s writing, enough to ravage pretty much the entirety of Gaza’s approximately 90,240 acres of territory, which has a density of about 25 people per acre.
When Fitzgerald then says that “a genocide is taking place right before our evangelical eyes,” we might reply that the claim is incredible. If that is what they are attempting, the Israelis are the most inept murderers in the history of the world. Israel has the most advanced weapons, planes, targeting and surveillance systems, munitions, etc., and has dropped about enough ordinance to flatten Gaza and kill its entire populace—and yet she has not done that. There is no way of knowing how many people Israel has killed, exactly, since nigh well everyone insists on taking Hamas’ figures at face value, and since most reporting makes no effort to distinguish civilians and Hamas fighters. But the large point remains that Israel has used enough firepower to actually kill much of the entire Gazan populace, had she desired to do so in a fit of genocidal rage. Instead she has focused those efforts on Hamas positions and accompanied them with repeated efforts to warn noncombatants to avoid being caught in them.
The point is not to argue that this Israeli effort is the best approach to fighting Hamas or responding to the larger political situation. The point is that it is false to say that Israel is engaged in genocide when it is deliberately acting to not kill civilians by general and particular warnings, and when it is trying to limit its attacks to its armed opponents. There is a moral difference between intentionally murdering civilians and accidentally killing civilians while fighting an honorless enemy that does not wear uniforms and readily hides among them. And that difference is the difference between a crime and a tragedy, between an inexcusable and intentional act on the one hand and an unintended consequence of a morally-permissible action on the other.