CUA theology dean: Just war doctrine requires Israel to avoid civilian casualties

ENNCapizzi Moral theology professor Joseph Capizzi speaks with Tracy Sabol on “EWTN News Nightly” Dec. 22, 2023. | Credit: “EWTN News Nightly”

If it wants to comply with “just war” doctrine, Israel Defense Forces (IDF) must seek to avoid civilian casualties amid its ongoing ground invasion of the Gaza Strip, according to a professor of moral theology and ethics at the Catholic University of America. 

The Israeli military “cannot target innocent people, and whenever it targets innocent people in its execution of its political goals, it’s violating not only international humanitarian law — or the laws of war — it’s also violating fundamental morality,” Joseph Capizzi said in a Dec. 22 interview with “EWTN News Nightly.”

Israel launched a ground invasion of the Gaza Strip on Oct. 27 following Hamas’ invasion of Israel at the beginning of the month. Israel’s stated objective to eradicate Hamas following the terrorist group’s Oct. 7 attack “absolutely” complies with just war doctrine, according to Capizzi, though only so long as the military works to avoid civilian deaths.

“It’s clear that Hamas and the state of Israel cannot coexist and Israel’s judgment — that whatever it’s doing now has to have as one of its political goals the eradication of Hamas — is an apt judgment,” said Capizzi, who is also the dean of the university’s School of Theology and Religious Studies. “Hamas is designed and animated by the desire to extinguish the state of Israel.” 

The Israeli government has claimed that it does not target civilians. The Israeli offensive has reportedly resulted in more than 20,000 deaths, according to the Hamas-controlled Gaza Ministry of Health. This amounts to nearly 1% of Gaza’s population prior to the invasion.

Capizzi said Israel must “pursue the execution of [its] political aims by military means in a manner that is attentive to … the proportion of innocent people who will die as a consequence of the use of military force.”

“There is a point at which Israel has to be concerned about how many people it’s killing,” Capizzi added.

To comply with just war doctrine, Capizzi said military forces must “follow the normal morality that the rest of us have to follow in our lives,” such as the moral principle “to not kill innocent people … by intention.” 

“The most important thing is that war, or the use of force in war, be understood as serving actual political goals, all of which themselves are in the service of peace,” Capizzi continued. “So everything that you do in war has to serve the goal of peace.” 

On Oct. 8, the day after Hamas’ initial attack, the head of the Catholic Church in Jerusalem, Cardinal Pierbattista Pizzaballa, said the “continuing bloodshed and declarations of war remind us once again of the urgent need to find a lasting and comprehensive solution to the Palestinian-Israeli conflict in this land.” 

“Terrorism and war do not bring any solution, but only death and suffering for many innocent people,” the pope said. “War is a failure. Every war is a failure.”

The pontiff condemned the Hamas attack but has also been critical of some of Israel’s military actions over the past two months. 

On Christmas, he called on Hamas to release the remaining hostages and decried the Israeli military operations for what he said was “their appalling harvest of innocent victims.”

On Dec. 16, meanwhile, the Latin Patriarchate of Jerusalem claimed that an Israeli sniper “murdered two Christian women inside the Holy Family Parish in Gaza.” The IDF has denied the allegation. 

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