If you think that in war anything goes, then this post is not for you. Likewise, if you think war is never justified in any circumstances, you should stop reading now. Or if you're one of those who think that any military action undertaken by Israel is indefensible, whether because Israel itself is an illegitimate entity or for some other reason, what follows won't engage you. Or if you think that any military action supported by the US - or by the current US administration - is indefensible, same deal.
I operate with assumptions that contradict these several standpoints: in particular, I think war is sometimes justified (when it may be called just), and that in war there are both just methods of fighting and unjust ones. I operate, that is, in terms of the well-known distinction within just war doctrine between jus ad bellum and jus in bello. We need to know whether a resort to military force has just cause. That is one kind of question. But we also need to consider whether any given military action observes the laws of war, the rules laid down concerning what may be done in warfare and what may not.
This distinction is of some importance right now when Israel faces worldwide condemnation for what it is doing in the Lebanon, much of which condemnation moves, either explicitly or implicitly, from the charge that Israel is violating the norms of jus in bello, is committing war crimes, to the conclusion that it cannot be supported in the present conflict. But the conclusion doesn't follow from the premise. Israel may have just cause even if some of the charges in respect of jus in bello are true.
Here's a small supporting example and then a big one. (1) In the struggle against apartheid, there were some who thought that the 'necklacing' of collaborators, or - what this meant in practice - individuals thought by others to be collaborators, was a legitimate weapon of struggle. It wasn't. It was, unambiguously, a crime. The struggle against apartheid was still supported by many, as a just struggle against oppression, that criminality (never officially endorsed by the ANC, so far as I know, though on one notorious occasion encouraged by Winnie Mandela) notwithstanding. (2) By the norms of jus in bello there is no question that certain actions of the Allies during World War II - like the bombing of civilians, in Dresden, at Hiroshima and Nagasaki - were war crimes. I doubt that there are many amongst Israel's present critics who would want to say today that the war fought by the Allies against Nazism was not a just one.
Israel does have just cause. This I don't argue for, I merely assert. It has been said by many others before me in the last two weeks: no other country on the planet would be thought to be obliged to endure missile attacks on its population from a neighbouring country, especially as coming from a movement dedicated to its destruction, and materially supported by a regional power with the same repeatedly declared intent. That Israel is seen by so many as needing some extra-special justification here is testimony to the prejudice widely held against it, not just by the now openly pro-tyrant-and-terrorist segment of the left, but also by the massed ranks of left-liberal bien-pensants of the global dinner party.
That Israel has just cause does not relieve it of the necessity of fighting by just means. But some of its means have not been, and Israel's friends need to be clear about this. We can support its right to defend itself; but to the extent that it has targeted infrastructure where there was no military justification for doing so, and caused death or injury to civilians 'excessive in relation to the concrete and direct military advantage anticipated [from the particular actions]', that is indeed to be condemned.
Here's something else we should be clear about, however. While some of the condemnation voiced by critics of the Israeli campaign is in good faith, much of it is not. How can you tell? This is how.
(1) Do the critics of Israel condemn Hizbollah for themselves putting civilians at risk in the areas in which they operate, attempting 'to shield military objectives from attacks' by the way they locate these military objectives?
(2) Do these critics allow that some of the civilian casualties caused by Israel in Lebanon are inevitable, and fall within the laws of war, precisely because of this policy of Hizbollah, which bears responsibility for them? Do they charge Hizbollah with war crimes?
(3) Do these critics allow that some of the damage to infrastructure is permissible within the laws of war, where the piece of infrastructure in question is a legitimate military target?
(4) Do these critics condemn Hizbollah for targeting Israeli civilians?
(5) Are they anguished by the deaths of Israelis, as they are by the deaths of Lebanese?
If the answer to these questions is no, their criticism is not in good faith. It betokens a hostility to Israel and its people, a hostility preceding rather than following from Israel's actions. There's a lot of that about.