19/11/2012 05:57 GMT | Updated 16/01/2013 05:12 GMT

We Should Mourn Civilian Deaths Not Turn Them Into Political Pawns

There will be plenty written about the situation in Gaza: there can be no other conflict where opinion is as entrenched on both sides as it is in the case of Israel. However, there is one, specific, point that keeps being brought up, which raises bigger questions about how wars are fought.

There have been civilian casualties both in Israel and the Gaza Strip; in some cases those injured or killed have been children. That loss of life is a horrible, dreadful waste and there is no limit to my sympathy for the families of all those innocent people who have died, irrespective of where they live.

The difficulty comes because we have seen a false leap in the logical argument from this sad starting point. A number of voices, supposedly informed or otherwise, have claimed that the action being taken is necessarily illegitimate if it has caused civilian deaths. Presumably this must apply in all conflicts - as I doubt these commentators would put higher standards on Israel than on all other countries.

Now, it may be the case that civilian deaths show the true colour of a regime or group - take an example such as 9/11, where the specific aim was to cause as much loss of civilian life as possible. Much the same might be said of the Hamas fighters who killed three Israelis in a rocket attack - their specific aim was to hit innocent civilians, not to achieve a military or strategic advantage. In such cases I cannot see any justification whatsoever, and condemnation should rightly flow - after all, if your sole or predominant aim is to kill civilians, that is all there is to it.

But what about if civilians are killed as an accidental result of action aimed at attaining something completely different? This is what has happened in Gaza - it is perfectly apparent that the IDF has made attempts to spare civilians, even intercepting its own missiles after launch if a terrorist target strays into a crowd of people, for example. That is not the same as intending to kill civilians. Although the outcome may ultimately be the same, there should not be the same degree of blame.

Take Libya, for example, where there were scores of civilian deaths at the hands of NATO forces. This was a matter for great sorrow, but this did not delegitimise the mission there, or mean that Gadaffi was on the right side of the argument. Likewise, civilians died during the killing of Osama Bin Laden; this was not a reason to allow him to continue plotting terror attacks.

So we should mourn those who have died due to forces outside of their control, but we should not turn them into political pawns. Each and every death is a tragedy, but these killings do not inform us about the underlying reasons for a conflict. Unfortunately, civilians are perhaps as likely to die at the hands of the well-intentioned as at the hands of the terrorist.