Michael Walzer at his home. (Jacob Kander for The Free Press)

Michael Walzer: ‘I Don’t Know If There Was Any Alternative’

Peter Savodnik spoke to political theorist Michael Walzer in October about whether Israel was fighting a just war in Gaza. With the fight now entering its seventh month, Peter called for an…

A week after Hamas’s October 7 attack on Israel, Michael Walzer told The Free Press that Israel’s war against Gaza was just, but he warned against the needless killing of noncombatants. “We do know what ought not to be done, and we just hope it is not done,” he said at the time.

Yesterday, I called Walzer, the author of Just and Unjust Wars, back to see what he makes of Israel’s prosecution of this war, six months in.

“I think the IDF has been trying to adhere to the rules in an environment that probably requires some loosening of the rules,” Walzer told me.

He said: “I think that certainly the siege could have been handled very differently.”

Walzer added: “I read somewhere they have opened or allowed 20 bakeries in northern Gaza to reopen, and I thought, ‘Why did it take a phone call from President Biden to open bakeries where people are obviously hungry?’ And then I thought, ‘How can there be 20 bakeries waiting to reopen when all we’ve seen of Northern Gaza is rubble?’ So, there’s a problem in the way the war has been reported, but also the way Israel has conducted the siege.”

As Walzer sees it, Israel has stumbled into an “asymmetry trap” set by Hamas, with large numbers of Palestinian noncombatants having died.

Given that Hamas appears not to care at all about noncombatants—and, in fact, derives a PR boost every time Palestinians are killed—“I don’t know if there was any alternative,” Walzer said.

He noted, for example, that Israel’s use of massive bombs to root out Hamas’s underground infrastructure has had very mixed results.

“Some of the bombing, like the 2,000-pound bombs, were used not for targets on the surface but to get at the tunnels,” he said. “They didn’t know what would work. Those bombs did collapse some of the closer to the surface tunnels, but didn’t get at the really deep ones.”

I asked Walzer what a best-case scenario over the next six months might look like.

“A cease-fire that brings the hostages home, and then either a move toward a political way of dealing with Hamas, or a resumption of the war at a very low level that is a special-forces operation,” he said.

Peter Savodnik is a writer and editor for The Free Press. Follow him on X (formerly Twitter) @petersavodnik.

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