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In the recent Operation Pillar of Defense against Gaza, many Palestinian civillians were killed by Israeli air-strikes (the Palestines claim the number is as high as 158, while according to the IDF the correct number is 57 [source]). Israel has stated that they do everything in their control to minimize casualties (utilizing precision strikes, issuing preemptive warnings to Palestinian residents and aborting strikes because of civilian presence) and in any war it is inevitable that there will be civilian loss. What does halacha say about this topic; it seems clear that we can and may defend ourselves but does halacha specifically address the issue of civilians getting killed in a military operation?

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up vote 3 down vote accepted

See Rabbi Michael Broyde's excellent essay (entitled, in various versions, either "Only the Good Die Young" or "Judaism is Not a Suicide Pact!") here.

An excerpt:

It is clear to me that the vast majority of contemporary poseqim agree with R. Shaul Yisraeli, and for that reason, even as there are numerous sefarim that deal with religious life in the army, not a single one of them discusses battlefield ethics halakhah le-ma`’aseh. Why? Because the Israeli army obeys international law, and that is all halakhah requires in war.

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Rambam addresses this (Melachim 6:4): "And do not kill women or children".

This is talking about a case where the women and children are not part of the war - as opposed to cases where children and women are part of the war effort, for instance, by being soldiers themselves, or the nations which we are commanded to annihilate.

Sifri (page קפז) says וְצַרְתָּ עָלֶיהָ - אף להרעיבה, אף להצמיאה, אף להמיתה במיתת תחלואים. This includes all inhabitants of the city alike. (Rabbi Eliezer Melamed (see footnote 6))

This is the practice in our wars today, also regarding "innocent" poeple who are in close proximity to soldiers so that killing the soldiers will result in their death as well (Rabbi Shmuel Elyahu, Rabbi Neria Guttel (see summary and footnotes), Rabbi S. Yisraeli - Amud Hyemini 16, Rabbi D. Lior - here and other various places)

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Maimonides is, of course, always a great source to bring to a discussion. But do we actually hold this way? Furthermore, how can one determine, in a guerilla war, and which the combatants are otherwise civilians and fight from their homes and from civilian locations, whether or not the women and children are involved? –  Seth J Nov 27 '12 at 13:51
On the other side of the question, is the fact that, perhaps, according to him, no war in Israel is legitimate today, since we have no legitimate king from the line of David. –  Seth J Nov 27 '12 at 13:53
@SethJ see edits. I'd like to see the source for your second comment. –  JNF Nov 28 '12 at 7:33
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protected by Double AA Nov 27 '12 at 6:06

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