Please make sure to read my disclaimer: Why Religious Zionism, Not Judaism, Is The Problem.
Read the Introduction: Does Jewish Law Justify Killing Civilians?
We have seen previously (see pages I, II, III, and IV) how Halakha permits collective punishment. It is perhaps no surprise then that ethnic cleansing, the logical conclusion of collective punishment, is also facilitated.
When a Jewish army is about to attack a Gentile city, it must issue an ultimatum offering the besieged population three options: (1) flee, (2) subservience and tribute, or (3) war and death. To this effect, Rabbi Michael J. Broyde cites the great Maimonides on p.20 of War and Peace in the Jewish Tradition in a section entitled “The Civilian, the Siege, and the Standard of Conduct:”
Joshua, before he entered the land of Israel, sent three letters to its inhabitants. The first one said that those that wish to flee [the oncoming army] should flee. The second one said that those that wish to make peace should make peace. The third letter said that those that want to fight a war should prepare to fight a war should prepare to fight a war.
As for the second option of “peace,” this is clarified on p.212:
Before undertaking the siege of a hostile city, offers of peace must be undertaken. The terms are subservience and tribute.
Here, we come to understand an interesting Jewish war ethic: the prohibition to surround a city on all four sides. Writes Broyde on pp.20-21:
Maimonides codifies a number of specific rules of military ethics, all based on Talmudic sources:
When one surrounds a city to lay siege to it, it is prohibited to surround it from four sides; only three sides are permissible. One must leave a place for inhabitants to flee for all those who wish to abscond to save their life.
I would add, however, that I do not understand Maimonides’ words literally. It is not surrounding the city on all four sides that is prohibited–rather, it is the preventing of the outflow of civilians or soldiers who are seeking to flee. Of course, Jewish law would allow one to stop the inflow of supplies to a besieged city through this fourth side.
Sounds pretty ethical, right? But here’s the rub: because Halakha commands the Jewish military to always allow civilians to flee the city, those civilians who fail to do so automatically forfeit their civilian status and are classified as combatants. Writes R. Broyde on p.22:
This approach [allowing civilians to flee] solves another difficult problem according to Jewish law: the role of the “innocent” civilian in combat. Since the Jewish tradition accepts that civilians (and soldiers who are surrendering) are always entitled to flee from the scene of the battle, it would logically follow that all who remain voluntarily are classified as combatants, since the opportunity to leave is continuously present. Particularly in combination with Joshua’s practice of sending letters of warning in advance of combat, this legal approach limits greatly the role of the doctrine of “innocent civilian” in the Jewish tradition. Essentially, the Jewish tradition feels that innocent civilians should do their very best to remove themselves from the battlefield, and those who remain are not so innocent. If one voluntarily stays in a city that is under siege, one assumes the mantle of combatant. 
In footnote 90, Broyde says that “I would apply this rule in modern day combat situations to all civilians who remain voluntarily in the locale of the war in a way which facilitates combat.” Translation: these Arab civilians who don’t flee for their lives when Israel invades them are “not so innocent” and “assume the mantle of combatant.”
This disturbing Jewish war ethic finds itself in the introduction of War and Peace in the Jewish Tradition, on p.xvii-xviii:
Of course, Jewish law sometimes demands overtures prior to declaring war to afford all who wish the opportunity to depart (known in Halakhah as the duty to surround on only three sides). Those who remain, however–including sympathetic civilians–are no longer innocents, and their death, when militarily necessary, is according to Broyde unfortunate but halakhically proper.
The phrase “including sympathetic civilians” implies quite clearly that also included in this are those other than sympathetic civilians–anyone who “voluntarily” stays behind. One wonders: do Israeli rockets stop before they detonate on Palestinian heads, and ask them: “Are you voluntarily staying behind or not?” In reality, there is no way to know how who stays behind voluntarily or not–they are all licit to slaughter. Of course, any civilian deaths are of course “unfortunate,” something that Palestinians take great solace in knowing.
Israel routinely launches massive operations against Palestinians, often warning the civilians beforehand with leaflets and telephone calls. By so warning, the Israelis absolve themselves of all culpability: the civilians who refuse to flee their homes are no longer innocent in Israeli eyes and become licit to kill. Scores of Palestinians subsequently die and then the Israelis pat themselves on the back for being so moral: look at how moral and ethical we are that we actually warn civilians ahead of time that we are going to bomb them.
In a similar vein, Rabbi Broyde and other Jewish religious authorities indulge themselves in self-congratulatory awe about how immensely moral and ethical Halakha is in this regard: Jewish law has such a great emphasis on protecting civilians that we have an obligation to leave a fourth side open for them; we are so great and ethical. Yet, Nahmanides elaborates on this obligation in a way that clearly explains the moral rationale behind “leaving a fourth side open,” saying (as quoted on p.21 of War and Peace in the Jewish Tradition):
God commanded us that when we lay siege to a city that we leave one of the sides without a siege so as to give them a place to flee to. It is from this commandment that we learn to deal with compassion even with our enemies at a time of war; in addition, by giving our enemies a place to flee to, they will not charge at us with as much force.
Rabbi Shaul Israeli, considered “one of the most important rabbis of the Religious Zionist school of thought” and author of the influential monograph on civilians in the Jewish war ethic, noted that Maimonides [alternately known as Rambam] came to the same conclusion as Nahmanides did: the obligation to leave a fourth side open is of military benefit to the Jewish army. Rabbi Gil Student writes:
[Rabbi Shaul Israeli] explains that according to the Rambam this rule is a military tactic, i.e. the best way to create a siege is to leave a side open so the fighters have an escape route and do not need to fight to the end.
This seems to be the real rationale for the rule obligating “a fourth side” open: it facilitates the speedy and efficient removal of a native population, the necessary component of ethnic cleansing. “Humanitarian” concern seems to have very little to do with this, since the rule was derived from the Biblical Joshua, who slaughtered the inhabitants of a city when he conquered it.
It is true that Joshua offered some civilian populations the opportunity to flee before he invaded them (which he did by leaving open one side of the city). But if this was done out of compassion for them, then why did Joshua kill the civilians within the city once he conquered it? Therefore, it seems that this rule is a tactical maneuver to facilitate ethnic cleansing.
That this has very little to do with “humanitarian concern” can be gleaned from the fact that the rule to leave a side open is only to be enforced when it is beneficial from a tactical standpoint to do so. Rabbi Shaul Israeli notes that “Rambam [said] this rule is a military tactic” but that also “this is a humanitarian law.” R. Israeli reconciles these two statements by saying: “Therefore, according to the Rambam this rule only applies when the tactic is [militarily] appropriate,” in which case it is understood to be humanitarian too. How very convenient.
One sees this convenience in modern day Israel: during the illegal siege of Beirut (in Lebanon) by Israeli forces, a heated discussion took place about its legality from a Halakhic perspective. The overwhelming opinion was that the action was permitted under Jewish law. Rabbi Shaul Israeli argued that not only was the rule to leave a side open applicable only when it was tactically useful to do so, but also that the rule simply did not apply to “Obligatory wars,” a special class of war under Jewish law. (There is widespread consensus that Israel’s wars today are considered Obligatory wars.)
Prof. Arye Edrei writes in Divine Spirit and Physical Power:
The message inherent in Rabbi [Shaul] Yisraeli’s argument is clear: the law to leave the fourth side open is not applicable today.
By linking the rule to tactical benefit, Jewish law is pliable enough to permit facilitation of “forced transfer of Palestinians” (Israeli euphemism for ethnic cleansing) when convenient–and massacre when desired.
Of note is that, for all their self-congratulatory awe at how immensely moral Jewish law is for demanding leaving a side of the city open for civilians, Religious Zionist rabbis are in the lead calling for more regressive methods against Palestinians. It is certainly the rare exception that any of them would call the Israeli siege of Palestinians sinful or blameworthy.
Even Rabbi Shlomo Goren, who voiced the opposing view that it is imperative to leave a fourth side open in Obligatory wars, believed that “the Israeli army fulfilled this commandment in the siege of Beirut.” Similarly, the vast majority of Israeli religious leaders gave their blessing to the Gaza blockade.
* * * * *
From its birth to the present day, Israel has used this warped mentality to facilitate ethnic cleansing and the slaughter of civilians. During the ethnic cleansing of Palestine in 1948-1949, Zionist forces efficiently emptied over four-hundred Palestinian villages and cities. Israeli historian Ilan Pappe writes on p.101 of The Ethnic Cleansing of Palestine that Jewish forces “tried to force a swift departure” of the indigenous Palestinian population “by issuing an ultimatum to the people to leave their homes.” On p.133, Prof. Pappe writes:
The [Jewish] brigade usually closed in on villages from three flanks, tactically creating an ‘open gate’ on the fourth flank through which they could drive the people out.
This rule (of “leaving the fourth side open”) and its important corollary (whoever refuses to leave “assumes the mantle of combatant”) continue to be exploited by Israel today. Palestinians who refuse to flee are accused of willingly converting themselves into “human shields.”
Such views are articulated by leading Israeli intellectuals, such as Prof. Asa Kasher (author of the much touted Code of Conduct of the Israel Defense Forces). Nadene Goldfoot summarizes Prof. Asa Kasher’s views: “If people don’t leave the combat zone they become a human shield for the terrorists and thus becomes part of the war.” Kasher’s quote can be found in the Jewish Post, in which he accuses a civilian who “doesn’t want to leave” of “turn[ing] into the human shield of the terrorist.”
What could possibly be more morbid than placing the blame on the victim? But this is exactly what Israel’s apologists do. To add another layer to the absurdity, they then revel at their own magnificence, at how morally superior they are–how they have The Most Moral Army in the World™.
Is it really any surprise that the Jewish tradition promotes ethnic cleansing, considering that this is an overwhelmingly prevalent theme throughout the Bible? (See parts 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6-i, 6-ii, 6-iii, 6-iv, 7, 8, 9-i, and 9-ii of LoonWatch’s Understanding Jihad Series.) But always remember: Islam is uniquely violent.
Note: The next page of “Promoting Ethnic Cleansing” will be published shortly.