Scott Kahn
Director of

The bombing of February 15th

Photo: Wikipedia Commons (public domain)

It is an episode in the war that people seldom mention, but which should be more widely known.

On February 15th, after obtaining information that a large civilian structure was actually a secret base for enemy operations, divisional commanders insisted that it be destroyed, and the air force dispatched aircraft to flatten it. Despite formal denials that it was being used for military purposes, the planes dropped over a thousand tons of bombs, thereby demolishing the buildings.

It was a tragic mistake; the intelligence had been faulty. The structure, an ancient monastery, was occupied by refugees, of whom approximately 230 were killed. As far as anyone knows, the only victims of this bombing were civilians.

How could this have possibly happened? How could the forces on the side of good kill 230 innocent victims?

The answer is as simple as it is banal: because war is terrible, even when it is necessary. Because in the uncertainty of battle, particularly when the enemy embeds itself among the civilian population, mistakes, as tragic as they are, are inevitable. Because human beings are fallible, and their decision-making capacity is imperfect. Because war forces even those with the most impeccable ideals and values to contend with uncertainty – uncertainty which, horribly, sometimes leads to the loss of innocent lives.

War, more than anything else in human history, has forced good people to choose between multiple bad options. And sometimes, those choices cause the death and destruction of people who should not have died – because other courses of action would be even more disastrous.

Oftentimes, when a war is raging, every option is tragic. War does not allow us to avoid calamity, but people of good will try to choose the options that will minimize the calamity.

Moreover, even with the best of intentions, mistakes still happen; monasteries with 230 innocent refugees are bombed. It is one more reason why the prophets of yore dreamed of the day when war would be obsolete: “Nations will not lift up swords against one another, and they will not learn warfare anymore. Each man will sit under his vine or under his fig tree, and no one will terrorize them, for the Lord of Hosts has spoken.” (Micha 4:3-4)

Despite the tragedy of the 230 lost civilians, it was clear that the war must continue, as the alternative – retreat and defeat – was unthinkable. And so the Allies continued the fight, even after the awful, mistaken bombing of February 15th, 1944, almost exactly 80 years ago. The monastery of Monte Cassino, destroyed by a thousand tons of explosives, was an unfortunate victim along the long march to liberate Rome, and ultimately the rest of Europe, from Nazi domination. Only those who sympathized with the Nazis hoped that this tragic error would halt the Allied advance.

Which brings me to Israel’s tragic, mistaken killing of seven aid workers from the World Central Kitchen organization two days ago in Gaza.

This is a loss that must not be minimized. Those seven workers were not hurting Israel; they were, with Israel’s blessing and encouragement, delivering food to hungry Palestinians. The IDF’s targeted killing of these seven workers was obviously unintentional, and mistakenly violated Israel’s own rules of engagement – but that doesn’t lessen the tragedy; in fact, it only demonstrates the need for Israel to learn from this terrible episode so that mistakes like this are less likely to happen in the future.

Universal recognition that this event was a tragedy would be completely understandable. Unfortunately, reaction across the globe has instead focused on the need to condemn Israel, and demand that it withdraw from the Gaza Strip and end its war against Hamas. Yes, this event should not have happened; but no country in the history of warfare has engaged its enemies without also mistakenly causing the loss of innocent lives. These mistakes are completely unacceptable, even as they are sadly inevitable. Moral armies must do everything within their power to ensure that these wrongful killings do not take place, even as they equally recognize that perfection is not a reachable goal in our unredeemed world.

Israel has rightly acknowledged its responsibility, pledged to investigate this episode, and release its findings with full transparency. This is not surprising, for this is what moral democracies do after they make mistakes. But for the social justice warriors of the West, whose knowledge of military strategy and the reality of combat is drawn more from The Avengers than from military experience and actual study, this is insufficient. Israel must pay. Israel must stop. Israel, in effect, must lose the war because of its supposed moral perfidy.

Once again, Israel is held to standards that are demanded of no other country.

In theory, that could be a good thing. As a believer in our responsibility to be a light unto the nations, I welcome the opportunity to develop a country which embodies Torah values, including kindness, morality, and ethical living. We should want to be a positive example for the world – and we should do everything in our power in order to actualize that vision.

But when perfection is demanded, and anything short of national suicide is condemned – Israelis must turn our backs upon our detractors, stiffen our spines, and move forward with or without the world’s approval. Like the Allies who bombed Monte Cassino, which was nevertheless condemned by the Vatican Secretary of State as “a piece of gross stupidity,” we know that our actions are just; and when we make mistakes, we own up to them and try to correct them.

Those who declare that Israel is irredeemably evil because it fails to live up to standards demanded of no other country… because it refuses to lay down its weapons and die… because it insists that the rampage of Simchat Torah will never recur… those are, truly, the Nazi sympathizers of today.

About the Author
Rabbi Scott Kahn is the CEO of Jewish Coffee House ( and the host of the Orthodox Conundrum Podcast and co-host of Intimate Judaism. You can see more of his writing at