Hamas terrorists recently launched an unprecedented incursion of Israeli territory, killing more civilian Jews in one day than any time since the Holocaust. How now should Israel and the world respond?
Hi, I’m Rex Rogers and this is episode #114 of Discerning What Is Best, a podcast applying unchanging biblical principles in a rapidly changing world, and a Christian worldview to current issues and everyday life.
Hamas is a terrorist group, ostensibly representing the people of the Gaza Strip, a group dedicated in its charter to the elimination of the nation state of Israel and of the Jewish people. If any organization could qualify as a hate group, Hamas is it.
Recently, more than one thousand heavily armed, apparently Iranian-backed, Hamas assassins broke through the walled border into Israel and slaughtered defenseless people of all ages.
“Thousands from 36 different countries were killed. Adjusted for population, the total murdered in cold blood adds up to at least six 9/11 attacks. The ones who survived the initial onslaught were taken hostage and back to the Gaza Strip.” No military establishments were targeted. This was an act of extermination, an ethnic-cleansing massacre.
Reaction worldwide has been both revealing and discouraging. Most reasonable people agreed and continue to support Israel’s right to defend itself.
“You don't have to pretend the Israeli government is perfect to understand its need to protect its people-- and acknowledge that hatred of Jews is alive and as sickening as ever in our world today.”
“Pope John Paul II said this in 2000 at Yad Vashem, the Holocaust Museum in Jerusalem. His words feel near today. "How could man have such utter contempt for man? Because he had reached the point of contempt for God. Only a godless ideology could plan and carry out the extermination of a whole people."
“As with the Nazis, and ISIS more recently, any thought that Hamas has a righteous cause is the perversion of any kind of truth or concept of God. Woe to those who have the luxury to pretend otherwise, especially in the West. It's a delusion that spirals into all sorts of justifications for evil.”
Other groups have loudly protested Israel, not just out of concern for Palestinian civilians living in Gaza but in explicit support of Hamas and its tactics, many of these groups blaming Israel, and otherwise expressing bold antisemitic statements.
Demonstrations of “overt support for Hamas killers by the diversity, equity, and inclusion crowd on a lot of campuses” took place under the sponsorship of groups that have been promoting—I should say demanding—racist, so-called “anti-racism” policies and woke philosophies rejecting American Judeo-Christian values.
Isn’t it strange that groups that have been lecturing the American public about inclusion and anti-racism suddenly find themselves endorsing antisemitic hate?
“The usual suspects protesting on behalf of terrorist murderers…are the same leftists working overtime to destroy America from the inside out. They, and the murderous ideology they support through terrorist groups like Hamas, must be defeated.”
Many in American media and among the radical Left argued a moral equivalency in what Hamas did and what they believe Israel is going to do. Conveniently ignored in this is that Israel has always held the moral high ground, not calling for mass execution of Palestinians or Arabs but simply proclaiming its right to exist.
A saying that’s emerged during the current situation is that “if Arabs put down their arms, there would be peace. If the Jews did the same, they would be annihilated in the Middle East.” It’s hard to find evidence to question this aphorism.
Each Israeli citizen serves in the nation’s military. This includes Wonder Woman actress Gal Gadot, who did a two year hitch in the IDF. Because of this, I mistakenly assumed that Israeli citizens, who know how to use rifles, had guns in their homes. However, this is sadly not the case. “In Israel, a lot of these people were slaughtered, unable to resist. The reason: Israeli gun control. There was some sort of myth out there that every Israeli had a rifle in their house, but that's not true.
Everything is very centralized and very controlled. You couldn't get a gun except in very rare circumstances. There weren't enough people with guns.”
So, reasonable people affirm Israel has a right to conduct legitimate security operations to defend itself from terrorism, and most of these voices, certainly among world leaders, also call for efforts to protect Palestinian Gaza citizens, who are not ipso facto Hamas. But this is an extreme challenge.
“As (U.S. Secretary of State Antony) Blinken put it: ‘Hamas continues to use civilians as human shields. Something that's not new, something that they've always done, intentionally putting civilians in harm's way to protect themselves ... So that's one of the basic facts that Israel has to deal with.’"
Add to this that Hamas took more than one hundred hostages, likely including Americans, who likely will be used as human shields. Why else would they take hostages?
Hostage rescue is one of the most complex and dangerous of military missions, usually performed by elite fighting forces. Here, soldiers looking for hostages will have to go into an urban warfare context potentially fraught with danger literally around every corner. It is therefore impossible to believe that what is coming won’t be bloody and deadly.
Calls for an “immediate cessation of violence,” while perhaps understandable on a sentimental level, don’t stand up in a real, fallen world. What Hamas did is on a scale with the worst death squads in history – savagery aimed at executing, raping, and beheading Jews and then mutilating their bodies. Would American allies have urged the United States toward a non-violent response after Japan bombed Pearl Harbor, Dec 7, 1941, just to stop the “cycle of violence?”
So, what does legitimate, justifiable, righteous defense in this horrific instance look like?
Christians have often looked to what is called Just War theory, originally propounded by St. Augustine, who held that individuals should not resort immediately to violence, but God had nevertheless given the sword to government for a good reason (Rom 13:4).
Just War theory “is a doctrine, also referred to as a tradition, of military ethics that aims to ensure that a war is morally justifiable through a series of criteria, all of which must be met for a war to be considered just…The criteria are split into two groups: ‘right to go to war’ and ‘right conduct in war’.”
Right to go to war – Competent authority, Probability of success, Last resort, Just cause.
For purposes of this podcast, I am going to focus not on going to war, because this one has started, but on how a war is conducted.
On the Right conduct within war, Just War theory weighs in with five principles:
- Distinction– War must be directed toward combatants, not non-combatants. This prescribes acts of terrorism, attacking neutral targets, bombing residential areas, or killing surrendered combatants.
- Proportionality – The idea is harm caused to civilians or civilian property should not be excessive in relation to the concrete and direct military advantage anticipated by an attack on a legitimate military objective.
- Military necessity – An attack or action must be intended to help in the defeat of the enemy. It must be an attack on a legitimate military objective.
- Fair treatment of prisoners of war– It is wrong to torture or otherwise mistreat surrendered or captured enemy combatants.
- No means malum in se – This is Latin for “wrong or evil in itself.” It means combatants may not use weapons or other methods of warfare that are considered evil, such as mass rape, forcing enemy combatants to fight against their own side, or using weapons whose effects cannot be controlled, like biological/chemical weapons.
All these principles, developed by great minds in ancient times, refined and deepened on behalf of Christians by St. Augustine and later St Thomas Aquinas, and then tested in the crucibles of war for centuries, make sense, are laudatory, and remain worthy standards.
The difficulty is, of course, on the ground in real-world, complex battle.
The difficulty lies in the sinful human hearts of soldiers from all countries.
The difficulty occurs in interpretation. For example, proportionality. What is a proportional response to 9/11? To the Hamas massacre? Or distinction and military necessity? How do you fight in a densely built out cityscape, door to door, basement to basement, without almost inevitably harming noncombatants?
So again, how do we evaluate what’s “Just”?
As a believer, I hold a moral abhorrence of war, but I recognize that because of sin, sometimes war is necessary. Sometimes war is necessary in the interest not only of safety and security but freedom and peace.
As believers, we desire peace, we should work toward a just peace, and at times we may face the obligation to defend peace.
As a believer, I hold to forgiveness and reconciliation, but I recognize that dark hearts do not always respond, and nothing is left but for legitimate government to act on behalf of justice and peace.
Pray for all people in the Holy Land.
Well, we’ll see you again soon. This podcast is about Discerning What Is Best. If you find this thought-provoking and helpful, follow us on your favorite podcast platform. Download an episode for your friends. For more Christian commentary, check my website, r-e-x-m as in Martin, that’s rexmrogers.com.
And remember, it is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm.
© Rex M. Rogers – All Rights Reserved, 2023
*This podcast blog may be reproduced in whole or in part with a full attribution statement. Contact me or read more commentary on current issues and events at www.rexmrogers.com/, or connect with me at www.linkedin.com/in/rexmrogers.