It’s hard to articulate a legitimate Christian response to the tragedy in Gaza right now. My inclination is to take the side of the underdog and go against all of my fellow evangelicals whose commitment to Israel’s absolute infallibility helps make Israel unaccountable for the $3 billion of our tax dollars that they get each year. But there’s no way to justify the rockets that the Gazans are firing at Israel from a moral or even a strategic perspective. And I can understand that if people are firing rockets at your citizens, your government has an obligation to act to prevent that from happening (though I guess Hamas would say the same thing). Of course, it isn’t that simple. I wanted to share some considerations for thinking about this issue as a Christian not to be an apologist for either side but to challenge some of the misconceptions that I hear Christians voicing around me.
1) Nothing can forfeit the infinite worth of every human life
It doesn’t matter how many suicide bombers have blown themselves up in Israel (which hasn’t happened at all in the last 5 years). It doesn’t matter how many rockets are launched. Nothing makes all Palestinians into “terrorists” who have forfeited the infinite worth of their humanity and their right to live in dignity and safety. Likewise, it doesn’t matter how many Palestinian homes are bulldozed or how many photos of bloody babies killed by trigger-happy Israeli snipers are circulated around the Internet. Nothing makes all Israelis into “oppressors” who deserve to be blown to bits by rockets.
2) Revenge and punishment don’t solve anything
I realize that I don’t get it as a privileged American. I will never go through the grief and terror that Israelis and Palestinians have experienced. But it needs to be named that both sides have undertaken actions for purely vengeful or punitive purposes that haven’t solved anything or even served their strategic interests.
3) Sins of enemies against each other are not offsetting
It’s completely asinine and invalid in conversations about Israel and Palestine to try to silence any criticism of the sins of one side by producing a list of what the other side has done as though they cancel each other out. Launching rockets at neighborhoods is always wrong just like shooting kids playing soccer is always wrong.
4) The line between “conventional war” and “terrorism” is very tenuous
When your country’s Air Force has F-15’s with laser guided bombs, one of the most important luxuries you gain is the ability to claim moral superiority for only attacking “military targets” and thus fighting in a “conventional war” rather than engaging in “terrorism.” When civilians die, you can say it was an “unfortunate” loss of life that you “regret.” If your military target lives in a crowded apartment building, then you can say that everyone who lives in the surrounding apartments is a “human shield.” All this is treated with credibility solely because you have the technological capability to “try” to avoid civilian casualties.
If all you’ve got to work with are crude rockets with limited precision or homemade bombs that you can only strap to your body or to a car, then you’re automatically a “terrorist” even if you set off a car bomb outside of a military barracks that is exclusively inhabited by people with guns who have been actively trying to kill you. There have been numerous Palestinian attacks on Israeli military targets that the media reports as “terrorism” because the assailants weren’t wearing uniforms and because they used IED’s rather than tanks or fighter jets.
Now the other aspect of this is to recognize that because Gaza is super-crowded and “militants” and “civilians” are all mixed in together to the degree that categories can be drawn at all, it’s pretty well impossible for Israelis to completely avoid civilian casualties if they’re trying to target whatever they need to target to stop the rockets. War is not as clean as we want it to be from the safety of our American living rooms. However I don’t think you get to use this as a cop-out when you’re extrajudicially assassinating Hamas leaders by blowing up their apartment buildings. And there have been cases of trigger-happy Israeli soldiers shooting recklessly in the streets, which is how the 13 year old soccer player got killed that started the latest flare up in the first place.
5) If you control a piece of land, you are responsible for the welfare of its inhabitants
Just because Israel pulled settlers and troops out of Gaza doesn’t mean they have “unilaterally disengaged” from Gaza. They control all the borders and have kept the territory under siege since Hamas was democratically elected into power. It was extraordinarily cynical for Israeli planes to drop leaflets warning Gazans to leave the area when they are surrounded by barbed wire and towers from which snipers shoot at anything that gets too close to the fence.
If Gaza continues to be an open air prison with a super high unemployment rate where nobody can leave and basic necessities have to be smuggled in through tunnels because of the siege, then radicals will continue to hold the upper hand and peace will continue to be unimaginable. Israel has not only a vested interest but a responsibility as an occupying power to do everything it can to improve the desperate economic conditions in Gaza or else truly disengage from Gaza by lifting the siege and letting Gazans control their own borders.
6) Zion is God’s mountain of peace
Evangelicals often play the “Israel is God’s chosen people so they are absolutely infallible” card when they’re talking about this issue. It is true that Israel’s election is part of our theology as Christians. But Isaiah 2:2-4 tells us what they were elected for:
And it shall come to pass in the last days, that the mountain of the Lord’s house shall be established on the top of the mountains, and shall be exalted above the hills; and all nations shall flow to it. And many people shall go and say, Come, and let us go up to the mountain of the Lord, to the house of the God of Jacob; and he will teach us of his ways, and we will walk in his paths; for from Zion shall go forth Torah, and the word of the Lord from Jerusalem. And he shall judge among the nations, and shall decide for many people; and they shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks; nation shall not lift up sword against nation, nor shall they learn war any more.
Zion is God’s mountain; it is a reality that only God can create. Its borders can’t be drawn by the British Empire or the United Nations because it doesn’t have borders in a nation-state sense. Zion is where the nations come to have their swords beaten into plowshares. Biblically speaking, Israel is the royal priesthood who are the caretakers of “the house of the God of Jacob.” But when their land becomes “a land of silver and chariots” (Isaiah 2:7), they have abandoned that vocation and it is the duty of God’s prophets like Isaiah to call them to repentance.
Read through the whole of the Hebrew Bible and find one prophet who was an spin doctor apologist for Israel. There never was another ancient people as self-critical as Israel. Most ancient kings have stellae proclaiming exaggerations of their virtues and worldly exploits. Not Israelite kings. They weren’t any worse than the kings around them but they were “singled out” by their historians as utter scoundrels.
Israel’s kings needed prophets to stop them from dishonoring God and incurring His wrath. God didn’t cut His people slack because of what the Amalekites or Edomites were doing. So where are the prophets today who will speak up for the real Zion and speak out against the idolatry of silver and chariots that keeps the shekinah from returning to the land? We betray Zion when our so-called loyalty to the secular nation-state of Israel silences legitimate prophecy against Israel’s injustice. God’s mountain cannot be established in a land of checkpoints and apartheid walls. They are the desolating sacrilege that must be removed for the house of Jacob’s God to be rebuilt. Is this fair? No. But divine election isn’t fair.