Israel-Hamas war: A clarion call for moral clarity

Israel-Hamas war A clarion call for moral clarity

But let justice roll down like waters,
and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream.

~ Amos 5:24

On 7 October this year, Hamas launched an unprecedented attack on southern Israel by firing rockets, invading Israeli towns and army bases, taking hostages, and killing hundreds of people, including civilians. Israel has retaliated with airstrikes in Gaza that have killed hundreds of people, including civilians.

Israel’s Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, has declared war against Hamas. Reuters reported on 31 October that after three weeks of heavy airstrikes, Israeli ground forces had finally entered Gaza. Very quickly, this war has become the deadliest and most devastating of the five wars that both sides have fought since 2007, when Hamas took control of the Gaza Strip from the Palestinian Authority.

As of this writing, according to AP News, 1,400 people in Israel have been killed. The death toll in Gaza stands at 8,500 while 116 are reported to have been killed in the West Bank. In addition, 1.4 million Palestinians in Gaza have been displaced, and about 250,000 have fled their homes. The number of soldiers and civilians being held hostage stands at 239.

Like many wars, this current conflict between Hamas and Israel is shrouded in a cloud of confusion, which is exacerbated through the instrumentality of social media. Photos and videos of violence and atrocities committed by both sides flood the internet and online social networks—some of which are genuine, but many are not. Some of these images were many years old, while others have been taken from conflict zones in other parts of the world.

This onslaught of mis- and disinformation not only has the potential to thicken the fog of war in Israel and Gaza by injecting misdirection and confusion into an already highly complex situation, it has also sparked worrying incidents of anti-Semitism and Islamophobia across the world.

Mis- and disinformation may also disrupt social cohesion here in Singapore by swaying people to hastily take sides without a deep appreciation of the complexities. Speaking to the press on 13 October, Home Affairs Minister K Shanmugam said: “This is going to be quite a tough period. But our fundamental attitude cannot change.” He then issued this timely caution: “We are all Singaporeans. We have a precious peace within Singapore. We must never let external events affect that.”

Support for Hamas

After news broke that Hamas terrorists had descended on a music festival in Israel and gunned down 260 visitors in mid-October, crowds were seen in New York celebrating the executions. This rage soon spread to campuses throughout the United States.

For example, at Cooper Union College, a mob chanted “globalise the intifada”, causing Jews in the area to go into hiding. A professor from Cornell University described the attacks by Hamas as “exhilarating” and “energising”. And a Yale professor described Israel as a “murderous, genocidal settler state”.

Organisations such as Democratic Socialists of America (DSA) have issued statements on the incident through their various chapters. On 7 October, DSA Salt Lake City published a statement which stressed their “unwavering solidarity with the people of Palestine in their decades long fight for national liberation”. It proclaimed its unequivocal support of Hamas’ attack on Israeli civilians, stating that “it is not terrorism or anti-Semitism to fight against this injustice”.

The DSA Pittsburgh chapter also published a statement on 10 October, emphasising their “continued full and unequivocal support for the Palestinian struggle for freedom”.

The statement implicated Israel and the US in the attacks committed by Hamas when it says that “Violent opposition is the inevitable response to the conditions imposed by Israeli occupation. The conflict can only end if the apartheid regime is lifted from the river to the sea.”

These statements are terribly worrying because they seem to endorse the murder of innocent Jewish civilians by Hamas. Many of these Western leftists regard Hamas’ incursion as an act of decolonisation. It must be stressed that we are not dealing here with a small group of extremists, but journalists, professors and student organisations at Ivy League universities.

What is remarkable is that—as Nick Cohen puts it in an article published by The Spectator—”None of the American socialists or academics seemed to know or care that Hamas, Hezbollah and Islamic jihad are ultra- reactionary theocratic movements that are against everything the Western left believes in, or pretends to believe in.”

In so doing, these Western leftists have willy-nilly become bedfellows with Islamic terrorists and jihadists.

This abject failure to see Hamas for what it really is and the horrendous evil it has perpetrated is not just a venial befuddlement but reveals a calamitous lack of moral clarity on the part of the Western leftists.

Hamas is not just an Islamist militant group. It is a terrorist organisation. Its attack on innocent Israelis on 7 October, resulting in the butchering of civilians and children, is unconscionable.

Whatever view one may have about the Palestinian cause, what Hamas did was wrong. If one is sympathetic to the plight of the Palestinians in Gaza, one should not condone Hamas’ actions, but condemn them.

Hamas is not an ally of the Palestinians. It has hijacked the Palestinian quest for independence and autonomy to advance their jihadist ideology. In skilfully weaving the two, Hamas has made it difficult to support the Palestinians without also being somehow complicit with terrorism.

Driven by their own ideology, the moral vision of the Western left-wing apologists of Hamas are so impaired that they do not even realise that they are supporting terrorism.

As Zack Beauchamp puts it, “The moral failures of the fringe left show us how not to think about the ongoing horrors in Israel and Gaza …”

Support for Israel

Soon after the war between Israel and Hamas broke out, evangelicals in the United States issued statements which unequivocally emphasised their support for Israel.

For example, on 11 October, a statement which was signed by Brent Leatherwood, President of the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, and Albert Mohler, President of The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary— as well as many others—states the following:

In the wake of the evil and indefensible atrocities now committed against the people of Israel by Hamas, we, the undersigned, unequivocally condemn the violence against the vulnerable, fully support Israel’s right and duty to defend itself against further attack, and urgently call all Christians to pray for the salvation and peace of the people of Israel and Palestine.

The statement is absolutely correct in saying that Israel has every right to defend itself against the sudden and horrendous attack by Hamas. As I mentioned above, Hamas’ actions are unlawful, unethical and indefensible.

There are, however, other evangelicals who have given their support for Israel because of their peculiar and, broadly speaking, erroneous understanding of the Scriptures.

For example, former Republican Ohio State Representative Candice Keller posted about the impending Rapture on her Facebook page, suggesting to her followers that they would soon be meeting “The King”.

Christian Zionist, Pastor John Hagee of Cornerstone Church in San Antonio, gave a talk entitled “Israel Is At War”, insisting that it was Iran that planned the attack, and even advocated that the war should be extended to neighbouring countries as well.

On 10 October, US Senator Lindsey Graham asserted on Fox News that “We’re in a religious war here. I am with Israel. Do whatever the hell you have to do to defend yourselves. Level the place.” This statement has led to a flurry of criticisms which accused Graham of inciting genocide.

The incendiary rhetoric of these Christian leaders, bolstered by misinformation (the Hamas attack was not planned by Iran!) and undergirded by a species of dispensationalist eschatology, has only succeeded in generating confusion among some Christians.

This kind of rhetoric could fuel support for Israel from some evangelicals, but for all the wrong reasons. But even more worryingly, this rhetoric dangerously misleads: it makes this war what it is not.

So, let me be very clear.

The current war between Hamas and Israel is not a religious war. It is not a holy war. And, emphatically, it is not an apocalyptic event that is purposed to signal the imminence of the Rapture or of Christ’s return!

Even those who support Israel for the right reason (such as Leatherwood and Mohler) must recognise the fact that their support cannot be unconditional. Israel’s retaliatory bombardment of Gaza may arguably be seen as going beyond what can be reasonably regarded as self-defence.

Additionally, many organisations such as the United Nations (UN) and Amnesty International have noted that there is mounting evidence that Israel may be committing the war crime of collective punishment through its siege of the Gaza territory.

The International Committee of the Red Cross said in a statement that, “The instructions issued by the Israeli authorities for the population of Gaza City to immediately leave their homes, coupled with the complete siege explicitly denying them food, water, and electricity, are not compatible with international law.”

Amnesty International maintained that it has “documented unlawful Israeli attacks, including indiscriminate attacks, which caused mass civilian casualties and must be investigated as war crimes”.

We must also not forget Israel’s conduct in Gaza which led Human Rights Watch to describe Gaza as “an open-air prison”. An article published on 14 June 2022 on the Human Rights Watch website states that, “In addition to devastating Gaza’s economy and helping to fragment the Palestinian people, the closure is part of Israeli authorities’ crimes against humanity of apartheid and persecution against millions of Palestinians.”

This has been boldly underscored by António Guterres, the Secretary-General of the UN, in a statement to the Security Council on 24 October 2023 (which so provoked the ire of the Israeli government that it called for his resignation):

It is important to also recognise the attacks by Hamas did not happen in a vacuum.

The Palestinian people have been subjected to 56 years of suffocating occupation.

They have seen their land steadily devoured by settlements and plagued by violence; their economy stifled; their people displaced and their homes demolished. Their hopes for a political solution to their plight have been vanishing.

Taking sides

 To be sure, as the Secretary-General himself was careful to add, “But the grievances of the Palestinian people cannot justify the appalling attacks by Hamas.” We are not able to fully appreciate the complexities of the history of the conflict without taking seriously Israel’s conduct.

The way to view this war is to be as objective and clear-eyed as possible. Such an approach is exemplified by a statement issued on 9 October by Canada’s New Democratic Party. It is worth reproducing the two paragraphs in that statement in full:

The terrorist attacks by Hamas on thousands of innocent Israeli civilians are unjustifiable. We are shocked by the brutality, missile attacks, kidnappings, and targeting of civilians including the elderly and children. These are war crimes and must be prosecuted. We call for the immediate safe return of all hostages and call on the government of Canada to do everything in its power to ensure the release of Canadians among the captives.

This morning, Israel’s ground operation into Gaza commenced. Civilians in Gaza are caught in a horrific cycle of violence; like the Israeli civilians killed over the past few days, Gazans are victims of Hamas’ brutality. Israel’s bombardment of civilian homes and infrastructure in Gaza, where over half the population are children, has killed hundreds of Palestinians with entire families wiped out. The next hours may be the deadliest Gaza has ever seen. Canada must urgently insist that Israel respect international law and protect the lives of innocent Palestinian civilians who bear no responsibility for Hamas’ terror.

These comments have shown the way forward for both left-wing Western apologists for Hamas and right-wing Christians who support Israel unquestioningly. Indeed, they teach all of us that we should never let partisan loyalty distort our moral judgement.

In a conflict such as this one, it is very tempting to take sides.

But for the Christian—and, indeed, for all who strive towards moral clarity and integrity—there is only one side to take: the side of justice and peace!

This article was originally published by Ethos Institute for Public Christianity on 3 November 2023. It has been republished with permission.

Dr Roland Chia is Chew Hock Hin Professor of Christian Doctrine at Trinity Theological College and Theological and Research Advisor at the Ethos Institute for Public Christianity.