Christian beliefs, Natural Law, and Man’s Contradictions
The Israeli-Hamas War enters its second week and promises to get nastier, bloodier, and even bigger in scope with the potential to expand beyond the Israel-Gaza borders. What began as a terrorist attack on a Saturday, October 7 to be exact, by Hamas militants, an international terrorist group, inflected on hundreds of Israeli civilians. The gory scenes exploded in living rooms who awaked to such dastardly acts.
In response, Israel Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu declared an all-out war that he projected to be a long one. Israel’s response was immediate and began leveling high rise structures in Gaza City. The toll is now over 4,000 with 1,400 Israelis and the rest were on the Palestinian side, the result of indiscriminate bombing in the city. Israel vowed to go after Hamas with “whatever it takes,” and thus pile up the number of deaths in Gaza.
Many sections in Gaza are now in rubble. Hospitals are overwhelmed, body bags are running out, electricity and food supplies have been cut off, and the death toll promises to continue to rise. Let’s pause a minute and reflect. First, what is terrorism? Oxford dictionary defines it as “the unlawful use of violence and intimidation, especially against civilians, in the pursuit of political aims.”
The FBI defines international terrorism as “Violent, criminal acts committed by individuals and/or groups who are inspired by, or associated with, designated foreign terrorist organizations or nations (state-sponsored). In simple terms, terrorism involves intentional use of violence and intimidation to achieve political or ideological aims.
The Hamas massacre of civilians including women, older people and children clearly falls under this definition. But what about Israel’s response? Media reports that about 40% of those killed in Gaza were children, women and older people who could not escape the wrath of Israel. Is the indiscriminate bombing a terrorist act in pursuit of a political goal, the elimination of Hamas? Hamas ruled Gaza but there were over 2 million Palestinians who do not necessarily support Hamas but are ruled by intimidation.
The West, led by the United States joins Israel for a just cause. A justified war means that Israel can inflict unlimited punishment on Hamas and the unspoken words here will be that “we’re sorry for the collateral damage.” Hamas started the attack and media coverage has focused there and in the aftermath of the counterattack. However, the recent flare-ups are but a symptom of a much bigger problem of finding a two-state solution on the Palestine-Israeli issue.
There is palpable anger from both sides of the border accusing each other of murdering innocent civilians. The Christian instinct is to bless the innocent victims so they may rest in peace. Natural Law from Moses’ decalogue forbids killing, full stop. There is no parsing as to whether the killing is justified. “Thou shall not kill” is a law handed by the ultimate lawgiver – God.
In the aftermath of the Hamas killing of innocent civilians, polling in America reflected an overwhelming majority that “Israel is justified to take every measure necessary” to go after Hamas. Did Israel warn the Palestinian people to leave Gaza for their army’s impending land incursion into the city? Yes, through the media and by dropping leaflets on Gaza City warning over a million civilians to leave the city.
In August of 1945, polling of Americans showed that 85% of Americans said “yes” that the atomic bombs dropped on Nagasaki and Hiroshima, Japan were justified to end the war. Seventy years later, a similar polling was conducted and 63% of Americans still believe that the atomic bombing was justified. This is coming from a predominantly Christian country.
This is man’s contradiction to Natural Laws such as murder. Man can kill in self-defense – a justifiable act in many American laws, if it is done to prevent a serious crime. The Church interprets Commandment #5 as forbidding unjust killing. In the Book of Exodus (which came from the Hammurabi Code of Ancient Mesopotamia) is a commandment expressing the principle of reciprocal justice (lex talionis) of ‘an eye for an eye,” meaning retribution must be commensurate with the offense.
Clearly, what is happening on the ground in the Middle East is beyond God’s admonition. Rather, it follows what the God of Israel told Joshua to cross the Jordan River to get to the Promised Land. And when he gets there, to kill the tribes that were already there, the Canaanites, if he wants lasting peace for the Israelites.
One dramatic scene from the Book of Joshua is in nearby Canaan in the city of Gibeon where Joshua asked God to stop the moon and the sun’s movements to give his forces more time before daylight. The God of Israel not only obliged, but also unleashed a storm of hail and fire on the enemy.
The Canaanites are descendants from a mixture of people from early Levant and migrants from the Caucasus, or modern-day Iran. Iran, of course, is the country behind the militancy in Gaza (Hamas) and Lebanon (Hezbollah). The Old Testament gives the impression that the Canaanites were wiped out by Joshua’s army in fulfilment of God’s promise to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.
Clearly, however, Joshua’s exploits had a lot of hyperbole in it because there clearly were survivors. Canaan, himself, was the son of Ham and grandson of Noah. Noah along with Phoenicians were great seafarers. Noah’s legendary feat includes surviving the Great Flood. Phoenicia today is modern-day Lebanon and adjoining parts of Syria and Israel.
Since biblical times, there was already bad blood between Arabs/Islamic States and Israel. The United States had played a key role as a peacemaker between them. President Jimmy Carter brought Egyptian President Anwar Sadat and Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin to the White House, signed a peace treaty after the Yom Kippur War, and shook hands.
President Bill Clinton in 1993 brought Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin and Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat to sign a peace accord that brought a period of relative calm and cooperation between the two warring parties, but we had the Arab Spring and the First & Second Intifadas. The last effort on record is the Abraham Accords by President Donald Trump.
The Abraham Accords was a departure from previous attempts wherein efforts were directed at a two-nation solution between Israel and Palestine. Trump pursued a broader normalization between Israel and its Arab neighbors but also tinkered with the Israeli-Palestinian conflict in favor of Israel. Trump’s actions emboldened Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to ignore Palestinians and pursue instead, to be a major player in the Middle East.
Even after the dust settles, the animosity between Israelis and Palestinians will continue because what is happening now in that part of the Middle East (and don’t forget the Ukrainian/Russian War) proves that we are no better than the animals in the animal kingdom where there strongest rules. They don’t belong to any religion, but they do have beliefs, rituals, and they practice democracy to choose their leaders.