IS SUPPORTING ISRAEL SUPPORTING GENOCIDE?

QUESTION

I recently heard that supporting Israel is supporting genocide. Is this true? Also, who should I support in this as a Christian? Isn’t Jesus against violence in general? 

ANSWER:

To answer the question, we have to start with a common definition of “genocide”.  Here’s one: 

GENOCIDE: the deliberate killing of a large number of people from a particular nation or ethnic group with the aim of destroying that nation or group. 

Websters

Given that definition, the answer to your question must be no.  For Israel’s current military action to be considered a genocide it would have to be a deliberate killing of Gazans just because they are Palestinian or ethnically Arab or religiously Muslim.  However, one can disprove this simply by asking if this same State conducts pogroms or deadly unjustified police actions against Arabs or Muslims that live inside its borders, not in the Gaza strip.  And the answer again is no. 

Arabs (mostly Muslims) make up more than 20% of the population inside of Israel.  So, the claim that it is an apartheid state (apartheid: a policy or system of segregation or discrimination on grounds of race) is clearly false.  Muslim Arabs sit on the supreme court of Israel and in the Knesset (the national Parliament).  So how can it be true that Israel has an interest in the extermination of a particular nation or ethnic group, when members of that ethnic group and religion walk free as citizens inside Israel? 

Therefore, whatever the military actions currently underway in Gaza, they cannot be considered a genocide, even if Gazans are being killed. In fact, even if some innocent Gazans are being killed.

To put this question to another historical context:  were the Allies conducting a genocide against ethnic Germans when they firebombed Dresden?  The answer is no, since the Allies showed no interest outside of the conflict to destroy or eliminate the German state or Germans as an ethnic group.  They had no beef with Germans per se.  Does that make the firebombing of Dresden completely justified?  No. That one incident as the Allies marched closer and closer to Berlin has been cited by many as a morally questionable act in the war against Nazism, since so many noncombatants were killed.

The relative justice of specific acts of war (which are always awful, let’s face it) is a separate question from genocide.  You could be a total pacifist and hate every bomb dropped and every bullet fired in Gaza and call every act by the IDF an abomination, but if words are to have any meaning at all, you cannot call it a genocide.

Now, if we were to turn this question around, and ask it about Gaza, what’s the answer?  How many Jews live in Gaza?  The answer is exactly zero.  Why?  If Gazans are appalled at Israel being an apartheid state, shouldn’t they demonstrate their disdain in a pluralistic society and an openness to Jews and any others living there?  In fact, there were Jewish settlements and businesses in Gaza prior to 2005.  But their security was a constant problem due to local violence against them.

In a desperate attempt to quell tension, Israel came into Gaza that year, not to kill Arabs or conduct war, but to remove its own ethnic kin.  8000 Jews were forcibly removed from the Gaza strip by the Israeli authorities and the hope was that Gazan tensions would calm if they had no Israeli oversight.  The experiment in self-rule has turned into a disaster.  Within months of the Israeli pullout, the thriving agricultural infrastructure which was left behind was destroyed in an act of pure spite.  When one considers the cry of economic oppression from the Gazans due to Israeli sanctions, this act of self-sabotage proves they have higher interests than feeding their people.

Immediately, the Gazans elected Hamas in their first act of self-rule.  They have never had a free election since.  Gaza claims that because of Israeli sanctions it’s an open air prison. People then debate: are the sanctions justifying the rockets or do the rockets justify the sanctions? But they miss the deeper problem that makes that question moot: if there were no sanctions would Hamas embrace a Jewish presence in the land? Hamas has several statements in its operating covenant which say the answer is no; statements with genocidal leanings.  For example,

  • From the preamble: “Israel will exist and will continue to exist until Islam will obliterate it, just as it obliterated others before it.”
  • From article 6: “”The Islamic Resistance Movement (HAMAS) is a distinguished Palestinian movement, whose allegiance is to Allah, and whose way of life is Islam. It strives to raise the banner of Allah over every inch of Palestine.”  Just to be clear, by Palestine, they do not mean the areas ceded by the UN to a Palestinian state, but rather to the entire region including Israel.
  • From article 7: “The Day of Judgment will not come about until Moslems fight Jews and kill them. Then, the Jews will hide behind rocks and trees, and the rocks and trees will cry out: ‘O Moslem, there is a Jew hiding behind me, come and kill him.”

So, while history and evidence show Israel has no interest in genocide (think about that ethnic group, which was hunted by Nazis now upholding Nazi tactics against other ethnic groups.  It’s absurd on its face), the evidence shows that Hama has a genocidal lean toward the Jews and no interest in living in a pluralistic, multiethnic, democratic, peaceful society with them. 

You next question: should Christians support Israel’s efforts in this war?  It depends.  Any effort that deliberately breaks international laws about warfare should never be defended. 

But think about that last sentence.  We all know war is hell, so how can we put “lawful” and “war” in the same sentence?  Isn’t everything in war justified?  The answer is that it used to be that way, but after Christianity came along, Europe started to impose laws on war.  And those rules eventually got ratified by a multi-national committee in Geneva in 1929.  The Geneva Conventions formed the core of international humanitarian laws designed to regulate the conduct of armed conflict and limit its ugly effects.

Just war theory has a long story I won’t get into, but the very idea of just war gave us a framework to see what acts are justified in war and what acts aren’t.  Some of the principles outlined are:

  1. A just war can only be waged as a last resort. All non-violent options must be exhausted before the use of force can be justified.
  2. A war is just only if it is waged by a legitimate authority. Even just causes cannot be served by actions taken by individuals or groups who do not constitute an authority sanctioned by whatever the society and outsiders to the society deem legitimate.
  3. A just war can only be fought to redress a wrong suffered. For example, self-defense against an armed attack is always considered to be a just cause (although the justice of the cause is not sufficient–see the next point). Further, a just war can only be fought with “right” intentions: the only permissible objective of a just war is to redress the injury.
  4. A war can only be just if it is fought with a reasonable chance of success. Deaths and injury incurred in a hopeless cause are not morally justifiable.
  5. The ultimate goal of a just war is to re-establish peace. More specifically, the peace established after the war must be preferable to the peace that would have prevailed if the war had not been fought.
  6. The violence used in the war must be proportional to the injury suffered. States are prohibited from using force not necessary to attain the limited objective of addressing the injury suffered.
  7. The weapons used in war must discriminate between combatants and non-combatants. Civilians are never permissible targets of war, and every effort must be taken to avoid killing civilians. The deaths of civilians are justified only if they are unavoidable victims of a deliberate attack on a military target.

Since Christians and Christianity were so instrumental in imposing the very idea of rules for war, I think we are right in judging our support for any armed conflict through these lenses.  Look through the list and see for yourself if you think Hamas was engaged in just war in their most recent actions.  Then do the same for Israel’s response.

Now, you wonder if Jesus would be against violence in general, and the answer is yes. 

  • He advocated for acts of non-violence in response to violence (Matt 5:38-40). 
  • He wanted his followers to be peacemakers (Matt 5:9). 
  • He himself, when unjustly persecuted, did not violently oppose his captors (Isa 53:7). 

But the larger question is, was Jesus a pacifist and ought all his followers to be pacifists too?  That means that they ought to reject all violence in all situations.  That is a complicated question with no easy answer.  The early Church was pacifist.  We don’t have a record of Christians being part of any military until late in the 2nd century.  But several things cloud the picture:

Once, Jesus engaged in justified acts of violence.  No bloodletting, but he did form a whip to physically drive the money changers out of the Temple mount area (John 2:15).  That was physical resistance that forced a discipline on others (whether Jesus actually hit the people or just the animals is an open question).  Then, on the night of his betrayal he told his disciples to arm themselves as he was about to be turned over to his oppressors (Luke 22:36-38).  Further, the early church was taught that God uses civil authority with the power of the sword to impose punishment on people who do wrong (Romans 13:1-7). 

While the church had almost no access to public power in its early days, this teaching called for a willing submission to the State as the instrument of God’s justice resisting evil sometimes with physical restraint AKA, violence.  But as Christians began to proliferate in society and eventually hold civil authority, the question arose: if God has sanctioned the State to resist evil with the sword, is it sinful for Christians to participate in the very institution which God has specifically authorized?

The answer most Christians eventually landed on was that no, it could not be wrong for Christians to engage in the organs of State power with their Spirit directed conscience and gospel values.

Today, even if one remained a committed pacifist personally following Jesus’ “turn the other cheek” example, no Christian could deny that God nevertheless had a sovereign purpose for Civil Powers to act as God’s instrument to restrain evil with a sword – which would include a just duty to police its citizens, operate a justice system and conduct war. 

So even pacifistic Christians cannot be opposed in principle to the state of Israel’s right to self-defense under Romans 13:1-7, even if they believe it is wrong for individual Christians to participate in such defense.