Thoughts on Israel’s war with Hamas

On December 27th, 2008, Israel launched a series of air strikes on Hamas training camps, headquarters, weapons storehouses, underground missile silos and command-and-control centers in Gaza — the start of an open-ended offensive to stem the increasing barrage of rocket-attacks that have plagued Southern Israel in the past months.

Israeli ambassador to the UN Gabriela Shaleb defended the operation:

“Israel is taking the necessary military action in order to protect its citizens from ongoing terrorist attacks originating from the Gaza Strip and carried out by Hamas and other terrorist organizations,” Shalev said, adding that Hamas “holds the sole responsibility for the latest events.”

Israel, she continued, “has exhausted all means and efforts to reach and maintain quiet and to respect the state of calm… Israel’s response is aimed solely against the terrorists and their infrastructures in the Gaza Strip. It is not intended against the civilian population. Israel is committed to prevent a humanitarian crisis.”

Shalev asserted that “No country would allow continuous rocketing of its civilian population without taking the necessary actions to stop it.”

Commenting on the three-day air assault by Israel on Hamas, Deal Hudson states “Bombing Gaza Won’t Make Israel Safer”. It’s a good post and, if anything, certainly jeopardizes Hudson’s standing as a member of the cabal of “Catholic neocons” beholden to Israel and the Republican Party (see Robert Sungenis and other tirades from the fringe-right). That said, I wish to register some thoughts in reaction, both to Hudson and our fellow critics at Vox Nova:

Deal Hudson states:

Israel, of course, has the right of self-defense and the duty to protect its citizens. This assault on Gaza, however, will only embolden extremist groups, like Hamas, who would otherwise lack popular support.

I am curious what, exactly, does Deal propose that Israel do to “protect its citizens”?

Residents of Southern Israel are literally held hostage by a daily barrage of rocket attacks from Gaza, a subject which has been practically ignored by the Western media since 2001. (How many of those reading this post were aware of this?)

Since Israel left Gaza in 2005, giving Palestinians an opportunity to administer their own affairs, more than 6300 rockets and mortars have been fired by Gaza into Israel — more than 3,000 in the past year alone.

I encourage a browsing of Sderot Media Center, a citizen-journalist organization which seeks to depict what everyday life is like for the residents of Sderot and the Western Negev who suffer daily from the terror of Kassam attacks. Imagine your children growing up in a city where practically every day is punctuated by the signal of yet another rocket attack — one can only imagine the response of the United States if, say, terrorists launched thousands of rockets across our Southern border, with the deliberate intent of harming civilians. Yet Gaza can seemingly attack Israel with impunity, while international condemnation only comes when Israel decides to mount a defense.

What is the proper response? — As Jewish blogger Kiskkushim points out, a sustained air assault on Hamas’ positions is proving ineffective:

“Operation Cast Lead” has reached a critical point. It looks like the air force is starting to run out of significant targets to hit. Israel has destroyed Hamas’s major above-ground military installations and has bombed the known tunnels. The trouble is that rockets are still flying, and with more effect than before the war. Have Minister of Defense Ehud Barak and Chief of Staff Gabriel Ashkenazi sufficiently absorbed the lessons of the Lebanon war to maintain the initiative against Hamas?

Israel – Against Hamas, not Gaza

Deal Hudson goes on to say:

Gaza’s 1.5 million civilians have been under a virtual lockdown for over two years, with extreme shortages of potable water, food, gas, and electricity. Israeli policy has produced the exact opposite result from its stated objective of weakening Hamas. Unfortunately, the current Israeli campaign will have the same effect.

Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert said in a televised interview to Gaza’s citizens Dec. 25 on the Arabic TV network al-Arabiya:

“You the citizens of Gaza, you can stop it. I know how much you want to get up in the morning to quiet, to take your children to kindergarten or school, the way we do, the way they want to in Sderot and Netivot…

“We want to live as good neighbors with Gaza,” Olmert said.“ We do not want to harm you. We will not allow a humanitarian crisis and that you should suffer from a lack of food or medicines. We do not want to fight the Palestinian people but we will not allow Hamas to strike our children.”

I concur with Hudson: Israel will succeed to the degree that it follows through with this stated intention, and demonstrates to Gaza that they are not the enemy in this conflict.

In November, for instance, Israel was working, in the midst of attacks, to repair Palestinian sewage treatment plants and contributed supplies towards the repair of Gaza’s electrical grid). And despite the ongoing rocket and missile attacks, Israel on Friday (Dec. 26) transferred more than 90 truckloads of vital goods to Gaza residents and allowed the transfer of 100 trucks into the Gaza Strip carrying donations from Jordan, Turkey and international organizations carrying medical supplies, food and 10 ambulances. (See also Video: IDF humanitarian shipments to Gaza for further documentation).

In fact, click here for a complete list of Israel’s humanitarian assistance to the people of Gaza during the period of calm (June 19 – Dec 18, 2008) is available from Israel’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs’ Unit for Coordination of Government Activities in the Territories.

Such actions, I think, run counter to Deal Hudson’s citation of U.N. Special Rappoteur for Human Rights to the Occupied Palestinian Territories, John Dugard, that “Gaza has become the world’s largest prison, and Israel seems to have thrown away the key.”

Questions about Civilian Casualties

Writing at Vox Nova, Nate Wildermuth characterizes civilian casualties as “murder”:

[Citing Israel’s Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni] “Unfortunately, in this kind of attack, there are some civilian casualties.”How, exactly, does describing one’s murderous actions grant legitimacy to those murderous actions? If one could wipe away sins simply by describing them (as opposed to confessing them), we might hear things like this:

Unfortunately, in bank robbery, people sometimes get shot in the face and die slowly and painfully.

Unfortunately, in prostitution, sometimes men get STDs that they will then pass on to their wives.

Unfortunately, in torture, sometimes people will just die on you.

I think to frame the issue in such a manner contributes to moral confusion.

The Catechism of the Catholic Church states:

Legitimate defense can be not only a right but a grave duty for one who is responsible for the lives of others. The defense of the common good requires that an unjust aggressor be rendered unable to cause harm. For this reason, those who legitimately hold authority also have the right to use arms to repel aggressors against the civil community entrusted to their responsibility.

I would think such an obligation is incumbent upon the nation of Israel as well.

If the Church condones the lethal use of force against an aggressor in extenuating circumstances, I think it would be incorrect, as in Nate’s case, to categorically condemn such actions as immoral and sinful. In ascertaining the moral culpability of civilian casualties resulting from Israel’s strikes on Gaza, there are several pertinent and unanswered questions in Vox Nova‘s discussion of the matter:

Did Israel adopt all other means at its disposal to prevent the attacks before resorting to armed force?

In resorting to armed force, did Israel deliberately target Palestinian civilians, or target a site with the specific intention of killing civilians?

Did Israel take necessary precautions to prevent harm to civilians? — For example, Ha’aretz reports:

Militants often operate against Israel from civilian areas, and that has led to steep civilian casualties in the past when Israel has retaliated. Late Saturday, thousands of Gazans received Arabic-language voice mails on their cell phones from the Israel Defense Forces, urging them to leave homes where militants might have stashed weapons.

At the time of this writing, the United Nations places the number of civilian casualties at 62, with the majority of those killed thought to be Hamas security forces. (A contributing factor may be Hamas’ tendency to use Palestinian civilians as “human shields by placing launchers, weapon stockpiles, arms factories and training centers in and around civilian areas).

I do think this aspect merits further discussion: Does Hamas’ deliberate use of ‘human shields’ negate the use of armed [lethal] force against them altogether?Does the potential for civilian casualties prohibit the use of air strikes altogether?

Hamas’ Support Not Quite Universal

Curiously, this time around not everybody on the Arab street is assigning blame to Israel — Egypt’s Foreign Minister Ahmed Aboul Gheit and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas have criticized Hamas for its role in the conflict:

“We spoke to them and told them ‘Please, we ask you not to end the cease-fire. Let it continue,'” Abbas said during a joint press conference with Egyptian Foreign Minister Ahmed Aboul Gheit. “We want to protect the Gaza Strip. We don’t want it to be destroyed.”Abbas called on Hamas to renew the cease-fire with Israel to avoid further bloodshed in Gaza.Aboul Gheit also attacked Hamas, saying the group had prevented people wounded in the Israeli offensive from passing into Egypt to receive medical attention.”We are waiting for the wounded Palestinians to reach Egypt. They aren’t being allowed to go through,” he said.Asked who was to blame for the dire situation in Gaza, the foreign minister replied: “Ask the party that controls Gaza.”

In The Good Fight in Gaza (Weekly Standard December 29, 2008), Michael Goldfarb grasps the dilemma of battling an enemy that desires nothing else but your nonexistence and is willing to sacrifice everything to achieve that end:

Hamas doesn’t care whether the residents of Gaza live or die, whether they prosper or starve, it cares only that the Arab world and Iran support the organization with money and weapons, that the Palestinian people are united in their hatred of Israel, and that a moderate Palestinian faction is unable to pursue peace. If Hamas is left as the dominant force in Gaza, then their tactical defeat may also be a strategic victory — as was the case for Hezbollah in Lebanon.

Meanwhile, Pope Benedict XVI commented on the escalating violence in Gaza (Catholic News Service December 29, 2008):

VATICAN CITY (CNS) — Pope Benedict XVI deplored the latest escalation of violence in Gaza, following Israeli airstrikes that left nearly 300 people dead.Addressing pilgrims at his noon blessing at the Vatican Dec. 28, the pope urged serious dialogue between Israelis and Palestinians as the only way out of the “perverse logic of conflict and violence.”He called for a restoration of the truce in Gaza, and said the international community has a particular responsibility to leave nothing untried in helping both sides out of the current “blind alley.””I am deeply saddened for the dead, the wounded, the material damage, and the sufferings and tears of the people who are the victims of this tragic sequence of attacks and reprisals,” the pope said.”The earthly homeland of Jesus cannot continue to be a witness to such bloodshed, which is repeated without end! I implore the end of this violence, which must be condemned in all its forms, and a restoration of the truce in the Gaza Strip,” he said.

Further Reading

  • Reference: Israeli bloggers Muqata and Israelly Cool are “liveblogging”: providing day-by-day updates on “Operation Cast Lead” and the Israel-Gazan conflict.
  • Opinion: The Lessons of Gaza, by Steve Schippert:

    In early 2005, the Israeli Knesset passed the Disengagement Plan Implementation Law, which was the legal expression of Ariel Sharon’s desire to give the Palestinians in Gaza precisely that which they wanted and demanded; an end to Israeli occupation. But, true to its Charter, that is not enough for Hamas. For only the destruction of Israel and the creation of a first-time Palestinian state “from the sea to the river” will suffice. What has led to the ongoing and massive Israeli precision airstrikes within Gaza against carefully vetted Hamas targets bares this fact to be as true as the sea is deep.

  • Opinion: Palestinians Need Israel to Win: If Hamas gets away with terror once again, the peace process will be over, by Michael B. Oren and Yossei Klein Halevi. Wall Street Journal December 29, 2008.
  • Update – What a surprise! — I agree with a column by Michael Sean Winters (“The War in Gaza” America 12/30/09):

    Of course, there remains one very simple way to break the cycle of violence in the Mideast: The Palestinians must unequivocally accept Israel’s right to exist and abandon their hopes for turning back the clock to 1966. As long as the Palestinians insist on half of Jerusalem, they will never have complete control of Nablus. And until their universities stop being recruiting grounds for terrorists, those of us who live in countries that insisted on the unconditional surrender of Nazi Germany should be careful about condemning Israel.

    We all want to break the circle of violence. But, Pope Benedict XVI, perhaps more than most, knows the nasty consequences of mixing fanatic ideology with politics for he witnessed those consequences as a young man. Hamas and its allies bring eschatology where Hitler brought the Occult mixed with Wagnerian Germanic mythology, but the effects are the same: a regime that is a curse for its own people and its neighbors. Peace can only come when Hamas is defeated.

39 Responses to Thoughts on Israel’s war with Hamas

  1. Donald R. McClarey says:

    The only peace Hamas will ever make with Israel is the peace of the grave. The sad truth is that they are supported in this position by the overwhelming majority of the population of Gaza. Diplomacy is of little use when one side has as its ultimate aim the destruction of the other side.

    From the Charter of Hamas:

    “Article Thirteen: Peaceful Solutions, [Peace] Initiatives and International Conferences
    [Peace] initiatives, the so-called peaceful solutions, and the international conferences to resolve the Palestinian problem, are all contrary to the beliefs of the Islamic Resistance Movement. For renouncing any part of Palestine means renouncing part of the religion; the nationalism of the Islamic Resistance Movement is part of its faith, the movement educates its members to adhere to its principles and to raise the banner of Allah over their homeland as they fight their Jihad: “Allah is the all-powerful, but most people are not aware.” From time to time a clamoring is voiced, to hold an International Conference in search for a solution to the problem. Some accept the idea, others reject it, for one reason or another, demanding the implementation of this or that condition, as a prerequisite for agreeing to convene the Conference or for participating in it. But the Islamic Resistance Movement, which is aware of the [prospective] parties to this conference, and of their past and present positions towards the problems of the Muslims, does not believe that those conferences are capable of responding to demands, or of restoring rights or doing justice to the oppressed. Those conferences are no more than a means to appoint the nonbelievers as arbitrators in the lands of Islam. Since when did the Unbelievers do justice to the Believers? “And the Jews will not be pleased with thee, nor will the Christians, till thou follow their creed. Say: Lo! the guidance of Allah [himself] is the Guidance. And if you should follow their desires after the knowledge which has come unto thee, then you would have from Allah no protecting friend nor helper.” Sura 2 (the Cow), verse 120 There is no solution to the Palestinian problem except by Jihad. The initiatives, proposals and International Conferences are but a waste of time, an exercise in futility. The Palestinian people are too noble to have their future, their right and their destiny submitted to a vain game. As the hadith has it: “The people of Syria are Allah’s whip on this land; He takes revenge by their intermediary from whoever he wished among his worshipers. The Hypocrites among them are forbidden from vanquishing the true believers, and they will die in anxiety and sorrow.” (Told by Tabarani, who is traceable in ascending order of traditionaries to Muhammad, and by Ahmed whose chain of transmission is incomplete. But it is bound to be a true hadith, for both story tellers are reliable. Allah knows best.)”

  2. TDJ says:

    This is my own brief take on the conflict:

    Iran fuels Gaza conflict to increase oil prices –


  3. Key quote in the Catechism: “The defense of the common good requires that an unjust aggressor be rendered unable to cause harm. For this reason . . . ” This teaching is not about the holiness of killing. It is about the holiness of defending life.

  4. Q: Is there any such thing as a “just war”?

    Cardinal Ratzinger: This is a major issue of concern. In the preparation of the Catechism, there were two problems: the death penalty and just war theory were the most debated. The debate has taken on new urgency given the response of the Americans. Or, another example: Poland, which defended itself against Hitler.

    I’d say that we cannot ignore, in the great Christian tradition and in a world marked by sin, any evil aggression that threatens to destroy not only many values, many people, but the image of humanity itself.

    In this case, defending oneself and others is a duty. Let’s say for example that a father who sees his family attacked is duty-bound to defend them in every way possible — even if that means using proportional violence.

    Thus, the just war problem is defined according to these parameters:

    1) Everything must be conscientiously considered, and every alternative explored if there is even just one possibility to save human life and values;

    2) Only the most necessary means of defense should be used and human rights must always be respected; in such a war the enemy must be respected as a human being and all fundamental rights must be respected.

    I think that the Christian tradition on this point has provided answers that must be updated on the basis of new methods of destruction and of new dangers. For example, there may be no way for a population to defend itself from an atomic bomb. So, these must be updated.

    But I’d say that we cannot totally exclude the need, the moral need, to suitably defend people and values against unjust aggressors.

    — Cardinal Ratzinger, Interview with Vatican Radio. November 2001.

    Citing the above is not to defend this or that action taken by the U.S. or Israel as automatically justified or “holy”; but I think there is the clear recognition — even by our current Pope, co-editor of the Catechism — that, in the defense of life against unjust aggressors, “proportional violence” may be an obligation.

    I would also suggest that those charged with the obligation to defend and protect the lives of its charges, in Ratzinger/B16’s example “for example that a father who sees his family attacked is duty-bound to defend them in every way possible”, or to speak of a nation obligated to defend its citizens, that the refusal to employ ‘proportional violence’ [Ratzinger’s words] in the defense of life would constitute a sin.

    Nate Wildermuth, circa April 2008:How could the Pope repeat United States propaganda, and express admiration for US bloodshed? I racked my mind for ways to interpret his words in another way, but I couldn’t. …

    I have so much to learn.

    After a great deal of reflection and prayer, my heart has moved, my neck has bent. I have seen something startling: we live in a society where “defense of life” and “nonviolence” are mostly mutually exclusive, and because the defense of life must take priority over a commitment to nonviolence, most Christians are duty-bound to defend life with the least amount of violence possible.

    Did I just write that? I did. But only after three days of gut-wrenching prayer!

    I am not suggesting that violence is good, or even Christian. I am suggesting, however, that the circumstances of our society require us to choose defense of life over nonviolence. In other words – if the only way I can defend life is to use a gun, then I must use a gun.

    Strikes will not stop robbers from breaking into our homes. Nonviolent communication will not stop those who do not wish to communicate. We have no nonviolent alternatives to police forces or militaries. We have no nonviolent alternatives to courts and prisons. Nonviolent means of defending life are mostly confined to idealistic exhortations to “love your enemy and trust in God’s grace to work miracles.”

    Nonviolent means of defending life must be reasonable, passing the common sense rule, being as readily available as the gun in Target, or a call to 911. To criticize those who use violence to defend life when there are no other ways to defend life is . . . well . . . possibly scandalous.

    I believe we’ve had this conversation before?

  5. At the risk of beating a dead horse 😉 I’ll reiterate what I said then as well, responding to your post:

    Just as Catholic tradition makes a distinction between ‘killing’ and ‘homicide’, it seems to me that rather than condemning any and all use of armed force as “violence” [= evil], the Catholic tradition rather evaluates the use of force, judging its worth according to moral criteria.

    The former has often been dubbed the “‘dirty hands’ tradition” (whereby to pick up a gun, even defensively, is to unavoidably involve one’s self in sin), the latter the “just war tradition” of moral-reasoning and a moral evaluation of armed force. (My father examined this in an essay “War and the Eclipse of Moral Reasoning” back in 2002).

    None of this discounts the witness of pacifists — who by their actions and adherence to nonviolence anticipate and manifest in this reality a time where the lion will truly “lay down with the lamb”, where all swords will be “beaten into plowshares.”

    Probably no movie illustrates this ongoing debate between the two traditions than one of my favorite movies, Robert Bolt and Roland Joffé’s 1986 film The Mission.

  6. John Henry says:

    I confess I’ve never understood Pacifism other than non-resistance to martyrdom. How does anyone familiar with a history book object to the idea, for example, that governments have an obligation to defend their citizens or parents a responsibility to protect their children? Granted, this principle can be (and often is!) easily misapplied, which means it is similar to….every other moral principal.

    I think that pacifists perform a valuable service in reminding people of the horrors of conflict, and in balancing out the the tendencies of some people to view military action as the hammer for which every problem is a nail. But I do not understand the position that violence in all situations is immoral.

  7. Bret Ramsey says:

    As Warren Carrol says in his wonderful history of Christendom when Jesus drives the money-changers from the temple the first time,

    “Nor did He (Jesus) hesitate to use physical force, thereby establishing once and for all, contrary to modern pacifists, that the use of physical force is not always evil in itself. The teaching of love would come when men were prepared to listen. But first they must know that One had come among them with a power which was God’s.”

  8. Mark DeFrancisis says:

    “The teaching of love would come when men were prepared to listen. But first they must know that One had come among them with a power which was God’s.””

    And how different from worldly power was that “power which was God’s”…

  9. S.B. says:

    I think pacifism at bottom rests on the modernist moral error of thinking (probably subconsciously) that the physical body is the most important (or perhaps the only important) fact about human beings. Hence the one moral absolute is that you can’t do something that hurts someone’s physical body, even by accident, not even for the most pressing of reasons. Pacifism, in this respect, is similar to the modernist tendency to think that spanking your children is morally worse than instilling in them a desire for material success (one that is ultimately devastating to the soul).

  10. […] to get into the debate surrounding the latest happenings in the Middle East (though, as always, Chris Blosser has an excellent roundup if you are interested), but I’d like to take a closer look at this […]

  11. I sense a Catch-22.

    Hamas needs Israeli attacks to keep its people riled up, but Israel can’t simply let assaults continue unchecked.

    Are the Hamas attackers launching rockets from their own neighborhoods? A true Machiavel would launch attacks from areas where enemy retaliation is likely to kill off his local opposition, and not his friends and family.

  12. Kyle Cupp says:

    Proportionality includes not only the methods used but also the consequences of those methods. While I acknowledge the right to self-defense and the use of force in that defense, I question whether it is really possible to ensure that the force used doesn’t produce evils graver than the evil to be eliminated. The structure of the world today, marked by its interconnectedness and interdependency, opens the whole world to the consequences of a local act of violence, and therefore renders the knowledge that one is using proportional violence difficult if not impossible to acquire. Deal Hudson rightly points to likely unintended consequences of Israel’s strikes, but how many other unintended consequences remain beyond our foresight? Too many to speculate accurately, I’d say.

  13. “I question whether it is really possible to ensure that the force used doesn’t produce evils graver than the evil to be eliminated.”

    Then proportionality merely becomes an argument for pacificism, something that no nation which wishes to continue to exist in this world will ever embrace. The Jews in Europe in World War 2 were slaughtered like flies because they had no military to fight for them. I cannot blame the Israelis for not wishing to follow their example. Catholics are not quakers and I cannot think of a Catholic nation that ever existed that chose to embrace pacifism rather than to fight for national survival.

  14. Eric Brown says:


    Well said. I am in absolute 100% agreement of all that you’ve said. I personally think that a sense of reluctance in this matter has been too easily dismissed as pacifism, when I think that is an oversimplification of the position being presented.

    I, as any good Catholic, believe in the “just war” doctrine of the Church. However, I do think that doctrine, even in the last ten years, has been glossed over casually and the tenets not really examined by those not necessarily opposed to any of the armed conflicts occuring in the Middle East.

    Even if there is such a thing as “Catholic pacifism,” I think it is profoundly different than that of secular pacifism. Dorothy Day comes to mind and her thinking in regard to nonviolence does not necessarily echo the immediate or familiar arguments of modernist secular humanists who really base their convictions on an agnostic metaphysical view of reality.

    I think a Catholic can on good grounds be a pacifist. It does not require others to follow in suit by obligation. I believe, just as Dorothy Day did, that war is the perfect breeding ground for imperialism, militarism, and nationalism. These sociological errors of modern society live off human vices and perpetuate division and in many ways presents barrier to any sort of peace or meaningful dialogue. All these “-isms” symbolize the false gods of modernity that I believe we should be resisting, not appeasing.

    Pope Benedict XVI once said in an interview that “…given the new weapons that make possible destructions that go beyond the combatant groups, today we should be asking ourselves if it is still licit to admit the very existence of a ‘just war’.”

    I think the Holy Father here makes a profound insight into the nature of war. War is sometimes a necessary evil, but it is one that evolves and this evolution has created a horror that was hardly imaginable even over a century ago. War is no longer a matter confined to a battlefield where those in immediate danger are those within confinement of the space in which combat is being engaged in. Modern warfare and military weapons are indiscriminate in whom gets killed.

    But this is not the bulk of my point. Pope John Paul II warned that “humanity should question itself, once more, about the absurd and always unfair phenomenon of war, on whose stage of death and pain only remain standing the negotiating table that could and should have prevented it.” War by its very nature destroys precisely what it intends to create — that is freedom, peace, and reconciliation. War strikes at the very heart of civilization: the family. Regardless of perspective of who is right and wrong in such matters, men die, women die, and children die. Hurt, anger, bitterness, and division is written on a new page of history. I have never read of any war or act of violence that paved the way toward justice and peace, but rather eliminated perhaps one challenge only to give birth to a host of others.

    Gandhi asked mankind, “What difference does it make to the dead, the orphans, and the homeless, whether the mad destruction is wrought under the name of totalitarianism or the holy name of liberty and democracy?” It is not merely the fact that innocent people who’s livelihoods, little do they know, might be altered permanently in a matter of moments; it is rather that this violence only more deeply entrenches the hatred and division that the war is trying to, in some ways, heal.

    This is what Kyle was getting at when he talked about the connection of the international community in our modern circumstances — there is much interdependentness. Martin Luther King, Jr. in his day saw this: “Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly. I can never be what I ought to be until you are what you ought to be. This is the interrelated structure of reality.” We cannot be what we ought through the means of violence. I don’t and can’t believe that even remote material cooperation in evil — for war itself is not of the nature of God — will bring humanity where it needs to be.

    I don’t think you must be a “pacifist” to be a Christian. But, I do think (rightly or wrongly) that many Christians quickly gloss over Jesus’ “hard sayings” to love your enemies — they are impratical and senseless — even though the Lord, for some reason, decided to hold us to this standard. Pope Paul VI declared “No more war!” Pope Benedict XVI so beautifully described the vengeance of the God of Israel. “True vengeance” is the healing goodness of God. The definitive explanation is found in the one who died on the cross: in Jesus, the Son of God incarnate. His ‘vengeance’ is the cross: a ‘no’ to violence and a ‘love to the end.’

    Perhaps, this is silly idealism. I’m certainly not arguing that a State does not have the God-given duty to defend the lives of its citizens; however, the manner and strategy of exercising that duty in given circumstances is a matter of prudence. There is an old saying that “in times of war, the laws are silent.” I think for some reason this includes moral laws. Man has found himself capable of terrible things in times of war and I cannot see how war brings no more war. Yes, this is a fallen world, but the Christian call is to transform not get behind the status quo of sin.

    Yes, there is a right to self-defense and yes, there is such a thing in theory as a “just” war; however, I think we oversimplify what it takes to make that call. In all truth, the matters of war do not immediately impact us. We continue our daily lives and in many ways take our countless blessings for granted. It is hardly clear to us what it is we may or may not be saying is morally licit. I’m personally of no position on the matter of this armed conflict, except that my prayers are with all involved and I hope this conflict ends as soon as possible and an all out war is not waged.

    Again, I think Kyle nailed it on the head. I don’t think it is fair to say a reluctance in this matter and/or asking the question of whether this is something that should be engaged in with its potential consequences on many levels is necessarily pacifism; I think it’s taking the “just war” doctrine very seriously. As Catholics, we are called to be in opposition of unjust war and I think the modern reactionary tendency leads more to the latter than the former.

    That’s my two cents.

  15. Mark DeFrancisis says:


    Beautifully said and excellently argued.

    Just an afterthought: even if a potential military action does meet all of the just war criteria in Catholic social thought, this does not mean that the issue is over. The exhausting of all alternative means to dispell conflict are still strongly, strongly advised.

    I hate to say it, but some of your cohorts here seem to have a minor devotion to military violence, and it is rather sad.


  16. While I would to an extent share the fear that Israel’s current offensive will do little to make Israeli citizens safer from Hamas’ daily rocket attacks (in that I fear they would have to reduce Gaza to the 1943 condition of Stalingrad or the 1945 condition of Berlin to thoroughly remove Gaza’s ability to operate — and neither they nor the international community have the willingness to allow such a thing to happen) I’m hesitant to condemn Israel loudly as some are going either.

    Eric says:
    Yes, there is a right to self-defense and yes, there is such a thing in theory as a “just” war; however, I think we oversimplify what it takes to make that call. In all truth, the matters of war do not immediately impact us. We continue our daily lives and in many ways take our countless blessings for granted. It is hardly clear to us what it is we may or may not be saying is morally licit. I’m personally of no position on the matter of this armed conflict, except that my prayers are with all involved and I hope this conflict ends as soon as possible and an all out war is not waged.

    I think in some sense I agree, but with the difference that while I fear the unleashing war on Gaza will do little to help Israel, I do not feel that we in the US have the standing to tell Israel: Sure, you’re suffering daily rocket attacks with ever increasing frequency, going farther and farther into your country, targeting civilians. But we’re really not sure if attacking Hamas would resolve that, so you better just grin and bear it.

    I really can’t say what decision I would make if I were the prime minister of Israel (since that is thankfully not my duty) but seeing as Israel has decided to attack Hamas (which is, after all, the duly elected government of Gaza right now) I don’t see it as my place to blame them for the decision at this time.

    Certainly, one does not want to use the just war criteria too casually — yet at the same time, one must recall that the just war criteria are generally used in determining if one may start a war, not whether one may defend oneself against an already ongoing attack. Given that Hamas had already decided to attack Israel via indiscriminate bombardment of civilian areas, it strikes me that Israel’s right to strike back is pretty clear — though its duty to behave proportionally obviously remains.

  17. Ryan Harkins says:

    Mark, I would object to your addendum on one minor technicality (so you can brain me if you feel I’m being too nit-picky), but exhausting the alternatives is a criterion for just war. I’d offer instead that even in the cases when all criteria are met, there argument is not over because we can still choose not to go to war.

    The problem, I feel, is indeed in judging the consequences of taking military action. Because we cannot know the future, working with the purest utilitarian ideal of whether or not to engage in war is impossible. We cannot know that taking action will indeed make things better or worse, and we cannot know–not with any certainty–that not taking action will make matters better or worse. I think judging the lasting harm of a war is like predicting the weather, only slightly more complicated because now we’re trying to predict over a body of thinking, reasoning beings (I almost said rational, but I think that might draw objections) instead of a highly chaotic, but largely deterministic system. We can predict immediate consequences fairly easily and with a moderate degree of accuracy, but long term is much harder.

    Where does that leave us? The gravity of going to war should always, always, always make us think thrice. There’s no question there. And we certainly shouldn’t be chafing at the bit to go and fight. In that regard, Mark, I would not say that people here have a devotion to military violence. Instead, we may be a little too blase about using military force. But unless you’re truly prepared to state that military force is never justified in any circumstance, i.e. a complete blanket prohibition, then all we’re arguing about is when to go to war.

    Eric, I certainly would not call what you said “silly idealism”. What you’ve said is really where we all need to be starting from when we contemplate the notion of war. However, I think there’s an aspect of war–what justifies us in taking action if we choose to do so–that you’ve glossed over. Perhaps I’m just making this up, and I’m certain that not many will agree with me, but I believe that war can be waged in full love of the enemy, and can be a corrective measure for the enemy as much as a defensive measure for the assailed.

    In the treatment of war, just as with the treatment of law, we have to keep in mind the fallen, sinful nature of man. Just as some are tempted to steal, murder, commit adultery, and commit other crimes, so too are leaders tempted to wage war for one purpose or another. When there is no threat of retaliation, no threat of punishment, then sooner or later someone caves and commits a crime. That’s why we have our laws and our penal system, and that’s why we endeavor to ensure that the criminal is always caught. In the same way, a standing army acts to deter war, but it only works as a deterrent as long as there’s the very real possibility that the army will be called to action. And when someone does choose to unjustly engage in war, calling the army forth to combat the aggressor is not partake in bloodshed, but instead enforce on the aggressor that his actions are wrong and need to be changed. Keep in mind, of course, that this stands as the final safeguard against unwarranted aggression, and that there are other means that can be employed first to prevent war or even de-escalate it once it has started.

    The corrective part of war, blunt as it may be, is showing the aggressor that cost of his aggression far outweighs the benefits. Of course, the biggest problem with this view of war is actually best exemplified in the conflict between Israel and Hamas. The blunt weapon of war may be simply too much, just as a SWAT team is too much for a shoplifter, and a lifetime imprisonment too much a first-time, single count drug offense. But this is exactly what Hamas is counting on, so that they can continue their aggression with impunity.

    So what is Israel to do? I waffle. Some days, I want to say, every citizen in Gaza that condones the actions of Hamas by allowing them to fire rockets from civilian neighborhoods and so on is complicit with evil and has made himself a combatant. Fortunately, I know that such thoughts are a thinly disguised “Kill-em-all-and-let-God-sort-em-out” mentality, which is very, very, very wrong, so I tend to keep that on a tight leash.

    Other days, I think, “only a few dozen have been killed, a fun hundred injured, so that’s not a huge deal. Israel should just stand firm and teach those terrorists that a few thousands rockets each year isn’t going to faze the Israeli people.” But then, I feel strongly that the Hamas terrorists are of the mentality that if they can get away with sending more rockets or worse into Israel, they will do so. And this is where the unforeseen consequences come into play. Who can honestly say what will, indeed, happen? I could speculate that the terrorists will eventually get bored with having little effect and will either a) go home or b) escalate. I could speculate that the Israeli people, seeing their government doing nothing to protect them will a) face martyrdom bravely b) overthrow the current government and install one that will wage war with Hamas or c) take matters into their own hands and start firing rockets into Gaza. So what will it be?

    As a final point, where I think you’re wrong, Eric, is in talking about the negotiating table. Wars are ended at the negotiating table, true, but waging war sometimes is the only thing that forces one side or the other to the negotiating table. Certainly it would be better if nations talked out their differences instead of declaring war, and if you look at the diplomatic measures we engage in today, it should be heartening. We have embassies to and from most of the nations in the world, or at least the ones we deal with regularly. We spend vast amounts of time in diplomacy so that we never come to combat. But when one power is bent and determined to wage war and refuses to sit down to negotiate, then the negotiating table has no power.

  18. Eric Brown says:


    I don’t disagree with you. I believe that the State has a right to defend itself and in doing so is delivering justice by means of a remote as possible material cooperation in evil — an evil that the State wishes to end not perpetuate and did not intend in using as a means of bringing justice until compelled to do so.

    As Darwin said, proportionality and the extent to which one can exercise the right of just defense or fighting justly to stop a growing evil before getting carried away is a very fine line. Not to mention, as Pope John Paul II repeatedly reiterated, that war undermines itself; the end one may try to achieve is contrary to the means that are being used and I, rather, emphatically think that reality gets very little attention. I don’t believe much good will come from this, quite the contrary.

    On a tangent, I was watching the FOX news today and there was a black and white video recorded by an Israel aerial target-tracking camera showing men inside of a building loading long tubes or cylinders on a flatbed truck. These were supposedly “terror operatives” loading crude rockets. Nevertheless, the air pilot fired and destroyed the building.

    It turns out that the rockets, in fact, were salvaged oxygen tanks from a welding shop being moved by civilians — in a building next to a building that a previous Israeli airstrike destroyed.

    The group had loaded several oxygen tanks before the missile hit. Eight people were killed and little did many of their families know that their livelihoods were going to change forever. They showed photos of the truck and the charred oxygen tanks. They weren’t rockets — they certainly would have gone off upon impact. This case highlights the complexity of targeting in urban areas.

    On a separate note, Israel has hit more than 400 targets since the airstrikes began. Some 400 Palestinians have been killed and 2,000 wounded and its been estimiated that a quarter are civilians. I’m not sure of the accuracy of these figures, of course, but if they are somewhat accurate I think it’s horrible enough in itself.

    Not to mention, Israeli strikes have targeted mosques because they believed they were storing rockets there. I’m not certain of whether they are or not. But blowing up places of religious worship, especially that of Muslims, in this region, with these circumstances…God help us.

    It is an unfortunate situation and I pray they stop fighting.

  19. bruce says:

    Israel never seems to learn and time is running short.After a brutal 18 year occupation of South Lebanon in the 1980’s,it was forced to withdraw leaving a more radical Hizbollah foe that did not exist prior to invasion. Israeli forces in lebanon slaughtered over 20,000 Lebanese and Palestinians(most non combattants,Christians and Moslems).Israel’s overwhelming use of US supplied cluster bombs against civillians(a violation of the US Arms export act)resulted in the birth of suicide bombing.It is yet to be seen how long the unwitting US taxpayer will supply Israel with unlimited arms with no strings. Israel’s 2006 war against lebanon saw Israel request millions of dollars in emergency munitions and aviation fuel from the US to enable it to maintain it’s bombing campaign on civilian infrastructure.

  20. Donald R. McClarey says:

    Hezbollah is sitting this one out. I wonder if they would have done so without the 2006 war?

    Israel isn’t the problem. The problem is the jihadist movement throughout the Islamic world that views us as enemy number one and Israel as a minor threat.

  21. rami says:

    Israel is still occupying Gaza and the West Bank, contrary to what some people think or want us to think.
    I am an Iraqi Jew and I know what occupation, siege, starvation and suffering mean.
    So pls. stop blaming the victim and trying to find excuses for the bullying murderers. This is totally immoral and inhuman. If you are not able to say the truth, just keep silent and do not add salt to the wounds of the helpless Palestinians.
    Try to watch TV images from Gaza. Stare in the faces of the Gazan children and women, for you may come out with a clear and just conscience.
    I wish I ll see the day when Palestine is freed from its occupiers and the Palestinian people live in peace and security in their own land.
    May this be achieved either with Hamas or any other Palestinian freedom fighters.

  22. Donald R. McClarey says:

    “I wish I ll see the day when Palestine is freed from its occupiers and the Palestinian people live in peace and security in their own land.”

    Hey Rami, I’ll perhaps believe you are actually Jewish when you give a real e-mail address. Until that time I think you are as Jewish as the members of Hamas.

  23. rami says:

    “40 years after 1967 and 58 years after 1948, why is the occupation not yet over?
    Because Israel does not want it to end. Because Israel wants the land and the resources without the people. Because you have to eviscerate a culture in order to maintain total control over it. Because the United States says that’s just fine with us, you serve our purpose well. You help make the war on terror convenient. You help fit Iraq into the scheme. You’ll help us with Iran as well. Who the hell cares about a million and a half poverty-stricken Gazans and their dust, their sand, their stinking, crumbling heap of a disaster area homeland?
    What a terrible shame it is that Gazans have not yet attained the status of human in the eyes of the Western powers, for the resistance there will continue to be an enigma until this changes. For now, however, the slaughter will continue unabated.”>>

    The above is just an excerpt from an article on one of the many massacres perpetrated by Israel against Palestinians.
    Try to read the article in full. The writer is professor Jennifer Loewenstein. She is also a Jew, but with a human compassion and clear conscience plus a thoughtful insight into the history of the warfare in the region.
    Read what Jennifer Loewenstein wrote carefully and thoroughly if you want to know the true character of the state you are defending its genocide war.

    How Gaza Offends Us All:

  24. rami says:

    Hi Donald,
    Believe me I am a JEW. And I am proud to be so.
    But, unlike you, I hate injustice, murder and prejudice.
    Being a Jew does not mean that I should ignore or tolerate the suffering of other people just because my coreligionists are the bad guys who have been inflicting misery and suffering on helpless people.
    Our humanity should prevail over our narrow affiliations and inherent prejudice.
    Thanks my dear.

  25. crankycon says:

    Believe me I am a JEW. And I am proud to be so.

    A rude question to ask, I am sure, but out of curious, when’s the last time you attended Sabbath services?

  26. Matt says:


    the highest reported totals from Israel’s defensive action in Gaza is about 700. 3/4 are military by all accounts. Do you have the foggiest clue how many civilians would be killed if a single F15 where to deliberately attack an occupied civilian target? If Israel wanted to destroy the UN school that Hamas was using to shield it’s rocket attacks, there would have been nothing but a pile of rubble, just on 1000 lb bomb would have killed everyone inside. Clearly that IS not the objective.

    God Bless,


  27. Still haven’t given me a real e-mail address Rami. Until you do so I think you are a supporter of Hamas flying a false flag.

    “But, unlike you, I hate injustice, murder and prejudice.”

    Coming from the supporter of an organization that specializes in cowardly attacks on civilians, I assume you are attempting to be humorous with that statement.

  28. Matt says:


    check this video out, and then get back to us:
    Hamas in their own voices

  29. rami says:

    Dear Crankycon,
    How are u doing?
    Do u mean I can not be a true Jew without attending Sabath?
    Who say that, my dear?
    It seems this is a new theory on the identity issue. So, if u do not pray you are not a true Jew or Christian!
    Being a Jew goes deeper than ritual things. It is about culture, psyche, self fulfillment and how you look at yourself.
    If I do not attend prayer, that does not necessarily mean I am not a real Jew.
    Thanks my dear.

    Dear Matt,
    There could be no more cowardly than the Israeli soldiers who kill innocent children and women in cold blood. There is no honor or heroism in killing children, I guess. It is pure cowardice. There is no other name befitting their evil and inhumane deeds. The Israeli military establishment has rubbed the honor of their soldiers in the blood of Gaza’s children. But who knows, we may see their leaders at the Hague very soon for the war crimes they are committing in our name.

    Dear Donald,
    Believe me I am not fond of Hamas. I know they are violent sometimes. But they are not more violent than the Israeli soldiers. Whether we like Hamas or not, we can not deny the fact that they are resistance group wanting to liberate their land. Resistance is a legitimate right for all peoples under occupation. Now remember what I am saying: it won’t be long till we see the Israelis and their benefactors, the Americans, indulged in some sort of dialogue or negotiations. Hamas will remain there, believe me. Israel could fight for ten years from now and it will reap the wind. Hamas remains the difficult figure in the equation.

  30. Donald R. McClarey says:

    “Believe me I am not fond of Hamas. I know they are violent sometimes. But they are not more violent than the Israeli soldiers. Whether we like Hamas or not, we can not deny the fact that they are resistance group wanting to liberate their land.”

    No rami, the Israeli military attempts to minimize civilian casualties, while the terrorists of Hamas attempt to maximize civilian casualties. Hamas wants to destroy Israel and to make all of Palestine Judenfrei.

  31. Matt says:

    There could be no more cowardly than the Israeli soldiers who kill innocent children and women in cold blood. There is no honor or heroism in killing children, I guess. It is pure cowardice. There is no other name befitting their evil and inhumane deeds.

    This is all of course true, but it’s a red herring. If this were even marginally frequent then there would be 100’s of thousands of dead Palestinians every year. Instead, the whole history of the conflict (50 years) about 70,000 have died. By contrast more mohammedans than that are killed by their co-religionists every year.

    I notice you failed to answer my question? How many Gazan’s could Israel kill with a single bomb if they wished to annihilate them? You know the answer, it is in the 1000’s, far more than in the number that have been killed in 2 weeks of air attacks against military targets.

    I know they are violent sometimes. But they are not more violent than the Israeli soldiers. Whether we like Hamas or not, we can not deny the fact that they are resistance group wanting to liberate their land.

    Violence is neither good nor evil under Jewish, Christian or Islamic law (which I believe is your actual religion). Violence is only evil when it is directed at the INNOCENT. When Hamas “resists” it is not usually against the IDF, but against innocent men, women and children.

    Did you check the video? They do not deny their approach, why would you?

  32. Matt says:

    ps. Rami, you should be aware that Hamas seeks to maximize civilian casualties ON BOTH SIDES in order to garner sympathy. In doing so they are responsible for the bloodshed on both sides.

  33. crankycon says:

    Do u mean I can not be a true Jew without attending Sabath ?

    Yes, that is what I am saying. Just as you cannot be a true Catholic without attending Mass. I understand that there is a cultural aspect to Judaism, but to me that is precisely why Judaism is dying. Especially in the US, too many Jews treat the spiritual aspect of their faith as merely a secondary (if at all) aspect to their religion. I’ve even encountered several Jewish friends who think it is not at all a contradiction to be considered an atheist. Ummm, excuse me?

    And unless you’re my wife, please do not call me dear. Thanks.

  34. crankycon says:

    Then again, maybe I’m off and that whole “remember the Sabbath and keep it holy thing” was optional.

  35. Matt says:


    more evidence of Hamas terrorism, violating the ceasefire that Israel permitted to allow humanitarian aid.

  36. rami says:

    Absolutely not true. Even the CNN itself said today that Israel, not Hamas, is to blame for braking the ceasefire.

    Anyway, here is another link that will take you to another free Jewish thinker,

    Dr. Norman Finkelstein, who also provides a great insight into what is really happening in Gaza.

    Remember! Dr. Finkelstein is a Jew not a Palestinian or an Arab “a smiling face here!”.

  37. Matt says:


    CNN? They are the shoddiest news organization in the world (next to the reuters perhaps). Just because a self-hating jew like Finklestein and you want to spew lies doesn’t make them true. Are you going to respond to my earlier posts? Or do you accept that Hamas is responsible of all civilian casualties as I have demonstrated?

  38. Donald R. McClarey says:

    CNN is almost ludicrously bad in regard to the Gaza story. They had to pull a fake Hamas video about an alleged atrocity by the Israelis.

    Ted Turner’s vanity news network is the last news source I would ever turn to, and that includes the New York Times!

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