Israel, Palestine, and the Myth of Just War

I’ve gotten myself in trouble a couple of times with one of my Twitter followers in the past couple of days for retweeting a couple of things related to the current war (aka genocide) in Israel/Palestine. The first, to paraphrase, asked why people are surprised that Palestinians are fighting back – unsuccessfully for the most part – against their oppressors. The second tried to be a bit more humorous and suggested that the Israeli mindset was “do unto others as the Nazis did unto you.” Of course, I know that as soon as you compare somebody to the Nazis, you’ve lost the argument. I am familiar with that rule of the Internet, so maybe I shouldn’t have retweeted that one, but I do still think it makes a good point.

The point of both tweets from my perspective: both Israel and Hamas are operating on the same framework that the way they achieve peace is through wiping out all of your enemies. And yes, it was the same framework as the Nazis and really the same framework of most people and most nations. It was the basis of the Pax Romana, the Roman Peace: peace through victory.

This makes it really hard for me to take sides in the same way that I see most people doing on this conflict as with many others.

Many conservatives are encouraged by a Zionist philosophy where Israel can never do any wrong coupled with the general approach of “might is right.” We also have a history of being allies with Israel and enemies of Arabs and the media likes to talk this way, too, so we default to that. If we look at classic Just War Theory, one of the clauses is that war can only be carried out by legitimate governments – in other words, if you have already fought your way to authority, that’s proof that you should have the authority to keep fighting. Many people naturally think this way.

On the other hand, many others side with Palestine by pointing out that Palestinians are being horribly oppressed – and they undoubtedly are. The last stat I saw was that 175 Palestinians – many civilians – have been killed while 0 Israelis have. That’s not a war; war implies some ability (as well as desire) to fight back. Palestinians have done harmful things to Israel, though, even if not on the same scale.

Many then devolve to “well, the other side started it!” It really doesn’t matter who started it. If a child responds to being caught in a fight with his sibling by saying “he started it!” most good parents don’t really care who started it. They just want it to stop for there to be peace.

That’s my position here. I generally tend to side with the oppressed, which in this case is clearly the Palestinians. But it would also be foolish to say that they haven’t furthered the problem by responding to violence with violence. They don’t think they’re furthering the problem. They actually think they’re solving the problem because the bad guys will be wiped off the earth. Except that peace through victory never works. Sometimes for a few years your enemies will be afraid enough not to fight back. Rome successfully kept the interior of their Empire safe for a long time by constantly fighting for their borders. Some will say that counts as it “working” and so is worth it, but you’re talking about the cost not just of your enemies’ lives but also of many of your own and the various other stresses and turmoil that come with it. Even if you believe that the others really are subhuman and not as worthy of love as your own people, contrary to Jesus, is that worth a limited time of uneasy ceasefires while each waits for the justification and the resources to start all over again?

Israel and Palestine are a prime example of this principle that violence does not solve violence. Maybe at best it delays some violence or pushes that violence onto other people, but it never solves violence. It usually makes it much worse in the long run. There are always other options that honour the God-image-bearer in every single Israeli (no matter how oppressive) and every single Palestinian (no matter if they carry out guerilla violence). If you really believe that we are to love everyone, including our enemies, then we can’t settle for temporarily beating our enemies into submission. We need something better. We need love and peace.

Ryan Robinson

It is easiest to identify Ryan as both theologian and tech guy. By day, Ryan is a Technical Consultant work with PeaceWorks Technology Solutions. There, he works on websites, CRMs, and SharePoint implementations. Along with blogging here, Ryan is a founding member of the MennoNerds blogging network and a contributor to the book A Living Alternative.