It is always good form to admit one’s biases, and in the case of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict mine should be pretty obvious: I am a Christian who feels a special kinship with the Jewish people based on what Nostra Aetate called the “spiritual patrimony common to Christians and Jews.” For me that kinship extends to the Jewish majority of Israel. But though I share no corresponding patrimony with the 99 percent of Palestinians who are Muslim, I do feel the common bond of humanity and regularly call for the establishment of a democratic Palestinian state. For the one percent of Palestinians who are Christian, I feel the bond of brotherhood and special concern for my brothers’ plight.
Other pundits are less transparent. Posing as neutral observers interested in peace, many of them took to the airwaves last week to condemn Israel for its response to an attack by the Islamic Resistance Movement, better known to the world as Hamas. That these pundits denounced a small democratic country for employing targeted airstrikes to defend its citizens—including a large Muslim minority—from an illiberal, undemocratic regime that spouts genocidal rhetoric while intentionally killing civilians was bad enough. That they did so while pretending to be neutral—and even, God forbid, Christ-like—was appalling.
“Look, we know the Israeli-Palestinian crisis is complicated,” tweeted the Christian peace organization Preemptive Love on May 13, believing that an Israeli invasion of the Gaza Strip was imminent. “Debates over who did what to whom first are never-ending. But one thing is clear: this is anything but a conflict between two equal parties. Israel boasts one of the most powerful militaries on earth. Israeli airstrikes have killed dozens in Gaza this week already, including 17 children and counting. They’ve leveled whole residential apartment buildings.”
The Christian peace group acknowledged in vague terms the part played by Hamas in the fighting, but still came down against Israel. “The violence of extreme militants in Gaza is wrong, period. But that will not deter us from holding the vastly more powerful party to a higher standard. With the kind of power Israel has comes immense moral responsibility. It comes with the burden of restraint. It does not mean you cannot protect yourself—but your response must not be disproportionate to the actual threat.”
For Preemptive Love, the verdict was clear: the burden of responsibility lay on Israel. “The more powerful party always has less to risk by making the first move toward peace. The moral obligation to stop the spread of violence rests first and foremost on the shoulders of those with the greatest power to cause violence. We cannot bomb our way to peace.” The organization’s leaders seemed oblivious to the use of an ethical rationale that would find a bodybuilder guilty in every dispute.
A better and more Christian response to the conflict would admit its biases even while affirming the dignity of Israelis and Palestinians as humans made in the image of God. It would identify the conflict’s aggressor and condemn the purposeful murder of civilians fueled by religious rage. It would stand with the Palestinian people by offering real solutions to actual problems, not least of which is that a quarter of Palestinians support unilateral violence as the best way to deal with Israel and nearly half endorse attacks against Jewish civilians.
A better Christian response would also recognize that most Palestinians loathe and mistrust their leaders but cannot criticize them or demand the elections they’ve lacked for 15 years for fear of retribution. A Christian response would go out of its way to seek out and support the nearly 60 percent of people in the West Bank and Gaza who either prefer the status quo or the renewal of peace talks with Israel, and would be especially vocal about that support in a moment when murderous thugs have hijacked the nation and driven it to war.
The obvious solution to Palestinian suffering is the election of moral leaders who can negotiate with their Jewish neighbors to gain the state their predecessors have declined since 1947. The good news is that many Palestinians want exactly that. The bad news is that many of their purported friends around the world are too shallow in their thinking or too prejudiced against the Jews to help them get there. May followers of Jesus have the discernment to choose a better way.