Pastor’s Column: Is Israel-Hamas A Just War?
On October 7, the terrorist organization Hamas launched a series of surprise attacks from their stronghold in Gaza into Israeli territory, killing more than 1,400 people and taking 239 hostages. The world was shocked to see the brutal murder of innocent women, children, and the elderly. In response, Israel has declared war on Hamas and is commencing an aerial and ground attack with the intention of finally and fully eliminating Hamas.
Yet, wars inevitably result in immense death and destruction, especially in the post-industrial world. As Christians who value all human life as made in the image of God, we may ask, “Is there such a thing as a just war, in which the state’s use of violence is necessary and good for the execution of justice?” A minority Christian of traditions would say no, that war is always and inevitably so evil that Christians should never willingly participate or support. Yet, this fails to appreciate the Biblical role of the state in bearing the sword of God’s justice and the role of good men in wielding that sword. The majority of Christians would adhere to some version of “Just War Theory,” in which certain criteria, drawn from Scripture and Reason, must apply in order for the war to be “just” in the eyes of God and gain a Christian’s support. Let us review these and apply them briefly to Israel’s War.
Just Cause – Only a grave, public evil that aggressively threatens a population is grounds for the force of war. Hamas has consistently demonstrated its systemic and pervasive intention to eliminate Israel and its attack is a massive and aggressive act of violence that merits response and justice.
Legitimate Authority – Only duly constituted public authorities may wage war. When lone wolfs, guerrillas, or mobs engage in violence, it is not war per se and so cannot be just. Israel is an ordered state with representatives and laws, therefore it is a legitimate authority. Hamas, despite being a terrorist organization, has been the elected leaders by those living in Gaza since 2006. Israel, therefore, is attacking not merely private citizens but formal, enemy combatants.
Probability of Success – Lost causes sacrifice immense life with no real chance of achieving the just cause. Israel’s military is strong enough that there is a good reason to believe that will achieve their ends of eliminating Hamas.
Last Resort – All non-violent resolutions must be attempted before the use of force is justified. A proper understanding of the history of Israel-Palestine interactions show that Israel has consistently given every opportunity for a peaceful resolution. For example, Israel withdrew all soldiers and settlements from Gaza in 2005, essentially giving them full autonomy as a separate state. Yet, they have repeatedly elected Hamas and chosen violence and terrorism instead of peace.
From a Christian Just-War perspective, therefore, Israel’s war on Hamas appears legitimate, moral, and just. Once engaged in war, it remains important to distinguish between military and civil targets, minimizing civilian deaths, a goal complicated by Hamas’ practice of placing their headquarters near schools and hospitals. It is with a heavy heart that Christians should recognize the tragic necessity of such a conflict. What the role of our nation should be in supporting even a legitimate conflict remains a political question up for debate. But Christians should be praying for the execution of justice, a quick resolution, the protection of the innocent, the repentance of the wicked, and for the Church to rise up to shine the light of Jesus in the midst of the darkness.