Israel and Hamas

I read this piece by Saul Singer in the Washington Post. I wonder if Obama’s silence is support for Israel, support for taking out Hamas, or an indicator that he’s not sure what to think about this international crisis. Any thoughts?

By taking on Hamas, Israelis deserve the gratitude of decent people
everywhere. More than that, by sending in troops to fight them on the
ground, Israel is risking its precious soldiers to minimize Palestinian
casualties. These soldiers risk becoming martyrs to human rights and
the Geneva Convention because they are fighting in places where other
countries, including the U.S., might have called in an artillery or air
strike and been done with it. We should be proud of them and least have
the decency to honor their sacrifice.

Finally, these soldiers are doing a service for humanity, not just
for the Israelis. A defeat of Hamas is a defeat of it sponsor, Iran. It
is no substitute for using economic, diplomatic, and – only if
necessary – military means to prevent Iran, the world’s primary
terrorist regime, from going nuclear. But it should help concentrate
minds regarding the necessity of doing so. The Israeli wars with Hamas
and Hezbullah are only holding actions. The only way to give peace in
the region real hope is to defeat the main source of war and terrorism,
and that is the regime in Tehran.

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  • If he’s not sure what to do, he’s not the only one. Or it could just be that he’s holding his tongue since he’s, you know, not president yet.
    “A defeat of Hamas is a defeat of it sponsor, Iran.”
    I’m not sure how this figures. Maybe in the sense that a defeat of Hamas would halt something they’re trying to do, but how does that actually hurt Iran in a way that would change the regime there?
    I’m not quite sure I’m a full pacifist, but sentiments like this make me want to be. “There’s too much fighting in this region! I know what we need! More fighting!” He sounds like the old woman who swallowed a fly.

  • Scott,
    Thats funny. I actually just wrote a piece. This part of the quote troubles me:
    “The only way to give peace in the region real hope is to defeat the main source of war and terrorism, and that is the regime in Tehran.”
    I think the Gospel is the region’s only real hope. Nationalism, Ethnocentricity and Land Owernship is the problem. “Getting rid” of someone seems to not be the anwer. Lets continue to pray for God’s peace.

  • Lionel,
    I think you are exactly right. The only thing that can reconcile Israel and Islam is Jesus.
    How we, as followers of Jesus, can begin that reconciliation without seeming like Crusaders is a very difficult question, though.

  • Ronluther

    Children right this minute are starving to death, literally
    dying of dehydration, being killed in UN school buildings in
    Gaza City.
    If there are any Christians on this list; can someone tell
    me what Jesus meant when He said “As you do unto these the
    least of my brothers, you do unto me.”.
    And can anyone tell me if He was serious about that or just
    kidding everyone?
    Forget politics for a moment; we’ll have this fight go on
    for hundreds more years; let’s take care RIGHT NOW of the
    least of His brothers.

  • Dave

    Full disclosure first: I am committed to nonviolent resistance.
    THat said, I know that this is complex and governments sense their need to protect their people/borders. I think Israel is a Western nation in the East, and we are seeing a massive clash of cultures. Israel behaves like the USA–kind, generous, and indignantly bellicose.

  • Pat

    I voted for Obama, so I’m probably biased, but I’d like to think he’s taking his time to be able to present a well-thought out response. While Hamas is a terrorist group, he may not want to alienate the Palestinians that may support them. I think there’s a delicate balance here. No one should want to alienate either the Israelis or the Palestinians and in this age-old war, I’m inclined to think that there’s some wrong on both sides. So, how do we broker piece in such a way that we get key people from both sides to come to the table?

  • Caleb

    I agree with Ron.
    Where does the Third Way take us in this situation? Certainly not to neglect our Palestinian and Israeli Christian brothers and sister, nor our “enemies”. Does anyone know if there is a group going to Gaza similar to the one Shane Claiborne went to Iraq with?

  • For anyone that doesn’t know, Obama pledged his support for Israel way back on the primary campaign trail against Hillary.

  • Though I don’t always put stock in cultural wisdom, there is the old saying, “Silence is approval.” So, I could understand arguments from anyone that Obama’s “silence” is his “approval.”
    Where I differ from Singer is that I’m not sure that ridding Hamas via violence is the best way of bringing peace. However, this is the world’s way of bringing peace, isn’t it? Peace through violence. This is a very sticky situation so I can’t offer any further political thought, but I don’t put much stock in “violence to solve violence.” In fact, I doubt Hamas will say, “Well, let’s just stop partaking in terrorism because the Israelis will bomb us.” In fact, I often find the opposite to be true, that is, they will return with more violence to solve the violence of the Israelis in order to bring about their version “peace” (i.e., no more Israelis). And that back-and-forth always makes me uneasy.

  • Scott

    Since Obama is not yet president, he is rightly remaining silent in order for the US to have a single foreign policy under the current president. As one of his advisers has said, “The fact is that there is only one president at a time. There’s only one president who can speak for America at a time. And that president now is George Bush.”

  • His silence no doubt has less to do with his policy and much more to do with the fact that he is not yet president.

  • ChrisB

    Is the silence because he’s not president or is this another way of voting “present?” He’s not silent on anything else.
    Travis, Ron, et al,
    Long term, the only solution to the world’s problems is Jesus. Short term, when you’ve got a treaty that the other side is ignoring, if they target your civilians and force you to target theirs, what options do you have? You can watch your people get torn to pieces, or you can defend them.
    I remember a statement from a few years back, but I can’t remember which Israeli politician said it:
    “We can forgive them for killing our children, but we cannot forgive them for making us kill theirs.”

  • Chris E

    I think one helpful question to be asking right now is what Hamas is trying to accomplish by the renewed rocket attacks. Hamas knows that these attacks accomplish nothing other than to rile Israel and provoke a response. This is, of course, why they have launched them in the past. But why now? Why is Hamas trying to lure Israel into a smack down by the international community at this point? Any ideas?

  • Doug Allen

    Wasn’t Hamas the democratically elected governing party? There will be no peace in the middle east until there is peace between Israel and the Palestinians. I agree with Jimmy carter that there will be no peace between Israel and the Palestinians until Israel withdraws to its originally mandated borders. The border settlements need to be evacuated and the fences town down. On the other hand, Israel is our only reliable ally in the region, and as Rabi Leibewitz said at our UU service two weeks ago, “The Arabs can afford to loose any number of wars. The Israelis can not afford to loose even one.”
    To say that peace there is not possible without Jesus is silly and has no basis in history. Silly because Muslims and Jews there are not going to become Christians in our lifetimes if ever, and poor history because Ireland recently, and Europe (until it became secular) had Christianity and lots of violence and war. Christianity is growing fastest in Africa where there’s more violence and war than anywhere else (although much of it there is Muslim inspired).
    No easy solutions.

  • Tom

    @Chris E
    I would guess Hamas understands Israel’s strategically weaker position right now. They may believe the political tide in the US is changing from relatively blind support for Israel to an approach that at least takes Palestinian suffering more seriously. I think Israel’s failure in the most recent war in Lebanon encouraged them too. And they’ve had a while to prepare to fight Israel hand to hand and house to house in the kind of urban asymmetrical warfare that lessens the overwhelming technological advantages Israel has. Add worldwide media attention and the timing makes a lot of sense, at least to me.
    Gandhi and MLK got the world’s attention by exposing gross imbalances of power and gross injustice by provoking the powerful through non-violence. Hamas seems committed to exposing the same kinds of injustice through asymmetrical violence. I’m very sad they’re making that choice since they do have a proven non-violent alternative, but lots of nations and ethnic groups have gone asymmetrically violent and achieved their aims, including the early United States.
    @Chris B
    “We can forgive them for killing our children, but we cannot forgive them for making us kill theirs.”
    That quote sounds like moral propaganda to me. Saul Singer’s take is more of the same.
    The Palestinians have had their butts kicked six ways to Sunday for 50 years. Desperate people do desperate–if very, very unfortunate–things.

  • This writer severely misunderstands the conflict, maybe the American media should be talking a little bit more about the 2 year economic blockade of Palestine where they weren’t even letting UN aid in. I do not in anyway condone violence, but for people to point fingers at who’s fault is ridiculous because both sides are killing. The wall and blockade by Israel is against international law and it needs to be brought to the attention of people who can do something about it because it’s causing a humanitarian crisis. This writer is extremely ignorant to say these Israeli fighters could be martyrs of human rights, and that the U.S. would just call in an air strike (Israel started off with air strikes, and with the ground attacks I’m sure plenty more civilians will die as well). What both sides are doing is wrong and this really saddens me to see so many innocent civilians killed in more violence.
    Obama by not saying anything is showing indifference, and that seems to be very American. By not saying anything and his past remarks about his support for Israel it is probably safe to assume his stance, but either way by him not saying anything he is abusing his new found position of power.
    I’ll be praying for change in Israel and in the hearts on everybody on both sides and in between. And if anyone is going let me know, I only have $20 in my bank account but I could make something work.

  • A diffferent view is at Silence Speaks.

  • arah

    12.31.2008 | Al Mezan Center for Human Rights
    The Israeli Occupation Forces (IOF) has continued its military
    operation in the Gaza Strip for the fifth day. Today, it targeted an
    ambulance and its medical crew with a missile, killing a doctor and an
    orderly and critically injuring its driver. According to Al Mezan
    Center’s monitoring, the number of Palestinian casualties since the
    start of Israel’s Operation Cast Lead at 11:30am on 27 December 2008
    has risen to 315, of whom 41 were children and 9 women. At least 939
    people have been injured, including 85 children and 52 women. The
    number of civilian objects that have been destroyed is as follows:
    – 112 houses have been destroyed completely and approximately 3,500
    houses damaged;
    – 7 mosques have been completely destroyed from direct air strikes;
    – 38 private industrial and agricultural enterprises have been
    completely destroyed;
    – 16 schools have been damaged;
    – 9 CBO offices were completely destroyed;
    – 8 private vehicles were destroyed;
    – 16 governmental facilities were destroyed.
    Moreover, 20 security installations were targeted and destroyed. All
    of these targets were struck from the air. Hundreds of heavy missiles
    have been fired on the Gaza Strip, some of which on open fields.
    Today, at approximately 1:50am, an Israeli aircraft fired a missile at
    an ambulance that arrived in the Jabal Al-Rayis neighborhood in
    northeast of Gaza City after a call to rescue injured people. The
    crew, a doctor, driver and orderly, were targeted just after they
    stepped out of the ambulance. As a result, the orderly, 30-year-old
    Mohammed Sa’eed Abu Hasira, was killed immediately. The doctor, 33-
    year-old Ihab Al-Madhoun, died from the wounds he sustained in this
    attack later in the morning. The driver, 30-year-old Hishmat Ajour,
    sustained critical wounds and is still at hospital.
    Meanwhile, the health sector in Gaza has continued to suffer from the
    very high number of casualties and injuries it has been forced to deal
    with under severe shortages in medical necessities, which is the
    result of the Israeli prolonged siege on the Gaza Strip. Many health
    facilities have little materials and dozens of wounded people face
    greater threats on their life as a result.
    Al Mezan Center for Human Rights asserts, according to its monitoring
    of the situation on the ground, that the IOF has perpetrated grave
    breaches of the International Humanitarian Law (IHL), amounting to war
    crimes and crimes against humanity, in the course of its military
    actions in Gaza. The Center also asserts that the vast majority of
    IOF’s targets in Gaza are civilian targets that must not be
    deliberately targeted. This includes houses, mosques, police stations
    and at least one ambulance. Most of the casualties are not combatants
    and were not involved in any hostilities when they were targeted by
    IOF. This behavior reflects a blatant disregard of civilian life and
    of the international law that is supposed to protect it.
    Al Mezan Center condemns the IOF’s violations of international law
    rules applicable in times of belligerent occupation and armed
    conflict. In particular, the violations by IOF of the Fourth Geneva
    Convention and its Protocol I have caused extreme suffering as well as
    loss of civilian life. Articles 15-19 of the Convention prohibit the
    disruption of the working of health facilities during times of
    conflict. Article 20 requires respect and protection of the persons
    who are involved in the search for civilians, the sick, the wounded,
    the elderly and mothers and care for them. IOF violates IHL by
    imposing a strangulating blockade that disrupts, and sometimes
    prevents, the provision of humanitarian aid to the population of the
    Gaza Strip.

  • Your Name

    I’m hoping Obama isn’t going to continue like previous American governments in their unconditional support of Israel. I suppose I’m not holding my breath. It was Israel in fact who broke the ceasefire agreement and didn’t open up the borders. And now Israel are using cluster bombs and white phosphorous on Gaza (terrorist weapons America used in Afghanistan and Iraq and elsewhere of course). Israel say they aren’t targeting civilians, but it’s pretty difficult to miss in a densely populated area … perhaps they don’t think there are any civilians in Gaza. The following is an excellent collection of news sources documenting the “targets” hit:
    and here is an excellent article on the American media during this conflict:

  • steph

    sorry – that wasn’t supposed to be anonymous but when I had to post it twice my name had disappeared.

  • Scot:
    I wonder if you could give us some books that would help the layperson understand the moorings of the conflict there. Also, some books that help us understand the “end times.” There have been so many horrible examples, i.e. Left Behind, most of evangelicalism is confused. I know I am.

  • Scot McKnight

    Brad Andrews,
    I’m sorry, but I don’t know of any books on this topic — it changes so fast that by the time a book appears it is out of date.
    So, I recommend reading the spectrum:
    Commentary (magazine); neocon
    NYTimes; liberal
    National Review: conservative
    Then you can process the stuff yourself.
    On eschatology: my view is that none of this has anything whatsoever to do with the Bible and prophecy.

  • Scot:
    Could you elaborate on your thoughts regarding the idea that there is no connection to prophecy, eschatology, “end times,” etc. I’m not arguing that it is. I was raised in a semi-fundamental church and every conflict in the Middle East was a “sign of the times.” I wasn’t convinced then and am not now. What are we to make of all the lip service paid to the embroiled conflicts and their “seeming” connection to the “end times?”
    Thank you in advance.

  • Scot McKnight

    I’m a partial preterist, and that means I’m with the view that Mark 13 is about 70 AD. It’s an involved discussion, and I suggest reading RC Sproul, Jesus and the End Time and B Metzger’s little commentary on Revelation with a title like “breaking the code.”

  • Doug Allen

    Jimmy Carter’s controversial book, “Palestine: Peace Not Apartheid” is very worth reading. Almost everyone agrees that Jimmy Carter did more to try to bring peace to the conflict than any other president. Carter has infuriated many Jews, liberals, and conservatives with his book. It cost him the opportunity to take a major part in the presidential election process and Democratic convention. A very oversimplified two word summary of the book is “tough love” for Israel.
    When I reacted to the posts of Travis Greene and Chris B (bring both sides to Jesus) as silly because, to use Otto Von Bismarck’s statement, “Politics is the art of the possible,” and bringing them to Jesus is not possible in any reasonable time frame, if ever, I may have criticized their intention that we ALL must live by the Jesus creed. If that was their intention, I strongly agree, and all three religions of Abraham have a religious literature that calls us to love God and our fellow man. I hope and pray Obama will inspire all sides and all of us to follow our “better angels.”

  • Doug’s right about the Carter book. While it infuriated many it has many good recollections about the failings of both sides, but especially Israel’s repeated promises to return to certain borders and repeated failure to do so.
    I had a limited experience (4 months) in Israel back just before the first uprising. Things I saw: Palestinian soccer friends (college age) being berated and abused for no apparent reason by soldiers who demanded their documents, threw them on the ground, and then kicked them when they demanded them to pick up the documents. Also, repeated closures of universities for weeks over a knifing (back then they were doing less bombs). I also saw many Christians there in full support of zionists but completely unaware that Palestinian Christians were also there. In their minds, all Palestinians were Islamists seeking the death of Israel.
    This may be a poor analogy but if you kick your dog repeatedly, don’t be surprised when it bites you some day. This is not to say that Hamas or Fatah or others are innocent. They are not. But the Israeli willingless to put West Bankers in what amounts to prison camps seems rather ironic given their own history.

  • JMorrow

    Certainly, if the world was rid of Hamas and the ideology from which is springs, the world would be a better place. But the question which concerns many is “how” this done. I’m of the mind that Israel should have never left Gaza as it did, without building the environment in which peace partners could exist. I started researching about the conflict doing Mideast studies in college and have begun to realize that for 40 years of occupation, the Israeli people got little for it. Much of the reason has to do with the way the occupation was conducted and its aims. I wish more time and treasure was spent building infrastructure, an economy, schools, in other words lasting and beneficial relationships. But the unresolved debate over whether to keep and colonize the land vs. eventually return it all never allowed that to happen.
    That all said, the participants in this conflict remind me of a couple in a marriage looking for ways to divorce one another, not realizing they are in this for life. They will always be neighbors. While I don’t expect Jews or Muslims in the region to start naming the name of Jesus anytime soon, one aspect of the way of Jesus is food for thought in this conflict: We can’t always decide who our neighbors are, but we’ve got to love them (not necessarily like them) nonetheless. And even if I can’t love my neighbor, the way of Christ calls us to love our enemies. There is no way out of that. Its probably a bit of logic that applies whether we believe in Jesus or not. That’s probably the most difficult realization of this conflict.

  • Kester Brewin

    Israel wants to eradicate Hamas. Hamas wants to eradicate Israel…. But only on one side are there serious weapons, which are doing serious harm. A far better piece, in my opinion, is here:
    Remember: around 20 Israelis have been killed by Hamas rockets in the past 10 years is obviously 20 too many. But over 600 dead in 10 days?! With no respect for UN schools? Imagine that Hamas had done that to an Israeli school? It’d be a war crime.
    ‘When Jesus said love your enemies, it’s likely he didn’t mean kill them.’

  • Travis Greene

    ChrisB, “Long term, the only solution to the world’s problems is Jesus. Short term, when you’ve got a treaty that the other side is ignoring, if they target your civilians and force you to target theirs, what options do you have? You can watch your people get torn to pieces, or you can defend them.”
    I think if Jesus had to choose one, he would say to watch your people get torn to pieces. He would likely come up with something much more creative, though, and that’s what we’re called to as well. Remember, he was also talking to an Israel besieged by brutal enemies when he said, “Love your enemies.”
    I’m not saying the Palestinians are the good guys. There stopped being “good guys” over there a long time ago. I’m also not saying they all just need to become Christian (though I’d be in favor of that too, of course). They (Israelis and Palestinians) need to listen to and follow the words of Jesus on the subject of violence.

  • steph

    This is an excellent article by Dr Robert Fisk yesterday from the Independent newspaper (UK).

  • kester,
    i think you are right on. although, i would argue that the eradication of israel by hamas has a different meaning than the eradication of the palestinians by israel. hamas seemingly just wants land and soveriegnty back. the gaza strip is currently the world’s largest prison. israel built a big wall around it and controls what gets in or out. i think hamas would be okay with the israelis living as long as they lived outside of israel. however, i am not so sure the israelis have any respect for human life, especially ‘worthless’ arab lives (which would explain why they have killed 64 palestinians for every dead israeli this week)

  • Tim Wright

    Hamas is a culture of Death. They will reap what they sow in their children-Death
    Like the Nazi’s in WW2, Islamist must be resisted with the only language they speak – Violence.

  • William Brown

    2 words – Rohm Emanuel