Just war theory and Israel’s assault on Gaza

Just war theory and Israel’s assault on Gaza March 14, 2024

courtesy: The New Arab

Let me make this clear: War is bad! If you need proof, please read this article titled, “People are hoping that Israel nukes us so we can get rid of this pain” (if you don’t need proof, read the article anyway). Now, I am amazed that as soon as I make such an assertion, I have to immediately follow it up with something like, “No, I am not a pacifist.” And “Yes, I believe that self-defense and defending the oppressed is acceptable.” Oh, and there is the ubiquitous, “I acknowledge that there will always be Hitler’s in this world and that nations have to go to war.”

I am also amazed, perhaps grieved is a better word, with how quickly Christians run to defend a nation’s right to “defend itself.”

Does Israel have a right to defend itself?

Of course, it does. Every nation has the right to self-defense. But a far more appropriate question would be: “Is the present assault on Gaza “just”?

NB I have chosen to use “assault” throughout this post as opposed to “war” because I believe it is a more accurate term to describe the present crisis.

I heard the assertion that Israel was justified in leveling an assault on Gaza in the days after the brutal attack of Oct 7 all too often—especially in the days immediately after Oct 7.

Well, if this is a just war, then I would hate to see what an unjust war looks like.

Devastation on Gaza

According to the latest reports, 31,045 people have been killed in Gaza since Israel began its latest assault on Gaza. This number includes more than 12,300 children and 8,400 women. Of course, the death toll is likely much higher than this. An estimated 8,000+ persons are missing; most of whom are presumed dead under the rubble.

But these numbers don’t tell the whole story.

The number of people injured in Gaza since the attacks began in October is estimated at more than 70,000. Well over 1,000 children have had amputations without anesthesia.

And for the countless children who have lost limbs, there are now more than 17,000 children who are now orphans since the outbreak of Israel’s attacks. As I noted in a previous post, the world has been cursed with a new acronym: “WCNSF”: “wounded child no surviving family.”

And the death toll is now beginning to include deaths from starvation and dehydration. At least 25 have died from lack of food and water. Tragically, this number will continue to grow each day. This does not account for the number who might survive and have long-term health-related repercussions from the prolonged lack of food and water.

In addition, as many as 2 million of the 2.3 million residents of Gaza have been displaced (85% of the population). This displacement is not temporary: for much of Gaza has been destroyed so that there is no place to which they may return.

For most, hope is lost.

Unfortunately, all of these figures do not include the increase in settler violence against Palestinians in the West Bank. The latest figures from the West Bank include 425 killed and more than 4,000 injured.

The number of “detainees” among the Palestinians has also increased dramatically since the assault on Gaza began. The significance of this number derives from the fact that one of Hamas’ justifications for its deadly acts of Oct 7 was the illegal detaining of Palestinians across the West Bank. One of their aims was to exchange hostages for political detainees.

Yet, the number of detainees has increased. And detainees who were recently released have recounted the consistent torture they experienced. If Israel was concerned about working towards a just resolution to the assault, which Just War Theory requires, then why have they increased the practice of detaining civilians?

If Hamas would return the hostages, then this war will end

I have heard this assertion many times since the outbreak of the assault on Gaza. It was echoed last week on a Christianity Today podcast.

But is this true?

Netanyahu’s stated goal at the outset of the campaign was to eradicate Hamas. This leads one to wonder if the taking of the hostages provides Netanyahu and many of the extreme right members of his cabinet (some of whom are members of the war cabinet) a pretext for destroying Gaza—in case they needed such.

Just last month one-third of the Israeli cabinet attended a rally focused on Israeli resettlement of Gaza. During the rally, Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich led the attendees in a chant, “Without settlements, there is no security.”

NB: I asked back in December, “Do those in power really want peace?

Also, just a few days into the present assault on Gaza, Hamas issued a call for a cease-fire. If it was simply a matter of Hamas returning the hostages, then the offer was on the table during the first week of the war.

Furthermore, Israel doesn’t look too eager to return the hostages. To date, Israel’s siege of Gaza has only managed to rescue 3 hostages.

NB: The IDF opened fire and killed 3 of the hostages despite the fact that they were waving a white flag and were shirtless to demonstrate that they were not packed with explosives. One of the hostages managed to escape the initial onslaught of fire, only to be shot later. Since the IDF was uncertain if the hostages were planted by Hamas, the act was determined by the military to be justifiable. The soldiers acted appropriately.

The problem with the claim that if Hamas releases the hostages, the assault would end is that it places sole responsibility for the present assault on Hamas.

But isn’t Hamas to blame?

Certainly, Hamas must be held accountable for their acts of terror and crimes against civilians. But to place the blame for Israel’s assault on Gaza solely on Hamas fails to account for the oppressive conditions that brought about Hamas’ attack.

NB: As soon as one even begins to hint that Oct 7 didn’t happen in a vacuum, the charge arises that somehow we are either attempting to justify Hamas’ actions or that we are antisemitic. This accusation, however, neglects the fact that it is appropriate to consider the context in which a criminal act is committed. Not all murders are the same. Some are worse than others. I wrote a series of posts (May – July 2022) titled, “The Status Quo Ain’t the Status Quo(the links to all seven posts are at the end of this post).

It has been evident for years that conditions in Gaza were not sustainable. In 2018, the UN declared that by 2020 Gaza will be uninhabitable. In my interview with Palestinian legal advisor Greg Khalil, Greg noted that in 2005, he declared that the present conditions in Gaza created a time bomb that was going to blow.


Interestingly, this simple word has proven to be quite allusive. There is the Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s almost comical effort to avoid uttering the dreaded “Ceasefire.” (If you haven’t seen this 10 sec. sound bite, it is incredulous).

Finally, Kamala Harris, the VP of the US, called for a ceasefire last week. What I find difficult to grasp with this declaration is that the US administration has the power to create a ceasefire. The day the US stops supplying Israel with weapons is the day a ceasefire ensues. Why is she calling for a ceasefire, as if it is up to someone else to deliver, when the US Administration has the power to bring one about?

In other words, Hamas’ releasing of the hostages may not lead to a ceasefire but the US’ withholding of weapons will. Perhaps, we are asking for the wrong party to end the assault.

Is there such a thing as a “Just war”?

This leads me to my opening query: Is there such a thing as a “Just War”?

NB: I hosted Shane Lee and Terry Givens last week on the Determinetruth livestream to discuss non-violent resistance and Just war theory. Near the end of that discussion, I provided seven reasons why I believe that Christians should not label any war as “just”; at least not any present wars.

Though I and many others questioned the assertion that the principles of the “Just War Theory” justify Israel’s assault on Gaza, it has become evident that Israel’s assault on Gaza is not just. One may quibble over whether it is justified, but one may not quibble over whether it is just.


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Rob’s related blogs

The status quo isn’t good when one person has their feet on the head of the other: Why the status quo in Israel-Palestine ain’t status quo: Part #1  

“Slow and Steady” doesn’t work when people are dying: why the status quo in Israel-Palestine ain’t status quo: #2

2 Reasons why our strategy for engaging evangelicals on Israel-Palestine failed: Why the Status Quo in Israel-Palestine ain’t status quo #3

My experience in the West Bank: Why I’ll never be the same: status quo: #4

Those in power love the status quo: even if that means the continued suffering of the Palestinians. Why the status quo in Israel-Palestine ain’t status quo: #5

4 Reasons why we should care that the status quo in Israel-Palestine ain’t status quo: #6

Why the Palestinians are being slowly boiled to death status quo #7

Would the real terrorists please stand up

What if the terrorists aren’t the terrorists? Israel’s attacks on Jenin

About Rob Dalrymple
Rob Dalrymple is married to his wife Toni and is the father of four fabulous children, and two grandchildren. He has been teaching and pastoring for over 34 years at colleges, seminaries, and the local church. He has a PhD in biblical interpretation. He is the author of four books (including Follow the Lamb: A Guide to Reading, Understanding, and Applying the Book of Revelation & Understanding the New Testament and the End Times: Why it Matters) as well as numerous articles and other publications. He is currently completing a commentary on the book of Revelation titled, “Revelation: a Love Story” (Cascade Books, pending 2025). He is also in contract for a book on “Reading the NT in a year: A study and devotional guide.” You can read more about the author here.

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