Why support for Palestinian resistance is the right response for Christians

Why support for Palestinian resistance is the right response for Christians November 30, 2023

As the death toll in Gaza continues to climb (now hovering near 15,000) and the death toll in Israel has actually fallen (now about 1,200), I keep hearing the same sentiment from Christians: “I am praying for both sides,” or “I grieve for the innocents on both sides of the conflict.”

I have found that even people who know the history of the Palestinian struggle, and who accept Palestinians’ humanity, frequently fall short of supporting their armed struggle for justice. I understand the hesitation to endorse violence and war – but it’s time we address the elephant in this room.

I hope the following thoughts and questions will challenge you – not just about the Palestinian issue, but more generally about what it does and does not mean to be a Christian today.

Should we as people of faith only support the marginalized, the weak, and the vulnerable when they are victims – or should we also support them when they rise up and resist their oppressors?

As one Palestinian writer said,

It’s easy to show solidarity with corpses and with Palestinians who stoically remain resilient and endure their suffering. As long as Palestinians remain powerless victims, it’s easy to ride on the high horse of morality and wholeheartedly endorse their noble cause.

There is a certain respectability in suffering, and it comes with an implied message that, should Palestinians suffer long and virtuously enough, their suffering will be rewarded.

It’s a touching, romantic thought. Palestinian resilience is legendary. The idealist in us likes to think that good always wins in the end. The people of Gaza will be granted justice if only they stay the course, enduring their tremendous suffering with grace.

But the realist in us knows that the powerful never relinquish their power of their own volition – they must be forced. Anyone who has any knowledge of the generations-long history of the Palestinian struggle knows this, and no one knows this better than Palestinians themselves. They have watched the international community for years as it tries to force Israel’s hand through toothless UN resolutions.

Palestine has become the poster child for oppressed groups that rise up against their oppressor.
Palestine has become the poster child for oppressed groups that rise up against their oppressor.

Nothing works

Palestinians have tried peaceful routes to justice, only to face unnecessarily harsh criticism or violence: a boycott movement, a long-term nonviolent protest, and pursuit of claims in the International Criminal Court, to name a few.

Palestinians have for years offered long-term truce proposals to Israel, only to be turned down. Nothing Palestinians have done in support of their own cause has been considered legitimate, and nothing others did was effective.

Palestinian groups could go on forever, working within international law in pursuit of justice, while Israel continues to violate international law in pursuit of supremacy. Israeli refusal and international indifference have proven such efforts a waste of time.

Since October 7th, when Palestinians took their cause well outside the law (as Israel does daily), many of us became uncomfortable and distanced ourselves from their cause. We prefer peaceful means, even if they don’t work – it’s easy to demand nonviolence when you’re not the one living next door to a top global military power that wants you dead.

Of course, we can’t know what Jesus would do about the Palestinian plight if he were on earth today. But we can extrapolate and speculate – in fact, we must do so in order to develop a thoughtful, godly response to what is happening in the Holy Land today.

What might Jesus do?

We know that Jesus spent much of his ministry serving marginalized individuals and groups: for example, the woman caught in adultery (and women in general), the tax collector, the thief on the cross, demoniacs, and lepers.

We know that Jesus came to bring abundant life, especially to the oppressed:

The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to set the oppressed free.” (Luke 4:18-19).

Jesus’ heart was tender toward the hungry, the poor, the sick, the imprisoned, and the hopeless. As his followers, we want to have the same heart. But are there limits to this tenderness?

For some of us, the Israel/Palestine conflict has raised uncomfortable questions – questions that we’d rather not think about. But as citizens of a powerful country that is heavily invested in the conflict, we ought to get involved. As followers of Jesus, we ought to care about getting it right.

QUESTION: If an oppressor uses violence to oppress, must the victim always and only use nonviolent methods to fight back?

QUESTION: If an oppressed group proactively uses violence to save themselves from their oppressor, can that be considered self-defense?

QUESTION: Are all oppressed peoples equally worthy of justice – or are those that have resorted to violence somehow less worthy?

Let’s be honest: if victims must always and only use nonviolence against violent oppressors, most victims are doomed. If oppressed groups can not use proactive violence in self-defense, they are doomed to hopelessness and eventually, extinction. And about those groups that have resorted to violence: is that a failure on their part – or perhaps on our part?

Would Jesus draw a line? – a parable

Jesus met many poor, struggling people during his ministry. He fed them and their families and healed their sick. He knew their situation. According to Luke 4:18-19, he had come in part to bring them relief.

Imagine if, during Jesus’ ministry, the poor Jewish farmers of the land had risen up in protest against their oppressors. After years of paying crushing taxes to support the Roman occupier, as well as tithes self-righteous Jewish leaders, many farmers found themselves deep in debt and at risk of being thrown in prison.

They knew the powerful were exploiting them, and they were ready to fight for a better life. Imagine they began demanding lower taxes and higher profits – so they could get out of debt and make a way for themselves in the world.

Can you imagine that Jesus would distance himself from such a movement? Would he insist that the farmers get back to work and be content? Or would he encourage them in their just cause? – Or would he stay completely impartial?

Imagine these farmers decided to go on strike. They declared they would not harvest another vegetable until they got some concessions from higher up.

Imagine now the Roman army showed up with weapons and told them to get to work or else.

Would Jesus tell the farmers to give up, obey the authorities, and go back to the fields? Would he support the farmers because their cause is just? – Or would he be indifferent?

Imagine the farmers decided to stand their ground. A fight ensued, and some of the Roman soldiers stabbed some of the farmers. Some farmers impaled soldiers with their pitchforks – perhaps, after a lifetime of struggle and injustice, the farmers even struck the first blow. Would Jesus abandon the oppressed farmers? Would he side with the Romans, since in this moment they were the victims? – Or would he be neutral?

The real issue here isn’t about contentment in adversity or submission to authority – it’s about justice for the oppressed.

I believe that, as part of his ministry, Jesus would have cheered on the striking farmers. I believe he would have preferred a negotiated solution, but if things got rough, he would not have abandoned the oppressed.

In the next post, “Can followers of the Prince of Peace support a group that uses violence?” we will examine this issue further.

I invite you to subscribe to my newsletter. I write about the Palestine-Israel issue regularly, and other issues relevant to progressives or those considering becoming progressive. If you would like to comment on this post, please pop over to my Facebook page. All of my posts are there and open to constructive comment. I welcome your thoughts.


FEATURED IMAGE: May 11th 2021 – Emergency Rally For Jerusalem, Save Sheikh Jarrah protest in London, by Ehimetalor Akhere Unuabona

About Kathryn Shihadah
I was raised as a conservative Christian, and was perfectly content to stay that way – until the day my stable, predictable world was rocked. A curtain was pulled back on conservative Christianity, and instead of ignoring the ugliness I saw, I confronted it. I began to ask questions I never thought I’d ask, and found answers I’d never expected. Old things began to fall away, and – behold! – the new me has come. What a gift to be a new, still-evolving creation. I found out that it’s better to look at the world through Progressive Lenses, with Grace-Colored Glasses. You can read more about the author here.

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