Israel Has A Right To Defend Itself

Israel Has A Right To Defend Itself October 18, 2023

MathKnight: Israel Flag/ Wikimedia Commons

Not only does what Hamas did to Israel deserves widespread condemnation, Israel is certainly justified in defending itself from further, and worse, attacks. Saying this does not mean we should accept a disproportionate response from Israel. Justified self-defense must be done in such a way that the defender does not become an unjust aggressor themselves. There are rules of engagement which must be followed. If Israel does not do so, they can be guilty of war crimes, and those crimes should be dealt with accordingly. This does not mean we need to cut back their aid or stop helping them defend themselves from grave evil, but it means, after the war is over, reparations will need to be made for those crimes, and during the war, Israel needs to be exhorted not to fall for such evil and become like those they are fighting. That is, even when Israel’s engagements go beyond the scope of justice, they still have a right to self-defense, and any criticism of any particular action by Israel should not be said in such a way as to undermine that right. One can be critical of Israel’s response, and many particular actions its government has done through the decades, while still affirming its right to exist and the right of its people to defend themselves. This is why one can and should stand behind Israel while still rejecting the injustices done to innocent Palestinians, and indeed, why those injustices need to be called out so that Israel does the best it can to be ethical in its national defense.

It is important for us to look to the various causes of the current conflict so that when the war is over, we can deal with those causes, helping to prevent further conflicts in the future. We can be critical of many actions taken by the government of Israel, but if we are, we must take care we do so while showing we still support Israel, that we do not justify the unjustifiable, including, and especially antisemitic hatred which tries to justify the destruction of Israel itself. We should not embrace generalizations which are used to promote indiscriminate and unjustifiable actions against innocents, be it generalizations used against Israel which make it seem like Hamas has just cause for their actions, or generalizations against Palestinians which are used to diminish their rights. Guilt by association is used by extremists on both sides of the conflict to dehumanize each other; we must stand with the people, not the governments or terrorist organizations, for when we do that, we will note that the extremism which is being used to cause chaos in the Middle East is not supported by the people themselves.

Antisemitism works makes terrible, unjustifiable claims about the Jews, and with it, the state of Israel, seeking to demonize them so that people will be convinced the only solution is to wipe them out. Jews have had a long history of experiencing such evil rhetoric against them, a history which culminated in the Holocaust. Having seen the evil behind it and the evil it produces, we must completely denounce such rhetoric. We must not equate the extreme militaristic positions of some secular authorities in Israel as with Israel itself, let alone the Jews as a whole; similarly, we must not equate what Hamas has done, and continues to do, with all the Palestinians.

We must acknowledge the state of Israel not only has a right to exist, but the people living in it have a right to peace and justice; we should also recognize that Palestinians have a right to peace and justice. When such justice is undermined, the cycle of violence quickly makes things go from bad to worse. If things are not kept in check, a just defense can turn into an unjust offense. Defense against injustice is not only allowed, but is expected when the injustices are severe, but such defense must be done with a just aim and with proper means. It cannot use indiscriminate violence. It cannot use disproportional violence. The goal must be to protect the innocent from harm and to find a way to bring violence to its proper and just end. That is, any defensive posture must have the restoration of justice as its aim. Retribution, that is, mere revenge, is unacceptable, as it embraces injustice and only leads to another round of violence in return.

We must stand with the people of Israel, and their right to live in peace. We must stand with the state of Israel and its right to exist. We must stand, also, with the ordinary Palestinian people, the innocents caught in a maelstrom, and their right to live in peace. We must reject injustices which both have suffered. We must help Israel stand in defense of its existence, but, because they are suffering and suffering can bring out irrational passions which lead people astray, we must remind them that they cannot engage some indiscriminate warfare which is aimed more at the innocent than the guilty. When we do so, though, we must make it clear, we do so as friends, that we stand with the people of Israel and we support their proper defense. It is a delicate balance. We must resist any attempt to suggest that the ends justify the means, that is, those who say in war, anything is permissible. This is why we must constantly be a voice for the innocent, standing up for them.

It is important for us to give aid to Israel; they are suffering greatly from the aftermath of one of the worst terror attacks in modern times. But it is also important that we do so while making it clear it would be unacceptable for them to violate international law on rules of engagement. We must make it clear we do so for their own benefit and not as an excuse to turn our backs on them. If we prove ourselves to be their allies, they will be more willing to listen to us, but if we show criticism without showing support, and make such criticism the forefront of our response, we will not show ourselves to be their friend or ally, and they will have reason to ignore us. The same can be said in relation to the Palestinian people; we must give them humanitarian aid, and work to help alleviate injustices they have suffered while continuing to denounce the evils of Hamas and other such terrorist groups do.

We must want peace and justice, and not a never-ending cycle of violence. This means, we must be willing to look for the causes of the violence. We must promote restorative justice to make sure that the cycle of violence does not continue. Thankfully, this is understood by many Jews and Palestinians alike. Once the current strife ends, we must find a way to have those seeking restorative justice brought to the forefront so that the tragedy of the present does not have to become a farce in the future.

It is not an easy situation. Sadly, many are being led to such a bloodthirsty rage, they are willing to commit grave war crimes, great crimes against humanity. Since war is hell, once war is entered, many believe everything is permitted – at least for the side which they support (as war crimes done by the other side will continue to be pointed out). War certainly is hell, and violence is always an evil which we should try to diminish and remove from history. But, at times, those who desire peace and justice will find that they cannot have them without first accepting a defensive war will have to be waged. This is what we see happening today in Israel. Nonetheless, it is always important to keep the goods of peace and justice at the forefront of the war, so that it does not become worse than it is. Those who defend themselves must not become subject to the very evil which they resist:

If you are tempted to violence, if you have been treated unjustly, if within you anger and resentment arise and conquer you, then you are the one who is captive to your abusers, and your spirit is unfree. [1]

War must never be fought for vengeance. War must always be fought with the goal of a true and just peace, a peace which is found when human rights and dignity are defended and promoted. War must be engaged with the desire to establish restorative, not retributive justice, as the end goal. For if revenge is the goal, then the peace which is had at the end of the war will be a false peace and will be a cause for further violence in the future. We must try to make every war by the last war, realizing that war, whenever it breaks out, is always an evil and is a defeat for humanity against the forces of darkness.

It can be difficult to speak on the conflict going on in the Middle East. This not because it is difficult to denounce the evil which Hamas did, nor because it difficult to say Israel has a right to defend itself. Both of those statements are easy to make and should be made. What is difficult is to find the right way to bring the war to a just conclusion. Israel must defend itself, but it also should understand things need to change so that a similar conflict does not arise again in the future. It is a burden that the innocent have to face: to remain innocent, they must be better than their persecutors. It can seem unfair, as it seems to give their persecutors advantages they do not have. But in the end, embracing the greater good will give the greatest advantage, for by doing so, the it can bring about a better, longer-lasting peace. It is not easy, but if that challenge is ignored, Israel, and the whole world, will find the current conflict will be minor in comparison to what could come next.

[1] Sergius Bulgakov. Spiritual Biography. Trans. Mark Roosien and Roberto J. De La Noval (Brooklyn, NY: Angelico Press, 2022), 85 [17/30.X.1924].


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