Over the weekend, Israeli citizens were shocked to discover that Hamas, an Islamist militant organization that claims to represent Palestinians, had begun an all-out assault on them, launching thousands of rockets, as well as a ground incursion.
Hamas militants stormed through the streets of Israel, brutalizing citizens and exchanging fire with Israeli soldiers. Among the most shocking revelations is the fact that these militants not only committed war crimes of the most heinous nature but also proudly filmed these acts and streamed them online.
In one case, a young woman discovered that her grandmother had been murdered when terrorists posted a video of the slaying to the elderly woman’s own Facebook page. Another young woman was paraded through the streets after being sexually assaulted with a level of barbarous violence that resulted in profuse bleeding.
As Israeli troops, many of whom have been activated out of the reserves, have moved through communities to provide assistance, they have discovered the bullet-riddled bodies of families, including children.
Hundreds are dead. Hundreds more have reportedly been taken captive by Hamas, with the threat of their murder looming over Israel’s military response.
Khaled Meshaal, a founding member of Hamas leadership, has called on sympathizers to “head to the squares and streets of the Arab and Islamic world,” adding that they “all know [their] responsibility.”
Given the fact that I am no expert when it comes to foreign policy, understanding only that the political relationship between Israel and Palestine is wildly complex, I was wary of making any public comment about the conflict when I began hearing reports of an attack on Saturday and Sunday.
Adding to the complexity is the spread of misinformation about the unfolding events, which is circulating online alongside factual reporting.
But as I have watched and read reports, heard stories, and seen horrific videos, one thing is abundantly clear: What Hamas has done is unequivocally evil. It is difficult to adequately articulate the depth of depravity required to carry out the heinous acts of casual cruelty these militants have perpetrated against the most vulnerable and innocent people in Israel.
Hamas is a terrorist organization with the evilest of intentions. This much is clear. Those who fail to acknowledge that fact—as even some American justice activists have done—are flat-out morally wrong. It is the simplest thing in the world to recognize the fact that Hamas is a force for evil.
What to do about it is decidedly less clear.
Again, I’m not a foreign policy expert. But I have listened to the voices of enough Palestinians, some of them Christians, to know that they too are victims in this conflict.
They are victims of the marginalization that has come with Israeli hegemony in the region. They have likewise become victims of Hamas, a group that claims to represent their cause of freedom and self-determination but who brutalizes innocent Israelis while using Palestinians as human shields. Because of that fact, Palestinians have now become victims of the Israeli onslaught, which has sought to level much of the Gaza strip, of which roughly 40% of the population is under the age of 15.
Some of the more extreme rhetoric coming from supporters of the Israeli government has even included language of extermination and genocide with reference to the inhabitants of Gaza, and missile launches continue.
It is unclear how long the military conflict will last, and it’s even more unclear if a path to peace between Israel and Palestine can be paved.
This problem is as old as it is complicated. After centuries of global homelessness, the Jewish people finally returned to their homeland and established a new state in 1948. To be sure, Israel has a right to exist as a nation and to have a home. But the land to which they returned was not empty, and Israeli policy has for decades failed to treat Palestinians with the full measure of dignity that is owed to people created in the image of God.
While Israel has become a world power, Palestine has languished. A report from September 2022 found that 36% of the Palestinian population lives below the poverty line. Food insecurity rates are at 23% in the West Bank and 53% in Gaza. In light of the present military conflict, conditions for everyday Palestinians are likely to worsen.
What’s more is that the terrorism Israel has experienced this week will likely have a hardening effect on its relationship with Palestine—even the groups within it who stand diametrically opposed to the ideology and actions of Hamas.
But none of this negates or can diminish the absolute trauma the Israeli people have endured. For countless innocent survivors, life will never be the same. Israel has fended off Hamas in the past, but this is different. We need to recognize that reality, alongside acknowledging the alarming uptick in antisemitic rhetoric around the world this week.
What are we to do? I’m not quite sure. But I think we can at least keep a couple things in mind.
For one, unless you are a foreign policy official or active military member involved in the conflict, we should guard ourselves from assuming that we know the best political or military strategy in this conflict. We create more confusion when we make unsubstantiated claims or self-righteously pontificate about international policy when we simply do not have all the facts.
Second, we ought to keep our theological meanderings in check. All Christians agree that the Jewish people hold a special place in God’s grand redemption narrative. But now is not the time to start pulling out your end times charts and graphs to make bold predictions. Such predictions are never accurate and rarely encouraging. More often than not, they’re completely non sequitur.
So instead of offering military strategies or launching into eschatological discourses about Gog and Magog, let us remember what is most important: that we would mourn with those who mourn.
Remember the people. Mourn their stories. Lift them up in prayer. Donate to humanitarian organizations that are on the ground right now providing relief and support. (This is a good one.)
Lastly, guard your heart against hatred. Such a task is hardest in moments like these, so much so the very suggestion of it may elicit scorn. But we are called to love our enemies and pray for those who persecute us and those we love—even as we support efforts to remove threats and preserve precious humans from the worst kinds of evil.