In the introduction to The End of Illusions: Religious Leaders Confront Hitler’s Gathering Storm
(Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, 2004) editor Joseph Loconte summarizes statements issued by Christian groups seeking to block American entrance into World War II. According to Loconte, these statements were marked by a tendency to offer a “softer portrayal of life under Nazi rule than the known facts demanded.” He continues:
Antiwar statements simply avoided unpleasant topics: the complete militarization of German society, Hitler’s broken promises about his territorial ambitions, the subjugation of entire populations, the anti-Semitic campaigns in Germany, and the deportation and ghettoization of Jews across Europe. There was, indeed little mention of this feature of Nazism amid the rhetoric of American neutrality, despite the widespread press coverage. (Page 14.)
Loconte reports that Christian pacifists and isolationists rooted the evils of the Nazi regime in allied policies toward Germany at the end of World War I, the evils of capitalism and the imperfections of Western democracies. Others suggested there were no meaningful differences between the imperial ambitions of Great Britain and Nazi Germany and that it did not matter who won the war between the two countries, or that if it did matter, it was not likely to matter very much.
Their opponents condemned the pacifists as naïve and blind to reality. For example, Protestant theologian Henry Pitney Van Dusen, condemned would be peacemakers for their “resolute unwillingness to face known and indisputable facts” and accused them in one instance of offering a peace proposal that had “less meaning than Alice in wonderland.” “In any Christian, escapism is always pitiable. In one charged with influence over the views and decisions of others in days like these, it is unforgivable.”
Escapism and Denial
These forces of escapism and denial are at work today as Christian churches, publications and NGOs offer commentary on the fighting between Israel and Hamas in the Gaza Strip – which began after Hamas announced that it would not renew a cease fire with Israel and after several thousand rockets had been fired into Israel from the Hamas-controlled territory over the past several years. Apparently unable to acknowledge that Israel cannot dictate how Palestinians behave and that ultimately Palestinian leaders are responsible for their own actions, Christian churches and peacemaking groups have continued to issue their one-sided denunciations of Israel, which has been attacked from virtually every bit of territory from which it has withdrawn since the late 1990s.
To borrow Loconte’s description of the Christian pacifists and isolationists of the 1930s and 40s, they are offering a “softer portrayal of life” under Hamas rule in the Gaza Strip “than the known facts [demand]” and avoid a number of “unpleasant topics” that honest peacemakers acting in good faith would have to address.
The unpleasant topics Christian peacemakers ignore can be summarized as follows: In its fight with Hamas in the Gaza Strip, Israel is contending with a deeply anti-Semitic authoritarian movement that sees no distinction between civilian and military targets and uses women and children as human shields to protect its gunmen from attack.
During the Oslo Accords, Hamas worked to derail negotiations with a number of violent attacks (including suicide bombings) against Israeli civilians. It was also a major perpetrator of suicide attacks during the Second Intifada that murdered hundreds of Israelis between 2000 and 2004. After Hamas won the election for the Palestinian National Council in 2006, it failed to bring an end to rocket attacks from the Gaza Strip – from which Israel had withdrawn in 2005. During the summer of 2006 it started a war with Israel that caused the suffering of the inhabitants of the Gaza Strip and in 2007 it murdered many of its political opponents in the territory – sparking nary a cry of protest on the part of the peacemakers of the West.
In addition to repeatedly violating an Egyptian brokered “ceasefire,” which began on June 19, 2008, Hamas continued smuggling weapons into the Gaza Strip and prepared for another round of conflict by constructing tunnels that could be used to infiltrate Israel. The construction of one tunnel, similar to the one used to kidnap Gilad Shalit in 2006, prompted an Israeli attack on Nov. 4, 2008. (Between June 19 and Nov. 3, the day before Israel’s attack on the tunnel, approximately 38 rockets and mortar shells were fired into Israel from the Hamas-controlled Gaza Strip.)
On Dec. 19, Hamas declared an end to the ceasefire, which it had violated with increasing frequency in the last days of the truce with Palestinians firing an increasing number of long-range Grad (or Katyusha) rockets into Israel. Between Dec. 19 and Dec. 25, approximately 60 rockets landed in Israel and on Dec. 27, the Israeli offensive began, two days after Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert urges called for an end to rocket attacks and threatened a powerful response.
In sum, the most recent round of fighting came after Hamas spent the last three years showing the world what it would do with sovereignty and self-determination.
It is not a pretty picture.
Instead of investing in the well-being of the people it governs, Hamas used Israel’s withdrawal as an opportunity to build a warren of tunnels to smuggle weapons into the Gaza Strip and to menace the Jewish state with rocket attacks and continued calls for Israel’s destruction. And according to one commentator, Caroline Glick, it recently legalized crucifixion as a form of punishment in the Gaza Strip, and according to Khaled Abu Tomeh, it engaged in another round of violence against its political adversaries in the territory.
Despite all this, Christian peacemakers have portrayed Hamas as a liberationist movement intent on achieving the limited goal of a Palestinian state, even as the organization’s leaders have explicitly declared their goal is the destruction of a Jewish state. In their commentary on the recent violence, Christian churches and NGOs have also portrayed Israel as if it can control the violence and enmity directed at it and as if it can magically bring an end to Hamas’s violence through a combination of withdrawals, concessions, peace offers and more recently “restraint.” The assumption underpinning this narrative is that anything that the Palestinians do wrong is always somehow rooted in something the Israelis have done.
This narrative, which deprives Palestinian leaders of moral agency and imbues the Jewish state with magical powers is particularly evident in an editorial (“After Gaza”) published in the Jan. 19, 2009 issue of America, a Catholic weekly published by the Society of Jesus (otherwise known as the Jesuits). In this editorial, America magazine portrays Israel as responsible for Hamas’ bad acts by constraining the economic development of the Gaza Strip and by repeatedly occupying Palestinian territory after withdrawals. These policies, the editors of America assert, are motivated by a misguided desire to “break the will of Hamas” and will only promote a “revival of support for Hamas among Palestinians and greater hostility toward Israel across the Arab world.” The editorial ends with the following passage:
How will Israel escape the quagmire? How will it break out of the violent illogic of war, repression and resistance?
A fresh beginning requires that Israel acknowledge that in any negotiation it holds most of the cards and therefore must make most of the concessions. Palestinian resistance continues because Israel has repeatedly refused to allow its whip-hand to go slack. In every cycle of peacemaking, it has retained control of commerce, of security, of tax receipts, of water. Resistance—and with it Hamas—will wither only when Israel is ready to make a peace that relinquishes the upper hand over Palestinian life.
The editorial is marred by other exaggerations and distortions that undermine its credibility. America’s editors tip their hand when they ask how Israel will escape the quagmire. What about the Palestinians? Have they not been led into a quagmire of Hamas’s making? Apparently, in the minds of the editors at America magazine, Israel is responsible for making correct moral and strategic choices, but the Palestinians and their leaders can only act in response to what Israelis have done. Have the Palestinians and their leaders been, through some divine fluke, denied the free will Christian theology attributes to the rest of humanity?
The editorial asserts that Israel “constrains” the economic development of the Gaza Strip, when in fact, the lack of economic development is largely the consequence of Hamas – the regime that governs the territory. Leaders who are interested in promoting
the economic welfare of their people do not engage in acts of terror against their major trading partners, nor do the squander resources on weapons, tunnels and bunkers, nor do they put women and children in harm’s way by launching rockets from schools and other civilian installations.
Compare the well-being of Palestinians living in the Gaza Strip (a source of rockets into Israel) with that of Palestinians living in the West Bank (not a source of rockets) and the truth is laid bare. Firing rockets at one’s neighbors is bad for economic development. Hamas knows this, but is not interested in promoting economic development in the Gaza Strip, but is committed to the destruction of Israel. Nevertheless, America’s editors, led by Drew Christiansen, S.J., hold Israel responsible for the consequences of Hamas’s decisions.
Another troubling aspect of this editorial is America’s suggestion that Hamas would be ousted from power in the Gaza Strip if Israel relaxed its “whip hand.” How, exactly? Hamas was elected to power in 2006, but cemented its position in the Gaza Strip in 2007 by murdering its political opposition during a violent takeover in 2007. Would Hamas abandon these oppressive tactics (which include executing members of Fatah in the street in front of their families) in the face of Israeli “restraint”? Hardly.
Lastly, when America accuses Israel of trying to break “the will of Hamas” it begs the question, exactly what is Hamas trying to accomplish with its rocket attacks? Economic development? Or is it trying to break the will of the people of Israel?
Apparently, there is nothing the Palestinians can do wrong that will prompt criticism in the pages of America and no act of Israeli-self defense what will not prompt expressions of contempt from the magazine’s editors.
United Methodist Women
The Women’s Division of the Global Board of General Ministries of the United Methodist Church exhibited a similar moral obtuseness when it addressed the fighting in the Gaza Strip in a “call to action” posted on Jan. 1, 2009 and in a letter of concern sent to Sen. Hillary Clinton (D-NY) dated Dec. 31, 2008.
The historical narrative offered in the “call to action” is clearly written with the intent to demonize Israel and excuse all bad acts perpetrated by Palestinian leaders. First off it omits several key facts.
First off, Hamas, not Israel, declared an end to the cease fire on Dec. 19, 2008.
Secondly, while the United Methodist Women suggests that rocket attacks had come to an end during the cease fire with its assertion that Hamas had “re-initiat[ed] rocket-fire into Israeli communities” after Israel attacked on Nov. 4, the fact is, Hamas routinely violated the cease fire. Between June 19 and Nov. 3, the day before Israel’s attack, approximately 38 rockets and mortar shells were fired into Israel from Gaza. Moreover, the United Methodist Women failed to report that when Israel did attack on Nov. 4, it was attacking a tunnel being dug to allow Hamas to infiltrate Israel and possibly kidnap another soldier, just as it kidnapped Gilad Shalit in 2006.
Moreover, the call to action fails to mention that Hamas has attacked civilians while hiding behind civilians and in some instances, has recruited children to serve as human shields for its personnel.
Like the editors of America magazine, the authors of UMW’s “call to action” portray the current round of fighting as if it is entirely the consequence of Israeli failings. Nowhere in the document is there any honest effort to address the “unpleasant topics” that any would-be peacemaker would address.