Hamas and Israel: Who Respects Palestinian Lives More?

As the Bible teaches us, we should love all our "neighbors," including all people, everywhere, with special attention in thought and action to show love to the "neighbor" in need. In the present Gaza conflict, we should love all the Palestinian people and all the people of Israel at the same time. Tragically, the hate-filled policies of Hamas, the group that rules Gaza, are very destructive both to the people of Gaza (by using its own women and children as shields) and to the people of Israel (by viciously targeting its civilian population centers). In spite of some of the general media's efforts to gauze-over the Gaza realities, in this on-going mortal conflict there is no moral equivalence between the two side's policies. Nevertheless, at time of the writing of this essay there is peace, and we are grateful.

Along with love and peace, patience and endurance are taught in the Bible, too – as well as "turning the other cheek" when attacked on "one cheek." With remarkable public consistency, the present nation of Israel has for seven years endured an incessant storm of over 11,000 missiles and mortars raining on its people from the terrorist residents of Gaza. As a nation desiring to live at peace with all people, it has mostly restrained itself – and rarely responded with violence to years of deadly violence against it. Now as the vicious, violent attacks upon all the Israeli people have been dramatically increased – with a missile launched against Israel averaging every 6 minutes for seven days, starting November 14, 2012 – Israel has had to respond strongly.

As President Obama observes, absolutely no one can blame Israel for defending itself. The absurd verbal attacks against Israel by the media and by many American Muslim leaders defy credibility, defy basic humanity. All people should now stand strongly with Israel and for its right of self-defense – and to defend all its diverse citizens – including Muslim, Druze, Christian, Jewish and all others.

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The issues at stake in this long-standing conflict between Arabs – Palestinian and otherwise – and Israel are extraordinarily large and complex. Recent news media headlines capture some of the absurdities: "Hamas says accord reached, but won't stop rocket attacks" and "Israel and Hamas agreed to end all hostilities, but unclear how enforced."

Israel has the right and responsibility – after seven years and over 11,000 missile attacks from Gaza before this most recent barrage – to do what it takes to stop the horrific attacks against its people. At the same time, we all grieve for the Palestinian people and pray earnestly that they will be able soon to find and follow leaders who truly protect the lives of the Palestinian people, and their future

In such an on-going conflict, it is much too easy for people to look for moral equivalency – to want to assume that the issues on both sides are too ancient, too continuous, too common and too complex for clear moral contrast. Perhaps it hurts too much to take the full measure of real malignant evil in our contemporary world. But the presumption of moral equivalence would be foolish moral numbness (or dumbness?) on anyone's part.

Protection of human life is a most elemental right – and yet Israel's Arab neighbors seem consistently to trash human life – in at least three dramatic and appalling practices and policies.

First, in Gaza and other areas they place their missile launchers and other military installations next to homes, shopping areas, mosques and other regions of high densities of human population. Knowing that the Biblical values that generally guide Israel and America prohibit targeting areas of civilian populations, these Palestinian and other Arab military decisions directly, intentionally put their own people at risk. These Gaza leaders are making strategy on the basis of the true assumption that Israeli leaders and soldiers actually respect and value the Palestinian people's lives more than they, the Gaza leaders, value their people's lives. As former Israeli Prime Minister Golda Meir wisely said at the National Press Club in Washington 55 years ago, "Peace will come when the Arabs will love their children more than they hate us," but probably, tragically not before.

Second, the millions of Palestinian Arab refugees displaced by the numerous conflicts in the Holy Land have generally not been welcomed by their Arab brothers and sisters into neighboring countries. The tragic struggles and sorrows of Palestinian refugees have been deeply politicized and exploited, rather than resolved through multinational humanitarian collaboration.

Third, the incessant, indiscriminate 7-year missile bombardment of Israeli citizens – Jewish, Muslim, Christian and otherwise – is in complete disregard for human life. In the past seven years, since Israel turned Gaza over to Palestinian leaders in 2005, more than 11,000 missiles have been launched into Israel from Gaza. That is more than four (4) missiles per day, on average! These hostile and murderous actions – against "targets" of schools, busses, hospitals and population centers – have been mostly ignored by world leaders, the leaders of the United Nations, and most media. To try to motivate more attention to this mostly unnoticed 7-year war against Israel, I organized a substantial group of Evangelical leaders in New York to walk along with the New York Board of Rabbis to deliver one of the Palestinian missiles to the United Nations headquarters. It was a spent missile (of course). Our dramatic gesture received very little attention at the UN or in the media.

Interfaith Statement on Middle East Crisis can be read by clicking here.

Now, with the recent sharp increase of missile attacks against all civilians in Israel – civilians who are Christians, Jews, Muslims and of no religious commitment – Evangelical and Jewish leaders in New York City again decided to stand together. Our joint statement reminds its readers that our Bibles teach everyone to love all their "neighbors" – with genuine love shown both in our consciousness and conduct – regardless of the ethnicity or religion of the recipient "neighbor." In contrast, terrorists, including the Hamas government that rules Gaza and encourages other terrorist groups there, "teach their young people to hate their neighbors with both their hearts and hands." Constantly teaching one's children to hate others – even to the point of urging them to become suicide bombers – is "a most reprehensible form of child abuse," we say in our Evangelical-Jewish statement. Hamas, recognized by the US State Department as a terrorist organization, in its "charter respects neither Christians nor Jews." Iran, also a recognized state sponsor of terrorism, also hatefully targets both Christians and Jews – both among its own citizens, and in its active sponsorship of Gaza's Hamas and other terrorist organizations.

The only moral equivalency in our deliberations and decisions related to this and other continuing conflicts should be our love of all people, all our "neighbors," especially caring about, and caring for, all those in need. The primary aggressors against the Palestinian people are their own leaders, whom they need to change, somehow. And the incessant terrorism against Israel must stop. Let us actively pray for both the peace of Jerusalem, literally the "dwelling of peace," and the peace of all the Middle East.

Dr. Paul de Vries is the president of New York Divinity School, and a pastor, speaker and author. Since 2004, he has served on the Board of the National Association of Evangelicals, representing 40 million evangelical Americans.

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