Many Christians were clearly unsettled by the determination with which the Israel Defence Force (IDF) began to make good on Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s promise to root out and destroy Hamas in Gaza once and for all.
Prayers for peace, calls for humanitarian aid and demands for a ceasefire soon accompanied loud protests that Israel’s response to the 7 October massacre was disproportionate and counted as war crimes. But if people are serious about securing peace in Gaza, they need to think again about what it is they actually want — and who it is they support.
The Anglican Church of Australia, which has just over three million members (making it the second largest church in this country after the Roman Catholic Church), has a particular interest in Israel and Gaza. Through its mission arm, the Anglican Board of Mission (ABM), the church partners with the Anglican Diocese of Jerusalem to run a program called ‘Anglicans in Development’ (AID) which provides health and welfare services in Gaza.
One facility supported by AID was the Anglican-run Al Ahli Hospital, where the carpark was destroyed in an explosion on 17 October. As the dead and injured were being recovered, the Gaza Health Ministry blamed Israel for the attack. It was lie; but a lie that took hold. Western intelligence sources said the blast was actually caused by a stray rocket launched from within Gaza by Palestinian Islamic Jihad.
Although caused by a likely accidental trajectory, Hamas welcomed the blast and ensured that images of the dead and injured were splashed across Western media. Hamas knows the brutality it metes out to its own people converts easily to sway Western opinion against Israel which, in turn, simply helps Hamas further its own reign of terror in Gaza. Innocent Palestinians’ lives don’t matter to Hamas; they are merely ciphers in the war against Israel.
Even so, following hospital’s destruction, ABM launched an emergency appeal in Australian churches headed There are no winners in war. The appeal pleaded for donations to provide medicines, equipment, fuel and food, but made no mention of the billions of dollars of aid money that has poured steadily into Gaza — $1.3 billion of which has been donated by Qatar since 2012 for health services and agriculture.
Nor did ABM’s appeal make any mention of Hamas’s well-documented misappropriation of aid diverted to stockpile fuel, food, medicine and armaments in the extensive network of tunnels carved out under Gaza. None of this aid ever found its way to the impoverished people of Gaza; who have not only been denied essential resources but also been directed by Hamas to take shelter in sensitive locations as human shields.
At the same time, those calling for Israel to provide humanitarian relief to Gaza were untroubled by Egypt’s utter indifference to the plight of all but a tiny handful of refugees who have now crossed at the recently re-opened Rafah Border Crossing. So far, Egypt has only admitted dual nationals and those deemed to have been badly injured in the conflict.
No wonder food, medicines and fuel for the people of Gaza are in short supply. No wonder Israel gets blamed yet again for the misery perpetrated by Hamas on its own population. No wonder ABM called for “an immediate ceasefire” and for “resolution of the longer-term conflict.” And no wonder that people in countries such as Australia, many of whom are undoubtedly well-meaning, are duped once more into digging deep into their own pockets.
Many international lawyers have come to Israel’s defence. They point out that every nation has the inherent right to defend itself; a principle affirmed by Article 51 of the United Nations Charter. They also hold that Israel’s declared objectives are military and that while civilian casualties are always a tragedy, they do not make a military action illegal if they are not targeted deliberately. But this has not muted calls for a ceasefire.
These calls amount to an explicit censure of Israel which, having been attacked and so entitled by international law to act in self-defence, is now to be prevented from defending itself. While opponents of Israel are quick to indict the country for committing war crimes in pursuit of its legitimate interests in Gaza, they have little to say about the heinous atrocities committed by Hamas on 7 October in its highly illegal breach of Israel’s southern border.
Hamas would, of course, welcome a ceasefire. For one thing, it would bolster its status as an oppressed victim in the eyes of its many supporters in the West. For another, it would afford the opportunity both to re-arm and re-equip, and to herd yet more Palestinian civilians into areas where they will almost certainly suffer further death and injury during the conflict. And then, at a time of its own choosing, Hamas would reignite the conflict.
Hamas is not interested in peace; nor is it interested in the well-being of the people of Gaza. Since defeating Fatah and being elected to government in January 2006, Hamas has condemned the people it rules to life under its tyranny in conditions of squalor and deprivation. It has only one objective, an objective that has been stated repeatedly and without equivocation: elimination of the sovereign state of Israel.
People who press their cause of peace — whatever that could amount to in these circumstances — and who urge an immediate ceasefire know all this, even if they pretend not to know. However, if they are serious, they need to also be more explicit in their denunciation of all that is truly evil and that militates against the well-being of the innocent and the most vulnerable.
Those who believe there are never winners in war are deluded. War is bitter and bloody, and many innocent people always suffer. But war is also endemic to the human condition, as ancient historical texts can testify, and there are times when war, however revolting the violence, must be prosecuted in order that a greater evil be defeated and murderous tyrants destroyed.
The peace people pray for in Gaza must not be one that gives comfort to the enemy. It must be a peace that secures deliverance from terror rather than postponement of that terror to another day.
Peter Kurti is Director of the Culture, Prosperity & Civil Society program at the Centre for Independent Studies and Adjunct Associate Professor of Law at the University of Notre Dame.
Photo by Jagjeet Dhuna