January 14, 2009

Just War: Why Christians Should Not Falter in Support of Israel

By Julian Dunraven, J.D., M.P.A.

Honorable friends:

The Holy See permanent observer to the United Nations has quoted Pope Benedict XVI as saying of the conflict in Gaza “that the military options are no solution and that violence, wherever it comes from and whatever form it takes, must be firmly condemned.” Naturally, I would expect the pontiff to be praying for peace. However, I am surprised that the former head of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith would make such a careless comment so wildly out of line with the Church’s teachings. Such slips only encourage the type of behavior I saw this weekend from a few guests at a wedding who, though totally uneducated on the subject, pronounced their condemnation of both Israel and Palestine while piously declaring that war is always wrong. Such statements are as contemptible as they are intellectually lazy, and I grow weary of listening to them.

While Christianity has perhaps lamented that war is always tragic and unfortunate, it has never declared that war is always wrong. To the best of my knowledge there is not a single mainstream Christian Church so foolish as to make such a declaration. Certainly, Israel’s actions in Gaza cannot be called wrong by any rational observer. To fully understand how incredibly imbalanced the ethics of this conflict are in favor of Israel, there is no better teacher than Charles Krauthammer in his last two columns, “Excruciating Moral Clarity,” and, “Ending Hamas Rule.”

However, for those of you who, like me, have an assortment of Christian friends who refuse to sanction any war no matter how powerful the justification or how clear the moral reasoning, I suggest you refer them to the Christian Just War Doctrine. Going all the way back to Saint Augustine of Hippo, it predates all the schisms and is a part of every mainstream form of Christianity.

The Just War Doctrine, codified in the Catechism of the Catholic Church, states in §2308 that, “as long as the danger of war persists and there is no international authority with the necessary competence and power, governments cannot be denied the right of lawful self-defense, once all peace efforts have failed.” Section 2309 goes on to list the conditions under which a just war may be prosecuted:
· the damage inflicted by the aggressor on the nation or community of nations must be lasting, grave, and certain;
· all other means of putting an end to it must have been shown to be impractical or ineffective;
· there must be serious prospects of success;
· the use of arms must not produce evils and disorders graver than the evil to be eliminated. The power of modem means of destruction weighs very heavily in evaluating this condition.

Considering what we know of Gaza, despite all international effort over the past several decades, no authority has been successful at persuading the Palestinian militants to desist from launching rockets into Israel. As Mr. Krauthammer points out, rocket fire on the Israeli population has continued unabated even after Israel withdrew all settlers and military, and ceded governmental control to the Palestinian Authority in 2005—effectively doing everything the Palestinians had demanded for an end to hostilities. Negotiations have gone on for decades, yet only Israel attempts to abide by any of the agreements reached. There is nothing more Israel can offer save its own annihilation. Thus, I would say negotiation has proved most ineffective.

Israel does have a good chance of permanently ending this conflict, though, if its assault can topple Hamas’ control and demonstrate that Islamic militants will succeed only in bringing greater hardship down on Palestinian people. The hardship endured by the Palestinian people is indeed unfortunate, but Hamas has deliberately orchestrated that hardship by using its own civilian population and humanitarian centers as shields against Israeli counterstrikes. The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) acknowledges that the problem of proportionality is “aggravated if one side deliberately positions military targets in the midst of a civilian population.” Though Israel is doing all it can to minimize civilian casualties, they are inevitable. Nonetheless, after so many decades of failed negotiations, if Israel can succeed in destroying Hamas utterly, the permanent peace to follow will be worth the terrible price.

As the Catechism states in §2304, the peace Israel fights for is “not merely the absence of war, and it is not limited to maintaining a balance of powers between adversaries. Peace cannot be attained on earth without safeguarding the goods of persons, free communication among men, respect for the dignity of persons and peoples, and the assiduous practice of fraternity. Peace is ‘the tranquility of order.’ Peace is the work of justice and the effect of charity.” According to Pope John Paul II in his World Day of Peace Message of 1982, “Unconditional and effective respect for each one's unprescriptable and inalienable rights is the necessary condition in order that peace may reign in a society.” Currently, only Israel offers such respect—going so far as to offer warnings and aid to enemy noncombatants in its quest for peace. Hamas, on the other hand, is dedicated to the complete destruction of Israel. Unless it is clearly defeated, that ideology of hate will remain as an impenetrable barrier to peace for yet more decades to come.

As the USCCB states, “This is why Christians, even as they strive to resist and prevent every form of warfare, have no hesitation in recalling that, in the name of an elementary requirement of justice, peoples have a right and even a duty to protect their existence and freedom by proportionate means against an unjust aggressor.”

Rather than making foolish statements about how all war is evil, if Christendom truly wants to see an end to conflict in the Middle East, they would do well to bring real pressure to bear on Hamas, Palestine, and their Arab allies to prevent the continual flow of weapons and armaments into Gaza, and to enforce real consequences for mortar attacks beyond occasional dispatching another diplomat for talks while the militants rearm. The USCCB reminds us that a true “Christian has no choice but to defend peace, properly understood, against aggression. This is an inalienable obligation.”

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