“The example of Jesus, the teachings of the just war tradition, and Hamas’s own words make this clear.”
[The article originally appeared in Christianity Today, and is reprinted with permission.]
By now you will have heard of slaughtered Israeli babies, seen the graphic video of a kidnapped Jewish teenager being pulled by her hair with what appears to be blood between her legs, read of the 85-year-old grandmother taken to the Gaza strip without her medicines to die alone and in great pain.
And that Hamas terrorists have shot children, raped women, snatched infants from their families. You may have heard the account of one survivor of the massacre at the music festival: “The guy who was with me didn’t stop crying and begging for his life. … And then he didn’t scream anymore. They murdered him in front of my eyes.”
At this writing, Hamas has killed more than 1,400 Israelis, injured 3,000, and is holding around 200 hostage. This attack has been called Israel’s 9/11. It could equally be called its Dunkirk, the beginning of a war for survival whose outcome is uncertain.
For Christians watching these horrors from afar, it is imperative to condemn the evil perpetrated by Hamas—and to recognize that it must be resisted.
This should go without saying, but some American Christians refuse to denounce Hamas for its barbaric atrocities. A statement from the Episcopal Church in the United States, for example, mentions “a time of violence” but fails to say that Hamas was its instigator, suggests that “occupation” is the underlying cause, and charges that Israel’s response is “disproportionate.” The United Methodist Church similarly refers merely to an “escalation of violence” and urges “both sides not to resort to further violence.”
No further violence? Would we say the same if a terrorist group killed a proportionate number of Americans? (Scaled to our population, that’d be about 40,000 dead.) As The Wall Street Journal’s Elliot Kaufman contends, equivocation about the evil of Hamas is arguably a call for Israel to surrender instead of fighting back, because then Israel’s enemies will return to resume their massacres.
That’s not the only part of such equivocations which deserves scrutiny. Is “occupation” the cause of Hamas’s savagery? It cannot be, for Israel stopped occupying Gaza in 2005, and Hamas has run that city-state since 2007.
But more importantly, speaking of “occupation” suggests to many that Hamas wants to share the land with Jews. Yet Hamas declares openly that it wants to drive every last Jew into the sea—this is the meaning of the popular slogan—and kill all who try to remain.
This is not an unfair allegation from the group’s enemies. Article 7 of Hamas’s own founding charter quotes a saying of the prophet Muhammad: “The Day of Judgment will not come about until Moslems [sic] fight the Jews (killing the Jews), when the Jew will hide behind stones and trees. The stones and trees will say, ‘O Moslems, O Abdulla, there is a Jew behind me, come and kill him.’”
And Hamas has not drifted from its antisemitic roots. The senior Hamas official Moussa Abu Marzouk said in 2021 that his organization wants Israel “to come to an end just like it began.” This war that Hamas has launched on Israel is not about occupation. It is about the elimination of the state of Israel and all its Jews.
So is Israel’s planned response—to destroy Hamas—disproportionate? Article 51 of the United Nations Charter states that any nation has an “inherent right” to defend itself against armed attack. The response needs to satisfy the principle of proportionality, which involves avoiding as much as possible the killing of noncombatants.
More than any other world power, Israel has gone out of its way to avoid killing civilians. But that is impossible when Hamas uses human shields—both Palestinian and, now, Israeli hostages—by putting its command centers in hospitals and schools and mosques. Hamas is now ordering Gazan civilians not to move to escape Israeli bombs.
This is why simply comparing the number of Palestinian and Jewish civilians killed misses the point. Hamas deliberately targets civilians, while Israeli forces try to minimize civilian casualties. And even when those efforts fail, Hamas is responsible for Palestinian civilian deaths because it cruelly forces Gaza residents to remain with terrorists whom Israel will rightly target.
Hamas’s “desire to destroy Israel has brought only war and death to the Palestinians,” writes Middle Eastern scholar Bassam Tawil. “To achieve its goal of murdering Jews and eliminating Israel, Hamas appears ready to sacrifice endless numbers of Palestinians.”
These distinctions matter deeply for Christians’ response to the war. First, we are called by both Testaments to hate evil. Proverbs says to fear the Lord is to “hate evil” (Prov. 8:13), and the apostle Paul urges us to “hate what is evil” (Rom. 12:9). We should hate the evil of Hamas—and not be afraid to say so publicly.
It is not hyperbolic to compare Hamas’s antisemitism to Nazism, for, in fact, Hamas comes out of the Muslim Brotherhood, which counted among its early leadership in Israel Amin al-Husseini, the mufti of Jerusalem, who was paid by the Nazis to make radio broadcasts that urged Muslims to kill Jews everywhere.
Opposing Hamas is not Islamophobia. There are many Muslims who also hate Hamas and hope Israel destroys it. We can seek the destruction of the Nazi-like Hamas without demonizing all Muslims.
Jesus hated evil. He commended John in Revelation 2 for hating the works of the Nicolaitans “which I also hate” (v. 6). These were works of idolatry and sexual immorality (vv. 14–15).
Jesus also suggested he was not a pacifist but believed, as Ecclesiastes puts it, there is “a time for war” (3:8). In his parable of the wicked tenants, he said the vineyard owner punished the tenants who had killed his servants and then his son by “bring[ing] those wretches to a wretched end” (Matt. 21:41). This is the same Jesus whose robe is dipped in blood and from whose mouth comes a sword that slays the wicked (Rev. 19:13, 21)—and the same Jesus who, according to Jude, “destroyed those who did not believe” (v. 5, ESV).
While Jesus calls us to love our enemies, this love does not mean we do not hate evil. It does not contradict the tragic need for nations to defend themselves against those who seek their elimination.
This is a bit of the biblical grounding (there is much more) for a second Christian response: analyzing this conflict within the framework of the just war tradition.
Fundamental to that tradition is the idea that the genocidal attempt to exterminate a people, nation, or ethnic minority is always a great moral evil. This is precisely what Hamas intends and precisely what Israel is trying not to do.
A second principle of just war is that of discrimination: Noncombatants should never be directly and intentionally targeted. Yet again, this is what Hamas did in its horrific attacks on babies, children, unarmed women, and the elderly, while Israel warns innocent Gazans to flee before it attacks.
A third principle is proportionality: Retaliation should be proportionate to the harm suffered, and secondary effects, such as unintentional killing of civilians, must be proportional to the military advantage of the attack. Israel’s purpose is to defend itself against an enemy bent on its elimination, which makes its war against Hamas justified. And when Hamas uses Gazan civilians as human shields, it is Hamas that is disproportionate in its brutal endangerment of its own people.
Finally, Christians should recognize that Hamas’s war on Israel is also a war on Christians. Its aim is the elimination of Christianity from this planet. “We are not talking about liberating our land alone,” a co-founder of Hamas, Mahmoud al Zahar, said last year. “The entire 510 million square kilometers of planet Earth will come under [a system] where there is no injustice, no oppression, no Zionism, no treacherous Christianity” (emphasis mine).
Jewish tradition has a saying: “Whoever is kind to the cruel will be cruel to the kind.” Christians agree it would not have been just to be kind to Nazism, and we must equally support our “elder brothers” in Israel in their determination to end the cruelties of Hamas.