Monday, October 16, 2023
It's Monday, October 16, 2023.
I'm Albert Mohler, and this is The Briefing, a daily analysis of news and events from a Christian worldview.
The Moral Considerations of Israel’s War: Balancing the Absolute Necessity of Destroying Hamas with Minimizing the Loss of Innocent Life
If you go back just a couple of weeks, look at major statements made by American and European, other Western political leaders, you're looking at foreign policy analysts and statements made by people inside and outside the administration. Here's one thing you need to note: It was only two weeks ago, but those statements now seem something like 20 years ago. That's because at times--the entire system--seems to move so fast. The events are driving issues with such a velocity that the old world simply passes away right before our eyes, and that's what has taken place just over the last eight to nine days. You look back to that Saturday morning, a matter of less than two weeks ago when Hamas began that savage attack upon Israel and how the world has changed since then.
Our entire conversation has been reset. Our understanding of the world has been altered, and furthermore, we are left right now with more questions than answers as we think about what this means for the future. Fast forward over the last several days and look at this week and the issues sure to be faced this week, it is hitting very close to home, particularly for those right now in the war zone as Israel is preparing to enter into the Gaza Strip and to do so with massive land force. And it's already very clear. The warnings have been sent, the forces are being masked. It is just a matter of where and when and exactly how Israel is going to move into the Gaza Strip. The first most important issue for Israel right now is how to destroy Hamas because they must do that. Israel's Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu has been backed up here very clearly by European leaders and most importantly by the President of the United States in making clear that Hamas has to be destroyed. That is the only aim of the military action that makes sense right now.
Undertaken by Israel, Israel can't stop short at this point of destroying Hamas. More on why in just a moment. The second issue, however, for Israel is whether by the end of this week it is going to be fighting a one front war or a two front war because Hezbollah and furthermore, even Palestinians on the West Bank are increasing actions that could lead to two fronts, particularly with Hamas in the South and Hezbollah in the north, it could also mean activity coming from the West Bank. Then of course, the big question is what will Arab nations do? At this point, just a matter of days ago, it didn't seem conceivable that any Arab nation would jump into this. It's still probably unlikely, but it is increasingly clear that Hamas is intending to destroy the relationship between Israel and the Arab states with which it has peace treaties or the more recent Abraham Accords.
The malevolence of what Hamas has planned is not just the destruction of human life but the destruction of Israel, and furthermore, the destruction of the entire Western order. In the United States, the conversation's also changed and the most concrete result of that is that not one, but now two US Navy carrier groups are moving into the Eastern Mediterranean and that is not just at this point to send a signal. That means that you have concern on the part of American military and political officials that attacks that strike even closer to American interests could be imminent or are at least possible. And then you had the statement that came over the weekend from a spokesman for the Iranian government that made exactly that kind of threat. So the world has changed, it has changed in just a matter of days. It is changing right now before our eyes.
Looking backwards one of the most interesting things has been confirmation of the fact that the plan undertaken by Hamas was absolutely diabolical. Now one of the big moral issues for us to track here is the language that's being used by people in the US government, because quite frankly since 9/11 I have not heard statements of this kind of moral judgment coming from an American administration, and in this case it's the Biden administration, but the language coming from the administration has been very clear. On the Sunday morning talk shows figures such as Jake Sullivan, the National Security Advisor to the President of the United States, he used just absolutely morally clear language. It was not so much language directed at the Palestinians in Gaza as at Hamas, but the language was just absolutely clear: "evil, homicidal, terrorist organization, ruthless." It's the kind of moral clarity that quite frankly you don't often see, but at this point, Christians need to recognize this is a moral clarity, the avoidance of which would be absolute denial and moral obfuscation.
It'll be moral cowardice not to call things what they are. We now know furthermore that Hamas has been planning this for a long time. And there's increasing evidence of the fact that it's not just funding that is coming from Iran, but probably also direct involvement in the planning if not the execution of this particular mission--the war, the attack, launched upon Israel beginning just a matter of days ago.
The New York Times front page yesterday included the headline, "Hamas Attack Exploited Secrets of Israel's military" subhead "In Complex Operation Gunmen had maps and an awareness of weak points". Patrick Kingsley and Ronan Bergman, the reporters in this story, they're basically telling us that somehow by some leak of military intelligence, the actual war plans and policies right down to the weak spots in terms of sentries and guard changes and all the rest. This was very much known to Hamas and now the evidence is abundant that Hamas had been working on this for a long time, and of course the evidence of that was pretty much clear even the morning of the attack when you look at parasails. But one of the big questions was how did Hamas know exactly where to hit and how do they know exactly what kind of force was needed, and it's becoming increasingly clear they had military intelligence.
Frankly, this turns out to be a vast military intelligence score for Hamas and a great failure for Israel. But not just for Israel, for other western nations that have an interest in the area as well. Even though we now know that you had western intelligence agencies, and some inside Israel, that it picked up on increased activity and even though the threat level appeared to be something that needed to be reconsidered, the fact is that the intelligence agencies were pretty much flatfooted when the attack actually commenced with all of its murderous force. Now get this, a lot of the evidence for this came from a camera that was mounted on the head of a Hamas gunman who was later killed. Thus, the evidence was confiscated. As the New York Times reports, "they provide chilling details of how Hamas, the militia that controls the Gaza Strip, managed to surprise and outmaneuver the most powerful military in the Middle East last Saturday. Storming across the border, overrunning more than 30 square miles, taking more than 150 hostages and killing more than 1300 people in the deadliest day for Israel in its 75-year history".
The next sentence: "With meticulous planning and extraordinary awareness of Israel's secrets and weaknesses, Hamas and its allies overwhelm the length of Israel's front with Gaza shortly after dawn. Shocking a nation that has long taken the superiority of its military as an article of faith." So to turn back to a moral line that becomes increasingly clear, Israel has said that it is set to destroy Hamas because there is no alternative to Israel's survival. They are going to have to destroy Hamas as a force both on the military ground and also as a political force there in the Gaza Strip. And this is going to be something that will require an extraordinary military effort, it is likely to take time and it's going to be a real test of Western resolve.
And that gets to another set of issues. I want to start by saying Israel has not only the right, frankly it has the responsibility to destroy Hamas as a force period. But one of the big questions from the beginning is whether or not Israel will continue to receive support from say European nations and even from some factions within the United States, once it does what it has to do, and that's where things get very, very difficult.
For example, Nicholas Kristof is a very influential columnist with the New York Times. He's written two pieces over the last several days. One of them simply asked the question, "what does destroying Gaza solve?" And the other one has the headline, "turning our moral compass to suffering on both sides". No doubt there is suffering on both sides and our concern should be for people on both sides. But there are complications in this we simply need to acknowledge and frankly we're going to find ourselves as Christians trying to reason through some issues that are newly complex, but absolutely unavoidable in moral terms. First Israel must destroy Hamas, the terrorist organization, because it is built on destroying Israel. The challenge that was faced by the United States, looking at Al-Qaeda and the threat also posed by the Islamic state, we are looking at basically organizations set upon the death of Western civilization. And in the case of Israel, Israel on the front lines, you have Hamas and Hezbollah and others who basically is stated that their aim is to destroy Israel and to erase it from the face of the earth, and now we know what kind of genocidal force and threat comes with that because as we have seen this effort is already, this attack is already the most devastating in terms of human life in the entire national experience of Israel over 75 years.
But I'll just say frankly, the issues raised by Nicholas Kristof, they are not irrelevant moral concerns. But in a fallen world we find ourselves, and right now we're observing Israel to find itself in a situation in which there is no clear path without moral complications to doing what it must do. Israel's not unique in this in terms of world history, but this is a unique situation. Let's put it this way. The understanding of war as it is justified, and we're going to look at the grounds of this more in just a moment, but there is consensus certainly in the Christian worldview that war has to be justified in two terms. Number one, just in terms of the fight itself. Using military force has to be justified. But then the way one uses military force also has to be justified. Now, the complication here is that once you have military action that's justified, the way it is to be carried out in terms that are justified is that you have to try to prevent casualties to civilians.
Hamas knows that, but remember Hamas is a terrorist organization and what we know about the ideology of Hamas is that they have basically denied the humanity of the Jews. They have outright just declared themselves the enemy of the Jewish people right down to slaughtering Jewish babies, some of them in their mother's arms. So we are looking at a brutality and a genocide, the likes of which frankly we have not seen in the world since World War II.
But something else we need to note, and we note this with grave concern and sympathy, is that Hamas seems to have just slightly more regard if at all for the lives of the Palestinians that they have basically taken advantage of in this process. And by taking advantage of, I mean by using them as human shields because that is exactly what is taking place and Hamas knows exactly what it's doing.
It is intentionally using civilians as shields in order to make it impossible for Israel to destroy Hamas without massive civilian casualties on the part of the Palestinians in Gaza. That's diabolical, and understand the predicament of Israel right now. It either allows this force that will annihilate Israel and genocidally attack the Jews to survive, or it is going to have to risk civilian casualties that are, by any estimation, just horrifying. And you're talking about people there who are being used as pawns by Hamas. You go back to 2006, and the population insofar as the vote was legitimate, voted for Hamas as their government, their government leaders back in 2006. Since then, well, the fact is the people of Gaza have been abused by Hamas, but nonetheless, there's just moral responsibility for having elected them and frankly, it is Hamas that will at the end of the day have to answer for all the deaths.
Very interesting argument being made. It's the right argument at this point because of the murderous assault launched by Hamas. Hamas is ultimately responsible for every death that comes in the course of this conflict because you take out that attack from Hamas, these deaths just don't happen.
The Concept of International Law: By Definition, Terrorists Don’t Care About the Rules
It is interesting by the way that Amanda Taub wrote a very big article. It's massive. It's about a half page or more in the print edition of the New York Times published last Friday. The headline is "Binding Laws of War already being broken", and she's writing about these binding laws of war, and let me tell you what's missing. What's missing here is the moral legitimacy that is granted by the Christian worldview and by the development of just war theory within Christian theology and Christian thinking going back for a matter of centuries. As a matter of fact, she begins by acting as if international law when it comes to warfare is a product of the 19th and 20th centuries.
She does acknowledge the origins go back further, but she says "its modern form was a reaction to the World wars of the 20th century". She mentioned 1928, the Kellogg-Briand Pact. She mentions the Geneva Conventions 1949 and 1977, the United Nations Charter of 1945. But the fact is that the language she uses don't come from those sources, they come from the long history of just war thought within Christianity. As thought out by Christian theologians and Christian ethicists trying to figure out based upon Scripture when war is justified and if it is justified, how one is justified in carrying it out. There appears to be virtually no acknowledgement that the categories that are used in this article didn't come from the Kellogg-Briand Pact and they certainly weren't invented by the United Nations.
But Christians need to understand that something else is indicated here, and that is that if you just try to abandon the Christian worldview and its centuries of basing this logic upon Scripture, then what you're going to be left with is a secular alternative, and frankly, it's going to be a very thin insubstantial and fragile alternative because you look at these, the United Nations Charter of 1945, the Kellogg-Briand Pact 1928, the Geneva Convention, the International Criminal Court.
Well, the fact is all those things are mentioned, but none of them seem to have much traction. Hamas doesn't care what the international criminal court thinks. It doesn't care what of the civilized world thinks. And Israel is going to have to respond just as the United States had to respond after 9/11, just as a matter of less than a generation after the Kellogg-Briand Pact was adopted in 1928, the allies had to respond to Nazi Germany. There simply is not a binding international authority that actually turns out to be either binding or much of an authority.
I found it very interesting to read in this article that Volker Türk identified as the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights said last week "that the taking of hostages is prohibited by international law". Well, you can say it's prohibited by international law, but the absolute imbecility of that statement is the fact that everyone knows that Hamas has taken hostages.
It isn't hiding the fact. So you can say it violates international law, but if you think that has any impact upon a terrorist group like Hamas or the Islamic State or Al-Qaeda, frankly you're wasting your breath and you're wasting our time.
Monica Hakimi identified as a law professor at Columbia said this "Hamas is bound by but has a practice of violating the basic provisions of international humanitarian law". What exactly is that supposed to mean in reasonable terms, that Hamas is bound by these terms which they turn around and ignore? What that means is in any intellectual honesty, they're not bound by them. This may be a claim by some kind of international body that it has authority to adjudicate these matters, perhaps if they ever had the luxury of bringing such persons for a tribunal trial at some point in the future, but that's basically irrational. And Israel right now is not dealing with the irrational, it's not dealing with the imaginary, it's dealing with the real. So are so many of the people in Palestine whose lives have been put at risk by Hamas.
The Antisemitism of the Left: Leftist Progressives Display Their True Allegiances
But as we're thinking about this, we also need to recognize another shift has taken place in recent days and we're going to have to be watching this, it's taking place right here in the United States. And in this case it is the fact that many so-called progressive Jewish citizens here in the United States, they're beginning to understand that the left of which they had been a part has a basic antisemitism that is now undeniable. Michelle Goldberg writes at the time from a privileged position understanding those worlds very, very well, and she writes about a sense of deep betrayal that is not limited to Jewish people in New York, but elsewhere "many progressive Jews have been profoundly shaken by the way some on the left are treating the terrorist mass murder of civilians as noble acts of anti-colonialist resistance. These are Jews who share the left's abhorrence of the occupation of Gaza and of the enormity inflicted on it, which are only going to get worse when Israel invades. But the way keyboard radicals"--that's an interesting term, "keyboard radicals"--"have condoned war crimes against Israelis, has left many progressive Jews alienated from political communities they thought were their own end."
So the worldview shifts and the worldview challenges taking place in such an unexpected and unprecedented way, just over the last several days, they're beginning to shake the edifice of the left and in particular you have many self-declared progressive Jews who are beginning to understand that the left is responding with very toxic views towards the Jews in Israel, towards Israel in particular, and quite frankly at the expense of the Jewish people who thought other people on the left were their friends. Now, in worldview analysis we need to understand just clearly that the critical theory, the leftist understanding where everything is simply a matter of oppression, the siding with Palestinians and in particular with terror organizations, because at this point there's just no denying that's what we're dealing with. We're not dealing with a legitimate Palestinian representative authority here, we are dealing with a murderous genocidal terrorist group.
The lack of clarity on that, the lack of moral understanding on that, the profound advocacy now on the left and on so many college campuses in liberal circles, for those who've been killing Jews in Israel, well for many of those rather liberal Jews in the United States, this is a wake up call and it's coming as a shock and a grave disappointment.
Joshua Liefer identified as a contributing editor, the Left Wing magazine Jewish Currents, a member of the editorial board at the Progressive publication descent say "I think what surprised me most was the indifference to human suffering". He went on to say, "I'm trying to hold on personally to my commitments, my values, which now feel in conflict in a way with the political community that I lived alongside in the United States for basically my whole adult life." He went on to say "it has begun to feel like a breaking point."
Another article in the same paper, this time published on Sunday identified a young man, Mack Lang, and he's being quoted here as a representative of a young Jewish person in the United States. We're told he's a veteran of Jewish summer camps, he's now a graduate student at Ohio State University. He also says that he had advocated for the rights of Palestinians, but the paper says "in recent days, he's felt estranged from one-time allies, some of whom have gone beyond criticizing Israel's government in social media posts and downplayed or defended Hamas." A group that he noted does not merely resist Israel, but rather is "very explicitly anti-Jewish." This young man said, "as someone who identifies as very left wing is the first time I felt uncomfortable in left wing spaces." Breaks in a culture like this don't come very often. Some of them came in the aftermath of 9/11. And some are perhaps old enough to remember what that looked like. Some came during the 1960s and the 1980s. Some came in matters of sexual morality and institutions like marriage. Some came on issues as deep as the sanctity of human life and truths about human dignity.
Now, of course, in the international sphere, it has come in the form of terrorism, and the fact is that some on the left now appear to be surprised that some of the people on the left they thought were their friends, are no friends to Israel. And then they're beginning to understand if they're no friend to Israel in this situation, with the absolute determination of Hamas to kill the Jewish people, they're no friend of the Jewish people either. Many people on the Jewish left in the United States have functioned with a certain fiction that criticism of Israel was not anti-Semitic, but increasingly (not to say Israel's beyond criticism, no nation including the United States, is beyond criticism) it turns out, and it's now painfully obvious, that much of that criticism was actually a fairly deeply rooted antisemitism that is now becoming all too visible, if all too horrifying.
Some Enemies Cannot Be Ignored: The Survival of Civilization Depends on the Response to Those Who Seek to Destroy It
But let me come back, as we conclude, to a point made earlier and that is this, Israel now has no option if it's going to survive then to destroy Hamas. That is a simple fact. It's understood by the American government, it's understood by European governments. Frankly, it's understood basically by anyone looking at this situation honestly. Israel and Hamas are not going to be able to coexist, Hamas is made that murderously clear. But Hamas has embedded itself in a community using human beings, in this case Palestinians, as a human shield. And thus they are counting on the fact that support for Israel will fall away once Israel does what it is going to have to do in routing out Hamas from the Gaza Strip. Many people are already asking, well, what comes after this? And the answer at this point is no sane person knows. But sometimes in a fallen world, we face a situation in which this particular evil has to be addressed first before anything else can be figured out.
Hamas and others and the indication as you even see in this from the American left, from the so-called progressive left in the United States, the fact is that there are many people who support for Israel will not go very far at all once a land invasion in Gaza commences. Israel must do it, it knows it must do it, and that's why there is unprecedented unity in Israel that even very recently demonstrated a profound lack of unity. At this point western nations, western political leaders including the president of the United States, are united. Hamas expects that to last a very short time. But as the American people came to understand in the immediate aftermath of 9/11, some enemies simply cannot be ignored. The only way civilization can survive is if certain enemies declared against the existence of that civilization are themselves destroyed.
President Biden said over the weekend, "the overwhelming majority of Palestinians had nothing to do with Hamas and Hamas' appalling attacks and their suffering as a result as well." That is profoundly right in this case, they are suffering as a result. And that's by the intention and design of Hamas, and that just makes the evil of Hamas all the more obvious and all the more ominous.
As this week begins, we also have the weight of understanding that this week is likely to be as eventful as last week. We'll track it together.
Thanks for listening to The Briefing. For more information, go to my website at albertmohler.com. You can follow me on Twitter by going to twitter.com/albertmohler.
For information on the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, go to sbts.edu. For information on Boyce College, just go to boycecollege.com.
I'll meet you again tomorrow for The Briefing.