Smoke billows following an Israeli airstrike in Gaza City, Oct. 25, 2023. OSV News photo/Yasser Qudih, Reuters

Hamas massacre demands return to first principles

  • October 26, 2023

The first question in judging the morality of an action is not who performed the act but rather what action was performed. One would think that would be obvious, but in our day it isn’t. Too often otherwise immoral actions are given a nod of approval if it is our fellow partisans who perform those acts.

The second question is when I have done wrong, what have I done to my soul? Have I degraded myself through this action? If so, will I take responsibility for my misdeed, make amends and try to make peace? Or will I pass the buck?

What’s fair is fair, and what’s foul is foul. Something is amiss when thousands of demonstrators pour into the streets holding signs that say “We Support Palestine” shortly after Hamas massacred hundreds of innocent Israeli civilians and kidnapped dozens more.

Hello! Whatever happened to human equality and the inalienable right to life? I guess because Palestinians have suffered grievously — and they have — they get a free pass when their agents perform acts of terror against their oppressors.

In this instance, however, the Jewish people have also suffered enormously for centuries, most despicably at the hands of Nazis who sought to eliminate them from the Earth. They have fears which cannot be easily erased.

So, who is the greater victim?

But why would we even ask that question? We only ask it if we believe or assume that victims have rights to maim and slaughter which oppressors do not. In this outlook, being a victim gives one the moral high ground, making it imperative for both sides to establish in the public mind that they are the greater victims.

This is no path to peace and reconciliation. It is rather a path to holding onto grievances forever and never offering an olive branch, seeking only to eliminate our opponents. It is almost like the Hatfields and the McCoys, mortal enemies for generations, even when the original cause for the hostilities had been almost forgotten.

Identity politics, rather than eliminating oppression, more often deepens it. The Russian Revolution of 1917 at first drew support from idealistic people around the world. It didn’t take long for the workers’ paradise to become a living hell.

We all have a claim to be victims, but where does that get us? Only an eternity of retribution. Literally an eternity. For we will carry both the sacrifices we make and the battles we fight into everlasting life — the first as our glory and the latter as an enormous burden which can never be unloaded.

In an article in the Oct. 14 Globe and Mail, Yossi Klein Halevi wrote, “Hamas has given us no choice.” Similarly, a coalition of more than 30 student groups at Harvard University posted an open letter, saying Israel was “entirely responsible” for the Hamas violence that killed more than 1,400 people.

However, we always have a choice in how to react to wrongdoing. We deny our own power when we claim terrorists or oppressors have made us do something we otherwise wouldn’t.

Terrorism and retribution are choices, not inevitabilities, not actions that someone else made you do. Socrates famously stated, “It is better to suffer evil than to do evil.” By performing acts of terror or retribution, you not only destroy your enemy, you also destroy yourself. Every such choice escalates the feud, gives evil an ever-freer hand in governing our destiny.

How easy it is to forget human dignity, that all people, not only those of my kind or the favourites of my ideology, have inviolable rights that should be respected at all times and places. How easy it is to slough off personal responsibility for the state of my soul and the state of the world.

Pope Francis maintains that while conflict is inevitable, it can be overcome through a process of encounter among those with divergent interests and viewpoints. Encounter is not a one-shot deal. It takes time. But if we are serious about peace, we need to take the time.

Encounter can lead us to stop blaming and to assume responsibility. Too often we want immediate results. But peace does not come pre-packaged. We have the choice to hive ourselves off in communities of those who think like us. Or we can take the risk of getting to know the other, to know his or her fears and desires. And to build trust.

In the soil of responsibility, encounter and trust, peace will grow.

(Glen Argan writes his online column Epiphany at

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