Smoke rises after an Israeli airstrike on Gaza seen from a viewpoint in Southern Israel Oct. 24, 2023. OSV News photo/Violeta Santos Moura, Reuters

No justice in Israeli or Hamas actions

  • November 23, 2023

I love Israel. But I hate what it is doing in Gaza. I yearn for the establishment of a Palestinian state in the Middle East. But Hamas, especially its Oct. 7 raids on Israel, is the greatest obstacle to that state becoming reality.

Eventually, there will be a Palestinian state. However, the ongoing bloodshed keeps pushing that dream further into the future.

First, Israel. The establishment of the Jewish state in 1948 was an essential act to provide a safe homeland for a people who have been ruthlessly persecuted for centuries, not least by the Catholic Church. The Holocaust, however, forced Western powers to establish a Jewish homeland.

The Holocaust is not a myth. It was a racist government’s determined effort to wipe the Jewish people off the face of the earth. Moreover, powerful people in the West, who shared the Nazis’ anti-Semitism, applauded the Nazi campaign of genocide. Yet the creation of Israel was an act that led to the displacement of millions of people who called Palestine home. It took a war to establish Israel, and it has taken several wars since 1948 to preserve it. Over the ensuing 75 years, Israel has believed it necessary to become a highly militarized state to fight off attacks. The threat to Israel comes not only from Palestinians but also other nations which support the Palestinian cause.

To bring peace to the region, Egyptian President Anwar Sadat and Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin, with encouragement from U.S. President Jimmy Carter, signed the Camp David Accords in 1978. The accords promised to set up self-governing authorities in Gaza and the West Bank within five years.

While the accords were a major step toward peace, they neither provided for a right of return for Palestinians who had fled the region nor dealt with the status of Jerusalem. They were far from a comprehensive peace agreement and were rejected by the Palestinian Liberation Organization and other Arab states. Although Sadat and Begin won the Nobel Peace Prize, Egypt was thrown out of the Arab League and Sadat assassinated in 1981.

The murderous Hamas invasion of Oct. 7 is the foreseeable consequence of the oppression of the Palestinian people and the failure to establish a lasting peace. That background does not justify those attacks. Nor does it make Israel responsible for the massacres.

To meet the requirements of the traditional just war theory, a military incursion must, among other things, have a reasonable probability of overcoming a grave injustice. The Hamas attack had a near-zero probability of enacting a just solution or of advancing that cause. It was an act of terrorism.

What about Israel’s response? Leading Catholic ethicist Germain Grisez wrote, “War can be just only if defensive military action is necessary to prevent, halt or limit others’ unjust use of force. So, for a war to be just, its goal cannot include the enemy’s total destruction or unconditional surrender.”

No military action can prevent an attack that has already occurred. Perhaps Israel’s retaliation is aimed at preventing future Hamas raids by rounding up the force’s leaders and many of its members. There is no evidence Hamas is planning future aggression, although it is likely they will strike again. One could argue that a precise, targeted operation to bring the organization under control is necessary.

But that is not what has happened. At this writing, Israel has, according to Palestinian authorities, killed at least 11,000 people, about 40 per cent of them children, as part of its onslaught. Water, food and electricity have been cut off from Gaza. Even if one grants the dubious assumption that Israel’s invasion is an act of self-defence, its attacks have been highly disproportionate compared with what a purely preventive operation would entail. One could maintain that Israel’s response has been an act of revenge aimed at the total destruction of Hamas as well as destroying the region’s infrastructure and killing large numbers of innocent civilians.

Pope Francis has said the just war theory is outdated, that modern weaponry means no war can be justified. Even if one maintains a restricted form of self-defence is justifiable in limited circumstances, there is no justice in the recent military actions of either Hamas or Israel.

(Glen Argan writes his online column Epiphany at

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