Wednesday, January 07, 2009

Palestine, Israel and the Just War theory

How do we cope with the images coming from Gaza? I've just been looking at the guardian's photo gallery, where there is a striking photo of a woman weeping for 10 relatives killed in the Israeli air strike on the UN school yesterday. I cannot imagine how it must feel, such desolation. What is the reaction after the storm of grief? How are we to react?

The arithmetic is totally skewed: hundreds of dead compared to a handful of Israelis. The Palestinians have already lost so much at the hands of Israel, including a country where they were already living. Now they are herded into the margins, in a grim parody of Jewish ghettos and South African apartheid, cut off from the land their fathers farmed by walls and barbed wire. Does that weeping woman curse Hamas for firing the rockets that provoked this response? Or does she feel - if she has any feeling left - that this is the only possible thing to do in protest? But how do the relatives of the handful of dead Israelis feel? Obviously it's no better knowing that you're one of only half a dozen if it's your brother who is dead - so do they cheer on the troops who so outnmber the "insurgents" they are determined to crush? I am reminded of the days when, in my role as a CND activist, I spoke at the RCC in Edinburgh. In these days, much was made of the "Just War" theory. We were talking nukes then, but surely this is not a just war by any standards - let alone that of proportionate response.

And why do the rest of us seem to be letting this happen? We look at these dead children and wailing mourners, we see the abject poverty of the environment which is now being pounded to rubble, we watch doctors working in squalor to save lives as the drugs run out. A westernised power which we helped to plank in the middle of Palestine seems to have learned the worst possible lessons from its people's history and looks as if it is trying to eliminate the original inhabitants. What failure of imagination drives their leaders? These articulate and terrifying Israelis with American accents - what business have they there?

Daniel Barenboim, writing in the guardian last week, said this:
Palestinian violence torments Israelis and does not serve the Palestinian cause; Israeli retaliation is inhuman, immoral, and does not guarantee security. The destinies of the two peoples are inextricably linked, obliging them to live side by side. They have to decide if they want to make of this a blessing or a curse.

But until there is real justice for the wretched people of Palestine, it is hard to see how they can see any blessing in the proximity of their neighbours.


  1. I'm entirely with you on this Chris. The use of tanks and artillery, air power and ground troops, the implementation of mercilessness as an acceptable political stance, and the fatalist rhetoric of no other option - of all peoples on earth Israel should recognise the indefensibility of such excessively lethal self-defence; and this in a land where the lex talionis, that principle of proportionality we call an eye for an eye, is enshrined in the laws of three Abrahamic faiths. If the merciful are blessed because they showed mercy, what about the merciless? Thanks for your post, Chris.

  2. It seems that only the bloggers are speaking out against this. What a tragedy. I can only hope that in 12 days the world will have a leader who is brave enough to stand up. But what will the world be like in 12 days. I hate to imagine.

  3. Left a response to your comment on my blog. I reckon a lot of those involved in leading worship this week are going to find leading intercessions an exercise in diplomacy - but those offended by prayers for peace must be a bit embarrassed by recent celebrations of the Prince of Peace....

  4. Having listened to some of the coverage of this on TV and radio I despair too. The idea of wiping out Hamas smacks very much of what the Jews suffered under the Nazis. Although Hamas has great deal to answer for as well. Surely you should learn from history? Talk - negotiate - live together? We are all in one world. I would have thought Israel could have taken the 'higher ground'.
    Sorry this sounds trite, but I feel strongly - like you - about this.