A White House fence was vandalized Saturday night as pro-Palestinian protesters shook the gate to one entrance to the executive mansion. Some chanted obscenities about President Biden.
This was just one of many such events across the country over the weekend as protesters rallied to demand a ceasefire in the Israel–Hamas war. They were not alone in their sentiments: US Secretary of State Antony Blinken called for “humanitarian pauses” in the fighting to allow more deliveries into Gaza of food, water, medicine, and other supplies, echoing a similar call by President Biden earlier in the week. The New York Times editorial board agreed, as have numerous US political leaders and Arab ministers in the region.
The Palestinian death toll has risen above nine thousand since the conflict began; more than 3,900 of the total, roughly 40 percent, were under the age of eighteen. A journalist, grieving the death of a fellow journalist and eleven members of his family, said, “We can’t bear this anymore. We are exhausted, we are here victims and martyrs awaiting our deaths, we are dying one after the other and no one cares about us or the large-scale catastrophe and the crime in Gaza.”
In the face of such tragic suffering, widespread calls for a ceasefire or at least a “humanitarian pause” in the fighting are understandable. But there’s more to the story.
Why the “true fight” has not yet begun
The Wall Street Journal editorial board warns that a “pause” in the conflict would only strengthen Hamas. In their view, “The way to help Palestinian civilians isn’t to slow the Israeli advance. The less control Hamas has over Gaza’s streets, the more civilians can escape the fighting and the more aid can be brought in securely.”
They note that “the ground invasion has already allowed humanitarian assistance to ramp up, with more than one hundred truckloads now arriving each day.” And they warn that “Hamas would use freedom of action to keep civilians as shields and pilfer more aid—limiting what Israel can let in.”
All this while, according to the Jerusalem Post, the “true fight” has not yet begun. It notes that most Hamas terrorists are in the southern part of Gaza, where Israel Defense Forces (IDF) soldiers have not yet advanced. The IDF’s incursion into Gaza has not killed or arrested the vast majority of Hamas’s forces, which number approximately forty thousand and prepared for Israel’s invasion by creating a vast web of fortified tunnels. Nor has the IDF’s advance slowed, much less eliminated, rocket fire by Hamas on southern Israel and the Tel Aviv area.
“If we do not defeat Hamas, we cannot survive here”
Hamas officials and soldiers are known to hide in hospitals and among civilians. For example, an Israeli airstrike on Friday hit an ambulance that the IDF claims was being used by a Hamas terrorist cell.
Hamas has also spent years stockpiling enough fuel, food, and medicine in its tunnels to keep fighting for three or four months without resupply. Meanwhile, Palestinian civilians face massive shortages amid a growing humanitarian crisis.
All this to say, if Israel continues its offensive against Hamas, things are likely to get much, much worse for civilians in Gaza. However, as I noted a few days ago, if Israel does not defeat Hamas to such an extent that Jewish citizens feel they and their families are safe in their country again, many may immigrate to other countries, imperiling the future of the nation and fulfilling Hamas’s stated goal to “obliterate” Israel from the region.
This is why one Israeli commander stated, “If we do not defeat Hamas, we cannot survive here.”
So, Israel has to defeat Hamas without incurring civilian casualties to the degree that America stops supporting the war and jihadist groups in Lebanon and the West Bank join the conflict. But incurring such casualties is a central part of Hamas’s nefarious strategy to turn world opinion and Muslims in the region against Israel.
“Peace is not the mere absence of war”
My purpose today is twofold: First, to explain briefly why the conflict between Israel and Hamas is so complicated, defying simple resolution. Second, to use this crisis to illustrate our abiding need for the only true peace humans can experience in this fallen world.
In his Sermon on the Mount, Jesus declared, “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied” (Matthew 5:6). He also stated, “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God” (v. 9). In Gaudium et Spes (Latin for “joy and hope”), the Second Vatican Council noted:
Peace is not the mere absence of war or the simple maintenance of a balance of power between forces, nor can it be imposed at the dictate of absolute power. It is called, rightly and properly, a work of justice. It is the product of order, the order implanted in human society by its divine founder, to be realized in practice as men hunger and thirst for ever more perfect justice.
As a result, “peace” is a “fruit of the Spirit” that proceeds from “love” (Galatians 5:22). Accordingly,
If peace is to be established it is absolutely necessary to have a firm determination to respect other persons and peoples and their dignity, and to be zealous in the practice of brotherhood. Peace is therefore the fruit also of love: love goes beyond what justice can achieve.
Thus, peace ultimately depends on knowing the One who promised, “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you” (John 14:27). As a result:
Peace on earth, born of love for one’s neighbor, is the sign and the effect of the peace of Christ that flows from God the Father. In his own person the incarnate Son, the Prince of Peace, reconciled all men to God through his death on the cross.
Paul greeted his readers, “Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ” (Philippians 1:2). Note the order: we must experience God’s grace to have true peace with him, others, and ourselves.
The old truism is true: No God, no peace. Know God, know peace.
What will you do to know God and make him known today?
NOTE: Do you know why Jesus was called Immanuel? Or why it matters? You’ll learn the answer in our new Advent devotional, The Gift of Immanuel, which I encourage you to request today. But even more than the knowledge of that name, you’ll be drawn into the Lord’s presence in humility and gratitude for the incredible gift we were given at Christmas.