Can Israel love its enemies in Gaza and keep its people safe?

Israel Gaza
Many of my fellow Christians see Jesus’ command to “love our enemies” as an impossible moral standard that we are exempted from fulfilling by accepting Jesus’ sacrifice for our sins. What’s even more ludicrous to many is to claim that Jesus’ teachings are relevant not only in private life but in the most complex geopolitical situations. I am convinced that loving your enemies is not only a moral standard but could be a very successful foreign policy strategy, even though it gets laughed out of the room by the same people who claim to advocate “Biblical” values in our government. What would loving your enemies look like in the greatest foreign policy crisis in the world now? What would it look like for Israel to love Gaza?

The first objection that other Christians make when I propose this in conversations online is to say that loving your enemies amounts to “appeasing” them like Neville Chamberlain did to Hitler in the 1930’s. But this is a misunderstanding of love in the Biblical sense. Ephesians 4:15 tells us to “speak the truth in love,” because love and truth cannot be separated. In a marital relationship, “appeasing” an abusive spouse is not loving. So a call upon Israel to love Gaza is not a call for appeasement; it’s a call to treat Gazans with unilateral, unconditional dignity, which does not have to do with abdicating your responsibility to protect your citizens, but rather to replace the logic of retribution with pragmatism in dealing with your security threats.

For example, the rocket attacks from Gaza have shown that Israel’s blockade of Gaza has utterly failed to achieve its stated objective of preventing weapons from entering the country, though it has destroyed the Gazan economy and caused an unemployment rate of almost 30%. Young men who are unemployed and have no hope for the future become terrorists. From a pragmatic standpoint, it makes the most sense for Israel to end the blockade. This is consistent with Benjamin Netanyahu’s insistence that economic development is the solution to the Palestinian/Israeli conflict. But many would object to removing the Gaza blockade because they see it under the logic of retribution as “rewarding” the terrorists.

In the Hebrew Bible which Christians and Jews share as scripture, Proverbs 25:21-22 says: “If your enemy is hungry, give him food to eat; if he is thirsty, give him water to drink. In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head, and the Lord will reward you.” These “burning coals” are the seeds of conviction. When you treat your enemy with unilateral dignity, you make it possible for your enemy to see your humanity. This is not weakness; this is power deployed subversively as love. As long as the conflict remains a battle of wills, the more that Israel deploys its overwhelming firepower punitively in Gaza, the more that every Palestinian’s existential survival is defined as a refusal to let Israel win, which means that barring genocide, the rockets will never stop.

One belief that Jews and Christians share is that there is a thing in the universe that is the source of all evil. The ancient Hebrews called this thing the satan, the “accuser” or the “heckler.” The Greeks called itdiabolos, which is a compound word combining ballo, “to throw,” with dia, “amidst,” rendering a translation of “bomb-thrower,” or if you prefer, the Great Terrorist. Satan, the Great Terrorist, wreaks havoc on humanity by throwing spiritual and physical bombs in our midst that cause us define other people, whom Satan might be using to throw his bombs, as terrorists who don’t deserve to live.

The broader the range of people you define as terrorists unfit to live, the more thoroughly you serve the Great Terrorist. The reason that Hamas commits terrorism against Israel is because they have defined all Israelis, civilian and military, as terrorists who don’t deserve to live. While this is absurdly evil and unjust, Israel contributes to this mentality with its policy that not only can Hamas members be assassinated at any time without trial or warning, but their families don’t deserve to live either, at least not in their homes. Most of the civilian casualties in the recent Gaza flare-up have been the result of deliberately bombing the houses of Hamas members’ families. Making a robocall to the house in advance may give the Israeli military spokesperson a talking point, but it hasn’t prevented civilian casualties.

Furthermore, the practice of extrajudicial assassination itself is problematic from a pragmatic standpoint. The military chief of Hamas, Ahmed Jabari, was killed while in the process of negotiating a ceasefire, which triggered a furious retribution in response. Jabari’s relationships with the other rocket-launching fringe groups in Gaza who are way more radical than Hamas was the reason that ceasefires were possible in the past. His death is why they may be impossible in the future.

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What Christians believe is that every single one of us needs to be rescued from the Great Terrorist. Nobody is irredeemably trapped in his clutches. Those of us who have escaped must put forward every effort to help liberate those who haven’t. Christians believe that we are saved from the retribution cycle that is Satan’s death-trap for humanity through Jesus’ death on the cross for our sins and the sins of everyone who has hurt us. Because Jesus paid the price for all sin, I gain the freedom to admit my mistakes without losing face and to treat my enemies with unilateral dignity regardless of how much evil they inflict on me.

There is nothing more powerful than responding to hate with love. And since I believe that Jesus defeated Satan through the cross, I believe love can indeed defeat hate even without the intervention of some kind of fire and brimstone finale by which God inverts the logic of the cross to finish the job as though Jesus’ work were inadequate. I remain unconvinced that John the Revelator’s vision for the fall of the Roman Empire has to be the destiny of humanity instead of the Hebrew prophet Isaiah’s vision of a Zion where swords are bent into plowshares (Isaiah 2:2-4).

I’m not saying that Israeli Jews need to become Christian. Based on what I have read from Jewish thinkers like Martin Buber, Abraham Heschel, Hannah Arendt, Judith Butler and Immanuel Levinas, the Jewish tradition has its own resources for understanding the power of love over hate better than most Christians do, at least in America. But knowing the beauty of Jewish thought, I ask the same question that King Jehoshaphat asked King Ahab in 1 Kings 22: “Is there no longer a prophet of the Lord in Israel?” Someone in Israel needs to be the Micaiah ben Imlah from that story and declare that the path of endless retribution will never result in victory.

Israel can be a better agent for peace when they are willing to do more than appease the consciences of their benefactors with precision weaponry. They need not compromise their security to engage in good faith acts of genuine care for their enemies’ dignity and flourishing of life. I don’t know how to reason with Hamas, but I know that people in Israel believe in Zion, the mountain of God’s peace that Isaiah dreamed about. It is not a mountain built with checkpoints and barbed wire fences, but one built by God through the power of His love. All the nations will stream to it when the Great Terrorist is banished from their midst forever.


Morgan Guyton is the associate pastor of Burke United Methodist Church in Burke, Virginia, and a Christian who continues to seek God’s liberation from the prison of self-justification Jesus died to help him overcome. Morgan’s blog “Mercy Not Sacrifice” is located at http://morganguyton.wordpress.com. Follow Morgan on twitter at www.twitter.com/maguyton.

Photo Credit: Adel Hana / AP

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About the Author

Morgan Guyton

Morgan GuytonMorgan Guyton is the associate pastor of Burke United Methodist Church in Burke, Virginia, and a Christian who continues to seek God’s liberation from the prison of self-justification Jesus died to help him overcome. Morgan’s blog “Mercy Not Sacrifice” is located at http://morganguyton.wordpress.com. Follow Morgan on twitter at www.twitter.com/maguyton.View all posts by Morgan Guyton →

  • 21st C. Episcopalian

    I like your phrase “Great Terrorist”. That really adds color and texture to the spiritual battle that goes on behind the scenes.

    I disagree with your comment in 2nd to last paragraph (“I’m not saying that Israeli Jews need to become Christian”). I think they should. Jesus himself longed to gather them together and wept over them.

    We should desire that the real true freedom to live and love, which can ONLY be found in the person and work of Jesus Christ, would come into the hearts/souls of all peoples and all cultures/nations/tribes everywhere. Israel, Palestine, the Middle East, America, everywhere.

    • http://twitter.com/MAGuyton Morgan Guyton

      I don’t disagree with you about everyone’s need for the gospel, but I am very wary of supersessionism. The Jews have a covenant; we have a covenant. I think that Jews should worship Jesus, but supersessionism in the past resulted in anti-Semitism and the Holocaust, so I’m very cautious about it.

      • 21st C. Episcopalian

        Morgan, caution heeded. Thanks for the clarification. You’re right; we need to be careful.

        But I’m not certain that holding a theological view that the “new” Israel can be seen now as the full body of believers in Jesus Christ (which is what Apostle Paul refers to, along with Peter, etc) and that the old covenant claims towards blessing/land/etc have been fulfilled and superceded by Jesus would then automatically lead to anti-Semitism. Granted, there are competing views regarding Israel here, but bottom line to me is that Israel/Judaism is more like John the Baptist preparing the way or Mary gestation/birthing the Christ… both pointing towards a deeper truer fulfillment.

        But, re: the tendency towards anti-Semitism by those who hold this view. I don’t agree the view itself is to blame. To me, the anti-Semitism (Holocaust, as extreme example) flows more from a terribly misguided theology of self-righteousness; On the “positive” side: My self, my culture, my country over and above the ________ (fill in blank) others. Jews being the easy target here. Or on the “negative” side: The Jews ignored, tortured, and killed the Messiah Jesus, and “we” are better than that. Let’s enact violence and revenge. Obviously a short simplistic summary, but you get the gist.

        Side Note: Let’s remember it was NOT the Jews who killed our Lord, NOR was it the Empire (the latest buzzword, zzzz), but rather it was YOU and ME: The people of God, we, are responsible for the death of Jesus due to our sin. Picking at Judaism or the “Empire”, etc is simply denying the obvious and avoiding the power of the gospel.

        • Jonathan

          Sounds so spiritual to say you and me put Jesus on the cross, but it was the Jews (Dominant Religious System) and the Empire (Dominant Sociopolitical System), but behind those systems was the Evil one. And also you and me (sin of Adam). It was all those things.

          Christ picked on the Empire, Christ picked on the Dominant Religious System?

          What was the “sin” of Israel? Iniquity, usury, transgression?

          DANGER! CAUTION!: I think it’s dangerous to overspiritualize the cross. So much that it makes Jesus out to be just some misunderstood healer, as opposed to someone who really challenged the dominant sociopolitical and religious culture.

          I also think it can be a Westernized Cross guilt tactic. To tell people they put Jesus on the cross.

          • 21st C. Episcopalian

            I’m not disagreeing that the dominant religious and sociopolitical systems weren’t at play. What I was doing, and I think you should’ve gotten the gist, is to bring back the need for personal reflection on sin/guilt. I stand by my comment, YOU and I (along with all others including Jews/Empire) killed Jesus. All guilty. “For all have sinned and have fallen short of the glory of God”, etc, etc. (assuming we believe the non-red letters are also inspired by God)

          • Jonathan

            Yes, but the idea personal reflection and personal Jesus is already imbalanced and already is epidemic in the West. So much so that Christians don’t believe Jesus had a sustainable Ethos that was impactful to the Dominant Sociopolitical Culture. (ie. The first line of this article: Many of my fellow Christians see Jesus’ command to “love our enemies” as an impossible moral standard that we are exempted from fulfilling by accepting Jesus’ sacrifice for our sins.) Therefore you don’t have to do anything to bring back the need for personal reflection, because it’s already there. This is why I’m scratching my head at your comment.

          • 21st C. Episcopalian

            Your comment, “One view of the atonement loves guilt factor, the other sees it as a liberation movement” tells me everything I need to know about your view of scripture as well as your posture of argumentation. I don’t come on this blog to have back-and-forth chest pumps against pomo revisionists that get their panties up in a bunch. But since you brought up the atonement, let me clarify:

            The view that Xp death was Christus Victor is completely correct. I’m in complete argreement with that view as there is scriptural text/context to back that up. But let’s add Christ as example; dying as an example of self-sacrificial love. Let’s add ransom theory as well, to a degree, as we can’t simply throw away Mt20:28/Mk10:45. But we MUST add the integral view of substitutionary atonement. Can’t avoid it if you take honest reading of scripture as it occurs from beginning to end.

            Much like a beautiful diamond glistening and shining brilliantly in a multi-faceted way, as it’s turned another facet gleams in view, so to the multi-faceted work of Xp on the Cross. To go for a simplification reductionistic approach by choosing only one of those facets (ie; Christus Victor) is to snip and chop much of scripture away.

            Substitutionary atonement: From beginning (Gen 3 where innocent animals were presumably killed in order that there be skins available to cover the newly fallen Ad/Eve) to end (Revelation, where Xp is called the Lamb).

            Speaking of lamb, why would John the Baptist refer to Jesus as “the lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world”? Not because Jesus was fluffy and white, or a dirty farm animal. But because he was the complete perfect fulfillment of everything the OT sacrificial system pointed to: Genesis (cov’t by walking through animal parts; ch.22 Abraham deferred from sacrificing Isaac), Exodus from Egypt (so many 100s/1000s innocent lambs died for blood on doorposts as substitution, Passover meals, high priest at the altar and in the holy of holies, etc, etc, etc. And ALL of that OT foundational understanding/experience in mind when John Baptist calls Jesus “Lamb of God”.

            But it doesn’t stop there, Xp referred to as lamb multiple times by Apostles Peter, Paul, etc, Again, from Genesis to Revelation, God’s story of redemptive LOVE is that the guilty are freed from power and guilt of sin by the sacrifice of an perfect unblemished innocent victim in our place: Jesus himself.

            You can’t deny the text is filled with this; you can’t explain it away. So to say Christus Victor is exactly correct. But so many other facets including substitutionary atonement.

            This view has nothing to do with guilt factor -vs- liberation movement. It has everything to do with BOTH together.

            But understanding this shouldn’t give us hard hearts towards Israel or anyone else. Quite the opposite. It should warm our hearts with the thanksgiving that though we were “dead in trespasses and sins”, now we are made “alive in Christ” (adopted sons/daughters, ransomed prisoners, servants of the King, victoriously redeemed and filled with spirit of God’s grace and love. Love for all other people/peoples regardless their background, culture, gender, race, etc.

            Peace. I don’t have time for back-n-forth, so go in joy and love if I don’t get back to this page to read your reply (if you even read my comments here)

          • Jonathan

            It’s interesting to see the things scratching under the surface.
            —-
            I see the cross as the definitive revelation of “Enemy Love.”
            —-
            I Also liked this paragraph from the article: There is nothing more powerful than
            responding to hate with love. And since I believe that Jesus defeated
            Satan through the cross, I believe love can indeed defeat hate even
            without the intervention of some kind of fire and brimstone finale by
            which God inverts the logic of the cross to finish the job as though
            Jesus’ work were inadequate. I remain unconvinced that John the
            Revelator’s vision for the fall of the Roman Empire has to be the
            destiny of humanity instead of the Hebrew prophet Isaiah’s vision of a
            Zion where swords are bent into plowshares (Isaiah 2:2-4).
            —-
            “And since I believe that Jesus defeated
            Satan through the cross,” (Christus Victor)
            —–
            The focus wasn’t that our sins or anyone elses placed Jesus on the cross (Westernized). It, the cross, turns our eyes away from ourselves to the one who did this marvelous thing. Defeat of the enemy and a life in the resurrection (Eastern). The Creative suffering and the resurrection of Jesus is the heart of Non-violence (My Opinion). To focus on us being responsible (guilt) for Jesus on the cross is to focus on the wrong part of the story, though it is part, but not the only part.

  • Drew

    I thought this was a terrible article, full of moral equivalence, talking up Hamas and talking down Israel, in a typically liberal slant of the situation, but then you finally admitted “I don’t know how to reason with Hamas.” That’s the key, and I’m glad you understand. At the end of the day, the satanic terrorists of Hamas have fired 12000 rocket indiscriminately at Israel over 10 years… that’s just rocket attacks, not other kinds of acts of terrorism. Granted, I think you are right, that Israel has a responsibility to try to find a way to show love to the enemy. However, I think they have shown remarkable restraint, given their circumstances.

    • http://twitter.com/MAGuyton Morgan Guyton

      Please give an example of “moral equivalence” that you found in the article.

      • Drew

        “While this is absurdly evil and unjust,
        Israel contributes to this mentality with its policy that not only can
        Hamas members be assassinated at any time without trial or warning…”

        The moral equivalence, of course, is that while you admit Hamas wants the extinction of the Israeli people and will use any means necessary including intentional targeting of civilians, that Israel is somehow “contributing” to this by assassinating said terrorists, as if this act were somehow equally unjust.

        There are two problems with this
        statement. The first is a matter of opinion – I think Israel
        contributes very little to Hamas’ “mentality.” The primary motivator is
        the Qur’an. The second is a matter of fact – obviously you are not
        going to “warn” somebody before you assassinate them, and obviously you
        are assassinating someone because you cannot bring them to trial. The
        statement, on its face, is a ridiculous requirement for Israel to meet. In fact, you’re seeming to suggest that it would be more just to a) Let him live and do nothing or b) Declare war, invade, capture him alive, and put him on trial. I think both of those were bad options.

  • JJ Quaker

    Thank you! I have been looking for a Christian perspective that I can find Christ- like. I have been reading Jimmy Carter’s, Palestine: Peace Not Apartheid for his perspective.

  • Nathanael Snow

    Morgan, go further.
    What Israelis who care about the Gazaians can do is to go live with them, and to invite them to live in Israel. Forfeit their own power and privilege, and dignify those they have been treating as other. This is what Christians could have done for the Jews in the wake, nay in the beginning, of the Holocaust. We could have invited them to come live with us. Instead we sent them to Palestine.
    We can go live among the Gazaians. We can dignify them. We can invite them to love with us. Unfortunately, our own wicked government prohibits us from being hospitable in this way. We ought to do it anyway, in humble defiance.

  • http://www.google.com/profiles/GaryFPatton GaryFPatton

    Mr. Guyton you write: ” Jabari’s relationships with the other rocket-launching fringe groups in Gaza who are way more radical than Hamas was the reason that ceasefires were possible in the past. His death is why they may be impossible in the future.”

    Might not the constant need to re-negotiate ceasefires justify Israel from using its “sword”, from a New Covenant perspective, to protect it’s citizens? Would this not be especially the case with Iranian rockets being directed at new Hamas et. al. heavily-populated fronts, Jerusalem & Tel Aviv?

    Violence does often beget violence as you imply!

    But in this situation, which is a war, is retribution not the Holy Spirit-mandated role of the state, “…a minister of God to you for good” rather than “evil” as you describe it? (http://diigo.com/0kmml) Are not Jesus’ peace-making commands of non-violence limited ONLY to His followers …not states or its non-Follower citizens irrespective of their wisdom? (http://diigo.com/0kmlr) You will find my further comments on this issue in my e-Sticky Notes attached to the Scriptures on Bible Gateway at the above links.

    Was it not a misunderstanding and lack of ability to imagine the brutal behaviours, nature and true source of evil against freedom-loving people, worldwide, via Nazi and Japanese Fascism what resulted in Auschwitz and Pearl Harbour? Historians say so! Did not these same challenges of western leaders and their freedom-loving citizens also precipitate 9/11? The 9/11Commission said so!

    My fear for world peace Is that non-Islamic peoples same misunderstanding and inability to imagine is now precipitating “Christian Winter” rather than Arab Spring via Islamo-fascism and that the true root of these horrors is an accurate reading of Qur’an …not a bad reading of a so-called peaceful book by jihadist terrorists. You will discover by reading many verses of the Islamic Holy Book in context that Muslims are clearly commanded to riot and terrorize Infidels (Qur’an 8:39) plus extort/persecute (9:29), rape (23:5; 70:30), and mutilate/murder Infidels (5:33 & 9:5) …especially Christians and Jews by name (4:51-52; 5:59-60).

  • Abe

    There are a number of problems with this article. Let’s start with two major issues:

    1. “Young men who are unemployed and have no hope for the future become terrorists.” This is a false statement. It does not hold true in almost any part of the globe anywhere. Poverty in and of itself does not lead to crime and certainly not to terrorism. What is more, the Intifada started three times by now by the Palestinians leads to increased unemployment as before the Intifada, many of these Palestinians were indeed working for Israelis in Israel!

    2. You speak about Israel feeding the Gazans. Please go and study the facts. ALL of the electricity and telephone services as well as much of the water supply to the Gaza Strip is supplied by Israel. None of this was cut off during any of the conflicts Israel has had with the Palestinians of the Strip. Israel trucks loads of food and medical supplies into Gaza weekly, an operation that was continued during the periods of open conflict. On a personal level, there are many acts of kindness performed such as an Israeli optician from one of the kibbutzim bordering on the Strip donating a pair of eyeglasses to a 9 year old girl in the Strip just last week.

    The real question is where are the acts of kindness from the other side? Israel has plenty of moral values backing up its behavior towards the Palestinians and towards people of other faiths in general and does not need to be lectured on this point. And I will be glad to admit that things are not perfect here, but anyone who can claim that Israel has not done a lot towards treating its enemy with respect, a respect that it does not deserve, is blind to the facts on the ground.

    • Drew

      Thanks for contributing, Abe.

      On another thread, a commenter posted a document written by the Palestinian Christians. It actually had the audacity to say that Israel really isn’t acting in self-defense against terrorism, because the “resistance” (code word for terrorism) is a response to the occupation, and that if the occupation ended, that the “resistance” would cease, so in essence Israel is responsible for the terrorism, and responding to the terrorism instead of ceasing occupation is another act of terrorism. Unbelievable.

      • Abe

        Drew, that is indeed unbelievable. Terrorism (“resistance”) against the Jewish settlers of the area now known as Israel began years before the so-called “occupation” of 1967, as already in the 1920s, years before there was even a Jewish state, Jews were murdered by local Arabs in terrorist acts. another example is the fact that the famous resistance movement to the Israeli occupation, the PLO, was founded in 1964. When they stated in their charter that their goal was to liberate Palestine from the hands of the Zionists it was not to liberate the West Bank or Gaza, but the rest of the territory then known as Israel; in short, to dismantle the Jewish state in its entirety. Anyone following the rhetoric of the local Arab (Hamas) leadership will see that they have rarely veered from that stated goal to this day.

        Thanks for your comments as well.

        • Drew

          Exactly – not only is the goal of Hamas to eliminate the Israeli state in its entirety, but Hamas is backed by Iran, which wants to eliminate the Israeli people in their entirety, and provide weapons to Hamas and develops their own nuclear weapons as a means to achieve that goal.

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