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  • Reverend James Squire

The Question No One Wants To Ask


Photo by Tim Doerfler


There has been the killing of innocent people since October 7 when Hamas, a terrorist group, began the war on Israel killing innocent Israeli men, women, and children. One of the tenets of Hamas is the call for the destruction of Israel. As the war has gone on, we have seen Israel’s leadership indicate that they will kill every member of Hamas. Since Israel believes that Hamas chooses hospitals and civilian homes to hide Hamas soldiers and ammunition, the civilian population has been killed as well as members of Hamas.


The problem is that both Israel and Hamas have indicated that their killing of civilians is justified. They say, “It’s collateral damage, the price that must be paid.” The position of Hamas is that we, Hamas, are your revenge for atrocities perpetuated for decades by Israel. The position of Israel is that they must protect their homeland and their people.


The reason that there is a possibility that this war may spread to more countries in the Middle East is that the perception is that the United States “stands with Israel” and is not concerned with the citizens of Palestine who have been killed. The Israeli view has been articulated as Hamas is evil because of the way that Hamas attacked Israel.


There are many systems of ethics that could be helpful in resolving this situation. However, this situation is different and perhaps calls for a system that begins with the realization of the most difficult ethical dilemmas. We know the difference between right and wrong, black and white decisions. We even can work in the gray of two areas to reach a decision. But what do you do when two groups see themselves as both wrong or both groups are right. These are the decisions that are the MOST difficult to decide because the Israelis and Palestinians proclaim they are right. I could list multiple systems that could address this dilemma such as the via media which has at its heart that our decision is wrong but necessary or the lesser of two evils which both Israel and the Palestinians can take to justify their approach.


I think that right/right and wrong/wrong decisions can best be handled by Situation Ethics. This ethic contains that phrase that gives us the room to move around by using the Machiavellian Notion that the ends justify the means. Situation Ethics has its origin in bioethics where every day there are difficult decisions to make such as when to take a loved one off life support. We are stymied because no one has agreed on what should be the goal now for Israel and Gaza. The only answer and both groups are using it, is to beat the other group into submission which is not part of the Just War Clause. The war has to be fought in a conventional way which means soldiers fight but civilians don’t. Soldiers can be killed but civilians can’t.


But why not take the higher moral ground that works which seem to be coming from different parts of the world? Why not have as our goal to have a cease fire with this being moderated by the United Nations? This will be hard, but will keep all eyes on the prize, a ceasefire. There will be pushback that in the words of an Israeli general. “They started it. We are going to finish it!” What they seem to be holding on to is “We are right, and they are wrong.” This is said by both groups. The ends with the stated goal of “cease fire” is the best and, in my opinion, the only way to move forward. What we will see is who really is attempting to seek peace as a right way as opposed by those who want war of the worst kind devastating to their respective civilian populations. Solomon, King of Israel, had the same kind of difficulty when two women claimed to be the mother of an infant. Solomon said, “Since you can’t make a decision. I will split this child in half.” One of the women told him that he should give the child to the other woman as only a mother would do that to save her child. By this gesture, Solomon realized the real identity of the mother.


The simple truth is contained in something that we have all heard, “An eye for an eye as we seek revenge only makes the whole world blind.” We will continue to have sight if we set our souls on the ethical goal, cease fire. That cease fire could lead to another goal, a sense of security for Israel and the Palestinians that should be long term, and an examination of a two-state solution which many Middle East experts see as the only way forward. The question before the leaders of both Palestine and Israel, is what are the steps needed to accomplish the goal of peace amd for both nations to thrive.


What we are seeing right now are tensions between students who hold Israeli and Palestinian perspectives. There is a rise as well of antisemitism and anti-Palestinian views.


“Recently Susan Wild, Sarah Jacobs, and Jamie Raskin, three Jewish members of Congress, expressed compassion for victims of Hamas’s brutal and inexcusable attack and also noted a deep concern for Palestinian civilians caught in the middle of Israel’s military offensive.


They wrote, “As Jewish Members of Congress who have families and loved ones in Israel, we are sickened by Hamas brutal and inexcusable attack, we are grateful for the Biden Administration’s successful efforts to deliver humanitarian aid…it is clear that this aid alone is insufficient for the two million civilians in Gaza cannot survive without access to water, food, medicine and fuel resources that cannot get to those who need it without a temporary cessation of hostilities for humanitarian workers to do their job safely.”


The three members of congress intentionally avoided using the word, cease fire, which they thought was too political. Part of the problem today is that it is impossible to make a helpful statement without others taking it the wrong way usually to make their personal point of view known as truth. They may not always be right, but they are never in doubt.


Let me raise the question that no one wants to ask. It transcends a political response and is perhaps the most important question moving forward. After all of the devastation done to the people of Israel and Palestine, would they able to forgive one another?” In the words of the prophet Isaiah “beat their swords into ploughshares, and their spears into pruning hooks, nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war anymore.” (Isaiah 2:4)


As we continue to see this war through various media, make it personal. Could you forgive a group who has done so much harm to you, your family, and nation? Could I do that? That is the question that has not been raised and calls out for an answer as we watch this war brought into our living rooms in vivid color? It is a question that demands to be answered the sooner, the better whether the war continues or not. The words of Isaiah and Solomon are a good place to start to answer that question no one wants to ask.

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