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Eugene KornMay 01, 2024
A poster depicting the Israeli-American hostage Hersh Goldberg-Polin is displayed in Re'im, southern Israel at the Gaza border, on Feb. 26, 2024, at a memorial site for the Nova music festival site where he was kidnapped by Hamas on Oct. 7, 2023. (AP Photo/Maya Alleruzzo, File)A poster depicting the Israeli-American hostage Hersh Goldberg-Polin is displayed in Re'im, southern Israel at the Gaza border, on Feb. 26, 2024, at a memorial site for the Nova music festival site where he was kidnapped by Hamas on Oct. 7, 2023. (AP Photo/Maya Alleruzzo, File)

Editor’s note: America is committed to publishing diverse views on the pressing issues of our time. For additional perspectives on the war in Gaza, read “Patriarch Sabbah: The Real Cause of the War in Gaza—and the Only Path to Peace” and Gerard O’Connell’s interview with David Neuhaus, S.J.

Many well-meaning people have urged an immediate cease-fire in the Israel-Hamas war in order to halt the killing that horrifies us all. In his Easter message, Pope Francis called for a cease-fire, although he did not specify whether he intended a permanent or temporary one. Others, like the 150 French Catholic officials who signed a statement published April 2 by the influential French Catholic journal La Croix, have demanded an immediate and permanent cease-fire.

Calls for a permanent cease-fire now raise important issues for all people—particularly faithful Catholics and faithful Jews—concerned with protecting human life.

I am an Israeli rabbi living in Jerusalem who has worked for decades toward the miraculous reconciliation of the Catholic Church and the Jewish people. Together with nearly 10 million citizens of Israel, I am existentially threatened by Hamas and Palestinian terrorists. From this perspective, I would like to ask a number of honest questions.

The proper religious and ethical response to the current conflict is a call for Israel to change its military tactics to better protect the civilians of Gaza. But does this require a cease-fire that leaves Israelis at the mercy of terror and violent evil? Shouldn’t such religious calls also make demands of Hamas, who initiated the slaughter on Oct. 7 and is thus responsible for the current war and the terrible carnage we are witnessing? At a minimum, such a religious call should demand that Hamas renounce violence, return the 133 Israeli hostages it continues to hold, and recognize Israel’s legitimacy and drop its commitment to destroy the only Jewish state, allowing Israelis to live in safety and security. That might open up possibilities for Israeli-Palestinian coexistence and a durable peace.

An immediate and permanent cease-fire would leave Hamas and its military capabilities in place and allow it to continue ruling Gaza. In such a scenario, who will protect me from the Hamas terrorists who, as the Hamas political bureau official Ghazi Hamad announced, pledge to do whatever they deem necessary to “remove” Israel from existence, even if that means repeating the Oct. 7 massacre of Israelis “again and again”—and possibly murdering, raping and kidnapping my family and neighbors?

If we are committed to establishing long-term peace, we cannot ignore that the preamble of Hamas’s founding covenant from 1988 calls for “the obliteration” of Israel, and that Article 13 of the covenant insists that “peaceful solutions and international conferences are in contradiction to the principles of Hamas” and that “there is no solution for the Palestinian question except through Jihad.” How would an immediate cease-fire prevent Hamas from committing politicide—that is, destroying the Jewish state and its citizens?

All God-fearing people yearn for peace, and none of us desire war and death. Yet a cease-fire that leaves at my doorstep the Hamas terrorists who are committed to killing me and other Jews and eliminating the Jewish state hardly seems like the way to achieve peace for both Israelis and Palestinians. Instead, it is more likely a prescription for future slaughter.

Christians in Gaza are not safe either. When Hamas took over Gaza in 2007, there were approximately 3,000 Christians living there. After 17 years of Hamas rule, there are fewer than 1,000 Christians left today. Soon after Hamas began ruling Gaza, the only Christian bookstore was fire-bombed twice, never to reopen, and its Christian owner, Rami Ayyad, was kidnapped and brutally murdered. Note that Article 11 of Hamas’s covenant proposes that Islamic Shariah law be applied throughout “the land of Palestine.” How do advocates of immediate cease-fire propose to protect the Christians in Gaza if it continues to be ruled by Hamas?

The Catholics who signed the statement in La Croix rightly identify as the disciples of Jesus, yet strangely they show little identification with, or concern for, Israeli Jews. Jesus was a Jew who lived his entire life in Jewish Judea and Galilee, now called Israel. (It was some 100 years after Jesus died that the Romans renamed Judea as Syria Palaestina in an attempt to suppress Jewish nationalism and rid Judea of its Jewish identity. The term is derived from the ancient biblical people, the Philistines, who were already long vanished when the Romans adopted the name.) If Jesus had been born in our time, I suspect he would be living amid his Jewish brothers and sisters in Galilee and studying Hebrew Scriptures and rabbinic wisdom, just as he actually did 2,000 years ago. And as a Jew living in Israel, he would be targeted for death by Hamas, just as I and my family are.

Our shared Scriptures command us to “destroy the evil in your midst” (Dt. 24:7). The Bible frames this as a religious obligation: Unless we stop people committed to perpetrating radical evil, God’s creation will be plunged back to primordial chaos and unceasing violence. On Oct. 7, 2023, Hamas terrorists murdered, beheaded, raped and kidnapped more than 1,000 innocent civilians. Surely everyone who believes in the Bible, the sanctity of human life and our Judeo-Christian values understands this barbarism as intrinsic evil. If so, how can leaving armed Hamas extremists free to continue butchering innocent people be correct morally or theologically?

I cannot but think of the lessons of World War II here, and the danger of underestimating antisemitism and direct threats to the Jewish people, as well as threats to the freedoms we all cherish. Should Jews and Catholics have called for the Allies to agree to a cease-fire with Hitler’s Germany, which would have left in power the Nazis committed to destroying both the Catholic Church and the Jewish people? Would this be any different than demanding an immediate and permanent cease-fire in Gaza today, risking the lives of Jews and other Israeli citizens?

Finally, allow me to say that I am a religious Jew, one who believes in the eternal covenant between God and the Jewish people that is central to all Hebrew Scriptures. As our shared Scriptures reiterate over and over, this covenant includes the right of Jewish residence, security and peace in the biblical land of Canaan, now called Israel. Faithful Catholics also believe in this biblical covenant, which Paul proclaimed 2,000 years ago (Rom 11:29) and which the Catholic Church today insists is irrevocable.

I ask sincere Catholics to put themselves in my shoes: If a permanent cease-fire leaving Hamas in power were signed tomorrow, knowing what it has done and what it pledges to do in the future, would you trust Hamas to let you and your children live in peace and security in our Holy Land?

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