As Palestinians and Israelis mourn the tragic deaths of their loved ones, worry for those missing or taken captive, and attempt to treat the wounded, even as violence and bloodshed continue to rage, we believe that it is necessary to assert a basic tenet of Palestinian Liberation Theology; namely, violence is never the answer.
While insisting on the essential need for justice, Palestinian Christians from all denominations have asserted the fundamental truth that war and violence are never options for the followers of Jesus Christ. He is, after all, the Prince of Peace who in the Beatitudes proclaims, “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called children of God.” Jesus also introduces us to the radical idea that those who would follow him are called upon to love their enemies, not to hate them.
Throughout history, Christians (often on both sides of any conflict) have developed a variety of theories to justify war and the killing of others. Three prominent justifications for the use of violence include:
- “Just War Theory,”
- “duty or deference to the authorities,” and
- “defense of one’s country or people.”
The vast majority of Palestinian Christians, by contrast, have followed the example of Jesus and the early church, rejecting violence totally. Such a radical stance is sorely needed as it concerns the present crisis. This is not just a theological and spiritual orientation. It is a realistic assessment that, for Israeli Jews and Palestinian Arabs, violence will never be able to provide each community with what they ultimately need. Exertions of military power to force (or “deter”) the other side into submission have proven futile.
Given the asymmetry of power in the region, it has always been clear that violence and paramilitary force will never achieve the liberation that Palestinians seek, a reality and a truth we see confirmed in recent events.
Similarly, events on October 7 have also made clear that even the most sophisticated security technology, maintained by one of the world’s most powerful militaries, with the backing of a global superpower, cannot insulate a colonialist regime or subdue a determined people desperate for freedom, a people who are willing to tolerate extraordinary suffering at the hands of vastly superior forces, rather than accept defeat and submission.
The world may not always agree with or understand the path or logic of nonviolence. The natural, even biological, response in situations of conflict is to “fight or flight,” to double down on violence, seeking retribution and revenge. There exists, therefore, a great need for us to model an alternative response to situations of conflict and injustice. In doing so, we declare that it is indeed possible to achieve our goals and fulfill our desires through mutual agreement and understanding. Following the example of Jesus Christ, such empathy and understanding may in fact transform enemies into friends. As the Apostle Paul declares:
Do not repay anyone evil for evil. Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everyone. If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone. Do not take revenge, my dear friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written: “It is mine to avenge; I will repay,” says the Lord. On the contrary: “If your enemy is hungry, feed them; if they are thirsty, give them something to drink. In doing this, [they will burn with shame at their misdeeds].” Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.
As the Board of Trustees at Friends of Sabeel North America (FOSNA), we reiterate our commitment to this truth and say with conviction that there is no military solution to this problem. Both Palestinians and Israelis are children of God worthy of freedom, dignity, and security. We must pursue these aims, but we cannot use violence as a tool to pursue them. Whatever fresh horrors our opponents are committing, our response should not be violence. We must reject the tired refrain that “our enemies only understand the language of force.” Only in this way can we proclaim good news in this broken world.