Is Hamas/Israeli violence justified?

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Takeaways:

  • In light of atrocities, Hamas and Israeli violence is justified
  • But attacks against Israelis will not bring Palestinians freedom
  • And demolishing Gaza will not bring Israelis security
  • Each “justified” assault brings “justified” reprisals
  • Stop excusing murder and destruction by insisting it’s justified

Many years ago, when I asked Gene Sharp, the guru of nonviolence, if he thought violence was ever justified, this is what he said:

“I really don’t deal with the question of justification. If someone believes he should join the army I don’t say, ‘Well, you’re not my friend anymore.’ I say, ‘Well, good luck.’ Because the question of justification is not one that interests me. Maybe it should.”

I found his answer baffling. Sharp spent his life studying nonviolent resistance. How could he not be interested in what seemed to me such a core aspect of his research?1

In time, of course, I realized that what I really meant to ask him was: Is violence ever a better option than nonviolence? I was young and dumb (maybe not so young) and conflated the ideas of “justified” and “effective”.

But I am not alone. I see this confusion all the time whenever conflicts arise. The most recent illustration is the latest war between Hamas and Israel.

Time after time I hear partisans and pundits spouting the “justification” argument to justify more retribution against the other side.

As long as it’s justified, it’s okay to do it.

Palestinians have been under Israel’s colonial yoke for decades. They’ve been marginalized, mistreated and murdered. They are treated like aliens as their land in the West Bank is occupied by Israeli troops and illegal settlements. The Gaza Strip has been called an “open-air prison.”

So when, after years of oppression, Palestinian militants break out of their cage and savagely murder and kidnap Israeli citizens, is it justified?

Many would say yes, absolutely. But we must ask the question: will it bring freedom to Palestinians? Not a chance. Instead, expect to see more extreme oppression.

In response to the brutal Palestinian attack against its citizens, is Israel justified in leveling Gaza with rockets and airstrikes, killing thousands of residents while starving them of food, water and fuel?

Many would say yes, absolutely. But will it bring security to Israel? Hell no. More likely, an even more monstrous terrorist group will rise from the ashes of Gaza.

A violent reprisal will always be seen as justified by the victims of violence. But justification should not be the criteria by which we judge our response to violence.

Instead, we should be asking if our actions will further our cause. Will our response bring us closer to freedom or security? In other words, is it strategic, or just vengeful?

Sharp was not interested in whether violence could be justified because it does nothing to resolve the conflict. Justification is a moral question, not a political one.

In the years ahead, it’s hard to see anything coming out of this war except for more justified bloodshed. Expect to see the endless spiral of violence continue, with each justified assault bringing a justified counterattack.

We need to stop excusing murder and destruction by insisting it’s justified. Let’s call it what it is: revenge for revenge sake. Let’s start acting like rational, moral human beings who understand that freedom, security and peace can never come from violent reprisals, no matter how justified they might be.


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Text by James L. VanHise licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License.

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Footnotes

  1. Sharp was intent on finding a technique that could serve as functional substitute for violence. He was focused on the efficacy of nonviolent action, and less interested in what people might use it for.