Context Is Key

The article by Regina Munch (“‘Birth Doesn’t Wait,’” March) is correct that “Birth doesn’t wait. Pain doesn’t wait.” Her article accurately states that the only thing that will end the terrible suffering of all women and children in Gaza is to end the war there. We pray and hope that this will happen soon. We also pray that Hamas will release the prisoners they captured on October 7, and that all terrorists will be eradicated or retrained. 

But this article, like so many others, does not put Israel’s invasion of Gaza in context. And context, during an act of war, is everything. “Collateral damage” is a terrible euphemism for killing and injuring innocent civilians. Moral and ethical discussions about the doctrine of double effect or the principle of proportionality have been twisted to justify acts of war.

Munch, like many others, focuses entirely on what Israel has done, and suggests that they have a choice (end the war). But context is everything. Hamas, by their own admission, places little value on human life, including their own women and children. And they have vowed to continue to exterminate Jews.

After October 7, Israel had no choice but to try to rid Gaza of the terrorists who have hidden among civilians in a network of tunnels, hospitals, and homes in Gaza. Hamas uses pregnant women (Palestinian civilians) as human shields in order to make Israel look like the aggressor.

Hamas openly admits their goal of eradicating Israel and killing all Jews. Munch, like other writers, legitimately criticizes the tragic effects of Israeli actions in its war against Hamas, but this has to be considered in the context of Hamas’s commitment to genocide. Statements by Hamas itself make clear that Israel has no choice, because Hamas is committed to destroying Israel and killing Jews and Israelis worldwide. If Israel was like Hamas, and did not care about babies and mothers, they would have bombed the Gaza strip during the second week of October in a proportional response to Hamas’s terrorism and commitment to genocide. Instead, they actually value human life, including women and babies.

W. Anthony Gerard
Palmyra, Pa.

Regina Munch replies: 

Where W. Anthony Gerard and I differ is in our assessment of whether Israel has “no choice” in whether or how to conduct its war in Gaza. Israel’s military strategy is mostly beyond the scope of my article, but it is one of many choices that Israel is making that it could have made otherwise. In the first days after October 7, Israel made clear that it would pursue the total eradication of Hamas—a goal that we know from our own history of attempting to destroy groups like al-Qaeda or ISIS is both unrealistic and counterproductive and would result in widespread suffering for the people of Gaza.

Once the war began, the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) had to make difficult choices about how much loss of civilian life is morally acceptable in each operation to eradicate a military target (this is what’s referred to as “proportionality”). This was complicated by the fact that Hamas is intentionally hiding and conducting its operations among civilians. But in responding to this fact, Israel has, at best, shown extreme disregard for civilian life. Haaretz found that over 60 percent of people who have died in Israeli airstrikes in Gaza were civilians, higher than average for conflicts after World War II. A study at Lawfare found that Israel’s proportionality calculation is several times higher than what the United States considered acceptable in its war against ISIS. An article at +972 found that the IDF has chosen to attack civilian targets like public buildings and high-rise apartment buildings—what they call “power targets”—to “create a shock” that will disrupt Palestinian civil society. Israel may insist that it can’t help but kill a lot of civilians if it pursues its objectives, but if that’s true, the laws of war require that it change those objectives. The fact that Hamas disregards human life does not mean that Israel is permitted to do so.

More to the point of my article: beyond killing so many civilians, Israel has also chosen to make Gaza an impossible place to live. It blocks almost all food, water, fuel, and medical supplies from entering Gaza. It has damaged or destroyed 70 percent of Gaza’s residences and nearly half of its total buildings. It doesn’t have to do these things. Starvation and disease are killing civilians—particularly the most vulnerable, like pregnant women and children—and this wouldn’t be true without an Israeli blockade.

Gerard laments the “tragedy” of the loss of so much civilian life, but that word implies inevitability. In reality, the suffering I described in my article is the result of the cruel choices that Israel has made.

Conservatives v. Conservation

As I read the excellent essays on Laudate Deum and Laudato si’ by Edward Tverdek and Vincent Miller (“Meeting the Moment,” February), it occurred to me that there was a proverbial elephant in the room. Both authors note “corporate malfeasance” as one of the obstacles to advancing an international or U.S. environmental agenda. But I think it is more than corporate malfeasance. The entire capitalist economic system primarily prioritizes profits and shareholder value over environmental concerns. In our courts, those economic and financial interests have much more sway than environmental concerns. In fact, it is rare that environmental issues like trees, water, air, etc., are given legal protection because of their inherent value in creation. Of course, there are clean air and clean water laws. But they come nowhere close to protecting the environment as Pope Francis calls us to. Now, the conservative majority on the Supreme Court claims to base its decisions on an “originalist” interpretation of the U.S. Constitution. Unless something radically changes in the court, it is positioning itself to gut our environmental laws. After all, what environmental concerns are reflected in that original document? It’s no wonder our children and young folks are giving up hope that we can really deal with the environmental concerns raised by Pope Francis, despite Vincent Miller’s insightful discussion of a tradition and theology of hope leading to action.

David Gagne
Minneapolis, Minn.

Serving Others, Serving the Church

Thanks to Terence Sweeney (“Integralism’s False Promise,” February) for pointing out the shortcomings of neoliberalism and integralism and proposing open-hearted, open-minded service of God and neighbor in their place. In a time of diminished church affiliation, parishes are tempted to grasp at neoliberal or integralist “solutions.” The one says, “We’ve got to market ourselves better.” The other, “We need to make the faithful fall in line.” But I recall that when I converted from atheism to Catholicism what drew me was simply the palpable presence of God in the parish and those parishioners who were lovingly serving others in the world. It wasn’t about success and it wasn’t about us.

Timothy P. Schilling
Center for Parish Spirituality
Nijmegen, The Netherlands

Published in the April 2024 issue: View Contents
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