Don’t Forget What the Israel-Hamas War Is About

A NOTE FROM THE PUBLISHER: As the brutal war in Gaza moves into its next phase, we must never forget that Hamas’ evil surprise attack on Israeli civilians was the spark that caused the fire.

Families and relatives of Israeli hostages held by Hamas gather for prayer at the Western Wall in Jerusalem on Nov. 7, 2023, one month after the deadly Hamas attacks.
Families and relatives of Israeli hostages held by Hamas gather for prayer at the Western Wall in Jerusalem on Nov. 7, 2023, one month after the deadly Hamas attacks. (photo: Toshiyuki Fukushima / AP )

It has been four weeks since Hamas launched a surprise attack against Israel. Now, Israel is engaged in a long and bloody ground invasion of the Gaza Strip, the territory controlled by Hamas. The horror and ugliness of war has been brought regularly to our eyes in recent days, and such images likely will continue for many more weeks, even months, and, with them, growing calls for an immediate cease-fire to halt the Israeli advance. 

This is a good time to remember why this brutal war is happening in the first place: because Hamas, a terrorist organization, invaded Israel across internationally recognized borders to murder, rape and kidnap innocent people. No matter what happens in the future, it is vital that we never lose sight of the fact that the current bloodshed was initiated by an act of depravity where Hamas militants killed more Jews than in any single day since the Holocaust

Christians have always felt an attachment to the Holy Land. And we recognize our special bond with the Jewish people. In fewer than two years, we will commemorate the 60th anniversary of Nostra Aetate, a declaration from Pope Paul VI on the relationship between Christianity and other religions. While our outreach to religions like Islam is commendable and rooted in a genuine desire for peace and principled ecumenism, the Church’s relationship to Judaism is unique. 

As Nostra Aetate recalls, the apostles “sprang from the Jewish people,” and “the spiritual patrimony common to Christians and Jews is … so great.” For that reason and due to the Gospel’s universal call to love, the Church “decries hatred, persecutions, [and] displays of anti-Semitism, directed against Jews at any time and by anyone.”

Hamas has made it clear publicly, and for decades, that it is driven by antisemitism and a desire for the eradication of the Jews. Catholics cannot and should never support Hamas. 

Yet Catholics can, and should, empathize with the innocent on both sides. Just as we mourn with the Jewish people in the face of the evil of terrorism, we also recognize that innocent Palestinian civilians, including a small number of Christians, suffer greatly in this ancient religious conflict. The number of Christians in Israel has held steadily at 184,000, and the approximate 1,000 in Gaza and the less than 46,000 in the West Bank live under constant threat and continue to decline. Our Christian brothers and sisters in the Holy Land often face suspicion and hostility all around, distrusted because they are united neither to the Jews in Israel nor to the vast majority of their fellow Palestinians, who are Muslim.

The truth is, Christians are the most persecuted religious group in the world, and Christians in the Middle East face the added burden of being a minority mistrusted and attacked by almost every other group around them.

Our distinct perspective as Catholics — mourning for the innocent, sharing a spiritual patrimony with the Jewish people, and spiritually sharing in the suffering of our Christian brothers and sisters caught in the crossfire — gives us clarity amid the confusion. We can recognize that the problem isn’t Islam, Judaism, the Palestinian people or the Israeli people. The problem — and the immediate cause of this war — is Hamas, an Iranian government-connected, well-funded terrorist organization that preys upon its own people, using them as human shields, and is driven by a desire for genocide. Hamas took over Gaza in 2007 in a bloody battle — not against the Israelis, but against rival Palestinians, hundreds of whom it killed. It is a partner in a network of Iranian regime-supported terror groups, from Hezbollah in Lebanon to other militias in Syria, Iraq and Yemen.

This single fact is going to be vital to remember in the face of false narratives being spread in the West. Many with “Western eyes” see the war through the prism of intersectionality, where only certain people are honored with victim status due to their race, sex, national origin, gender and other qualities. Through this lens, the plight of the Palestinians stands in for the ideologically preferred causes of the hard left, like LGBT rights, “reproductive justice” and feminism. 

Left-wing members of Congress issued statements appearing to blame Israel for Hamas’ terrorism. Black Lives Matter chapters and student organizations at elite universities and other progressive groups have protested against Israel. We can only presume that many of the people in America marching for Palestine and Hamas are members of the very same “woke” crowd who protested the overturning of Roe v. Wade, attack judges for being Catholic, and push gender ideology on schoolchildren.

Yet imagining there exists unity among every class the left deems as “oppressed” is farcical. Authoritarian religious groups like Hamas would kill LGBT-identifying people, feminists and other members of the progressive “victim” class without remorse, crushing the movement they represent. 

Although it is championed by some progressives, Hamas doesn’t stand for Western progressive ideas of justice for the oppressed, nor does it uphold Christian devotion to protecting the innocent or only engaging in wars that are just. As such, every Catholic should hope that Hamas is removed from power. 

While we do so, we must always strive for genuine peace and protect innocents to the greatest degree possible. This will take great effort and wisdom. Aid is difficult to provide in any warzone, and in Gaza we should expect resources meant for civilians to be stolen by Hamas, which, after all, has no problem sacrificing its own people to bolster its cause, which is the total destruction of Israel.

Likewise, removing Palestinians and calling for mass resettlement isn’t a just option either. As Cardinal Michael Czerny, who manages migration and refugee issues for the Vatican, put it, people have the “right not to emigrate, that is, to remain in one’s homeland.” In the Holy Land, this call has a particular weight for Christians. There, we aren’t just striving to preserve the most sacred sites of our faith, but to save an ancient people who trace their lineage to the first apostles to stay rooted in their homeland. Yes, in many cases, Hamas won’t let people leave or the Egyptian-Israeli blockade makes it impossible, but Palestinians also know that once they become refugees, they may never return to their homeland. 

While there is no clear way out of this crisis, Church leaders have nonetheless strived for true peace more consequential than a one-sided cease-fire. The Vatican stands ready to mediate. Cardinal Pierbattista Pizzaballa, the Latin Catholic patriarch of Jerusalem, said he was willing to exchange himself for children taken hostage in Gaza, and he consecrated the region to Our Lady, Queen of Palestine and the Holy Land. And Pope Francis called Catholics on Oct. 27 to a day of prayer and fasting — the two weapons Christ himself told us had the power to cast out demons (Mark 9:29), like the demons of hatred and war.

Let us continually take up those weapons, praying and fasting for a lasting peace in the Holy Land and that the evil of terrorism will never arise there again.

God bless you!

Faithful gather in front of the Vatican's Basilica of St. Mary Mayor in Rome, Sunday, Oct. 15, 2023, to lead a prayer for peace in the Middle East. A prayer vigil will take place at 6 p.m. in St. Peter’s Square on Oct. 27, where the faithful will join the Pope to participate in ‘an hour of prayer in a spirit of penance to implore peace in our time, peace in this world.’

Prayer and Fasting

EDITORIAL: Just as European Christians prayed the Rosary and fasted to be freed from the repressive Ottoman Empire, we need to employ the same strategy for peace in the Middle East and elsewhere.