Matt C. Abbott
November 20, 2012
Noted priest weighs in on Israeli-Palestinian conflict
By Matt C. Abbott

I asked priest-author-theologian Father John Trigilio Jr., president of the Confraternity of Catholic Clergy and a contributor to this column, to comment on the recent escalation of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Father's comments are as follows.



The "just war" doctrine, as elaborated in the Catechism of the Catholic Church (no. 2309), has "strict conditions for legitimate defense by military force require rigorous consideration. The gravity of such a decision makes it subject to rigorous conditions of moral legitimacy." Nations and their leaders have an obligation and a moral duty to defend the citizens of the country. Defensive means must be employed to prevent and deter war as well as acts of unjust aggression or terrorism.

That being said, the natural moral law delineates moral parameters which nations, leaders and the military must adhere to and abide by. IUS AD BELLUM and IUS IN BELLO are two Latin phrases which describe the moral division of ethical reasons to go to war and ethical means of actually waging war. Both are necessary for a "just war" to exist; otherwise, it is considered an immoral endeavor which good people must oppose. While the cause may be just, the means are not without need of moral scrutiny.

Obviously, the nation of Israel has a natural right and duty to defend itself and its citizens from unjust aggressors, be they other nations or terrorists. Likewise, Palestinians have a right to defend themselves from being targeted especially those who are classified as non-combatants. Unfortunately, the sovereign nation of Palestine does not yet exist, but Palestinian people do, and some of them are Muslims and some are Christians. The Palestinian National Authority officially governs the territory in Gaza. While Israel is allowed and even obligated to defend herself, it must be done prudently and morally.

Targeting terrorist leaders responsible for the rocket launches into Israel is a legitimate action. One must, however, do everything within reason to avoid collateral damage which causes the deaths and injuries of innocent civilians (non-combatants). Deadly force must always be a last resort and there must be proportionate use of force, i.e., just enough to render the enemy harmless. The problem is that it is not the Palestinian people who are at war with Israel, but elements in the Palestinian Authority now ruled by Hamas who have initiated the unjust attack. Israel must walk a very narrow tightrope in that it has to neutralize the source of the rocket launches but at the same time confine the retaliation to military and specifically to combatant targets.

What complicates matters is the rhetoric by militant Islamo-fascist Muslims who have the weapons but are not representative of all or even most Arabs in the Palestinian Territory. While there are not a lot of warm and fuzzy feelings between Arabs and Jews in the Middle East, most tolerate each other and want a peaceful coexistence. The Christian minority is often overlooked, ignored and persecuted by militants as well. Iran and its collaborator Syria have been stirring up the pot, so to speak, and cranking up the heat to further agitate tensions between the Palestinian National Authority and Israel. The former must renounce and repudiate all acts of terrorism and the latter must work towards a peaceful two state solution.

A sovereign and independent Palestine will not be a panacea to Middle East terror and violence, but it is a constructive start. Terminology like 'occupying force' only breeds more hostility. At the same time, Israel has a right to exist and to defend herself as a nation. Both Palestinians (Muslim and Christian) and Jews have a right to self-determination. All three religions have a right to co-exist with each other. The problem is politics and real estate. Religion is used as the excuse for the hatred, but the elements of terrorism distort and pervert religion for their own immoral ends.

Strategic, tactical and precise targeting of those responsible for attacking Israeli cities is moral and prudent. All out war must be the absolute last resort after every diplomatic, economic and even limited military engagement since full blown war has many innocent casualties on both sides of a conflict. Death, injury and the destruction of property extend well beyond the boundaries of those considered legitimate combatants. I have many Jewish friends who have family in Israel and I have many Palestinian Christian friends who have family in Gaza. None, to my knowledge, are in the military or in any para-military group. All are civilians in urban areas trying to live normal, peaceful lives where their ancestors went before them.

The U.S. must stand behind and with Israel, our ally, but it must also stand with those Palestinians who want peace and sovereignty. Iran's manipulation of the situation must also come to an end. The Russians and Chinese have leverage in that area. Meanwhile, legitimate defense can never deteriorate into indiscriminate revenge or retaliation, on either side of the border. Violence is not inevitable, as evidenced in the case of Northern Ireland. Just as I grew up with the Berlin Wall as though it would be there always, so, too, my generation and those before me would never have imagined a cease fire by the IRA and Sinn Fein being elected to Parliament. Berlin is no longer divided, the wall is down, and the U.S.S.R. imploded. Fantasy Island to many of the past.

Someday soon, God willing, there will also be an independent and sovereign Palestine side by side with Israel in a mutual and peaceful coexistence. The only way to help it happen, though, is to get militant terrorists out of the equation. Economic prosperity and national security can happen without bloodshed. During the Cold War, the Soviets use other nations as pawns in the big chess game with the U.S. Today, Iran wants to play that game, and the Russians and Chinese own the pieces needed on the game board.

The real losers and victims are the many innocent Jews, Christians and Muslims who die, are injured or who lose their homes and safety because a few extremists see them as nothing more than tools rather than as their nation's greatest treasure and asset. As Catholic Christians, we need to pray for our elder brothers and sisters in faith, the Jews, and pray for our Palestinian Christian brethren also, so they and their Arab Muslim neighbors can finally live in peace, or at least in the absence of violence and hostility and persecution. One does not have to choose as though it is either Israel or Palestine; rather, it is Jews, Christians and Muslims. Both Israel and Palestine minus the interference by outside forces and powers.

© Matt C. Abbott

 

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Matt C. Abbott

Matt C. Abbott is a Catholic commentator with a Bachelor of Arts degree in Communication, Media and Theatre from Northeastern Illinois University. He has been interviewed on MSNBC, NPR and WLS-TV in Chicago, and has been quoted in The New York Times and the Chicago Tribune. He can be reached at mattcabbott@gmail.com.

(Note: I welcome thoughtful feedback from readers. If you want our correspondence to remain confidential, please specify as such in your initial email to me... (more)

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