Gaza — all of us need to do some rethinking of the issues

A person holds a poster at a Tel Aviv rally to demand the immediate release of hostages held by...
A person holds a poster at a Tel Aviv rally to demand the immediate release of hostages held by Hamas. PHOTO: REUTERS
A sense of moral entitlement has drowned out rationality or humanity in the Gaza conflict, Peter Matheson writes.

The brutal confrontation of Hamas and Israel in Gaza, with its heart-wrenching consequences for the wretched civilians caught in the middle, throws a searchlight on the catastrophic failure of leadership on both sides.

Hamas appears bent on its crazed goal of the destruction of Israel, while Israel, now in tow to the so-called "decisive plan" of Bezalel Smotrich, its ultra-right Finance Minister, expects Palestinians to choose between emigration or annihilation.

These nihilistic policies have led respectively to the barbarous slaughter of the innocents on October 7 and to the brutalisation of the IDF, now less of an army than a demolition corps.

Both camps, however, pursue their atrocities with the very best of consciences, Hamas justifying itself by the decades of Israeli oppression, while for Israel the Shoah is a perpetual reminder that Jews can rely on no-one except themselves.

This sense of moral entitlement has drowned out any considerations of rationality or humanity.

Meanwhile many Palestinians and Israelis look on in horror as the impasse deepens.

Such slight hope that there is of mediation appears to rest on Qatar and Egypt, hardly dominant players on the geo-political stage.

Like countless New Zealanders I have friends who are Israelis and others who are Palestinians and as a religious historian I also have every reason to be aware of the Islamophobia generated by the Church and of the bloody trail of Christian anti-Semitism down the centuries.

Yet what shocks one most at the moment, watching day by day as new horrors unfold on TV and the computer screen, is the paralysis of the decision-making of Western politicians from the leader of the UK Labour Party to the White House.

Germany, of course, appears utterly lamed by its shame about its own sick past.

The lens through which Western leaders see Gaza is therefore hopelessly blurred, Israel being seen as the innocent victim, while the Palestinians, including those under inhuman pressures in the West Bank, are dismissed as terrorists.

This pervasive sense of moral entitlement is blinding us to what is actually going on in Gaza, not only the terrible human cost but the progressive demolition of an entire culture, mosques, cathedrals, schools, hospitals. And the end-game appears to be continuing occupation or some variant of Smotrich’s "decisive plan". Some commentators even speak of genocide.

A friend said to me recently: "Peter, we have to rethink all this theologically."

Meaning, inter alia, that the Shoah cannot be used indefinitely as an alibi for a militant Zionism which laughs any realistic two-state solution out of court. A growing number of religious Jewish voices in the US are insisting that the moral juggernaut of Netanyahu is "Not in our Name". Theirs, rather, is the Israel of Amos Oz, Aaron Appelfeld, Daniel Barenboim.

I come myself from a Christian stable, but have been nurtured all my life by the extraordinary prophetic figures of Isaiah, Jeremiah and Amos, whose love for their people was expressed in mordant criticism and yet whose canonical status remains unchallenged.

Like them, we need to do some rethinking. Not least for the sake of the hostages.

— The Rev Dr Peter Matheson is Emeritus Professor, Knox Theological College, Dunedin.