Philip Kershner

The United Church of Christ is not very subtle about the side it favors in the current war in Gaza. Yes, they throw a bone or two in Israel’s direction once-in-a-while, but conveniently forget, for the most part, to remind us that this war is a war of aggression begun by the Gazans under the barbaric leadership of Hamas. The people of Gaza could be thriving if all the aid headed their way over the last many years had gone into projects of infrastructure, loans for entrepreneurs, and needed aid for those unable to help themselves. Instead, much of the aid money has been used by Hamas to enrich their own leaders (from the New York Post, November 7, 2023): 

“While their people languish in poverty and are treated as human shields, the leaders of Hamas live billionaire lifestyles.

“The terror group’s three top leaders alone are worth a staggering total of $11 billion and enjoy a life of luxury in the sanctuary of the emirate of Qatar. 

“The emirate has long welcomed the leaders of the terror group and installed them in its luxury hotels and villas at the same time as it hosts a vast American military presence.”

And, of course, much of the aid money has been used to wage rocket warfare and other attacks against Israel. Sadly, the hands of ordinary Gazans are not completely clean: they voted Hamas into power and the destruction of Israel is written into the Hamas Charter.

The numbers of deaths on each side of this war continue to be thrown at us without any context. As of March 22, the Gazans have lost 1.4 percent of their population. The Israeli’s have lost 0.01 percent of their population. That sounds terribly lopsided, but consider the following: in World War II the Germans lost 8.2 percent of their population and the Austrians lost 5.6 percent of theirs. By contrast, the U.S. lost “just” 0.32 percent of its population and the UK, despite all that horrific bombardment they suffered, lost “just” 0.9 percent of their population. These numbers include civilian and military deaths.

Consider also that the war is being waged on Gazan turf and that the insidious Hamas military policy involves hiding troops and weapons amongst the general population, be it in tunnels, hospitals, schools, or other public places. In such circumstances, high civilian death numbers are inevitable. Yes, Israel should do everything within reason to keep those numbers as low as possible, and some of their actions are not above criticism, but should Israel give up the battle now, Hama will retain power in Gaza and Israel can expect further incidents like October 7. Israel’s only real hope for peace on its southern border is to destroy Hamas. Sometimes power is the only thing that will bring peace. I know the UCC likes to think that peace can always be brought about peacefully, by negotiation, but the reality of the world suggests otherwise. Was there any other way to defeat Nazi German or Imperial Japan other than by overwhelming power? Does anyone seriously think that a ceasefire in 1943 would have satisfied Hitler’s appetite? 

Jeff Jacoby notes in the Boston Globe (March 27, 2024):

“Israel has never been regarded as a “normal” country. Alone among the 193 members of the United Nations, it is the only one whose very right to exist is under constant assault. Jerusalem is the only capital city in the world where the vast majority of governments refuse to locate their embassies. Every other nation belongs to larger blocs of countries with which it shares historic, ethnic, linguistic, or religious bonds — they are Nordic, Francophone, Muslim, Slavic, African, Arabic, Latino, Buddhist. Only Israel stands alone.”

The UCC isn’t standing with them (and never has since the formation of the UCC: The first General Synod resolution on Israel/Palestine came in 1967, just weeks after the Six Days War, in which the Israelis, against all odds, managed to win a defensive war. It read: “That the General Synod of the United Church of Christ call upon the government of the United States to use its good offices and to do what lies in its power to bring about a permanent peace in the Middle East and to assure just treatment for the Arab refugees and relief of their suffering. The General Synod calls upon the churches and members of the United Church of Christ to support these efforts.”

I find that 1967 resolution fascinating. Israel had just been attacked by Egypt, Jordan and Syria (with the help of the Palestinians) and the only people the UCC seems interested in are the Arabs. Where is the concern for a nation that found itself surrounded by enemies determined to drive it into the sea? Where is that concern today?

But perhaps you as individuals can speak truth to power and urge our denominational leaders to at least be honest about history and context and the intent of Israel’s current enemies to settle for nothing less than destroying Israel.

All this sadness comes at us in the face of Good Friday. But Good Friday was not the final word. 

May you enjoy a blessed Easter,

Phil Kershner