The War Protest that the World Needs from You Now

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I know full well that if former Harvard University President Claudine Gay — the first black President of that Ivy League institution, six months into her historic tenure — found herself swept away in the ulterior backwash of Congressional hearings regarding campus free speech, I better be very careful. If I had been sitting at the desk when Congresswoman Stefanik asked whether calling for “genocide” was acceptable campus free speech, I like to think I would have had a better answer than, “It depends.” This coached answer, response avoidant at best, screamed intolerable insensitivity. Period. End. Rather than discuss Gay’s departure from Harvard, however, we need to recognize that she would not be the only person to articulate a nuanced position regarding the war between Israel and Hamas, or many of its ancillary issues. 

Poll data taken from the early days of the war at the end of October 2023, indicate the nuanced position that members of the black community hold.

  • Ninety-five percent of black Americans rejected the idea of unwavering support for Israel, compared to 77% of white Americans.
  • Forty-three percent of black Americans supported some sort of ceasefire. 
  • Thirty-five percent of white Americans supported some sort of ceasefire.

“Nearly half of black respondents reported not feeling connected to the plight of either Israelis or Palestinians. However, more Black Americans reported feeling connected to Israelis” – “Black Americans’ Opinions on the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict,” Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, December 13, 2023 – carnegieendowment.org

Gallup reinforced what we see as ambivalence along racial lines. When asked, “Do you approve or disapprove of the military action Israel has taken in Gaza,” 30% of people of color approve, as opposed to 64% who disapprove. Conversely, 61% of whites approve and 36% disapprove –”Americans Back Israel’s Military Action in Gaza by 50% to 45%,” Lydia Saad, Gallup, November 30, 2023. – gallup.com

Further, an NPR, PBS NewsHour and Marist poll also noted “huge age and racial gaps” in support of the war. “This is particularly true of the youngest Americans eligible to vote — just 48% of Gen Z/millennials said the U.S. should publicly voice support, as compared to 63% of Gen X, 83% of baby boomers, and 86% of the Silent/Greatest generation”  –npr.org

Headspace of Peace

These polls indicate that the plight of Palestinians resonates on some level with black people. In particular, African Americans sense a kinship with peoples who are colonized, their land occupied, and whose resources are so outmatched, yet, have to fight for their very survival.

“Black writers and civil rights leaders have long viewed the Israeli-Palestinian conflict through the lens of the Black struggle for sociopolitical equality,” writes Christopher Shell, a fellow in the American Statecraft Program at Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. “Malcolm X, Angela Davis, Jesse Jackson, and other Black activists expressed support for the Palestinian right to self-determination, with a view that both Black Americans and Palestinians suffered from similar indignities — such as state violence, dispossession, and underdevelopment. The connections between Black and Jewish Americans are also long-standing.” 

Shell’s observations highlight the internal tension that occurs when we watch the news, and our hearts bleed when we see women and children, the elderly, and the disabled forever vulnerable in this regional tinder keg. And that also pulls on the heartstrings of Christian believers.

“Self-identified believers,” according to Christianity Today, struggle with the moral way forward. Citing a Lifeway Research Poll, 83% support Israel in what they perceive as its right to defend itself, and 76% of the same group support Palestinians in their quest for self-determination. Most, 81%, want to see a two-state solution. Some decried the beliefs of peace and the idea of co-existence as not only naïve, but somehow unbiblical. Let me suggest that protest is in order and calls for peace and accountability are as appropriate now as they ever were.

Protest One: Disproportionality

Our community looks on with guarded suspicion when we see the violent drive for “justice.” For one thing, conscience demands a hard look when the data indicate disproportionate treatment and disproportionate impact. We are sensitive to actions and impacts that prove injurious to an already disadvantaged population.  As an African American, we’ve been fighting against everything from disproportionate levels of incarceration to school suspensions and expulsions, maternal health risks and premature infant deaths, to the disproportionate environmental health risks factory farms pose.

Naturally, then, the raw data regarding casualties in the current conflict evoke compassion and tension within. In a December 9, 2023 report, Reuters cited Gaza Health Ministry numbers: 1,200 people died in the Hamas attack October 7, but, 17,487 Palestinians have died in the conflict since then – reuters.com.Ten days later, the BBC cited the Hamas Government Media which indicated the Palestinian death toll rising even further, with women and children comprising most of the dead, at 70%. 

At what price should revenge be exacted? When is it enough? On whose scale is the bloodshed measured?  The current conflict is record-breaking in the pace of killing of both combatants and civilians, according to BBC news. 

But, mercy and justice, in the schools of the prophets and re-imagined in the life and teaching of Jesus, does away with wanton disproportionality. The prophets especially limited vengeful disproportionality by teaching that raw passion cannot govern our decisions when we’ve been injured, but principles of restraint, compensation, and proportionate response do. Jesus taught, further, that if any disproportionality did exist, it would go the other way. In other words, the response was disproportionate in the form of unmerited mercy and forbearance (1 Samuel 26:20; Exodus 21:23-26; Leviticus 24:19-21; Deuteronomy 19; Matthew 5; Romans 12:19-21).

Protest Two: Indiscriminate Devastation

  Our people have long suffered the wholesale terror of angry mobs seeking revenge on one person, but burning down, drowning, or shooting up whole communities. We’ve long criticized the margin of error that leads black people to be wrongly accused, wrongly identified, convicted, and incarcerated, and thus in some cases, thankfully, exonerated. 

The current conflict also shatters records because of the methods used that lead to indiscriminate devastation. Hamas terrorized the world with its breathtakingly random attack on October 7. Since then, Israel dropped 29,000 bombs on Gaza from the beginning of the war to mid-December. Forty to 45% of them were unguided. Those unguided rockets, bombs with a margin of error a mile wide, bad intel, and the practice Hamas uses of hiding in, behind, or underneath schools or hospitals means the devastation of innocent lives. The Lord, in His righteous anger, would not stomach the destruction of the innocent (Genesis 18; Ezekiel 18:20).

Protest Three: Perpetual Land and Power Seeking

As the polls indicate above, a substantial portion of African Americans polled were ambivalent, or neutral on the Palestinian-Israeli war. We’ve been 400 years disenfranchised from our homeland, wherever that is. In a country where the lines drawn, the historical agreements, and the treaties benefitted a white colonial class and culture, it’s hard to wrap our minds around an ancestral land and experience in which we fight for it and win it back. Further, we’ve come to accept that this world, thankfully, is not our home — our only hope is the peace promised. And that’s Bible, as they say.

“The time will soon come when Christ shall suddenly return to this old world, put an end to all its kingdoms, and establish His everlasting kingdom. Therefore, at this critical juncture in history, our thoughts and hopes ought to be on that imperishable kingdom and not on our earthly kingdoms. All disputes over territories or conflicting claims over national boundaries will entirely cease. All things will be consumed with a flood of fire, and the only imperishable thing that will remain is our relationship to Christ and His kingdom. The time is ripe for the Stone cut out of the mountain without human hands [Christ], to hurl itself upon all nations in the final judgment. Christ the Stone “Shall break in pieces and consume all these kingdoms, and it shall stand forever” (Daniel 2:44). Abraham’s Other Son, by Phillip Saaman, College Press, 2012.

This article is part of our 2024 January/February Issue
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