Christians walk the Way of the Cross procession that commemorates Jesus Christ’s crucifixion on Good Friday, in the Old City of Jerusalem, Friday, March 29, 2024. (AP Photo/Leo Correa)

Good Friday should turn Christians into careful students of all the ways modern states use power against the vulnerable. While it grieves me to say it, because Israel is a great country with a great people, in the shadows of the Cross, the current Israeli regime’s hard heart toward the suffering of the Palestinian people is making its relentless counterinsurgency in Gaza harder and harder for even its friends to justify.

Israel and Palestine comprise a map of grey areas. There are many such issues for Christian discerners. Followers of our innocent, stricken savior won’t all come down the same way. We can be against the death penalty. Or we can be against it until every possibility has been eliminated of an innocent person’s execution. We can be against abortion because we want to protect unborn life, or we can be pro-choice to protect women from judges and legislators forcing them to give birth against their will. We can be against war. Or we can hang our consciences on just war theory, which stipulates the protection of noncombatants, or at least imagines it. Once wars start, they are hard to control and contain.

Some will look at grey areas and see only black and white. We read that U.S. college students tend to perceive Israel and Palestine in post-colonial terms, with Israeli Jews as the colonizers. If they want to take a longer view, they should Google “where did Europe’s Jews come from?” Well-educated Christians don’t have to. The critical event was Rome’s (or Europe’s, if you will) colonization of Palestine and suppression of uprisings by indigenous Jews, leading to the Jewish diaspora. If indigenous people have a moral claim to North America, then Jews, along with other peoples from whom many of today’s Palestinian Arabs proceed, have moral standing in Israel. If we continue to insist that Israelis are colonizing the land, they are entitled to wonder what fate critics envision for colonizers once they’re brought down and driven out. Because our Jewish siblings have seen that movie already.

Rooted in U.S. struggles against slavery and Jim Crow, the racial analogy fails as well, since over two-thirds of Israeli Jews are of people of color, refugees from oppressors in their Middle Eastern, North African, or Asian nations of origin. Setting aside arguments by analogy is not to justify everything Israel does. But we foreigners who insist on using our historical prisms practice an imperialism of our own. The indigenous questions are how Israel can continue to reconcile its Jewish identify with its democratic principles and what steps they and Palestinians are prepared to take, especially after this awful war, to ensure that everyone in the region enjoys freedom, peace, security, and national self-determination.

It will be hard, because trust in both countries is dying a death of a thousand disappointments. Closely linked by history and genetics, two peoples are trapped in a web of trauma. Millennia of antisemitism and genocide, which sent Jews looking for sanctuary. Israeli’s war of independence, when 750,000 Palestinians were driven from their homes or fled. One failed peace initiative after another, with plenty of blame to go around. Extremist Palestinian terror from 2000-03 and nearly 60 years of brutal Israeli military occupation of the West Bank.

Mutual suspicion is almost unfathomably deep. Less than a lifetime having passed since their grandparents were driven from their homes, virtually no Palestinians believe in Israel’s right to exist as a Jewish nation. Why should they? Yet relatively few supported Hamas before Oct. 7 and the counterinsurgency. Because of Israel’s war in Gaza, far more do so today. Meanwhile polls also show that many if not most Israelis lump Hamas and Palestinians together. They mustn’t. Hamas is Gaza’s enemy. Just ask the Gazans. Since 2007, Hamas has spent billions of Iran’s money digging in, wrapping its tentacles around civilian populations and institutions. Like guerrillas everywhere, it uses noncombatants as shields. It is a nihilistic movement willing to sacrifice innocent Israelis and Palestinians alike to achieve its aim of destroying Israel.

Israel says that as many as 13,000 of the over 30,000 people its operations have killed were Hamas fighters. A roughly equal number are said to await in Rafah, hiding underground. Calling for a unilateral Israeli ceasefire without insisting on Hamas stopping its aggression and releasing its hostages is understandable but impractical. No expert thinks peace is possible with Hamas in power. One could imagine a situation in which most in the world would regretfully acknowledge that Israel should complete the job as long as it was as careful as possible toward civilians.

But because of its unrelenting harshness toward Palestinians, Israel is on the verge of losing the benefit of the doubt. Some experts say its initial assault was unnecessarily brutal. It hasn’t done nearly enough to get food into famine-stalked Gaza. Israel won’t let residents return north, reoccupy neighborhoods where Hamas is gone, and begin to rebuild. Looking to postwar times, Netanyahu has abandoned the two-state solution, the only way to give Palestinians the same right of self-determination on which Israel insists. Some officials in his government want all Palestinians driven out of the occupied territories, raising suspicions that its tactics are designed to help bring this outcome about as well as hunt Hamas.

An Israeli government devoted to the best of its founding principles would insist on victory against Hamas while inviting the Palestinian people to join in a postwar season of hope, reconciliation, and state-building. But we hear nothing of the sort from Netanyahu. His people are naturally wounded by the horror of Oct. 7. A decent leader would call them to look beyond the catastrophe to the possibility of mutually assured security for all rather than another generation of hatred. All people need the hope of peace. Israel’s regime promises war upon war according to the inhumane proposition that Palestinians can never be trusted.

We may hope that Israel gets a better government after the war. In the meantime, U.S. taxpayers who aren’t pacifists opposing all military aid (and this Good Friday, God bless the pacifists and peacemakers) are entitled to ask why our government has stopped supporting freedom fighters in Ukraine while continuing to pay the bills for Netanyahu’s bloody campaign to save his job at all costs. My Good Friday prayer is that in its upcoming talks with the IDF, the U.S. will finally rattle the cash box loud enough to persuade Israel to scale back its Rafah assault and ramp up food shipments so that every Gazan has enough to eat. We can do that much, at least, in the name of Christ.