Second, Israel’s pursuit of a war against Hamas makes it all but impossible for the wider Arab world to pursue normalization of ties with Israel. Prior to Israel’s declaration of war, a fresh start was within reach. The 2020 Abraham Accords normalized ties between Israel and Bahrain, Morocco, and the United Arab Emirates, and this year an historic, US-brokered deal between Israel and Saudi-Arabia was well on its way to being agreed. Now, the Israel-Saudi deal is in tatters, and other Arab countries with diplomatic ties to Israel are feeling political pressure to show distance. This pressure is not arising because any of these Arab countries support Hamas. All are opposed to its Islamist ideology. It is because they are tied by bonds of affection and loyalty to the Palestinian people, and these bonds prevent Arab countries from negotiating in good faith with Israel when they have serious doubts that Israel’s military actions are making sufficient provision for the welfare of ordinary Palestinians.
A long and costly ground war against Hamas will only make things worse for Israelis and Palestinians. But what would make things better? Rather than a vengeful justice, Israel might consider pursuing what is called ‘redemptive justice’ in its war against Hamas.
This kind of justice is exactly the path Jesus urges his followers to follow in his Sermon on the Mount:
“You have heard that it was said, ‘Eye for eye, and tooth for tooth.’ But I tell you, do not resist by evil means. If anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to them the other cheek also.
The teaching here about retaliation has three parts.
First, Jesus presents a traditional teaching from the Mosaic law, sometimes called the lex talionis: ‘You have heard that it was said, “An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.”’ In its Old Testament contexts, this principle was supposed to prevent violence from spiraling out of control. When someone wronged you, your injury didn’t give you unlimited right of revenge. Wrongdoing had to be addressed with strict retribution. No more.
Next, Jesus warns of a deeper dynamic which leads to problems: ‘But I say to you, do not resist by evil means’. Jesus’ warning is not opposed to the lex talionis. What Jesus is warning about, as New Testament commentator Peter Leithart argues, is not to apply this law in ways that perpetuate violence rather than limit it. The example Jesus gives next is illuminating: a slap on the right cheek is not a violent threat to life. To slap someone on the right cheek, you must use either your left hand, or the back of your right hand. Either of these would have been understood as acts of dishonour and shame to a first century Jew. They were not acts intended to harm grievously. And when someone is intent on publicly shaming or dishonouring you, responding with a counter-act of shame or dishonour only heightens the antagonism between you and encourages further retaliation. Strict retribution in these situations will not achieve the law’s aim of limiting violence.
This leads us to the third part of the teaching, where Jesus proposes a creative solution to the danger: rather than respond to dishonour with dishonour and risk creating a cycle of vendetta, take the penalty of the law on yourself he says – “accept the second slap rather than giving it” as Leithart puts it. This is what redemptive justice means. It cuts evil off at its root and restores a relationship of peace. After all, a person seeking to humiliate you runs out of ammunition very quickly when you show yourself willing to be humiliated.