Israel-Palestine War Justice Religious Concepts

Judaism & Justice: Seeing the Truth of an ‘Eye for an Eye’


Shahzad Ahmed, UK

The issue of Palestine and Israel is indeed a historic one that goes back decades, but despite its myriad of complexities, or so we are told, it is nevertheless, deeply rooted in geopolitics. To suggest otherwise, and in particular to cite religion and religious scripture as justifications, particularly when it comes to Israeli occupation, illegal settlements or the disproportionate military action against Palestinians, is grossly unjustified. Yet, this is precisely what has been happening. Since the inception of the state of Israel till now, biblical quotes are frequently referenced in the media, from general public discourse right to the government officials, in order to validate Israel as a Jewish homeland. Perhaps the most-often cited is 2 Chronicles 6:5-6 which declares Jerusalem as the city chosen for the Israelites.

For example, Nil Barkat, whilst serving as the mayor of the city of Jerusalem, once stated, ‘Everywhere you put a shovel in the ground in Jerusalem, you will find Jewish roots and connecting to Bible stories.’ [1] Another example is Naftali Bennett, the Former Prime Minister of Israel, who was once interviewed about the Israeli occupation of the West Bank to which he simply responded, ‘You need to change the narrative of the Bible because it’s all there,’ he further continued, ‘I suggest you go change the Bible first, come back and then show me a new Bible that says that the land of Israel doesn’t belong to Jews’. [2]

However, as the unrelenting bombardment of Gaza continues, which has killed over 9,000 innocent civilians till now, this rhetoric has taken a rather dangerous form in recent days and none other than by the Prime Minister himself. The Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu continues to make references of the sacred scripture to justify and defend the Israeli war on Gaza. In an official statement last week, he said: 

‘With shared forces, with deep faith in the justice of our cause and in the eternity of Israel, we will realize the prophecy of Isaiah 60:18– ‘Violence shall no more be heard in your land, desolation nor destruction within your borders; but you shall call your walls Salvation, and your gates Praise.’’ [3] And recently, whilst rejecting the calls for a ceasefire, he invoked the bible yet again and stated, ‘Ladies and gentlemen, the Bible says that ‘there is a time for peace and a time for war.’ This is a time for war.’ [4]

But perhaps the most alarming and shocking statement thus far has been his genocidal remark by declaring a holy war whilst referencing the ‘Amalek’ nation in the Bible. 

‘You must remember what Amalek has done to you, says our Holy Bible. 1 Samuel 15:3, ‘Now go and smite Amalek, and utterly destroy all that they have, and spare them not; but slay both man and woman, infant and suckling, ox and sheep, camel and ass’,’ Netanyahu said. 

It may come as a shock to many of those unacquainted with history, but this very reference has been used throughout the ages to justify genocide, including the Native Americans and the Tutsis tribe in Rwanda. [5]

But while Mr. Netanyahu conveniently cherry picks the bible to justify the utter destruction of Gaza, including the killing of innocent civilians, he seems to have forgotten a very fundamental teaching of the Torah in relation to seeking revenge: 

‘If a man causes disfigurement of his neighbor, as he has done, so shall it be done to him— fracture for fracture, eye for eye, tooth for tooth; as he has caused disfigurement of a man, so shall it be done to him. And whoever kills an animal shall restore it; but whoever kills a man shall be put to death. You shall have the [a] same law for the stranger and for one from your own country; for I am the Lord your God.’ [6]

‘An eye for an eye, tooth for a tooth’, in other words, the recompense for an injury should be proportionate; moreover, a law which is to be applied for the stranger and one’s own countrymen alike. However, what crime have the innocent civilians, especially the children and women of Gaza committed that they are being punished for? 

Let us remind Mr Netanyahu of the countless verses of the bible which teach compassion, kindness and mercy, which he continues to overlook: 

 ‘Let not mercy and truth forsake you; bind them around your neck, write them on the tablet of your heart, and so find favor and high esteem in the sight of God and man.’ [7]

‘Thus says the Lord of hosts: ‘Execute true justice, show mercy and compassion everyone to his brother. Do not oppress the widow or the fatherless, the alien or the poor. Let none of you plan evil in his heart against his brother.’’ [8]

There is no doubt that the Holy Qur’an, which is the final and complete word of God presents a most comprehensive and lofty teaching; one that concords with human nature and provides the solution in every sphere of life. Regarding its teaching of retribution, the Holy Qur’an states: 

‘The recompense of an injury is an injury the like thereof; but whoso forgives and thereby brings about an improvement, his reward is with Allah.’ [9]

Whilst elaborating on this universal teaching of Islam, the Promised Messiah (as) states,  

‘The Holy Qur’an perfects and completes all previous teachings…Take the teachings of the Torah as an example; if we analyse its teachings based on the need of the present circumstances, we find that its emphasis was on retribution and recompense; an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth. On the contrary, the teachings of the Gospels were based entirely on forgiveness and patience, to the extent that it states that if one slaps another on the cheek, they ought to turn the other cheek as well…If the Torah leans to one extreme, then the Gospels lean to the other extreme. However, on every occasion, the Holy Qur’an presents teachings that are balanced and appropriate according to the situation.’ [10]

In light of the aforementioned verse, the underlying objective presented by the Holy Qur’an with regards to retribution is to establish reformation, whether it comes about through forgiveness or punishment. But even in the case of enacting a punishment, it must be proportionate to the crime committed. The shameful actions of Hamas killing innocent civilians is indeed a heinous crime and completely against the peaceful teachings of Islam and the noble practice of the Holy Prophet (sa). However, is the total destruction of Gaza a proportionate response to the action of Hamas? Can the disproportionate retaliation of Israel’s military action and the unprecedented loss of innocent civilians bring lasting peace? Unfortunately, it seems that the lines between targeting Hamas and wiping out Gaza entirely have become seriously blurred.  

About the Author: Shahzad Ahmed serves as the Associate Editor of The Review of Religions, having graduated from Jamia Ahmadiyya UK – Institute of Modern Languages and Theology. He is also an Imam of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community, has a Bachelor’s Degree in English Literature and presents shows on contemporary Islamic issues for MTA International.







[6] Leviticus 24:19-22

[7] Proverbs 3:3-4

[8] Zechariah 7:8-10

[9] The Holy Qur’an, 42:41

[10] Malfuzat [1984], Vol. 3, pp. 37-40