French Christian Decency and Hamas Evil

Goodness and mercy coexist with evil in the world. At a moment when the Hamas terrorists in Gaza have horrified the world with the extent of their evil in using Palestinian children as slave labor to build underground tunnels in Sinai and as human shields in Gaza in their strategy to kill Jews and eliminate the State of Israel, the chronicle of goodness and mercy by French Protestants heroically saving persecuted Jews during World War II in a small farming village is being retold.

The story of the courageous and noble 5,000 inhabitants of the village Le Chambon-sur-Lignon, located in the mountains of south-central France, 350 miles from Paris, has been told several times. It was remembered for its good deeds when it was honored in 1990 by Yad Vashem in Jerusalem as a place of Righteous among the Nations. The memories of those deeds are recalled in the new release of a revised version of the documentary film Weapons of the Spirit, written and directed by Pierre Sauvage, who was born in the village in 1944 and hidden there, and in a new book, Village of Secrets by Caroline Moorehead, that provides an accurate account of events, enhanced by personal diaries and interviews with survivors.

The story of the village is even more compelling because the villagers were reluctant for many years to talk about their heroism that accounted for saving at least 800 Jews, many foreign born (the figure is sometimes put as high as 5,000). The villagers sheltered the Jews, who were in danger for their lives, in private homes, hotels, farms, and schools. They forged identification papers and ration cards, and helped some flee to Switzerland. The Jewish children attended school together with local children, and participated in youth organizations.

Other acts of heroism, individual and collective, took place in the dark years of the war when France was divided and the Vichy Regime established in June 1940 collaborated with Nazis, but the moral consensus exhibited in Le Chambon was outstanding, even exceptional. It is rare these days to speak about actions in tones of moral righteousness and goodness, yet the behavior of Le Chambon deserves to be remembered in this way for its remarkable implementation of Christian ethical principles.

The villagers, essentially Calvinists, descendants from the Huguenots, led by their pastor André Trocmé, safeguarded resisters, freemasons, and communists, and above all Jews. Trocmé himself was a pacifist, believing in nonviolence, but many of his flock were not. It was Trocmé who, after France surrendered to Nazi Germany, said it was the responsibility of Christians to “resist the violence that will be brought to bear on their consciences through the weapons of the spirit.” It was also he who protested in a sermon on August 16, 1942 against the roundup of 13,000 Jews in Paris by saying that “the Christian Church must kneel down and ask God to forgive its present failings and cowardice.”

In July 2004 the then French President Jacques Chirac commented that Le Chambon was “the conscience of our country.” The same sentiment is present in the new museum in Le Chambon which records that even during the terrible years of World War II, there were places where people behaved decently. Interestingly, it was the village where Albert Camus lived for a while in 1942 in his attempt to deal with his tuberculosis, and where he wrote the first draft of his book, The Plague. Camus was well informed of the nonviolent resistance in the village. His discussion of the attempts to control the outbreak of disease in the town of Oran is in effect an allegorical representation of Le Chambon resisting Nazi and Vichy anti-Semitic policies.

The opposite form of behavior to this illustration of goodness is that of the terrorist group Hamas. For three weeks in July the war in Gaza has shown the employment of hundreds of rockets by Hamas and the surprising discovery of a considerable number of tunnels built by it for only one purpose, to infiltrate into Israel and kill innocent Israeli civilians. This single purpose is still not understood or is disregarded by many in the “international community” and even in the United States State Department, whose spokeswoman proclaimed it was “important to explain the true facts about what happened.”

Yet the true facts have been clearly stated in the Hamas Charter: the Charter of Allah, issued in 1988. Article 13 declares, “There is no solution to the Palestinian problem except by Jihad. The initiatives, proposals, and International Conferences are but a waste of time, an exercise in futility.” Secretary of State John Kerry is no doubt well meaning in his attempts to achieve a ceasefire between the parties but his priorities are mistaken. He should press for the immediate end to the firing of rockets by Hamas, and the consequent elimination of the rocket stockpiles, and call for the destruction of the network of tunnels, built at considerable cost to infiltrate into Israeli territory and inflict casualties on civilians.

What a contrast between the historical events in Le Chambon and the continuing terrorism and criminality of Hamas. The Protestants in the French village wanted to save lives of Jews; Hamas wants to end the lives of Jews. The heroic Andre Trocmé, when threatened by a Vichy official for sheltering Jews, replied “We do not know what a Jew is, we only know human beings.” No citizen of Le Chambon ever informed the Vichy authorities or the Nazis about those taking refuge. They felt it was their duty as Christians to help fellow human beings.

Hamas does not help fellow human beings. Not only has it used children as human shields, it has also exploited them. An article in the Institute for Palestine Studies in summer 2012 reports that, according to Hamas officials, at least 160 Palestinian children, who were used as laborers, had died in building the tunnels on the Egyptian-Gaza border in Sinai. It is not clear if children have been used in building the tunnel network directed against Israel, a network that has used 800,000 tons of cement, an amount that could have been more profitably used for domestic purposes.  It is however noticeable that Ismael Haniyeh, the Hamas leader, who owns a 27,000 square foot area of property on the Gaza beach worth more than $4 million, sends his own children to school in Europe.

One can appreciate that the increase in casualty figures has caused alarm among international observers. No one can be happy about the mounting death toll except Hamas, which displays the photos of dead or injured children for international television coverage to gain sympathy for its cause. Yet it is mistaken policy to call for an immediate and unconditional humanitarian ceasefire that will not simply end Israeli military activity, but also grant Hamas concessions on border crossings and finance.

UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon must know that the argument that both sides have an equal obligation to end hostilities does not reach the heart of the problem. Turki al Faisal, the former head of Saudi intelligence services, in a statement quoted on July 24, 2014 may have implicitly answered Ban Ki-Moon. He stated, “Hamas is responsible for the slaughter in the Gaza Strip following its bad decisions in the past.”

The solution can only be the demilitarization of the Gaza Strip so that the terrorist organization Hamas is no longer able to commit evil in its objective to eliminate the state of Israel. The threat of the network of highly sophisticated tunnels, each said to cost up to $2 million to build, must be ended. The world, and particularly the World Council of Churches, should remember Le Chambon.