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Standing in the gap between Israel and Gaza 

How can Christians respond amid this violence and hatred, asks Azar Ajaj?

On 12 June 2014, three Israeli teenagers hitchhiking to their homes were kidnapped in the West Bank. Israel accused Hamas and initiated an operation to search for the three teenagers. During this operation Israel arrested almost 400 Palestinians, including most of the Hamas leaders in the West Bank; Israeli forces also killed a number of Palestinians in the Hebron area.

Picture: Ahmed Dalloul/IRIN

Two weeks later, sadly, the three boys were found dead. In what seems to have been an almost immediate act of revenge, an Arab boy from Jerusalem was kidnapped, and his body was found burned near Jerusalem. As a result of all this, tensions greatly intensified; Hamas started to fire missiles at Israeli territory; and Israel launched Operation Protective Edge, bombing targets in the Gaza Strip.

Since the Israeli operations began on 8 July, there has been massive destruction, suffering, and also the deaths of about 170 Palestinians; the majority of them are innocent people. It is also evident that many Israelis are living in fear and insecurity right now due to the missiles fired from Gaza.

The scenes we watch on the TV screens every day are unbearable. On one side of the fence people are trying to run to shelters when they hear the sirens, frightened and panicked, fear in their eyes.

On the other side of the fence the picture is even darker. There are no sirens, people only know about a missile once they hear the explosion. This warfare, this carnage, is it anything but madness and evil? What things will this war achieve that were not achieved by the previous ones? Is there no other way to resolve this endless conflict?

Furthermore, this operation involves serious implications for Israeli society. These acts of violence have caused serious polarisation and tensions between the Jewish majority (most of whom support the military reprisals) and the Israeli Arab minority (who generally oppose these actions). These developments cause concern among the Israeli Arab population that there will be an increase in racism, prejudice, and discrimination against them.

These feelings were well expressed by a young Arab Christian student, as she described her feelings on Facebook:

“I have never been scared from sirens or a missile falling nearby, and this might have a psychological or logical explanation. However the real fear I’m having lately is from the Israeli society that I live in, and I cannot run away from it. The comments I hear are so racist and truly terrorizing! I think the insane country we live in is the real fear for me. The unreasonable gap between “humane feeling” and the responses of the “Israeli street” is, in my opinion, a gap too large to bridge. What is happening in Gaza is not and should not be acceptable to anyone. “Where can I run to?” I ask myself. Thank God that He has promised me a safe place in Heaven, because here it's not far from Hell.”

Please understand that I’m aware also of some extreme Arab Israeli people who are pleased by the fear and threat caused by the missiles fired at Israel by Hamas. This is not acceptable at all, not for me and not for most of the Arab citizens of Israel. Yet these words of this young girl shocked me, and made me think how much this land is dying for peace. They made me realize how great is the darkness that covers our country.

The question before Christians is how to respond to all of this violence and hatred. This question must not be ignored. We hope that the violence will soon cease. But, nonetheless, the results of these acts of violence will remain with us, namely, the casualties, the suffering, and the elevated hatred and hopelessness on both sides.

We must stand in the gap right now, by prayer and action. First we should pray for the leaders of both sides that they might seek the ways of peace rather than war.

Second, let us pray for the families that lost their beloved ones, as well as those who lost their homes or were hurt.

Third, let us pray for wisdom for the Christian leaders that they might be instruments of peace and reconciliation in this difficult situation. And we must dare to pray courageously for a just settlement to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, resulting in a durable peace.

Having prayed for these things, let us then be ready to act as peacemakers as the Lord enables us. 

The Revd Azar Ajaj is a Baptist minister and President of the Nazareth Evangelical Theological Seminary

Baptist Times, 22/07/2014
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