From Jerusalem to Gaza

July 21, 2014

More than 500 people have been killed in war in Gaza over the past week. Most of them - about three-quarters, the United Nations estimates - are innocent civilians. About one-quarter of the dead are children. In war, children too often pay a heavy price. Like those playing on the beach and deliberately targeted as journalists watched, attempted to help, and then wrote powerful reports about the attack. More than 3,000 Palestinians have been wounded. Reports today indicate that Israeli tanks shelled a hospital, with other hospitals already hit during the conflict. Over 100,000 people have fled their homes. Each rising of the sun brings fresh reports of death and destruction.


"Go south to the road - the desert road - that goes down from Jerusalem to Gaza."

Even as international leaders like Desmond Tutu condemn the Israeli invasion as an unjust war, the disproportionate attack continues. While more than 20 Israelis have died in recent violence, most are soldiers killed in the ground assault. Hamas immorally and illegally shoots rockets into Israel. Such attacks, however, fail to justify the massive and indiscriminate attacks Israel is currently hailing onto the people of Gaza. Both sides must stop fighting, but Israel is currently killing at a rate of more than 200-1 when compared to Hamas and are killing a far greater percentage of civilians. This is not a war. It is a one-sided slaughter as Goliath demolishes a David-less people. Some Israelis gawk at the strikes on Gaza, treating the war as entertainment. Some Christians in the U.S. similarly cheer from afar as hellfire erupts in Gaza.

The group "Christians United for Israel" put its
gold stamp of approval on the current Israeli attack on Gaza
(photo from their Facebook page)

Nearly two thousand years ago, the early church deacon Philip received a message from God to travel the desert road from Jerusalem to Gaza. Today that dusty road leads to death and ruins. Even in the time of Philip - in the midst of the Roman occupation - this could be a dangerous place. Gaza often experienced violence in biblical times. From the conquest of the Promised Land to fights between ancient Israel and the Philistines (who lived in Gaza) to destruction by Egypt foretold by Jeremiah and other prophets. Yet, Philip started traveling south on that desert road.

Watching the news from afar, I feel powerless. Perhaps I am. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu does not care what I think. He seemed primed for war and quickly used a tragic kidnapping and murder case to launch one. Why launch a war on a whole people because a couple of people committed a crime? Why not instead find those guilty and prosecute them? Netanyahu claimed last week he had "no choice" but to increase Israel's attacks. However, only mindless robots lack choice. He sadly seems unwilling to choose peace and reconciliation. Not only does Netanyahu not care what I think, my own country's leaders seem more willing to play politics than serve as honest peace brokers. What can I do other than mourn the news? Turning it off seems too easy and wrong.

Ignorance may be bliss, but it could also be a sign of not caring.

As Philip walked south along the desert road from Jerusalem to Gaza, he met an Ethiopian official. Reading through the book of Isaiah - but not understanding it - the official asked Philip for an explanation. Philip explained "the good news about Jesus," about life coming amid death. The Ethiopian then spotted some water along the road and asked Philip to baptize him. He found new life on the desert road between Jerusalem and Gaza.

I cannot stop the violence. All I can do is work to step into midst of death and try to bring hope and new life. I cannot literally walk the road from Jerusalem to Gaza right now, but I can join those who do. I can listen to my Christian brothers and sisters in the region to hear their firsthand perspective instead of allowing overly-politicized American voices cloud my reasoning. So I seek out voices from Nazareth, Bethlehem, and other parts of the Middle East like Beirut. My new friend Azar Ajaj in Nazareth penned a good Ethics Daily piece today titled "Because Here It's Not Far From Hell."

Azar Ajaj

"This warfare, this carnage, is it anything but madness and evil?" Ajaj, an Arab Baptist in Israel, writes as he condemns the violence. "The question before Christians is how to respond to all of this violence and hatred. This question must not be ignored."

Ajaj goes on in the piece to urge Christians to pray for three things: pray that leaders on both sides will pursue peace, pray for families who lost loved ones and homes, and "pray for wisdom for the Christian leaders that they might be instruments of peace and reconciliation in this difficult situation." He made a similar plea for Christians to be peacemakers in a video I shot of him earlier this month during the Annual Gathering of the Baptist World Alliance in Izmir, Turkey. In his piece today, he ends by urging, "Having prayed for these things, let us then be ready to act as peacemakers as the Lord enables us."


Azar Ajaj Emphasizes the Church's Role in Promoting Peace in Israel from EthicsDaily on Vimeo.

As Philip talked theology on the desert road between Jerusalem and Gaza, the Ethiopian official suddenly understood and wanted action. While we should pray - and consider praying as Ajaj recommends - we must also be ready to act. Watching the news and praying should help us better understand where to engage. We can give to relief organizations already on the ground who are helping with basic needs of those suffering in Gaza, such as the Mennonite Central Committee. We can also challenge the pro-war voices in our own congregations and faith communities. And we can contact our legislators and leaders in hopes they will listen.

Rather than hoping this will just be whisked away, we must instead mourn, pray, and act. We must find ways to love those in Jerusalem, Gaza, and in the desert in between them. 

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