By: Alex Pettett, Executive Director of World Witness
I realize that for many it is difficult to make sense of the brutality of the attack by Hamas a week ago Saturday. In light of this, how should we then think about the Palestinians? Others of you may be equally shocked at the amount of overwhelming force exhibited by Israel in response to this attack. How should we think about Israelis?
Jamie (my wife) and I met in Amman Jordan in 1999, and the second conversation we ever had surrounded the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. When we met, she had been in missions in Jordan for several summers and had Palestinian-leaning sympathies. I had already worked with Palestinians and Israelis for three years at that point and tended to not lean either way very strongly.
After our family having worked in Gaza and the West Bank with a medical ministry over a period of four years, during our time in Israel, and after 23 years of marriage, we are on the same page.
We love the Palestinians dearly and mourn the way they are used by Iran and other countries in the Middle East who hate Israel. As pawns, Iran has supplied them with weapons and terrorism strategies but denied them food and economic growth. Iran does not want the Palestinians to have a state, because it takes away their excuse for the destruction of Israel. Hamas is an agent of Iran and other groups that hate Israel. When Hamas took over the Gaza Strip in 2008, they killed or imprisoned any political enemies, thereby putting a stranglehold on the people of Gaza.
There is a well-known young man whose father was a Hamas leader. This man became a Christian and has denounced the Hamas movement. In a recent interview, he pointed out that Hamas’ ultimate goal is not the destruction of Israel but rather, the destruction of all non-Islamic countries. He states, “Hamas’ ultimate goal is to build the ‘khalifah’ (Islamic caliphate) on the rubble of every civilization.”
During our time in Gaza, we could see the emptiness in people as the society lived off UN food subsidies and had no purpose to their existence. Hamas’ iron grip on Gaza and the lack of purpose makes it fertile ground for recruiting. There are many other contributing factors like Isis’ success in Syria and the model of conquering set by early Islam. All of this makes me greatly pity the Palestinians, despise Hamas, and pray for Christ to show up powerfully.
While in Rafah (a camp in Gaza) in 1998, I spent time with a missionary, Jonathan, who constantly welcomed people into his home. One such man was a mentally challenged Palestinian who was quite dirty all the time, loud and large. When he went into shops, store managers often beat him with a stick until he fled. Jonathan and I took him back to his house where the Palestinian moved to a corner of the room and sat on the only stool. Jonathan then brought out a bowl of water, dropped to his knees, and began to wash the man’s feet, while the Palestinian squealed with delight. As the caked mud fell from man’s feet, Jonathan looked at me and said, “Sometimes Jesus visits us, and we get to serve him.”
This story reminds me that we are all made in God’s image, and the most rejected people are open the most to Christ. I do pray that Hamas is destroyed (think imprecatory Psalms) and that the Palestinian people would receive the free offer of the Gospel. My wife and I grieve for them and love them.
The medical ministry I worked with in Israel was, “Shevet Achim” (Brothers Together-Psalm 133). We partnered with a Jewish charity called, “Save a Child’s Heart.” Our two charities cooperated in bringing children from the West Bank and Gaza to Israel for life-saving heart surgeries. The founder of the Jewish charity often used to say, “To save a life is to save the entire world,” which is a famous quote from the Talmud. This speaks to the high value Jews place on human life, which is based, in part, on the truth of everyone being made in the image of God.
Several times Shevet Achim organized clandestine trips into Arab-controlled areas to have Israeli physicians conduct heart echocardiograms on children who were possibly candidates for surgery. Often the families coming to this secret clinic did not know the doctors were Jewish, let alone Israeli. If the doctors’ presence had become known in these areas, it would have been highly dangerous for them. As well, I witnessed the heroics of an IDF border commander (the same border that was overrun by Hamas) as he kept a Palestinian child alive on oxygen, during a rocket attack by Hamas.
This reminds me that Israel does not desire to dominate or annihilate the Palestinians. They do, however, want to survive and will do what it takes to protect their people.
We always need to remember that Israel is approaching their response to the fact that they were nearly destroyed in the holocaust and have been hated around the world for nearly their entire existence. Neither side is faultless in their dealings with one another. One government is ruled by terrorists (Gaza) and the other operates with a heavy hand. Entire nations should not be judged by the actions of some. Like all of Israel should not be judged by crazy settlers, and all of Palestine should not be judged by the evil Hamas.
Lastly, Christ works in and through the terrors of warfare. There are hundreds of IDF soldiers who are believers in Christ. Pray that the Lord uses their faith in amazing ways to cross borders and boundaries so that many would come to faith. I hope and pray there are Believers among the people of Gaza who would be bold to see others come to Christ in the midst of this tragedy. Let us, together, mourn the horrors experienced by both sides and be resolved to pray, “Your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.” Matthew 6:10