My heart aches due to the immense suffering and cruelty caused by the recent wave of conflict in my homeland. Last week, in southern Israel, we witnessed a massacre carried out by Hamas militants that claimed the lives of over 1300 Israelis, including women and children. More than 100 have been kidnapped, and thousands have been wounded and displaced. In response, the Israel-Hamas war has erupted, and the tragedy continues to escalate. As of the time of writing this article, as a result of the Israeli air force's attack on Gaza Strip, more than 2,400 Palestinians have lost their lives, with over 10,000 others wounded. Thousands of homes have been destroyed, and more than 600,000 civilians are displaced in the Gaza Strip. Among the casualties, many are women and children. Israel has imposed a 'total blockade' of the Gaza Strip, blocking the entry of food, water, medicine, fuel, and electricity.
It is often said that in times of war, "when the cannons are rumbling the muses fall silent." Yet, it is precisely during these chaotic moments that the followers of Jesus are called to reflect and speak. How should we respond and pray in such circumstances?
As a Palestinian Christian citizen of Israel, I grieve with all those who have lost their loved ones. I believe that violence, from any side, is never justified. As a follower of Jesus, I reject and condemn all forms of violence that have led to loss of life, suffering, and destruction; the lasting harm far outweighs any temporary benefits. The cycle of retaliation and the 'eye for an eye' mentality only deepens the suffering and widens the divide, creating a barrier to the just peace that both Palestinians and Israelis deserve. It's time to transition from a military approach to a fair political solution that addresses the concerns of both sides. Understanding the history of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is crucial in comprehending these concerns and the root causes of the current war. Many experts have extensively covered this topic from various perspectives. This article will not address these underlying factors.
In the face of such turbulent and challenging circumstances, when the cannons are still rumbling, I felt an overwhelming necessity to revisit our ethical conduct in times of conflict. I wish to share my perspective on how we should navigate enmity, drawing from the timeless wisdom of the Sermon on the Mount.
Last week, during my Christian Ethics class in Nazareth, we stepped into the world of transformative wisdom found in the Sermon on the Mount. We were reminded by a powerful message that deeply touched our hearts: Christ's powerful response to the darkness of violence and injustice in his time, driven by a heart full of empathy and a passion for justice. His response rejects both violence and passive withdrawal from the world's struggles. Instead, He calls us to a journey of mending broken relationships. Starting with the commandment "You shall not murder," He showed us the way to restore damaged bonds with the simple yet profound words, "Go and be reconciled." He challenged the prevailing "eye for an eye" mentality by urging us to turn the other cheek, give our cloak, and go the extra mile. In the face of adversity, He taught us to "love your enemy," inspiring us to bless, pray for, and love those who may appear as adversaries. This is Christ's timeless path, as laid out in Matthew 5:21-48, for addressing injustice and dealing with violence.
From "You shall not murder" to "Go and be reconciled": Amidst conflict and war, this initiative has the potential to change the course of events. It has the power to transform anger and resentment into compassion and an angry soul into a peacemaker. It takes broken relationships and turn them into peaceful connections. This initiative invites us to walk the path of grace, inspired by the very journey God took in Christ to reconcile humanity. So, when we find ourselves amidst anger and turmoil, this regular practice can become our beacon of hope, seeking to end conflict and bring about lasting peace. It's not about vague intentions or lofty convictions; it's about practical, consistent practices, a lifestyle that, when faithfully followed, can shape us into peacemakers and free us from the destructive cycles of anger and revenge.
From "an eye for an eye" to “love your enemies”: Christ's commandment to "love your enemy" was directed at a people living in a climate of violence and repression. The way that loving one's enemies was demonstrated took shape in four scenarios that typically provoke the desire for revenge: First, turning the other cheek, where using the right cheek to be struck with the left hand symbolizes a physically humiliating assault. Second, assault by taking one's cloak or possessions, resulting in material loss. Third, assault on our freedom, as seen in the position of the Roman soldier occupier who forcibly subjugates and exploits others for his benefit. Fourth, extortion and the confiscation of our money. Christ affirmed His rejection of revenge and resisting evil with evil by embracing hope and the belief that love can conquer evil. This path might be challenging, but it's truly admirable. It's the essence of His sermon and what sets Christian ethics apart from the ways of the world.
Christ's response to enmity inspire and encourage us in three ways:
First take action: In challenging times, we have the ability to initiate creative solutions. Christ urged His followers, often those who were oppressed, to reject revenge and explore creative ways beyond conventional responses, offering an alternative to fight or flight. These initiatives are transformative and aim to affirm the humanity of both the oppressor and the oppressed, seeking positive transformation in their relationship. Gideon, observing the hunger of his people, took an action. He collected and threshed wheat secretly in a winepress, hiding from the enemy, to provide food for those in need. His initiative is a powerful example of creative, simple actions that brought about change (Judges 6:11-16).
Second, transform Relationships: As peacemakers, our aim is to bring about change in oppressors by exposing their injustices and persuading them to amend their ways. This shift in our approach shifts us away from seeking vengeance and positions us as instruments of God, advocating for justice and peace through compassion. Turning the other cheek (highlighting the cruelty), walking the extra mile (initiating dialogue), and handing over the coat (emphasizing injustice) are not acts of weakness but rather heroic stances. They serve to highlight the combination of justice and mercy by exposing wrongdoing and fostering dialogue, with the intent of convincing oppressors to abandon their harmful ways and embrace the paths of truth, thereby opening up the possibility of living in dignity and harmony. Rizpah, who publicly exposed the injustice committed by David against her sons by keeping the fact of her sons' deaths visible before the people of Israel for months, provides a powerful example of creative action that transform relationships with oppressors (2 Samuel 21:1-14).
Third, embody sacrificial and liberating love: Christ's example demonstrates the power of self-control and love. Following His lead, we can endure suffering without seeking revenge and view injustice as an opportunity to embody Christ's love and justice as we work to advance His kingdom. This love is both sacrificial and liberating. The four scenarios (turning the other cheek, giving your cloak, going the extra mile, and giving to the one who asks) embody this sacrificial and liberating love. In essence, love and justice are expressed through a lifestyle dedicated to conquering evil with goodness. They guide us in growing in Christ-likeness and in the process, in restoring others and society. The Good Samaritan story exemplifies sacrificial and liberating love. Christ's instruction not to resist evil is about avoiding retaliation, but it is not an invitation to pacifism in all circumstances. Instead, it's a strategy to prevent revenge and contribute to the promotion of good while preventing evil.
Martin Luther King Jr.'s journey exemplifies these principles. He endured hardships, yet he advocated sacrificial, liberating love, leading a movement that freed people and achieved remarkable victories. While in prison, he wrote that love has the power to transform an enemy into a friend, as it has the power of redemption and the power of creation. By embracing these teachings, we too can make a difference during times of conflict.
During the initial days of the war, we have witnessed numerous instances where individuals from both sides of the conflict have chosen not to embrace the "an eye for an eye" approach. Instead, they have chosen to love their enemy. For example, Y, whose wife and children were kidnapped by Hamas, rejected voices of hatred and revenge from his community and emphasized the importance of ending the siege on Gaza to achieve lasting peace. Neta, whose mother was kidnapped, publicly pleaded not to destroy Gaza and stressed the necessity of a just peace for both Palestinians and Jews. Yosef, a Palestinian Israeli citizen, bravely rescued several Jewish Israeli people and evacuated others to a nearby hospital amid intense fire.
These voices extend beyond the actions of individuals. Palestinian churches in Israel/Palestine have called for prayers, pleading for God's mercy, the cessation of this war, and an end to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Some have issued declarations to end this war and achieve lasting peace. Several Palestinian Churches in Israel have taken an additional step, encouraging their members to open their homes to provide temporary shelter and solace for needy families, in addition to extending aid to individuals affected in Israel/Palestine. Alongside them, a diverse array of grassroots organizations, spanning Jewish, Christian, and Islamic communities, has united in a common purpose: to vocally denounce war and violence. They work together to reduce polarization and the specter of escalating tensions that often grip Jewish and Palestinian communities. Add to that some courageous Israeli journalists whose reporting has exposed injustices. Their work serves as a force to pressure leaders to address these issues with fairness and integrity.
These voices, advocates of life, empathy, and lasting peace, outshine those who promote death, revenge, and war. They embody a peacemaking lifestyle, actively fostering peace amidst conflict. Their strength lies in their capacity to envision a network of relationships that includes even their "enemies," acknowledging interdependence and committing to mutual understanding.
Inspired by the Sermon on the Mount and by numerous stories of redemption where people choose love over revenge, may we become beacons of light amid the darkness by advocating for life, exposing injustice, and a commitment to lasting peace. May our love have the power to transform our enemies into friends.
Please pray with us…
1) Divine Goodness and Sovereignty: We trust in God's complete sovereignty over tragedies and injustice, believing that His goodness ensures that He is with us in our suffering and will work things out for His good purposes, and that in His time, God will bring justice and right all wrongs. May we internalize that, the fact that God has ultimate control over all injustices doesn't release us from our responsibility to be agents of peace and justice.
2) Cessation of the war: We pray for God's intervention to stop the bloodshed in this war and protect innocent lives in Israel, Gaza and the wider Palestinian territories.
3) Acknowledgment of Suffering: We mourn with and pray for all those grieving and suffering both Jews and Palestinians of this ongoing strife. May our hearts be open to understand that our shared humanity diminishes when others are humiliated and abused.
4) Healing and Comfort: We pray for all those who have been affected by this conflict, both Jews and Palestinians, seeking healing, comfort, and freedom. May they find solace and peace in their distress, and may God’s loving presence provide them with strength and resilience to overcome trauma. Grant them guidance, support, and the assistance needed for recovery and restoration.
5) The Church: Lord, grant the church in Israel/Palestine the perseverance to walk the path of grace, even when it feels difficult, and when anger and fear threatens to take hold. Let Your love be our guide as we navigate the challenges of our time. Teach us the art of love that can overcome hearted and promote justice. Remind us that our mission, as the mission of Jesus, involves being sent into the world to love, to serve, to heal, to save and to free, presenting a counterculture so we fight revenge through mercy/ forgiveness and we resist evil with good and seek justice in the road of reconciliation.
6) Leaders and decision-makers: We pray that God may guide leaders and decision-makers, granting them wisdom and courage to pursue lasting peaceful resolutions. May they prioritize unity, understanding, and dialogue to bring an end to the collective punishment and focus on the deep need for both sides to live in peace and safety.
7) Uniting for Peace: We pray for protection and strength for those who are striving to build bridges amidst the chaos; working together to prevent polarization and escalation between Jewish and Palestinian communities. Bless their efforts and grant them the wisdom as they contribute in fostering harmony. We pray for the emergence of international peacemakers, who have wisdom, compassion, and courage to contribute to a just and lasting peace in this troubled region. Grant them the insight to navigate the complexities of this conflict, the empathy to understand the suffering on all sides, and the determination to bridge divides and foster reconciliation.
May churches worldwide join us in prayer for peace, demonstrating the love of Christ to all peoples. May our collective prayers inspire positive action and the pursuit of lasting peace.
Stassen, Glen & Gushee, David. Kingdom Ethics: Following Jesus in a Contemporary Context. InterVarsity Press, Downers Grove, 2003.
Stott, John. The Message of the Sermon on the Mount (The Bible Speaks Today Series). IVP Academic, 1985.
Dr. Rula Khoury Mansour is the founder and director of Nazareth Center for Peace Studies and Associate Professor at Nazareth Evangelical College