In the days and weeks following October 7th, when the long-standing conflict between Israel and Gaza went through a seismic shift, a lot of friends reached out to me for my opinion.
“You lived there through the last major conflict with Gaza,” said one. “I’d be interested to hear your take on what’s happening now.”
“You have a unique perspective on this,” said another. “Since you have friends on all sides.”
Indeed, we do. On that fateful Saturday morning, a young Messianic Jewish couple, Naomi and Eli, who serve in our ministry and live in one of the kibbutz communities just north of Gaza, barely escaped death. Hearing sirens shortly after dawn, they were able to get in a car and flee the area. Several in their community would die that day at the hands of Hamas militants.
In the days following, over in the Palestinian West Bank, our most senior local staff, a Palestinian Christian name Ibrahim, who has served with our ministry for more than a dozen years, was unable to leave for a planned meeting in Europe. Not allowed to use the airport in Tel Aviv, even though it’s less than an hour’s drive from where he lives in Bethlehem, he must first cross the border to Jordan and fly out of Amman. But in the days following October 7th, Israel sealed that border. In fact, they sealed every border around the West Bank, making it impossible for Palestinians to travel to be with extended family, to get to their jobs, to carry on with their already suppressed livelihoods.
And then there is Omar. Omar grew up in Gaza, a son of Christian parents, involved with the evangelical youth group Awana. After leaving Gaza in his later teenage years, Omar studied at the Bethlehem Bible College in the West Bank, before marrying an Arab Israeli girl from Nazareth. Today he serves as the area director for our ministry in the ancient hometown of Jesus. In the weeks following the Hamas attacks, Omar and his family would also be forced into periodic runs to local bomb shelters as Hezbollah threatened from the north.
Naomi, Ibrahim, and Omar, are co-workers in God’s Kingdom, introducing adolescents to the Savior and then walking alongside them in their spiritual journeys. We know them well and love them deeply. They speak different languages. They come from vastly different cultures. Naomi is not permitted to visit the town that Ibrahim lives in and vice versa. Omar grew up in Gaza but cannot return. They live among people groups who are largely divided. And at times like this, sadly, each is unfairly implicated simply by ethnicity or nationality. October 7th changed all of their lives forever.
“You have somewhat of a neutral voice,” a friend wrote in an email a few days after October 7th. “Maybe you could speak to what really lies underneath all this.”
The first part of that statement isn’t actually true. I’m not neutral, which I will explain later. But I do know some things about what lies underneath. The kinds of things that might make us squirm and backpedal into our own safe stance of neutrality when they come to light.
And finally, this, from a friend well acquainted with my day-to-day work in development.
I know you don’t like to make enemies, and since your job involves raising funds to support both Israelis and Palestinians, I get it that you might want to keep quiet at times like this. But I think the time for being silent is over. I think you need to say something.”
Confession. This last comment was internal. It started as a whisper in my head and kept growing louder and louder until I could no longer ignore it. And since I find my best “voice” in the written word, these words, and the writings at https://outofnazareth.blog/ are my humble attempt to speak up. My hope is that my words might help educate, not adjudicate. At times like this, it’s not our place to judge, but we do have a responsibility to help shed light if we can. My words are offered in love and, hopefully, shouldered against wisdom, with very real hope looming on the horizon. And yes, I do land on one side of this sad and tragic situation. But it’s probably not the side you might think.
Finally, it’s important to remember that two things can be true at the same time. Even three or four…. In much the same way we are often told that God hates sin but loves the sinner, we can condemn the behavior of human beings and still hope, work towards and pray for their redemption. After all, we were once in that same situation ourselves, with the highest stakes in play. Let us not forget the words of Romans 5:10:
“For if, while we were God’s enemies, we were reconciled to him through the death of his Son, how much more, having been reconciled, shall we be saved through his life!” (NIV)
There is hope for all. There is always hope.
He writes not from the perspective of a trained theologian, but rather as one who has lived in the land, loved the people and longs for the day when Jew and Gentile might together come into the fullness of Ephesians 2:14, which declares:
“For Christ himself has brought peace to us. He united Jews and Gentiles into one people when, in his own body on the cross, he broke down the wall of hostility that separated us.” (NLT)