16 July 2014
Gaza: who wants peace?
Dr Dave Landrum, director of advocacy for the Evangelical Alliance, reflects on the current conflict in Israel-Palestine…
It's like a repeating nightmare. The unfolding crisis in Gaza provides us with a daily flow of tragic and horrific scenes on our TV screens, and it is sadly all too familiar. Attack followed by reprisal in a quickening escalation, attempts at brokering a truce, a resumption of hostilities, followed by invasion and massive destruction. We've been here before, and unless something significant changes, we will no doubt be here again in the future.
The tragedy is particularly poignant this time because the hostilities come at a point when the possibility of a significant peace and security deal between the Palestinian Authorities and the Israeli state had seemed close. Until as recently as June this year, people in the region were talking optimistically about an agreement conceivably being reached that would provide for better security and a way forward to build relationships of trust. Indeed, we even had Israeli president Shimon Peres and Palestinian Authority president Mahmoud Abbas participating in a peace prayer initiative.
Now, with Hamas ratcheting up its provocation of Israel, such optimism seems like a distant dream. For the 1.6 million people squeezed into the narrow Gaza strip, and for those living in the surrounding Israeli towns and cities, the future looks bleak and uncertain. In political terms, it seems that the hawks are winning against the doves.
I last visited the Eres checkpoint at Gaza with a cross-party group of Christian MPs in 2007 when I worked for Bible Society. During the visit, as we sat to discuss the situation with an Israeli official, the alarms sounded and we could hear the dull thud of rockets landing in the distance. We then went on to Bethlehem to take thousands of prayer cards from the UK to the wife and three children of the head of Bible Society in Gaza, Rami Ayad: a man of peace who had recently been brutally assassinated.
While we prayed with the Palestinian Christian community evacuated from Gaza following the murder, it would have been easy to despair. But we didn't – because they didn't. What became clear was that, despite the darkness, there was light, and there was faith, and there even was hope. Amid all the hatred, two things became clear to me: the first was that there are genuine people of peace on both sides of the conflict – both Jews and Muslims;and the second was that there is clearly an important role for Christians to play in brokering peace.
So, as the hostilities run their predictable and lamentable course in Gaza, in order to arrest or even (dare we believe) reverse this spiral of hatred, we should pray.
We should pray for the peacemakers in the respective communities and governments to be blessed with favour and strength. We should pray for the doves and against the hawks.
We should pray for the Church in the Israel/Palestine to be blessed with favour and strength. Christian populations in the Holy Lands have been decimated by persecution in recent years, and given the fact that such believers are drawn from both the Israeli and Arab communities, they are perfectly placed to build bridges and advocate for peace.
Grace and mercy are in short supply in places like Gaza. And Jesus is (literally) the hope of the nations.