What should we think about the Gaza crisis? - Kensington Baptist Church

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What should we think about the Gaza crisis?

At the time of writing, over 1800 Palestinians and 67 Israelis have been killed in the present crisis which began on 8th July. Israeli forces have been attacking the Gaza strip from land, air and sea in response to the firing of rockets and the use of tunnels under the border by Hamas fighters infiltrating Israel. The great majority of the Palestinian deaths have been civilians, including many children; all but three of the Israelis have been soldiers.

The Gaza strip is a small, densely populated area of land between Israel and Egypt. Since 2007, it has been ruled by Hamas, an organisation on the extreme wing of Palestinian politics and regarded as terrorists by most Western countries as well as Israel and Egypt. Other important things to know about Hamas are that it refuses to recognise the existence of the state of Israel, that it has repeatedly engaged in violence against Israel – and that it was democratically elected as the government of Gaza.

Apart from being appalled at the human cost of this conflict, what should Christians think about it, and how should we respond? What should we think about the modern state of Israel in general, and this conflict in particular? We have to admit that Christians are divided on the issue, and there are various reasons for that. I’m not going to attempt a complete response in this short post: I will simply offer a few pointers that should help our response. This is intended primarily for our own church, though I am very happy for others to make use of it. I know that not everyone will agree, and I’ll be glad to discuss further (I hope I don’t live to regret that offer!).

1. History is complicated. People on all sides of the argument like to quote history selectively. For example, those who support Israel tend to overlook the following:

But people on the other side forget things too, for instance:

The roots of the present conflict go back much further than the last hundred years. So we should avoid sweeping statements based on one or two historical facts, especially when the facts are wrong. Unfortunately, that happens a lot.

2. Israel does not have a divine right to do as it pleases. Many Christians believe that the modern state of Israel is at the heart of God’s purposes for the world, and that the Church has a divinely ordained duty to ‘bless Israel’. This idea has strongly influenced American foreign policy in recent decades. I am convinced that this view is deeply misguided and damaging. It seriously misreads Scriptures such as Ephesians 2 and 3, and indeed the whole sweep of God’s purposes to create a single new humanity in Jesus Christ. But even if it were true, it would not imply that Israel has the right to ignore justice or to trample on the surrounding peoples. Amos 1 and 2 remind us that God will hold every nation accountable for its actions. And the more revelation of God’s character and laws we have received, the higher the bar for judgement. This is fearfully relevant for our own nation, as well as for Israel and its neighbours.

3. Israel does have a right to self-defence. Unless we are pacifists (an honourable position, but not one that the Bible supports), we should be able to agree that any state is allowed to defend itself against attack. Hamas wishes to annihilate Israel. Israel has every right to strike back. However, given point (2), such actions must be proportionate and appropriate, and the response in this crisis has been anything but that. This is true of the whole campaign, and in particular the attacks on schools and UN compounds sheltering thousands of civilians are completely indefensible. It is right to condemn them.

4. The Palestinians have been deprived of justice and driven to despair. Consider what the Palestinian Arabs have suffered since 1967. Very many of them have lived either as refugees or under illegal Israeli occupation. Large areas of their land have been seized. In Gaza, they are confined to a tiny, vulnerable and overcrowded territory, all of whose borders are closed and controlled by others. They are economically poor and politically powerless. It is not surprising that they have been driven to political extremes and, in some cases, to support for terrorism – for which all of them are now being made to suffer. An obvious and powerful side-effect of the Israeli assault on Gaza is that it deepens and perpetuates the inhabitants’ hatred for Israel. It drives more of the population to support the extremists of Hamas. In this sense, the assault is futile and short-sighted.

5. There has been a dismal lack of statesmanship on both sides. If there is any hope for the Israelis and Palestinians to live in peace together, it rests on the imagination and courage of their respective leaders. Parallels are sometimes drawn with the conflicts in Northern Ireland and South Africa. The (incomplete) resolution of those conflicts relied on leaders on both sides who could see beyond the logic of violence and the narrow interests of their own supporters. The Arab-Israeli conflict is more complex than either of those conflicts. But as Anwar Sadat and Menachem Begin – an even more unlikely pairing than Martin McGuinness and Ian Paisley – showed in 1978-79, progress is not impossible. However, in the present crisis there seems to be no sign of such statesmanship, which could start to bridge the gap between the two sides.

Given this background, then, what should Christians do? Here are some suggestions:

As we have opportunity, financially support and pray for agencies who are working for the spiritual and material blessing of the suffering people of Gaza. And don’t forget that the spiritual needs of the Israelis are just as great.

Steve Wilmshurst

Steve is Director of Training for Kensington. He's married to Andrea and they have two daughters, Sarah and Anna. Steve also runs the Cornhill+ training programme.