Situations across the world sometimes appear to be black and white — there is right and wrong, good and evil. Unfortunately, geopolitical situations are very complex, especially ones in the Middle East. The current tragedy between Israel and Hamas in Gaza carries immense cultural and historical baggage, and it requires patience to sift through cluttered headlines, posts, statuses and stories.
One of the first questions when trying to understand this conflict involves identifying the perpetrators of the most recent attacks: who, or what, is Hamas? It is an Islamist organization that originated in 1987 and functions as a Palestinian faction (like a political party). Some understanding comes from the name, Hamas, which is an acronym. Hamas stands for “Harakat Al-Muqawama Islamiyya,” which is Arabic for Islamic Resistance Movement. What are they resisting? Simply put, they resist Israel.
There are two Palestinian territories of note — the West Bank and the Gaza Strip. Israel occupies the West Bank, which is a piece of land to the east and north of Israel. Hamas, meanwhile, rules the Gaza Strip, which is a very small piece of land on Israel’s western shoulder, alongside the Mediterranean Sea.
Hamas does not consider Israel to be a legitimate state. Unlike other Palestinian factions or groups, Hamas will not engage with Israel diplomatically at all. Hamas opposed the Oslo Accords in the mid 1990s, which established a group called the Palestinian Authority — currently a civil administrative body of the West Bank — and created geographic districts administered by the PA, Israel, or both. After elections and a military conflict in 2006–2007, the PA lost control of the Gaza Strip to Hamas.
Hamas seeks to liberate Palestinian territory from Israeli occupation by any means. In the mind of Hamas, violence against Israel is necessary not only to raise attention to their cause but ultimately to eradicate the area of Israeli influence entirely.
With this charge in its mind, Hamas launched a surprise military attack upon Israel on Oct. 7. Gunmen went into as many as 22 locations and assaulted both soldiers and civilians. Rockets were fired from Gaza toward an Israeli hospital and other locations. Hundreds of people were killed, over a thousand were wounded. Meanwhile, Hamas militants took many civilians and soldiers captive.
Israel responded with strikes of their own toward the Gaza Strip, killing at least 232 people and wounding 1,700, according to the Palestinian Health Ministry. After nightfall, Israeli airstrikes flattened residential buildings, including a 14-story building of apartments and offices. Israel also responded by cutting off electricity, fuel and other goods to Gaza. At time of writing, more than 4,000 have died across both sides, and humanitarian groups globally are seeking means of supplying fleeing Gaza residents.
Not the first time
This conflict is not the first between Israel and its neighbors — whether those neighbors are Palestinians, Egyptians, Syrians, or other Arab groups. Even in the last century, formal conflicts include the 1948 Arab-Israeli War and the Six-Day War of 1967. The total list of skirmishes and complications would be difficult to list and nearly impossible to fully explain. Israel and its people have been in a defensive mode — sometimes fending for their literal survival — even going back to the time of Old Testament prophets, when their neighbors were Assyrians, Moabites, Egyptians, and others. Perhaps one of the significant ironies of the entire issue is that Palestinians are another group that has often been refugees, unbelonging to a place of permanence. Israelis and Palestinians both want a home, both believe they deserve a home and both have been unwelcome in the eyes of other nations.
These lands across modern Israel, the West Bank, and the Gaza Strip hold a mix of Israeli and Palestinian citizens — the populations are not cut and dry across borders. More than a million Palestinians live in Israel, and several hundred thousand Israelis live in the West Bank. Unfortunately, even if they are citizens, Palestinians in Israel often may not receive ideal treatment and can be lumped in with their extreme factions nearby. The benefit of the doubt can be hard to find. Distrust abounds.
Bearing in mind many of these issues, what should support look like from the western Christian? First, many Christians have been quick to call out the attacks of Hamas as evil. They are right to do so — the actions of Hamas to gun down, capture, and kill Israelis were evil. At the same time, the actions of Israel to target, strike, and kill innocent Palestinians are also evil. Christians ought not condone violent acts against humanity simply because of the colors of one flag. Blanket generalizations of support for Israel may be well-intentioned but could be misguided if one is unwilling to look closely.
If Christians believe God is a God of peace, and if their Christ is one of peace, then Christians should be people of peace. Support from a western Christian may often look like prayer — prayer for God to work in the hearts and minds of global actors and to quickly cause violence to cease. It is OK to “pray for Israel” as many have felt called to do, but Christians should also not discriminate when asking God to extend his mercy.
Palestinians and Israelis alike are made in the image of God to the same degree and are suffering immense amounts of grief and loss. Christians should earnestly ask God to hasten the day when he will judge between nations, as people “beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks, and nation will not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war anymore” (Isa. 2:4). Until that day, Christians would do well to weep with those who weep and instill the presence of Christ in a pain-ridden world.