Lifeway study reveals what American Christians want to see between Israelis, Palestinians

Specifically, 88% of U.S. Christians believe lasting peace in the region requires a mutually agreed-upon political solution between Israel and Palestinians, while 8% disagree.

Most American Christians have been following the conflict between Israel and Hamas. Ultimately, they say they want negotiations, Hamas to be subdued, and a result that benefits both Israel and Palestinians.

Nearly 9 in 10 self-identified Christians in the U.S. have kept up with the current war between Hamas and Israel, according to a Lifeway Research study sponsored by The Philos Project. More than 2 in 5 say they have been following the events closely since the war began (44%). Another 42% say they have heard several updates since the war began. Few (13%) say they knew the two sides were fighting but not much more. Only 1% say they weren’t aware of the war at all.

“American Christians have been following the war between Israel and Hamas, and two-thirds of those who attend church most often say their church has prayed for peace in Israel,” said Scott McConnell, executive director of Lifeway Research. “While a majority of American Christians support military action by Israel now, a much larger group believe lasting peace must come by mutual agreement of Palestinians and Israelis.”

In general, U.S. Christians (52%) believe America does too much in trying to solve the world’s problems.

Another 30% say the U.S. is doing the right amount, while 12% say the nation does not do enough.

Fewer (6%) aren’t sure. Specifically with Israel, however, 50% of U.S. Christians believe America is doing the right amount to help. A quarter (26%) say the U.S. does too much in trying to help Israel.

Around 1 in 6 (16%) say America doesn’t do enough, and 7% aren’t sure.

Complicated situation 

American Christians tend to have nuanced perspectives on the circumstances surrounding the war between Israel and Hamas but clear views on the reality of Hamas, the rights of Israel and the need to protect innocent lives.

Three in 4 self-identified Christians in the U.S. (75%) say Hamas is “an extremist group that is isolated from most other Arabs who live in Israel and neighboring countries.” More than 4 in 5 (83%) agree Israel “must take bold measures to defend itself against Hamas’ decades-long campaign of terrorism against Israel.”

Most American Christians (88%) say Israelis have the right to determine their own statehood and government. Around 3 in 4 (76%) say the same about the Palestinians’ governance. A similar number (74%) agree Palestinians “have the right to defend themselves and the land their families have lived on for generations.”

Fewer (31%) believe “the Palestinian people in Gaza are responsible for the attacks carried out by Hamas.” Less than half of U.S. Christians (43%) say most of the Palestinian people in Gaza have supported Hamas’ fight, while 31% disagree and 26% aren’t sure.

“The Israel-Hamas war is the latest episode in a series of long-standing disputes in the region, and American Christians are aware these relationships have been complex,” said McConnell. “Most American Christians recognize the rights of both Israelis and Palestinians to defend themselves while also wanting Hamas’ terrorism to be stopped.”

On some of the underlying issues concerning the Palestinian people, U.S. Christians are more divided.

They are split on whether Israeli control of Gaza and the West Bank is an illegal occupation (36% agree, 40% disagree). A plurality (45%) say Israeli settlements beyond the agreed-upon borders are illegal, but 24% disagree and 31% aren’t sure. While 43% disagree that the “armed rebellion of Palestinians against Israel” is a natural response to being mistreated by Israel, 39% agree.

U.S. Christians are more likely to believe Israel’s blockade of Gaza since 2005 has hurt Palestinian people more than Hamas. Half (50%) say the blockade has oppressed Palestinian people who have no option of leaving, while 26% disagree and 24% aren’t sure. A third (33%) believe the blockade has prevented Hamas from obtaining weapons to use against Israel. More (43%) disagree, and 25% aren’t sure.

“The widespread agreement we see among American Christians on defending the human rights of Israelis and Palestinians is absent when we look at specific tactics taken in recent years to address disagreements,” McConnell said. “American Christians disagree with one another on disputes over land and how Israel has sought to minimize ongoing terrorism.”

Best result 

Most U.S. Christians believe Israel and Hamas view civilian casualties as justified in the conflict. Slightly more than half (52%) say Israel appears to consider civilian casualties justified in the pursuit of military goals. Even more (77%) say the same about Hamas. As a result, most Christians want to minimize civilian deaths, and many want to see a ceasefire in the region.

U.S. Christians are split between wanting their fellow believers to advocate for Israel to fight Hamas to achieve specific results and to advocate for a ceasefire.

Most (53%) say Christians should champion strong measures to minimize civilian casualties. Around 2 in 5 (42%) believe Christians should support an immediate, complete ceasefire to stop the killing. Other options find less support: 39% want freedom from oppression for innocent Palestinians, 38% back Israel fighting until all hostages are released, 33% support Israel fighting until Hamas surrenders and 30% believe Christians should advocate for the formation of a self-governing Palestinian state outside of Israel. One in 5 (21%) believe Christians should support “justice for all Hamas fighters who participated in the October 7, 2023, massacre.” Fewer say none of these (2%) or that they’re not sure (7%).

“When asked to respond to the war from a Christian perspective, most American Christians advocate for preserving lives including civilians, those fighting and hostages,” said McConnell. “This desire to preserve life coexists with a desire among the majority of American Christians for Israel to seek justice and save future lives by subduing Hamas.”

When asked what the optimal outcome for the conflict would be, most Christians prefer some type of negotiations (56%) and a majority prefer an option that begins with Israel subduing Hamas (53%).

Nearly 3 in 10 (29%) believe it would be best for Israel and Hamas to negotiate an enduring ceasefire that results in the release of hostages. Around a quarter (26%) prefer for Israel to subdue Hamas and resume negotiations with other Palestinian leaders on a permanent political solution to disagreements. Two smaller groups also want Israel to subdue Hamas and either establish long-term security over and control of Gaza (15%) or consolidate civil and military control over both Gaza and the West Bank (12%). Another 15% aren’t sure, and 3% say none of these.

Specifically, 88% of U.S. Christians believe lasting peace in the region requires a mutually agreed-upon political solution between Israel and Palestinians, while 8% disagree. Additionally, 81% support the goal of a two-state solution in which Israel and Palestine are self-governing with national borders respected by all, with 11% disagreeing.

U.S. Christians doubt Israel can only achieve a good result through military force. Two in 5 (41%) say the nation can secure a positive, long-term outcome solely through military force, but 47% disagree. American Christians are even more skeptical of the Palestinians’ need for fighting, as 16% say they can achieve their national aspirations solely through violence. More than 3 in 4 (77%) disagree.

Most say their church has made some type of response to the war. Almost half (45%) say their congregation has prayed for the peace of Israel and/or Jerusalem. Fewer say within their church they’ve seen condemnation of the killing of innocent civilians (18%), condemnation of Hamas’ attack on Oct. 7 (15%), support voiced from church leadership for Israel (14%), appeals from church leadership to stand by Israel’s side during this war (10%), support voiced from church leadership for Palestinian Christians (9%) or appeals from church leadership to stand against the oppression of Palestinians (7%). For 18% of U.S. Christians, none of these have happened at their churches, and 25% aren’t sure.

Influential sources 

As they’re following the news about the conflict, 59% of U.S. Christians believe news stories often over-simplify reasons for events in the war.

Additionally, more than 2 in 5 believe the media is biased in their conflict coverage, but they aren’t sure in which direction. Around 3 in 10 (31%) say the mainstream media’s coverage of the war is objective. More than 2 in 10 (22%) say the press is skewed toward pro-Israel views in how they report. Meanwhile, 22% say the media is skewed toward anti-Israel views. Another quarter (26%) aren’t sure.

Despite the doubts about objectivity, most U.S. Christians (56%) say the media has influenced their opinions about Israel. Around a quarter say they’ve been influenced by the Bible (27%) and friends and family (26%). Close to 1 in 8 point to personal experiences with Jews (13%), positions of elected officials (13%) and their local church (12%). Another 10% say national Christian leaders. Fewer say teachers or professors (6%) or personal experience with Palestinians (5%) have influenced their opinions. Almost 1 in 8 (13%) aren’t sure.

U.S. Christians are more likely to say they have met an Israeli (41%) than a Palestinian (27%). Around 3 in 10 (31%) say neither, and 25% aren’t sure.

In general, American Christians are more likely to have a positive perception of Israel (65%) than negative (23%). That positive perspective seems to stem more from the practical than the prophetic.

When asked what has positively influenced their opinions about the country of Israel today, U.S. Christians are most likely to say Israelis have a right to defend and protect their state (60%). Additionally, 47% say the nation is the United States’ closest ally in an unstable region, while 44% say Israel is the historic Jewish homeland. More than a quarter (28%) say Jews needed a refuge after the Holocaust. Meanwhile, 32% point to Jesus being a Jew, 30% say Israel is important for fulfilling biblical prophecy, and 28% say the Bible says Christians should support Israel.

“While a noticeable minority of American Christians are critical of some of Israel’s policies prior to Oct. 7, 2023, a majority have positive views of Israel and feel a strong response to the terrorist attack is warranted,” McConnell said. “Support for the defense of Israel does not supersede American Christians’ desire for civilian lives to be preserved, for negotiations to take place and to continue praying for peace.”

EDITOR’S NOTE — This story was written by Aaron Earls and originally published by Lifeway Research.


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