Like many across the world, the events in Israel and Palestine have had me glued to a wide variety of sources in search of live updates. My first reaction was to message my dear friends living in Israel-Palestine to check on them and their families’ safety: Sami, Mohammad, Jehad, Feras, Jack, Miriam, and Naama. My heart is tremendously heavy with the immense loss of precious life that has already unfolded and the dread for the violence still to come. I say this sorrowfully and without an ounce of callousness: This attack by Hamas, though sudden and horrific, did not come as a surprise to me.
Born and raised in the Texas Panhandle, I was the son of pastors at an evangelical, nondenominational church. The city of Amarillo was a conservative place with good-hearted people, happy to be tucked away from the rest of the world. People in Amarillo ignored news of the world’s problems, except when it came to Israel.
For us, and many evangelical Christians across the country, it was our duty to defend and support Israel. Israel was God’s “chosen” nation and the formation of the country in 1948 was understood to be a fulfillment of end-times prophecy — specifically the second coming of Christ. The message we heard in church was that end-times prophecy was unfolding in front of our eyes and God needed our help to speed up the process toward an apocalyptic Armageddon that would ultimately culminate in the return of Christ. Those that opposed Israel would stand with “the Antichrist” and their blood would flow in the valley of Megiddo, all the way up to the horses’ bits (Revelation 14:20). This is not a fringe metaphorical fantasy, but a widespread evangelical belief tied to real political happenings here in the U.S. and in Israel-Palestine.
It wasn’t until my teenage years and then into my early 20s that cracks in my identity, religious beliefs, and worldview began to form and widen. I started hearing stories, seeing films, and reading more about Palestinians living and suffering under Israeli occupation. I made my first trip to the region and was shocked and dismayed by what I witnessed. I couldn’t rationalize the church’s adamant political, monetary, and emotional support for the state of Israel with the Jesus in the Bible who said, “You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your Father in heaven” (Matthew 5:43-45).
Ultimately, I came to the realization that if supporting the occupation and ethnic cleansing of Palestinians was what was required for me to stand in support of Israel, I no longer could.
Fast-forward to today: My second film has just released, Praying for Armageddon, and it focuses on the end-times theology that I grew up hearing and its role in politics and foreign policy today. The film held its U.S. premiere on Oct. 8, the day after Hamas’ attack. Co-director Tonje Hessen Schei and I have devoted years to investigating and revealing the powerful U.S. evangelical infiltration into the politics and foreign police of the U.S. in Israel-Palestine. Now playing out in real time, we have seen evangelical political and religious leaders all around the world rallying to support Israeli military counter-attacks, even if that means supporting war crimes.
Sen. Lindsey Graham (R.-S.C.) proudly boasted on Fox News, “We’re in a religious war here. I am with Israel. Do whatever the hell you have to do to defend yourself. Level the place!” On Oct. 9, Israeli Defense Minister Yoav Gallant used genocidal language and endorsed collective punishment on Palestinian civilians (a war crime) when he said that there would be “a complete siege on Gaza … there will be no electricity, no food, no water, no fuel, everything will be closed … We are fighting against human animals, and we are acting accordingly.” Through our investigations in Praying for Armageddon, it becomes shockingly clear that there are many powerful political, religious, and military leaders ready to pull the trigger on a “holy war” that could be devastating to our global civilization. We must ask these leaders whether they see themselves as instrumental in an apocalyptic prophetic vision, and then ask ourselves whether we are willing to let them retain their power.
This is the main reason why I am not surprised by the horrific and tragic events of the Al-Aqsa Storm attack on Oct. 7. The world has turned a blind eye to the violence of an apartheid and settler-colonial Israeli government for 75 years. In 2023 there has been a rising number of Palestinian civilian deaths at the hands of Israeli forces and settlers. The continuous jailing and detainment of Palestinian children (including those as young as 12 years old) has also fueled anger at a biased, unaccountable Israeli justice system. Other factors influencing violent pushback: the blockade of 2.2 million people in Gaza, which has been happening since 2007, the displacement of Palestinians and seizure of land by Israeli settlers, a rise in militancy on both sides for religious and political reasons, and countless other human rights abuses throughout the occupied Palestinian territories.
We should be shocked, dismayed, and angered at the violence recently enacted on Israeli civilians, and we should hold the same amount of shock, dismay, and anger for the violence enacted on Palestinians for the past 75 years. We must come to terms with the fact that we don’t truly despise the death of an innocent person if our outrage only surfaces for Israelis. In order for the cycle of violence to be broken, we must stand for equal rights, accountability, and the value of all human life.
My dear friend Mohammad Alazza, one of the main characters in my first film, Hurdle, told me the following via an audio Facebook message: “The whole thing is not less than genocide — what’s happening [with] clear orders to kill Palestinians wherever they are. And it is really weird what’s going on — especially with the other countries that are supporting Israel now that the action happened” Alazza explained. “If they keep practicing the same things,” Alazza continued, “it will explode even in the West Bank. So, if they’re thinking with attacks that it is going to stop the Palestinians, I think these people are 100 percent wrong. Violence brings more violence. The only solution is if they go for a serious solution for everyone to have equal rights and ending the occupation.”
As things continue to unfold, the more concerned I become that those Armageddon prophecies I learned about as a kid will be intentionally fulfilled today with rockets, aircraft carriers, tanks, chemical weapons, and drones. I’ve seen the valley of Megiddo, and the people who inhabit the region around it from Gaza, Jerusalem, Bethlehem, Ramallah, Haifa, and Tel Aviv. I do not wish to see their blood flow to the horses’ bits in an Armageddon battle. The moment we turn a blind eye to injustice, stay silent when it is difficult to speak, and do not mourn all lives lost, we have succumbed to this cynical cycle of violence for the foreseeable future.