It has been over a week now. Over 600 Palestinians and ten Israelis have been killed (seven of them soldiers), and 3,085 Palestinians have been injured. 25 percent of the dead are non-combatants: women, children, and the old. In the fog of war, the only certainty is these numbers will rise.
By now every major organization has issued a position statement on the recent outbreak of violence, and the pundits have been practicing their craft on the news channels for some time.
At the Christian-run Ahli-Arab hospital in Gaza, the wailing of the sirens is continuous, all the windows have been destroyed, the patients shiver in the winter air, and the hospital's director is desperate for blankets. Fuel supplies are low, medicines and food are scarce, the equipment is antiquated, the patients are many, and the bombing never stops. It is cold and Gaza is in the dark.
In Sderot, an Israeli town not too far from Gaza, the lights are on but they do not extinguish the darkness. A 51-year-old resident of the city recently wrote these words:
People who don't live in Sderot don't understand the situation here, just as those who don't live in Gaza don't understand their situation. But I know they suffer and I know we suffer as well.
At the end of the day there will be an agreement, so why do we have to go through this process of killing and shedding blood first? Why can't we stop? Why do we need for them to suffer so terribly, and I have no doubt that they are suffering more than us.
We in Sderot are so sick of this and they must be saying the same thing...
In Sderot, like in other cities in the Israeli South, the rockets fall as they have for some time now. The sirens wail at random, and residents are urged to run to their shelters in hopes they will make it in time. Sderot is 1.8 kilometers from Gaza. A rocket can reach Sderot in nine seconds.
Meanwhile, young Israeli men and women are on the way to Gaza. They are actors in a stage not of their making, victims of the past. The basest of them take vengeance in their anger, and the compassionate are caught between sympathy and duty.
In Gaza, hatred grows; the bombs cannot extinguish it. The old bury the young, the young watch the old whither, dignity is a memory, and peace but a forgotten shadow. The scale of the destruction and death is beyond imagination.
Hamas blames Israel for breaking the cease-fire by sending troops into Gaza on November 4th and for not complying with the conditions of the cease-fire or allowing significant levels of goods and humanitarian aide to flow into Gaza. How long, Hamas asks, can they show restraint while Gazans starve in the dark? Cease-fire or no cease-fire, the conditions are the same; what is the difference between a swift death or a slow one?
Israel cannot be asked to live with an organization whose history includes dispatching suicide bombers to kill its citizens. Israel blames Hamas for the blockade and points out that Hamas that has been firing rockets at civilians.
Around the world, pro-Palestinian and pro-Israeli groups echo these arguments louder and louder every day. No one ever wins the rhetorical battles because no one can. It is wrong for an occupying power to starve a population and force it to live in poverty, and it is wrong to fire rockets at civilians forcing them to live in fear. Deep down each side acknowledges its culpability, but cannot show mercy. Both are blind in one eye while the other eye only looks in the mirror to see its own pain. Each side claims it must act because it, after-all, is the victim.
Fear, hatred, death, uncertainty and fanaticism rule the day.
For all these reasons, and more, I beg my brothers and sisters in Christ to undertake a revolution in thought which extends beyond entrenched racial and political dogmas, one that is grounded in the gospel of peace in Christ and one which propels the body of Christ to care for the sick and dying, for the fearful, and for those whom we call friend or enemy.
We must act in compassion to heal the sick and have mercy on those who are suffering--be they Israeli or Palestinian, Muslim, Christian, or Jew. The very believability of the gospel of Christ is at stake.
The battle for Gaza is ongoing and it will continue after the last round is fired. When Gaza emerges from the rubble, Gazans will remember those who came to them in their time of need. Will it be the representatives of radicalization and hatred that will rebuild Gaza, or will it be the voices of reason and compassion? Simply stated: we cannot afford to abandon Gaza.
We must also not forget Sderot and the cities in the Israeli South. For in them, as in Gaza, hatred grows as the rockets fall. We must do everything we can to engender compassion and build bridges of understanding. We must also be there to mourn with those who mourn and care for those in need.
We cannot allow ourselves the luxury of assigning blame, washing our hands of the world, or placing ourselves above it. Nor can we allow ourselves to be held hostage by eschatological positions which offer no respite for those who bury the dead or care for the injured.
Now is the time to plead for peace and reconciliation, a time to end the madness and call for understanding. We may or may not be successful, but we cannot be silent. Our God was not silent in the face of our inequities, and while God could have judged us, instead he sent his Son to bridge the divide between God and humanity. If then we are created in God's image and for God's purpose, can we not then stand in the gap between Arab and Jew and beg for peace?
May God help us make this stand and forgive us if we do not.
Ali Elhajj is an Arab Christian who came to Christ from a Muslim background in 1999. His ministry, The Bethlehem Christmas Project, brings together American, Israeli, and Palestinian Christians to deliver Christmas gifts to oprhans, children suffering form post-traumatic stress, and children with special needs in the West Bank.