As in any large city, it’s normal to hear sirens at any time of day in Jerusalem. But this was different. Instead of going away in a minute or two, these sirens continued to wail, disrupting the early Sabbath-morning peace.
Opening the window of my hotel room to try to understand what the noise was about, I heard about a dozen muffled explosions in less than a minute. I’d seen enough news reports to immediately recognize what was going on—the sirens were warning Jerusalem residents of a wave of incoming missiles from the Hamas-ruled Gaza Strip, and the explosions were Israel’s Iron Dome defensive system intercepting and blowing up those missiles before they could hit the city.
A surreal experience
My wife and I were in Jerusalem as part of a 178-member group celebrating the biblical Feast of Tabernacles and the Holy Day immediately following. During the previous seven days we had visited many biblical sites and celebrated the coming Millennial reign of Jesus Christ that this Feast represents. Now our group was directed to the basement-level meeting room/bomb shelter where we would hold our final church service.
One of the hymns we sang, “O God of Every Nation,” was particularly poignant. Some of its lyrics plead for deliverance from “bombs that shower destruction through the night” and ask “that all may find release from fear of rattling saber and dread of war’s increase.”
For the most part we were in a news blackout due to what has often rightly been described as “the fog of war.” Yet we knew conditions were serious, and most of our group hurriedly made plans to cross the border into neighboring Jordan and return home via flights through Amman rather than risk cancellations of our existing flights leaving from Israel’s only major airport. That turned out to be a wise decision, as only a handful were able to fly out that evening. Others ended up stranded in Tel Aviv or Jerusalem for several days with nowhere to go.
Little did we know that over the course of the day, more than 1,300 Israeli men, women and children were being butchered, raped and dismembered by fanatical Islamic Hamas terrorists from Gaza who had overrun large areas of southern Israel in a shockingly brutal attack. The victims included dozens and young children and infants, and at least one elderly wheelchair-bound woman. More than 260 young adults were slaughtered at an open-air concert. More than 3,000 others were injured, many critically.
A long history of violence
This wasn’t my first brush with Middle East bloodshed. On a previous trip, Beyond Today writer and TV presenter Darris McNeely and I had spent time in Israel before crossing the border to fly out of Amman to return home. But on our last night in Amman, we were shaken out of our sleep by a hotel employee pounding on our room door and yelling: “Wake up! Get out! We must evacuate!”
We were quickly rushed downstairs and out into the cold night air to a nearby vacant lot. There, as the hotel was being searched, we eventually learned that suicide bombers had detonated their explosive vests at three nearby hotels, killing and maiming hundreds of innocent people. Many of the victims had been gathered for a wedding celebration that quickly turned into a national tragedy.
To many, such senseless cruelty is incomprehensible. But Israel and its neighbors have suffered from decades of this barbarity. What’s behind such savagery?
While war and murder are as old as the human race, this region has a long record of brutality, with city-states and empires clashing for control. The Bible itself records the rise and fall of the Egyptian, Israelite, Assyrian, Babylonian, Persian, Greek and Roman Empires, all of which at times dominated the area.
But it took the rise of Islam in the 600s to launch this region into a largely permanent state of war spanning centuries and continuing to our day—and playing the key role in this recent slaughter.
Muhammed’s bloody new religion
Few Westerners have read Islam’s claimed holy book, the Quran, dictated by Muhammad to his followers. If they did, they would likely be shocked at its repeated instructions to wage jihad—holy war—against non-Muslims. Its incitements include many exhortations such as these (Dawood translation):
“Let not the unbelievers [non-Muslims] think that they will ever get away. Muster against them all the men and cavalry at your command, so that you may strike terror into the enemy of [Allah] . . .” (sura 8:59-60).
“Make war on them. [Allah] will chastise them at your hands and humble them” (sura 9:14).
“Fight against them until idolatry [worship of any god other than Allah] is no more and [Allah’s] religion [Islam] reigns supreme” (sura 2:193).
“Believers, take neither Jews nor the Christians for your friends . . . Whoever of you seeks their friendship becomes one of their number. [Allah] does not guide the wrongdoers” (sura 5:51).
“If you do not go to war, He will punish you [Muslims] sternly, and will replace you by other men . . . March on and fight for the cause of [Allah] . . .” (sura 9:38-41).
“Believers, make war on the infidels who dwell around you. Deal firmly with them. Know that [Allah] is with the righteous” (sura 9:123)
“When you meet the unbelievers in the battlefield strike off their heads and, when you have laid them low, bind your captives firmly . . .” (sura 47:4).
In carrying out their surprise slaughter of more than 1,300 Israelis, Islamic Hamas terrorists did exactly what their holy book tells them to—they beheaded captured Israelis, even infants, and took more than 130 captives into Gaza. (In recent decades Muslim jihadists have recited these same verses in videos while recording the decapitations of their victims—they were simply quoting what their holy book tells them to do.)
The short, deadly history of Hamas
Hamas is an offshoot of the Muslim Brotherhood, established in Gaza in 1946 before the modern state of Israel existed. Hamas officially formed in 1987 and carried out its first suicide bombings a few years later. Due to its attacks against civilians, most Western nations have designated Hamas as a terrorist organization. Over its bloody history, Hamas has launched hundreds of attacks against Israelis, killing and injuring thousands.
Israel took control of Egyptian-ruled Gaza, along Israel’s southwest border, after defeating Egypt in the 1967 Six-Day War, but withdrew in 2005 and turned the area over to self-rule by the Palestinian National Authority. The following year Hamas won the first elections and in 2007 took complete control over Gaza, even engaging in a brief civil war to oust the competing Fatah faction. This set the stage for a cycle of repeated Hamas rocket and mortar attacks on nearby Israeli settlements, leading to Israeli military retaliation.
Now Hamas has launched its bloodiest attacks ever on Israeli civilians. To put the numbers in perspective, the disastrous 9/11 terrorist attacks killed almost 3,000 Americans. Had the proportions been the same as the percentage of Israel’s population killed recently by Hamas, the total would be 40,000 dead Americans and well over 100,000 injured. These numbers are staggering. Nearly every Israeli family personally knows someone killed or wounded in these attacks.
What is the goal of Hamas?
While Hamas has tried to publicly present a face of moderation, it remains at heart a terrorist organization dedicated to the forceful eradication of the state of Israel as plainly stated in its charter. These excerpts clearly state their intentions (emphasis added throughout):
“Israel will exist and will continue to exist until Islam will obliterate it, just as it obliterated others before it.”
“The Islamic Resistance Movement . . . strives to raise the banner of Allah over every inch of Palestine” (which to Hamas means the whole land of Israel).
“There is no solution for the Palestinian question except through Jihad. Initiatives, proposals and international conferences are all a waste of time and vain endeavors.”
“In face of the Jews’ usurpation of Palestine, it is compulsory that the banner of Jihad be raised.”
The slogan of Hamas is: “Allah is its target, the Prophet is its model, the Qur’an its constitution: Jihad is its path and death for the sake of Allah is the loftiest of its wishes.”
The Palestinian National Authority, which governs the West Bank, is little better. The Palestinian Covenant, which lays out its ideology, states in Article 9: “Armed struggle is the only way to liberate Palestine . . . The Palestinian Arab people assert their absolute determination and firm resolution to continue their armed struggle and to work for an armed popular revolution for the liberation of their country . . .”
The real issue, as shown by these statements, is the very existence of Israel. Both the Hamas Charter and the Palestinian National Covenant call for violent jihad until the region is ethnically cleansed of Jews and the state of Israel no longer exists.
When they tell us who they are, we should believe them
Because few Westerners have ever read the Quran or Hamas charter, most find such thinking incomprehensible. So they cannot grasp what could possibly motivate such horrendous attacks. But when Hamas and its supporters plainly tell us what they think and what motivates them, we should believe their own clear statements.
The name Hamas is an Arabic acronym for Harakat al-Muqawama al-Islamiya, meaning “Islamic Resistance Movement.” This acronym also has a meaning of its own. The Arabic word hamas is typically defined as “zeal” or “warlike strength and bravery,” but derives from older connotations of forcefulness or severity.
The Arabic language is related to and largely derived from ancient Hebrew (since many of the Arab tribes are descended from Ishmael, son of the biblical patriarch Abraham). So it should come as no surprise to learn that hamas is also a Hebrew word that appears in the Bible. It means “violence, destruction, malice, ruthlessness, fierceness” (Mounce’s Complete Expository Dictionary of Old and New Testament Words). What an appropriate name for a terrorist organization!
In an interview on Oct. 8, the very day of the Hamas attacks, senior Hamas official Ali Baraka succinctly summed up the vastly contrasting mindsets between Hamas supporters and Israelis: “The Israelis are known to love life. We, on the other hand, sacrifice ourselves. We consider our dead to be martyrs. The thing any Palestinian desires the most is to be martyred for the sake of Allah,defending his land.”
A particularly vile and oft-quoted hadith—a saying attributed to Muhammed—states: “The Day of Judgement will not come about until Muslims fight the Jews, when the Jew will hide behind stones and trees. The stones and trees will say O Muslims, . . . there is a Jew behind me, come and kill him.”
In the minds of the Hamas terrorists who murdered so many Israelis on that horrible day, they were simply carrying out their stated goals and hastening the time they believe their prophet foretold when Islam will rule the entire world.
The Middle East—ground zero of Bible prophecy
Jerusalem and Israel are the “ground zero” of Bible prophecy—focus of end-time prophetic events leading up to Jesus Christ’s return. As this issue of Beyond Today goes to press, a great deal is unknown. This war could dramatically expand overnight should Syria, Lebanon-based Hezbollah, or Iran intervene to fight in solidarity with Hamas. This could draw in Western powers such as the United States, especially with Hamas holding citizens of more than 20 countries hostage.
However this war turns out, one things is certain—there will be more war, violence and devastation to come. This has long been foretold in the pages of your Bible.
While visiting Jerusalem before this war broke out, I did what I have done on my previous trips to Israel. I made my way through the crowds to the Western Wall and followed the instruction in Psalm 122:6 to “pray for the peace of Jerusalem.” Little did I know what would follow a few days later.
We should all pray for the peace of this long-suffering land and people, a peace that will come with the return of Jesus Christ to the Mount of Olives overlooking the city. This long-suffering city will continue to suffer violence and bloodshed until that time.
In the meantime we should take comfort in Christ’s words recorded in Luke 21:28: “Now when these things begin to happen, look up and lift up your heads, because your redemption draws near.” Join us in praying for that day to come soon!