A militant group called Hamas carried out an unfathomably brutal attack on Israeli men, women and children on Oct. 7, 2023. Israel has responded with a major military operation with the aim to obliterate Hamas, which is a terrorist organization that overtly calls for the destruction of all Jews, everywhere.1 Hamas has politically controlled a small strip of land in Israel called the Gaza Strip since 2007. Caught in the crossfire are civilians, mostly Palestinian but also Israeli. Enormous suffering has resulted. It’s only the most recent flare-up of a centuries-long, ongoing dispute.
“Palestine” is a term that essentially corresponds to a section of land in southwest Asia at the eastern end of the Mediterranean Sea. The term is thought to have evolved from the name “Philistia,” and was first used by the Roman Empire around A.D. 135 in the aftermath of a Jewish rebellion. That same territory comprises the modern Israeli state. Since declaring themselves a nation in 1948, the Israelis have developed a powerful, fertile and wealthy homeland.
But, is it their homeland? Or, is it the Palestinians’ homeland? “Palestinians” is the commonly used title for the descendants of approximately 780,000 Arabs who left the area in 1948 when an alliance of five Arab nations declared war on the newly proclaimed state of Israel.
Both the Jews and the Palestinian Arabs have a name for that event. Israelis call it Yom Ha’atzmaut (Day of Independence in Hebrew), while Palestinians call it Nakba (catastrophe in Arabic). And both people groups lay claim to the land as rightfully theirs with competing interests dating back centuries and even millennia.
The modern history of the dispute dates back roughly 100 years to the time when empires ruled the world. The British Empire took jurisdiction over the area when its previous ruler, the Ottoman Empire, collapsed during World War I. Jews had begun moving there in the 1890s to escape persecution in Europe, ramping up during the overt anti-Semitism of the Nazi period in the 1930s and 40s. This great influx of immigrants resulted in escalating conflict with the Arabs who called it home already. In 1948, with steadfast Palestinian refusal to accept a two-state solution as proposed by the United Nations, and the withdrawal from the region by the British Empire, Israel declared its independence.
Much of the present-day animosity derives from these events, as well as the outcomes of the periodic military confrontations between Israel and their Arab neighbors (Iraq, Iran, Syria, Lebanon, Egypt and others) since then. It also derives from the historic animosity between Muslims and Jews, which dates back to Islam’s founding in the eighth century. And if you go back even further, we know there’s a tribal element as well—Arabs descended from the line of Ishmael, Jews descended from the line of Isaac.
Looking for a Christian response instead of a geopolitical one
In the present conflict between Israel and Hamas, we see a war for the hearts and minds of the world coming from both sides. Palestinian sympathizers lament the low quality of life and lack of opportunity in the Gaza Strip, and the great displacement of their people that took place in 1948. Jewish sympathizers remind the world of the atrocities committed against Jews that led to their immigration to the area, the continued terror attacks against them and the five times Palestinians have rejected peace deals that included a Palestinian state over the past 90 years.
Knowing how to respond to all of this and determining the right way to think about it all is extremely challenging. The default way society likes to think about issues is to find the victim and take their side. But in this situation, there’s plenty of victimhood to go around on both sides, just as there’s plenty of death and destruction on the innocent caught in the middle.
In this article I want to try to look at the situation from the perspective of a Christian who wants to do the right thing and think the right thing. At the end I’ll share some resources that helped me understand the history from a geopolitical perspective.
We are to have compassion on all who suffer
Jesus calls on His followers to love all people, no matter who they are. The second great commandment is to love your neighbor as yourself (Matthew 22:36-40). In response to the question, “Who is my neighbor?” Jesus told the parable of the Good Samaritan. In it, the righteous, religious people ignored the suffering of a man left for dead, while a hated foreigner—a Samaritan, who had a false religion—had compassion on him, and took care of his needs. Jesus explicitly tells his followers: “Go and do likewise” (Luke 10:37).
Where the rubber meets the road here is that we are to remember this and have compassion on anybody who’s unjustly suffering—whether an Arab who just happened to be born in Gaza and is now suffering for it, or an Israeli whose child was murdered by Hamas terrorists. Of course, compassion is shown in different ways. For those unjustly suffering, we might pray that God heal them and give them peace. For those who are suffering as a result of sinful actions, we might pray that they repent of their ways and cease hurting others.
Only God will be able to ultimately solve this dilemma
It will take God to solve this problem once and for all. Sometimes that can sound like a cop-out, but in this situation the hardness of heart in these peoples confounds every attempt at cooperation. We know from Jesus’ Olivet Prophecy in Luke 21 that at some point, armies will surround Jerusalem with the intent to make war there. Jesus will return and He will conquer them all, establishing His Kingdom. Remembering this fact can help in relinquishing our mental and emotional need to feel like we have to somehow help solve this issue.
That doesn’t mean we don’t do what good we can now—that’s the point of the parable of the Good Samaritan. But since we don’t live there, our options for how to mitigate suffering are limited, and fraught with unlimited moral quandaries. For instance, with Hamas in charge, money given to help civilians in Gaza for the past 20 years was used by Hamas to build infrastructure and buy armaments to carry out terrorist attacks against Israel.2 In this kind of environment, how in the world are we supposed to help the actual victims?
With limited options, I’ve gradually become more okay with mentally relinquishing my feeling like I have some responsibility to help solve this crisis on my own. Instead, it’s really brought home the power of the apostle Peter’s admonition to cast “all your care upon [Jesus], for He cares for you” (1 Peter 5:7).
The ultimate hope of life in God’s Kingdom will include all people, even bitter enemies
In Isaiah, there’s an incredible passage that describes the peace that will come when Christ returns. At the end of a proclamation against Israel’s bitter enemy Egypt for its idolatry and evil behavior, God paints this picture of peace through the prophet: “In that day there will be a highway from Egypt to Assyria [another of Israel’s bitter enemies] . . . In that day Israel will be one of three with Egypt and Assyria—a blessing in the midst of the land, whom the Lord of hosts shall bless, saying, ‘Blessed is Egypt My people, and Assyria the work of My hands, and Israel My inheritance’” (Isaiah 19:23-25).
Right now, with nothing but hatred and division leading to violence that seems incomprehensible, those promises feel urgent and more relevant than ever. Let’s keep in mind—ultimate power to solve these problems is in God’s hands. And let’s use that sense of urgency to motivate us to embody the values of the Kingdom now, as we sigh and cry over the abominations we see done.
And above all, fervently pray, “Thy Kingdom come.”
Additional reading and viewing to learn more about the history of the issues