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Will Gaza Ever Have Peace?

Rev. Alex Awad

On the evening of November 16, 2012 after a busy day at Bethlehem Bible College and a day of popular demonstrations following the Israeli assassination of Hamas leader Ahmed al-Jabari in Gaza two days earlier, I walked from the College toward the nearby Inter Continental Hotel for a previously arranged meeting. Immediately, I could smell the sickening aroma of the tear gas that was used by the Israelis to confront stone throwing Palestinian youth. The battle got more engaged as I walked closer to the Hotel. Then I heard that the meeting was canceled due to the volatile situation. Avoiding the Bethlehem checkpoint I drove home via the tunnel road near Beit Jala. While driving home the question on my mind was, will Gaza ever have peace?

Will Gaza Ever Have Peace?

Before the latest hostilities began between Israel and Hamas, the Gaza Strip was like a volcano ready to erupt. Over a million and half Gazans were and are still living under a permanent siege. The Israeli blockade of Gaza is so tight that Gazans were digging underground tunnels to smuggle food, medicine, fuel, machines, livestock, people and weapons from Egypt.
Despite these efforts, the tunnels were not resolving Gaza\'s economic crisis. Most of the population has no access to fresh water. Homes, businesses and schools have had only 8-12 hours of electricity per day, which can be disrupted at any time during the day. In addition, petrol and diesel stations were frequently out of fuel, preventing the use of generators. The small number of factories in Gaza had insufficient power to keep their machines running. Consequently, the high unemployment in Gaza reduced the Palestinian enclave to surviving on charity. The purpose of the siege has been to weaken the government of Hamas, but it has actually strengthened Hamas\' hold on Gaza.
During the past 7 to 8 years, the Israeli military has taken the liberty, at any time, to target and assassinate Hamas\' militant leaders. The typical response of Hamas and other Palestinian militant factions has been to launch homemade rockets on Israeli towns north of the Gaza/Israeli border.
Once a fight breaks out between two siblings, or war between two countries, the first question asked is: \'Who started it?\' Another important question is, \'What are the results of the war; who won and who lost?\' Of course, some people want to know how the combating parties can end the hostilities.
In the case of the war between Hamas and Israel, or what the Israeli military called Operation Pillar of Defense, each side blamed the other for starting the hostilities and each side claimed victory, but neither side is offering steps that would lead towards a lasting solution.
If we try to merge the Israeli and Hamas versions of how the hostilities began, the chronology of skirmishes goes as follows. On November 8, 2012 an Israeli sniper shot and killed 13-year old Ahmad Abu Daqqain while playing soccer with his friends near his home not far from the Israeli/Gaza border. The boy was not a member of Hamas and was not involved with hostile activities against Israel. In retaliation to this and many similar lethal actions in the past 6 months, Hamas fighters shot across the border and injured three Israeli troopers. That incident infuriated the Israeli leadership which considered Hamas\' act as crossing a red line. Israel then assassinated Hamas\' military chief, Ahmed al-Jabari. Hamas deemed his assassination a declaration of war and soon after, Palestinian factions responded by launching a barrage of rockets on southern Israel. A few hit Tel Aviv and Israeli settlements near Jerusalem. According to Israeli sources most of Hamas\' rockets were intercepted by the Iron Dome or fell on open fields. Nevertheless, some of Hamas\' rockets hit populated areas and caused the deaths of five Israelis and injured about fifty people. Conversely, the Israeli bombing of targets in Gaza took the lives of over 160 people and injuring nearly a thousand, most of them civilians. The heavy shelling also caused the destruction of hundreds of homes and governmental buildings. Despite the onslaught, the Israeli shelling was not able to break the back of Hamas, nor stop Hamas\' rockets from hitting targets in Israel. Israel then massed a force of 75,000 soldiers to invade Gaza. This caused the international community to rush to defuse the escalation of hostilities. Muhammad Mursi, the new Egyptian president, with the help of international leaders, was able to broker a truce on November 21, 2012. Hamas committed to stop launching rockets from Gaza and Israel agreed to stop targeted assassinations of Hamas\' leaders and to gradually ease restrictions on the borders and facilitate the flow of goods.
Although the international community succeeded in bringing about a truce, the antagonists are still far from peace. Seventy percent of Gaza\'s population are refugees who in 1948 fled from their homes and lands that are now called Israel. UN resolution 194 stipulates that these refugees must either be repatriated or compensated for their losses. These refugees and other Palestinian refugees in the West Bank, Jordan, Lebanon, Syria and elsewhere in the world will continue to seek a solution to their state of affairs through a wider peace process. Israeli policies in the West Bank are hindering the prospects of reaching a comprehensive peace settlement. While Israel\'s leaders talk much about peace, their support of Israeli illegal settlements in the West Bank and in East Jerusalem are clear evidence that Israelis are not ready to make peace with their Palestinian neighbors. Without a peace agreement in the West Bank, there will not be a lasting truce between Israel and Gaza.
Our Christian Response
When the angels in the sky over Bethlehem declared \"Peace on Earth\", they were not far from either Jerusalem or Gaza city. God desires peace on earth that includes peace in Israel and peace in the West bank and the Gaza Strip. Jesus calls on his disciples to be peacemakers (Matthew 5:9). For Christians to contribute to peace in the Middle East they need to:
Pray for peace. God changes politicians and politics through our intercessions.
Learn the facts on the ground. Christians need to listen to both Israelis and Palestinians. Christian leaders world-wide need to visit Israel, the West Bank and the Gaza Strip to hear all perspectives and commit to love all people rather than take sides.
Advocate for peace via their governments. Once God\'s people become aware of the realities of the Arab-Israeli conflict, they need to communicate with their respective government officials and influence them to engage in fostering peace and an end to all hostilities.
Christians need to stand with their brothers and sisters who are members of the body of Christ in the Holy Land. When Christians, pilgrims and tour groups visit the Holy Land, they need to seek not only the dead stones but the living stones. That is, not only visit the historical/biblical sites we believe Jesus walked, but also visit the current places Jesus walks by His Presence through the Holy Spirit living in His followers. When Disciples of Christ become eyewitnesses to the injustices facing Christians, and non-Christians, in the West bank and the Gaza Strip, they become the best advocates of peace and justice.
Will Gaza ever have peace? When God\'s people draw near to Gaza with compassion and understanding and diligently use their influence with God and politicians, then certainly Gaza will have peace.

Demonstration in Bethlehem (Nov 2012-photographed by Ryan Rodrick Beiler)

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