What You Need to Know About the Israel-Gaza War

This week, the conflict between Israel and Palestine escalated to new and devastating highs, as Hamas, a terrorist militant group, launched a surprise ground attack on Israel. Israel has since responded with an air and sea strike, and cut off Gaza’s access to energy, food and water. Since Sunday, the death toll in Israel and Palestine has risen to nearly 2,300, with more than 6,000 injured and counting, making this the deadliest escalation of violence in the 75-year history of the conflict.

Todd Deatherage, the co-founder of the Telos Group, has spent decades working in public policy positions educating officials on the Israel-Palestine conflict, including service as the Chief of Staff to a U.S. Senator and in the U.S. State Department where he worked in the Secretary of State’s Office of Policy Planning.

Deatherage spoke with RELEVANT about what’s led to the most recent conflict, what an end goal might look like, and what American Christians can do to promote peace over conflict.

RELEVANT: What exactly is happening right now in Israel and Palestine?

This past Saturday, Israel suffered a surprise and brutal attack almost entirely on civilians — men, women, and children — living near the border of the Gaza Strip. The coordinated assault was organized by the Palestinian group Hamas, which is designated a terrorist organization by much of the world. Over 1,000 Israelis were killed in what has been described as the bloodiest day for the Jewish people since the Holocaust. Also, a number of Israelis were taken hostage and are being held somewhere in Gaza. 

Israel is currently responding with a massive aerial bombing campaign in Gaza, one of the most densely populated places in the world, with people who’ve known nothing but war and isolation from the outside world for years and have nowhere to flee. Already, hundreds have been killed and hundreds of thousands displaced. In addition, Israel has expanded the 16-year blockade of the Strip by cutting off electricity and by stopping food, fuel and water supplies from entering into Gaza.

What led to these events that have transpired over the last few days?

Where to begin a story like this is always part of the challenge. And to be honest, providing the proper context is both critically important but also a very delicate matter, especially this soon after such an attack and while the war is ongoing. Emotions are high, and efforts to recount history and provide context are often challenging to do in ways that are seen as fair and honest in the wake of such tragedies. But to attempt to answer your question, let me say that the Gaza Strip is an ancient place that became largely an enclave for Palestinian refugees who fled or were forced out of their homes and villages amid the establishment of the State of Israel in 1948. Since then, the people there have lived first under Egyptian military control until 1967 and then under Israeli military occupation until 2005. For the last 16 years, the Gaza Strip has been ruled internally by Hamas while having its air, land and sea borders blockaded by Israel in coordination with Egypt, helping to create one of the most severe humanitarian crises in the world. For more than 20 years, Palestinian militant groups have fired rockets out of Gaza, terrorizing the civilian populations in the south of Israel, and Israel has responded with aerial bombardments and occasional ground troop missions that have killed thousands of Palestinians.

The recent attack caught many off guard, although political, security, and humanitarian officials have long warned of mounting crisis and despair with the blockaded Gaza Strip. Israelis are very united in their grief and in their response to this attack, but many have hard questions about what led to it. It’s too early for a full assessment but some are already pointing to political turmoil within Israel created by a very controversial ideological government and rising tensions in the other Palestinian territory known as the West Bank as among the likely factors. Others are also tying in the geopolitics of the region with regard to Iranian support for Hamas and its likely desire to undermine a peace agreement between Israel and Saudi Arabia. Controversies around sacred space in Jerusalem are also a likely contributing factor. And some have long argued that a policy of keeping two million Palestinians on lockdown has done more to empower extremists than undermine them.  But whatever the causes, and there may well be multiple, the years of isolation, deprivation and despair faced by the people of Gaza have to be understood as part of the equation. 

What is an outcome Christians should be hoping for? 

We should hope for an end to the violence. There is no violent solution to this conflict. We must see the limits of violence in all its forms to achieve good and lasting outcomes, to see that violence begets violence. And we should apply this understanding to the different kinds of violence from direct attacks like the terror of Hamas and the indiscriminate rocket fire that has long emanated from Gaza, and to include structural violence like long-term military occupation and blockade.

We should hope for a growing recognition that all are made in the image of God and that human life is sacred. We should learn from the Hebrew Prophets of old and the great sages of our modern era, like Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., that peace and justice are intertwined.

We should hope for a future in which Israelis and Palestinians enjoy security, freedom and honored dignity in equal measure. Any system or plan that suggests one people can achieve these things at the expense of the other will not bring true or lasting peace. The idea of mutual flourishing is rooted in the shalom of God and offers a much greater possibility for peace between Israelis and Palestinians than the false notion that unjustifiable acts can be countered with unjustifiable acts in an endless cycle and somehow, eventually the end result will be peace and justice. 

We should also remember that hope is not a feeling or an emotion or just a belief that everything’s going to be alright. Hope is not passive. It’s what you do. And as Christians we have an eschatological hope that the God we love is about the business of making all things right and is calling us to participate as his ambassadors of reconciliation in a world beset by violence and fracture. We must cultivate an eschatological imagination as we both cast and live into this vision as agents of hope and healing. This is what it means to be a peacemaker. 

Is there anything we can do to help Israelis and Palestinians in this situation?

We can expand our hearts to hold both Palestinians and Israelis together. Making space for the humanity of Palestinians doesn’t mean you condone the ideology of Hamas or the brutality of these recent attacks. Making space for Israelis doesn’t mean you condone the policies of the current government or the decades of occupation and control of Palestinians. 

We can use this as an opportunity to listen and learn more about the fullness of the reality there.  And in particular, listen to the voices of Palestinian Christians who often feel forgotten by Christians in the West. 

We can embrace peacemaking as central to our discipleship journey.  One way to think about peacemaking is to see it as the active pursuit of justice in the world–often involving risk to our reputations and relationships and even our lives– with an orientation toward healing and repair. We courageously pursue the kind of justice that radically loves and never gives up on the redemptive power of love. 

The world as God intended it, and the world that God is redeeming and will one day make whole, is marked by justice and peace and is one in which neighbors flourish. We’ve too often bought the lie that the peace, justice and security we all want can be achieved through violence. But living as countercultural agents of God’s kingdom in the now-but-not-yet reality of our lives calls us to push back against these zero sum, “me and mine,” “eye for an eye” approaches, and work for not just our own flourishing but that of our neighbors, even our enemies.  

For our March/April 2014 cover story, we spoke with Deatherage and other leaders about the ongoing conflict in Israel and Palestine. To read that story and find out more information, click here

Title: What You Need to Know About the Israel-Gaza War
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Date: October 11, 2023 at 09:01PM
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