Israel is continuing its military operation in Gaza, with the stated aim of eradicating Hamas. But you can't destroy an ideology with bombs, says Lara, a Palestinian Christian. Jesus offers us a better way 


Source: REUTERS/Ronen Zvulun

In the days following 7 October our social media feeds were flooded with horrific footages of Hamas’s atrocities. Israeli women and children along with young and elderly men were butchered in cold blood.

In one sense, what we saw was not new. As a Palestinian resident of the West Bank, this is the third war that I have witnessed during my lifetime. The difference this time was the sheer brutality. It was unprecedented.

The way civilians were butchered sent chilling waves of fear, along with confusion and shock among us. However, there were, and still are, some Palestinians who celebrated the “victorious resistance” of the Hamas attack, perceiving it to be the first Palestinian, Muslim militia to hurt Israel with a surprise attack since the war of October 1973. Some even went as far as handing out sweets – a traditional Palestinian custom when expressing happiness.

As a Christian and a peace seeking civilian, I could never condone these barbaric atrocities. The stories that have emerged from 7 October, including an Israeli baby who was burned alive in an oven, are forever engraved in my memory.

Christ’s response of peacemaking is counter-intuitive to the world

But for many Palestinians, any kind of violent resistance against Israel can be justified. This is why no Palestinian political leader – either in Gaza or the West Bank – has  condemned the barbaric Hamas attack. This is a heartbreaking reality. So is the fact that violence begets violence and innocent Gazans are now paying the heaviest price.

Basic needs

Israel is in a constant state of self-defence, so reverting to the use of military action is their default reaction. Sadly, this mechanism has proven to fail. Hamas has been in control of Gaza since 2007 and thousands of rockets are still being fired into Israel every day. My dream is that all the resources poured into war would be diverted into investing in Palestinian people’s lives, but that would take a long-term commitment and a genuine care for humanity - both of which are lacking in the Israeli and Palestinian leadership.

Aside from the heavenly reward of 72 “houri” (virgins) if they were killed as “shahid” (martyr), the Hamas fighters had reportedly been promised $10,000 and a free apartment for capturing Israeli hostages. This is a clear indication that many of them have needs that do not stem from ideological beliefs; much of their motivation stems from their basic human need to have a normal life.

For years, resources have been given to Hamas which were intended for the people of Gaza. These resources have been spent on building rockets and digging tunnels. The irony is that some of the rockets launched by Hamas from Gaza have hit parts of the West Bank and killed and injured Palestinians.

Life in the West Bank

Many Palestinians in the West Bank are trying to resume their normal lives to some extent. However, internal enforced strikes have been imposed without the space to challenge them. Religious minority groups such as Christians are the most impacted by these and have been heavily pressured to close their businesses to show solidarity with the Palestinians in Gaza. If they refuse to comply, their shops are attacked.

I accept Israel needs to prevent future attacks, but innocent Palestinians are dying

Palestinians in the West Bank are in a state of mourning and anger over what is happening in Gaza, yet a significant percentage of them have started to realise that violence isn’t going to make things better. The heart-breaking destruction of Gaza, and the restriction of freedom of movement in the West Bank by Israel is turning the region into a ticking bomb.

A Christian minority

Christians are a religious minority - we represent about 1 per cent of the Palestinian population. We feel stuck between a rock and a hard place in this conflict. In the presence of opposing ideologies and powers, the voices and needs of minorities are drowned out. As a consequence of this war, most of us are already planning to emigrate once the opportunity arises. Bethlehem hasn’t been a Christian-majority city for decades. It could soon become a city without any Christians at all. 

Christians should be praying for a ceasefire. Many would challenge this suggestion because it essentially takes away Israel’s right to self-defence. I accept Israel needs to prevent future attacks, but innocent Palestinians are dying. And there are serious consequences to Israel’s decision to inflict violence and bloodshed. Israel’s enemy isn’t one single terror group, it’s a cunning, crafty ideology that knows how to scheme to cause more destruction. 85 per cent of Hamas’s members’ properties were bombed by the Israeli army when they were young. Many have lost family members to past Israeli bombing. The more kids go through pain and suffering, the more prone they are to being radicalised. If we agree that Hamas is an ideology, then reverting to violence and displacement of mostly innocent people is not just wrong, it’s counter-productive.

Tackling violence with violence simply perpetuates more violence. Most people don’t understand Jesus’ teaching. It’s too difficult. Christ’s response of peacemaking is counter-intuitive to the world.

The bitter truth is we don’t have realistic solutions to end the conflict right now, but this doesn’t mean we lack creativity to find them. In an ideal world, or perhaps a different time, both sides will no longer invest their resources in military operations. Instead they will put their energy into pursuing productive and progressive avenues to restoring dignity to all civilians and victims. This long-term vision will require deep levels of commitment and sacrifice, married with patience and faith. But it can be done.

We long for the day when Isaiah 2:4 becomes a reality: "He will judge between the nations and will settle disputes for many peoples. They will beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks. Nation will not take up sword against nation, nor will they train for war anymore."

Lara is a Palestinian Christian who is currently based in the UK