This article is published pseudonymously for the author’s safety.
Israel has suffered a 9/11-scale attack by the Islamic Resistance Movement, commonly known as Hamas, which has devastated Jews and Palestinians alike. No words can describe the sadness and horror. But we must not allow this terrible event to cloud our vision or to push us into vengeance against civilians.
To even ask if I, a Palestinian Christian and Israeli citizen, condemn this violence is insulting. Of course I condemn it, and I also want to share with fellow Christians my view of how we can cut terrorism off at the root—thinking not only of the immediate military response by Israel but also of longer-term questions about justice, security, and God-given dignity for Israelis and Palestinians alike.
This month’s brutal attack against Israeli civilians came 16 years to the day after a Palestinian Bible Society worker in Gaza named Rami Ayyad was kidnapped and murdered because Islamist radicals believed he was doing missionary work. Despite public demands that Hamas leadership in Gaza find the criminals, no one was held accountable for his death.
Rami’s murder remains officially unsolved to this day, and some Palestinian Christians moved out of Gaza as a result of that violence. It appears that the abduction and killing were done by a radical faction, and Hamas’s leaders were not willing to confront them or hold them responsible.
A decade and a half later, we find ourselves in another cycle of violence—a fiercer and more complicated one this time. The Hamas onslaught is atrocity on an unprecedented scale, and Israel’s response must account for around 150 Israeli hostages in Gaza and a second war front in the north of Israel, where Israeli forces are already fighting the Lebanese (Iran-backed and Hamas-linked) Hezbollah.
When I started writing this article, fighting was mainly in the southern part of the country, around Gaza. In the evening, I was to take a break and travel to a special prayer meeting for evangelical churches farther north. Suddenly, a siren blew, signaling Hezbollah drone infiltration. I made some calls, and we immediately shifted the meeting to a virtual one. About 50 Christians participated, shouting for God to stop the bloodshed. Later, we were informed the siren was a false alarm.
After the volume of the initial disaster was revealed, I sent messages of encouragement and condolences to a number of Jewish friends, both Messianic and others. One response drew my attention. A Messianic friend wrote to me that he suspects the Israeli response will be extremely tough, as the Hamas attack has raised Jewish memories of the Holocaust.
That historic trauma and the new horror of the Hamas carnage mean Israel will follow through on Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s promise to “turn all the places that Hamas hides in and operates from into rubble”—which, because of the small size of Gaza, means the whole territory will be in ruins and a huge number of innocent civilians will be killed.
I understand Israel’s need for retaliation and the voices calling to crush the Hamas regime. But I pray that innocent people will not be hurt, and I worry that this response will not address the roots of the problem in Gaza—and could even prove counterproductive, prolonging the cycle of violence and hatred. It is almost impossible to talk prudently amid so much bloodshed. Nevertheless, I will try.
As I look into the future, to a time after the present violence is over, I wonder how we can make it inconceivable for human beings to behave in such brutal fashion like Hamas did, driven by a fanatical religious agenda.
Some Christians believe this violence is built into Islam. I don’t agree. Why do religious Muslims in Malaysia or Tunisia, for example, not act this way? No, something is different here. The poisonous plant of Hamas has been able to take root in our soil because of conditions fostered by a flawed approach to Palestinians from the Israeli government.
Historically, some Israeli leaders have even been willing to strengthen Hamas as a counter to the secular and comparatively moderate Fatah. Former Israeli officials have toldThe New York Times and The Wall Street Journal that they were directed to help Hamas be a “counterweight” to Fatah. Haaretz has reported that in 2019, Netanyahu told members of his party that “bolstering Hamas” would help prevent the establishment of a Palestinian state by “isolat[ing] the Palestinians in Gaza from the Palestinians in the West Bank.”
Many Palestinians want a state because the situation of Gaza was dire even before this war began. Gaza is densely populated and very poor. Half the population lives in poverty, and many are unemployed.
Gaza is under “complete siege” right now, but it has been blockaded for the last 16 years. The United Nations reports that 95 percent of Gazans don’t even have clean water, and most have unreliable electricity service too. This is the situation for the more than 2 million residents of Gaza. They have no statehood and no prospect of change. Gazan Palestinians live without the basic dignity to which all human beings are entitled as children of God.
The situation of Palestinians in the West Bank, led by President Mahmoud Abbas from Fatah, is not much better than that of Gaza. There, the Israeli government has increasingly restricted Palestinian movement and expanded Israeli settlements in disputed territories. Some settlers are violent extremists, too, with more than 700 settler attacks against Palestinian civilians reported in this year alone.
Palestinians’ sense that nothing will change has only increased as Netanyahu has come close to reaching a US-facilitated deal to normalize Israel’s diplomatic relations with Saudi Arabia—the much-desired jewel in the crown of the Abraham Accords. The deal was intended to “isolate and suppress the Palestinian issue,” with Netanyahu previously writing that the “road to peace” in the Middle East would “bypass” Palestinians, who would not be allowed to “veto” the deal. By this, Netanyahu hoped to end the Israeli-Palestinian conflict without getting even close to the minimum the Palestinians have asked.
This is the land in which heinous Islamist ideological movements have been able to grow. In this environment of hatred, racism, and violence, Hamas has exploited young people with false promises. With no horizon of hope, Hamas’s adherents in Palestine sank into darkness and helped Hamas victimize Israelis too.
But it does not have to be this way. As Christians, we believe in the power of redemption. With real hope for the future of this land, these hateful movements will wither. For a lasting peace, we must respect the image of God in Israelis and Palestinians alike.
Is it too much to ask that we don’t see this as a zero-sum game? Shouldn’t both Israelis and Palestinians live in the dignity God intended for us? Our aim should be not only safety but also flourishing—together, not at each other’s expense.
Tamir Khouri is the pseudonym of a Palestinian Christian and Israeli citizen from the Galilee region in Israel.