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Middle East

In Gaza, Is Love in the Land of Enmity Still Possible?

In counting their losses, Christians, Muslims, Jews discover common ground in grief.

Since the outbreak of Israel's military offensive against Hamas in late December, I have received – almost daily – fresh accounts from those close to the conflict.

In November, 2006, I met Labib Madanat, executive director of the Palestinian Bible Society, on my way into Gaza for a reporting trip to follow up on our 2005 coverage by Deann Alford, which we titled: Love in the Land of Enmity.

This week, as the fighting and dying continues, Labib shared some recent experiences with me, which he agreed could be released publicly:

January 2009:

Last year, and after the killing of Rami Ayyad, I had the chance to visit Gaza several times. The most memorable one of those visits was late February 2008 together with Brother Andrew. On that visit I stopped to pick a stone from a location where an Israeli soldier got killed in action 18 years ago; I did so according to a request from the soldier's father, who later became a friend of mine. We also visited Rami's widow Pauline Ayyad and her new born baby girl Sama; we encouraged her shared with her pain, joy, and grief.

But also during that visit we met with a main Palestinian leader in Gaza, we expressed our condolences for the loss of his son who got killed as he clashed with Israeli soldiers three weeks before our visit. A Christian, a Jew, and a Muslim; in one visit we moved across the dividing lines sharing the love of our Father and his compassion for His tortured humanity in Israel/Palestine.

The last two weeks, and even now, we witness atrocities in Gaza; too painful and too ugly. In south Israel hundreds of thousands keep close to or inside their shelters for the fear of rockets from Gaza.

Sure there is no comparison between the loss of life and injuries in Gaza and inside Israel. Michael Sabbah; the retired Latin Patriarch in Jerusalem said "every person's pain is human pain". Whom to blame and how far back we should go? What is the baseline for deciding justice? As a Palestinian/Jordanian Arab Christian I should naturally blame Israel and hold them responsible for the killing of many children in Gaza.

But at the same time a Jewish friend can come and say the same against Hamas or other Palestinian or Arab governments or organizations and hold them responsible for the killing of many Jewish children.

To engage in the blame game is to perpetuate the effect of violence and evil; it adds fuel to the fire. This does not mean acquitting the guilty, it means we submit the file of all the guilty ones, and I am one of them, to the one who judges justly and whose gates of mercy are always open for those who seek it.

So what do we do? To say it is God's business and run away? Absolutely not. He took the responsibility of justice and gave us the responsibility of compassion. "Love your enemy" in such days mean a lot and so does "love your neighbour as yourself". In Luke 4, Jesus said to the assembly in Nazareth's Synagogue " What you have just heard me read has come true today" . We are the continuation of that fulfillment. So let it be so in action today.

Within the body of Christ, we are people who also belong to our nations. This belonging and citizenship should receive meaning and value and form from our belonging to our heavenly citizenship.

Two days ago I was struck by anger and pain, yesterday I met my brother and colleague Victor, who is a Messianic Jew, we debriefed shared our hearts and prayed. The body of Christ should be a safe territory to walk in the light, receive healing and practice forgiveness. It should not be betrayed to become an additional battle ground, as Jesus said " My house is a house of prayer for all nations and you made it a den of thieves".

I invite you all; living stones, the body of Christ, to be that safe place, and a fulfillment of God's good news to our hurting human family.

May Palestinians and Israelis be saved.

Pray for the cease fire negotiations and a durable end to the border conflict.

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