Palestine (MNN) — In Gaza, who your neighbors are might determine whether or not your house will stay standing. When political enemies are targeted by rocket strikes, bystanders are often caught in the crossfire. That’s what happened to one Christian family in Gaza during recent attacks.
Although strikes are not uncommon in Gaza, the frequency and severity of attacks is increasing. John,* Gaza Study Center Director with Bethlehem Bible College, was in Gaza a few weeks ago when the attacks reached a peak.
“There was a sense of more tension in the two or three days that I was there, and on the Wednesday night, I did hear rockets landing in Gaza in the south,” John said. “I was in Gaza City and [while] there was nothing happening actually in Gaza City, about a mile away from Gaza City, there were these rocket attacks going on and exchange of fire.”
John left Palestine on Thursday. That night, as well as over the next few days, attacks began with especially vigorous frequency. “The whole thing was a mess,” John says. “Lots of rockets were landing and destroying houses and killing some people in Gaza. And of course, as far as the Israelis were concerned, their attack was in retaliation for rockets going over from led by Hamas and Islamic Jihad.”
Since then, there have been attempts at a ceasefire, although John says there have been some exchanges of fire over the past few weeks. He believes more than 200 rockets landed in the Gaza area, decimating neighborhoods and homes.
Caught in the Crossfire
Often, people who are impacted by the exchanges of rocket fire aren’t actually involved in the conflict. Most targets are political, but many attacks see bystanders caught in the crossfire. According to John, “The experience of the people and the experience of the Christians in Gaza is ‘Is it going to happen to me? It may not be my house, but is it going to be the house next door that going to be hit?”
That’s how one Christian family lost their home a few weeks before these more recent attacks. Unbeknownst to them, the neighboring apartment in their complex was an office for an opposing political party. A rocket strike targeted the office, and their home was caught in the collateral explosion.
Almost everything the family owned was destroyed. There are only 900 Christians in Gaza, so when one family suffers, the entire Church of Gaza feels it. The local Body of Christ is doing what it can to help the family recover. For example, “I’ve been raising and other people are raising funds for this family, and they’re hoping next week to move into a new apartment,” John says. “The international community of Christians is providing a lot of support for them.”
Compassion in Conflict
In a place regularly riddled with rocket fire, how does Christ’s Gospel message come in?
“The Christians are caring for other people,” John says. “They’re visiting the Muslims that are involved in these protests and showing them love, but of course, showing love in that situation is not easy because you’re taking on the emotion and the hatred of those people and you’re seeking to show love.”
Bethlehem Bible College uses funds to help support local Christian families, especially when it comes to food parcels and medical care, but Gaza’s Christians have many needs. “[Food and medical expenses] are just part of the suffering of the people: the lack of electricity, the difficulties with sewage, the difficulties with impure water, and just the feeling that they are in a prison, and they can’t get out,” John says.
Responding to the Israel/Palestine Conflict
The conflict in Gaza is rife with political controversy, and almost everyone has an opinion about who’s in the right. It’s not as cut and dry as some people might want it to be though; John says many people forget that conflict between Palestine and Israel is “Six of one and a half a dozen of the other.”
“I think the Church in the west, by and large, they think that there’s nobody, that all the people in Gaza are Muslims and all the people in Gaza are Hamas supporters, but that’s not true,” John says.
But that simply isn’t the case. Not only are there many innocent bystanders caught up in the conflict, but there’s also a small yet strong Christian presence in the area. John acknowledges that some Christians may want to support Israel based on theological stances regarding Israel, Abraham, and the promised land, but he’s worried that the Church is forgetting about the Body’s presence in Palestine. “I don’t want to stop people having their beliefs in terms of their interpretation of Scripture, but just understand what it’s leading to with the Christian community,” he says.
See For Yourself
According to John, the best thing Christians outside of Palestine and Israel can do is go and experience the land for themselves. “I take groups fairly frequently to the land and people are changed,” he says. “They don’t become anti-Israel, they don’t become anti-Jewish, there’s none of that at all…. They start to find there’s another family they want to love and they want to help and support and pray for and empathize with.”
More than anything else, Palestinian Christians are asking for presence. “The people need encouragement, they need people to see,” John explains. “There are people in Gaza that would rather see me for a few days and talk with me and meet with me and eat with me than they would have my airfare given to them that it costs me to come from England. It’s the gift of encouragement.”
Right now, Gaza feels like a desert island for local Christians. They need to feel the warmth of the larger Church. “That is the best present that you can give to the people out there: your presence, to be with them, to befriend them, to talk with them, to empathize with them, to sit down and eat with them, the gift of hospitality which they want to share with you,” John says.
Want to pray? John has some suggestions for how you can do that. Start by praying for local leaders. “Out there, it’s very, very demanding,” John says. “Give them the strength, the physical strength, emotional strength, and spiritual strength to support and encourage their flock.”
If the Church is going to be strong, its young people need to be strong. Pray “particularly for the young people and children, that they would not have fear, they would be able to sleep sweetly and not have fear in these situations.”
Continue to pray for safety, wisdom, and courage for Gaza’s Christians. You can find a part to play with Bethlehem Bible College right here.
*full name hidden for security purposes
Header photo courtesy of pixabay.