Hamas, the Palestinian militant organisation that runs the Gaza Strip, has sent over 450 rockets into mostly southern Israel, though the Tel Aviv and Jerusalem have been targeted. Israel has been bombing select targets in the Gaza Strip. Ramadan crowds at the al Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem cheered when they heard that Hamas was sending rockets into Israel. Even one rocket went as far as Hadera, 100 kilometers north of Tel Aviv. This is the furthest any rocket has gone from the Gaza Strip.
The fact that Hamas rockets are grossly inaccurate, often times causing little or no casualties, while others are intercepted by Israel’s famed iron-dome defense system, still does not take away from the fact that this is a major escalation in the conflict between the Jewish State and Hamas-run Gaza. Furthermore, it has the potential to ignite a third Palestinian intifada or ‘uprising’ (the first was from 1987-1993; the second from 2000-2005). In a region that is already teetering on the edge of instability means that all of us could be affected.
The current trouble began when three Israeli teenagers, Eyal Yifrah (19), Gilad Shaar (16), and Naftali Fraenkel (16), who was a dual US-Israeli citizen, were kidnapped while hitchhiking on June 12th. They were shot to death shortly after their capture by Palestinians but it would take a couple of weeks before their fate was known and bodies discovered. During this period, Israel accused Hamas of being behind the kidnappings, a charge that Hamas denied (though they were not bothered that a kidnapping of Israelis took place). The Israeli government took the opportunity to crack down on known Hamas operatives in the West Bank. To make a horrible situation worse, three Israelis confessed to murdering a Palestinian teenager from the Shuafat district of Jerusalem, Muhammad Abu Khdeir, who was burned to death.
From there, the rockets were fired and the air attacks began. Israel has called up 40,000 reservists for a possible ground invasion of Gaza. The main purpose is to disable or even destroy the rocket launchers that have sent 100,000s of Israelis heading for bomb shelters. As much as Israel would like to see the overthrow of Hamas, it appears their military objectives will be limited to disabling or destroying the rocket-launching sites and weapons-smuggling tunnels that have been menacing up to 3.5 million Israelis and sending them to their bomb shelters with only 15 seconds notice. Already, Israel has called upon 100,000 Gazans to vacate the border villages in the south and north.
Peace Talks & Conflict
To understand the Gaza situation, let’s back up to the recent time when US Secretary of State John Kerry practiced intensive shuttle diplomacy. The goal? To help forge an enduring peace agreement between Israel and the Palestinian Authority. Israel’s enthusiasm for a two-state solution or giving up ‘land for peace’ has been greatly drenched with cold water by the Arab Spring and the regional instability it has spawned. Palestinian disunity - the rift between Fatah of the Palestinian Authority in Ramallah and Hamas in Gaza - means the possibility that one party could sign a peace agreement while the other side could sabotage it. Then there is the persistent and consistent talk by the Palestinian leadership and ‘Arab Street’ that any peace agreement with Israel will be only temporary; once unity comes and Israel is weak, they will rise up, destroy the Jewish state, and take over all of Palestine. As one Middle East expert so succintly put it: ‘The Arabs do not - and never will - accept Israel’s right to exist.’
Despite such misgivings, Kerry pushed Israel to negotiate. ‘Time is running out,’ the American Secretary of State would say. According to Kerry, the campaign to deligitimize Israel through the BDS (boycott, disinvestment, and sanctions program) in the western world is gaining momentum. Plus there is an ‘Arab demographic time bomb,’ he argues, where their higher birthrates mean the Jews could be a minority in the Jewish state. Divide the Holy Land into two states and divide Jerusalem into two capitals, and Israel will enjoy the peace it has always craved. Plus militants like al Qaeda and ISIS will be marginalised once an independent Palestinian state exists, so the argument goes
In order to get the Israel-Palestine peace talks kick-started, the Americans convinced Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to release long-term Palestinian prisoners from prison as a ‘confidence-building’ measure. Many of these were convicted of heinous crimes with much Jewish blood on their hands. This alone was a bitter pill to swallow.
The peace talks plodded along, had many ups and downs, when finally the announcement came: Fatah and Hamas have patched up their differences and declared a Palestinian unity government. For Israel, who considers Hamas a terrorist organisation, this was the last straw. So it withdrew from the peace talks. Shortly thereafter, the 3 Jewish teenagers were kidnapped and events have gone downhill ever since.
Things to Consider
1. Israel vs. the Philistines: For people who know the Bible, there should be a sense of dejavu. The conflict between Israel and Hamas correlates with the great rivalry between ancient Israel and the Philistines, who were located in part of the area inhabited by Hamas today. Samuel, Saul, and David had major battles with them. Samson destroyed their temple of Dagon and killed 3,000 Philistines and David slew his 10,000s. Ecclesiastes declares (1:9) there is nothing new under the sun.
2. Dashed hopes: The danger with peace talks is that they can prematurely raise people’s hopes. Should those hopes be dashed, then conflict can arise shortly afterwards. This appears to be what has happened here.
3. Onward Christian Pilgrim: If you have been planning to go on a holy land tour in the latter part of 2014, should you cancel now? Short answer: No! Not at this time. A pilgrimage is a journey of faith and in faith. Of course, we should pray for the peace of Jerusalem (Psalm 122:6) and for the safety of innocent people on both sides. Not to be flippant, but wars in Israel are usually short. Once finished, it is important for the pilgrims to return quickly. It is good for the morale and economy of the Israelis and Palestinians. If, God forbid, there is an outright war, then a pilgrimage should be postponed. But short of a war, if the door has been opened to you, then go in faith. Like anything in life, you should always pray about any major move, including a trip. The same God who guides also provides, both provision and protection. The Bible makes superlative promises to those who trust God. If He has opened the door for you, then trust the Lord. After all, if you cannot trust God now, when did you plan to start?? Don’t be motivated by fear, but by faith.