With at least 1,200 Israelis and 1,100 Palestinians slain, it is not simply the Israel-Hamas war’s stunning casualty total that has outraged the world, but also the brutality of Hamas.
More than 200 youth were killed at a concert festival, villages and farms were raided and terrorized, and an estimated 150 hostages have been threatened with death if Israeli air strikes on the coastal strip do not cease.
With such cessation unlikely, casualty numbers will most assuredly increase.
Israel has called up 360,000 reservists, poised to begin a ground campaign into Gaza. Consistent with military strategy to meet terrorism with overwhelming force, past conflicts in the beleaguered 25-mile strip have previously produced striking totals, including 2014 clashes that resulted in 73 Israeli and 2,100 Palestinian deaths.
All the while, many Israelis have lived in fear. Since the September 2005 unilateral Israeli withdrawal from Gaza, the Jewish Virtual Library has counted 334 terrorism deaths and at least 20,648 rockets and mortars launched into Israeli territory.
Amid the stark tallies, there are signs of balance between local believers across the ethnic divide. Christianity Today interviewed three Messianic Jews, three Palestinian evangelicals, and two Gazan Christians currently outside their native strip.
“The level of hatred and evil displayed in these acts is truly shocking,” said Eli Birnbaum, a branch director for Jews for Jesus in Tel Aviv and Jerusalem. “It is unlike anything we have seen in decades and has deeply shaken the population.”
Attacks in his neighborhood have been so intense, he said, that people are remaining indoors. In constant communication with family, friends, and 50 full-time staff members, he said his community is doing its best to stay connected and offer encouragement.
On the Saturday of the attack, Birnbaum’s congregation came together to pray. Unsure of what to do, they distributed prayer sheets for the safe return of hostages. Some members simply lit candles.
Jews for Jesus collected supplies for displaced families and soldiers at the border.
At least one Messianic Jew has died for his nation. David Ratner was called a war hero by his commander, saving the lives of five fellow soldiers as their post was stormed by 400 Hamas fighters. Shot in the neck, he continued in combat for the next eight hours.
Birnbaum counseled his children to stand strong against the desire for hatred. He challenged Israelis to seek justice without vengeance. And he asked everyone to remain genuinely concerned for Jew and Palestinian alike—while praying for Gaza and its liberation from Hamas.
“What can we do to represent the Lord as our nation is in crisis?” he asked. “Please pray for us, that we choose wisely how to shine his light in a very dark place right now.”
Grace Al-Zoughbi, a Palestinian theological educator, is also searching for his light.
“The church is trying to cling to any glimmers of hope it can find,” she said. “The situation is deeply disturbing, the atrocities appalling.”
She also was shocked by rocket fire, landing from the opposite direction near her home in Bethlehem. Families rushed to the grocery store to stock up on goods, fearful of escalation. Representative of an already struggling population under lockdown, she said the loss of tourism will further devastate the economy as the church seeks to help as much as possible.
Its immediate reaction was fervent prayer to end the conflict.
“Lord, take all the evil, smash it as glass, and grind it to nothing,” Al-Zoughbi pleaded. “In this we hold our hope, that one day soon your ways will prevail.”
She asked believers on both sides to be peacemakers. She asked international Christians to avoid “evil misrepresentations.” And for herself, she focused on Psalm 122: Pray for the peace of Jerusalem. May all who love you be secure.