Hamas fired large fusillades of rockets at Tel Aviv and other civilian areas in Israel yesterday as the conflict in the Holy Land continues to escalate. More than 1,800 rockets and mortar shells have been launched toward Israel this week; the large number is intended to overwhelm Israel’s Iron Dome air defense system.
Armed drones were sent into southern Israel as well. Ben Gurion International Airport was closed to incoming passenger flights. The Israeli military responded this morning with a combined air and artillery barrage intended to destroy Hamas’ tunnel system.
Earlier this week, I discussed this conflict in the context of Jewish and Muslim historical narratives. Today, let’s seek to understand it in relation to recent developments and events. Then we’ll focus on practical ways we can make a difference.
“Hamas” means “zeal” in Arabic and forms an acronym (spelled backwards) for “Islamic Resistance Movement.” Its official charter calls for the destruction of Israel and raising “the banner of Allah over every inch of Palestine.” When it attacks Israel, it is doing what it was created to do. (For more, see my 2014 paper, 4 Crucial Questions About Hamas.)
The story behind the story, however, is Iran’s support for Hamas. It backs Hamas and Hezbollah (the terrorist organization that dominates Lebanon to the north of Israel) as it seeks to extend its influence across the Middle East. Iran is Shiite and Persian; it is locked in a geopolitical conflict with Saudi Arabia and other Sunni Arab nations.
Israel’s recent peace accords with some of these countries threaten Iran’s dominance of the region. By empowering Hamas to attack Israel, it has provoked an Israeli response that it can caricature as an attack on all Muslims. Since the Qur’an requires Muslims to defend Islam, Iran may be hoping that the present conflict will rally all Muslims in opposition to the Jews, defeating Israel’s peace initiatives with the Sunni world. As I noted earlier this week, Iran also believes that engendering such conflict and chaos prepares the way for the coming of the Mahdi, its Messiah.
Hamas has taken advantage of tensions over the possible expulsion of six Palestinian families from East Jerusalem and the Jerusalem Day march that coincided with a significant Muslim holiday. Its leaders have also sought to position themselves to win Palestinian legislative elections scheduled for May 22 (but now indefinitely postponed). With Iran’s help, it has developed more extensive rockets and other weaponry than ever before and is using these munitions to target civilian populations more than ever before.
Israel has dealt with Hamas in the past and undoubtedly will continue to do so. But what is happening between Jewish Israelis and Arab Israelis is especially troubling for the future.
"This is different from anything I’ve seen"
Of the nine million people who live in Israel, two million are Arab. (Another two million Palestinians live in Gaza and 2.7 million in the West Bank.) Most Jews and Arabs in Israel have learned to live peaceably as neighbors since the State of Israel was founded in 1948.
However, the country is now experiencing the worst internal Jewish-Arab conflicts since the last Intifada (“uprising”) in 2000. The Times of Israel reports that “scenes of unrest, rioting, hate rallies, and growing social chaos spread throughout numerous cities, some of which were once seen as symbols of coexistence.” TikTok and other social media platforms are being used to encourage and inflame street protests as activists on both sides take out their pent-up anger and frustration on the other.
In one particularly shocking scene, hundreds of Jewish extremists in the town of Bat Yam vandalized Arab property and then assaulted an Arab driver in his car, dragging him from the vehicle and beating him savagely. Jewish mobs were seen roaming the streets of Haifa and Tiberias looking for Arabs to assault. An Arab at the Mahane Yehuda market in Jerusalem was stabbed by Jews and seriously injured. The chant “death to Arabs” was heard in Jewish rallies.
Meanwhile, Arab riots were reported in Jerusalem, Lod, Haifa, Tamra, and elsewhere. A Jewish man in Acre was hospitalized in critical condition after he was assaulted with rocks and iron bars. A Jewish man in Tamra was stabbed and assaulted by an Arab mob; an Arab paramedic said the attackers almost burned the man inside his car before he helped evacuate him to safety. Israel has called up ten companies of reservists to support police in quelling such street violence.
One Tel Aviv resident said, “I think this is different from anything I’ve seen, and I’ve been living here for twenty-four years. I just want to point out that we’re all Israelis, so Jews, Arabs—we’re all Israelis.”
Tzipi Livni, a former cabinet member and former chief negotiator in peace talks with the Palestinians, said, “What was maybe under the surface has now exploded and created a combination that is really horrific. I don’t want to use the words ‘civil war.’ But this is something that is new, this is unbearable, this is horrific, and I’m very worried.”
Four biblical responses
Unlike the conflict with Hamas, which is centered in a small geographical area and can be managed through military means, street violence is a police matter that is difficult to quell. That’s why political leaders from across the spectrum are decrying this violence. Israeli Defense Minister Benny Ganz is warning that Israeli internal divisions are “no less dangerous than Hamas.”
How can Christians intercede biblically in these tragic days?
One: Pray for Jewish, Palestinian, and world leaders (1 Timothy 2:1-2). Ask God to give them wisdom and practical guidance.
Three: Pray for Jews and Muslims to turn to Jesus as their Messiah and Savior. He is the only path to the peace all people seek (John 16:33).
Four: Pray for ways to love the Jews and Arabs you know (John 13:34-35). Anti-Semitism is rising in America and around the world; many Arabs face oppression and discrimination in America and the West as well. Look for opportunities to demonstrate God’s love in your compassion by building relationships centered in grace.
A Zen proverb says, “Obstacles do not block the path—they are the path.” Let’s see the unfolding tragedy in Israel as the path to intercession that could lead to spiritual awakening in the Middle East and beyond. And let’s resolve to walk that path, to the glory of God.
Why not right now?
NOTE: The only way our culture will ever change is if God’s people know how to carry on biblically-based conversations with those of other faiths so that the door can be opened to a gospel invitation. This is why I don’t want you to miss out on requesting your copy of Biblical Insight to Tough Questions, Volume 8, for your gift of any amount. May 31 is the last day you can request it, so I encourage you to do so today.
Publication date: May 14, 2021
Photo courtesy: ©Getty Images/Fatima Shbair/Stringer
The views expressed in this commentary do not necessarily reflect those of Christian Headlines.
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