There is a long history behind the recent war in the Holy Land. The tragedy of religious hatred and strife has played out time and again in the land which three religions call holy.
About ten years ago, there was a short documentary on CBC television about two men, one Israeli and the other Palestinian. In years past, the two men had worked together, shared meals, even shared living quarters when they worked together in distant cities. Munir, the Palestinian, was welcomed into the family of Moshe, the Israeli. In a very poignant moment, Munir showed the CBC journalist a photograph of himself with the Israeli family and the family’s little boy whom he loved dearly.
But violence and politics carved the Holy Land into sections where Jews and Palestinians could not go. Munir could not get permission from the Israeli military to go to where his friend lived and Moshe could not go to see his friend in Gaza because he might be shot by armed fighters. The barriers of segregation were too dangerous so the two men had not seen each other for fifteen years.
After several months of negotiations, the CBC crew was able to find a place, a corner gas station, which was in a neutral zone where the two men could meet safely. The two men, then in their 60’s, wept and hugged each other for a long time. It was heart-warming to see their joy, but it was also heartwrenching to see how violence and religious intolerance can cause such sorrow for innocent people. The two men parted not knowing if or when they would see each other again and I have often wondered how their story continued.
The recent war between Israel and Hamas is a dispute over land which has been scarred by war for generations. It is a dispute which has its roots in the Biblical story of Abraham and his two sons, Isaac and Ishmael. The violence in the Middle East is a family feud which is thousands of years old, and yet many of the descendants of Abraham, Jew and Palestinian, want to live together in peace. As Christians, we are not outsiders to the turmoil in the Middle East. We trace the story of Jesus from Bethlehem to Galilee to Jerusalem and yet we, like our Jewish and Muslim brothers and sisters, have no solution to the bitter violence in that region.
The aerial pictures of Gaza show the destruction of homes, hospitals and markets by Israeli bombs. The place is barely habitable. Thousands of men, women and children have been maimed or killed. Hamas brutally killed many Israelis and kept many men, women and children as hostages for weeks. Now again is a time of lamentations and sorrows in the Holy Land.
As Christians, we want the whole Christmas story to be about blessing and peace, but there is reality in the story which includes danger and sorrow. Mary and Joseph had to flee to Egypt to escape the danger of Herod’s soldiers who were sent to slaughter innocent children. The Holy Family were also refugees from violence and tragedy. Innocent children have often been the most vulnerable to suffering as the result of hatred and intolerance.
All three religions of the Middle East are considered Abrahamic faiths, so as religious people we can pray for peace where ever we are and whatever our tradition. On the internet, there are 39,300,000 groups, organizations, networks of Jewish, Muslim and Christian faiths praying that peace will come to the land of endless strife and sorrow.
In the Biblical book of Lamentations, the steadfast love of the Lord never ceases and God’s mercies never come to an end. We are called to persevere with faith in God’s love and to counteract brutality and despair with compassion and hope. We are called as God’s people to be hearts and hands to alleviate the suffering of others in our own communities and in war-torn lands far away.