It was inconceivable…. another nation could not possibly launch a successful surprise attack on the United States. I would imagine this is how Israel felt when Hamas attacked several Israeli targets on an early Saturday morning at 6 a.m. Thousands of missiles streaked through the sky, raining down on seemingly indiscriminate targets in Israel. At the same time, hundreds of Hamas, many on motorcycles, followed bulldozers as they burst through the barbed wire fences separating Gaza from Israel, shocking Israeli soldiers as they forced their way into surrounding villages, cities, music festivals, and settlements…gunning down civilians and military alike, leaving hundreds of bodies in the wake and a lasting sense of terror.
Simultaneously, motorboats of Hamas militants invaded the Israeli coast with fierce firefights while others swooped in from the sky on paragliders wreaking havoc inland. Reports say the air was filled with smoke and the screams of those in homes where militants randomly burst in. Many were mowed down with gunfire. Babies were decapitated. Some were taken hostage back to Gaza as bargaining chips while begging for their lives. The lucky ones made it to bomb shelters or safe rooms. But in the kibbutz of Kfar Aza near to one of the bulldozed holes in the security fence, virtually every home was riddled with massive gunfire and bodies littered the streets.
Israelis were at the end of the seven-day festival of Sukkot when, without warning, the shocking attack began. Hundreds of young people had been partying, dancing through the night and into the morning hours at a music festival before invading Hamas military arrived in vans expelling a barrage of bullets. At least 260 died.
Why should we care? The fighting between Arabs and Jews has been going on for thousands of years. Why? It’s complicated. Both Jews and Arabs have their culture, their history, their religion, and their very identity linked to this plot of land known as Palestine that is only about 1/6 the size of Florida. The story is not simple, but perhaps this layout can help clarify the constant unrest.
Technically, Jews and Arabs are all really children of Abraham. Both claim him to be the “father” of their people. The city of Jerusalem is one of the most bitterly contested cities on earth. It is holy to both Jews and Arabs. From Old Testament times, the Jews have believed Palestine to be the “promised land” that God gave to His chosen people. Solomon built the first Jewish temple there. Genesis 12:3 states that “Israel was chosen by God for a purpose, to be a blessing to the nations.” A covenant was made between God and the Israelites. He promised they would be His treasured people and He would protect them; He promised to bless them IF they followed His commandments.
But time and time again, the Israelites failed to keep their end of the covenant by disobeying God and following idols. Because of their constant disobedience, God allowed their land (Palestine) to be conquered by other peoples and other empires. When other nations defeated Israel, Jews were often dispersed to other parts of the conquering kingdom or taken as workers and slaves to a new homeland. To further prevent uprisings, the conquering king would often import other peoples to the newly conquered land from other parts of their kingdom.
To the Muslims, many of whom are Arab, the land is also considered “holy land.” Jerusalem is the place where the prophet Muhammad is said to have ascended to heaven. Arab Muslims built their beautiful gold-domed Aqsa Mosque on the Temple Mount, the holiest site for the Jewish people where the Jewish temples were built. The only remaining part of the last temple that still exists is the Western Wall, or the “Wailing Wall” as it is known.
Over the centuries there have been many battles over Palestine. Today it is surrounded by Arab nations: Egypt to the south, Jordan and Syria to the east, and Lebanon to the North. Many of the Jews who had dispersed to other countries over the centuries began to migrate back to Palestine. The migration began to surge from 1922-1947 as Jews fled persecution. During the Holocaust of WWII more than 6 million Jews were murdered.
As Jewish immigrants flooded back to their “promised land”, more and more Arab Palestinians were displaced and forced out of neighborhoods. This resulted in constant pushback and violence. After WWI Great Britain was given the authority by the League of Nations to rule all areas of Palestine. The United Nations was formed in 1945, replacing the League of Nations. By 1947, the fighting was so intense that the United Nations voted to separate the area of Palestine into separate Arab and Jewish states and to make Jerusalem an “international city” belonging to neither. But the Arabs rejected the plan, leaving the area in a state of unrest.
Great Britain withdrew their rule in 1948, and immediately war broke out between Jews and the Arab Palestinians in Palestine for control of the territory. Jewish forces won and the State of Israel was created in 1948 from 77% of the land that made up the territory of Palestine. The remaining 23% was sectioned off into two areas and remained “Palestine.” A small strip of land to the south, bordering the Mediterranean Sea, known as Gaza, was bordered on one side by Egypt and Israel on the other. Egypt initially controlled the Gaza Strip. More than 2 million Palestinians were driven into Gaza during the war in 1948. It remains one of the most densely populated areas in the world.
The second Palestinian area created was larger and surrounded Jerusalem to the north, east, and south. This area is now known as the West Bank and was initially controlled by Jordan. The West Bank has a number of Jewish and Christian holy sites within its boundaries, including Bethlehem.
The city of Jerusalem was also a victim of the war of 1948. It was cut in half and became East Jerusalem and West Jerusalem. Jordan controlled East Jerusalem and Israel controlled West Jerusalem.
The state of Israel thrived, and their military became known as one of the best and most dangerous. However, most Palestinians have never recognized Israel as a state. Palestinians became increasingly frustrated over their failure to create a Palestinian state. By 1964 a group of Arabs united to form the Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO) with the goal of liberating Palestinians through armed violence.
The tension came to a head in 1967 which led to the Six-Day War. During these six days
Israeli forces captured all of Jerusalem and united the city. Israel also seized both of the Palestinian areas during the Six-Day War, keeping most of the area under military occupation. Israel imported Jews into the two areas, creating more than 180 Jewish settlements. The Israeli forces also captured an area from Syria during this war called Golan Heights, which remains a contentious area today.
The strife continued, and in 1993 a series of peace treaties were signed by Israel and the PLO which provided for limited withdrawal from the occupied areas and a PLO-run government in areas populated by Arab Palestinians. The intent was to eventually allow for a Palestinian state, but this agreement was never finalized. Fatah became the political party ruling the Palestinian areas.
But the peace treaties were actually quite complicated. Gaza was allowed to establish its own Palestinian government with full civil and security control EXCEPT in the Jewish settlements that had been established after 1967. Israel would continue to govern, control, and protect those settlements.
The West Bank was more complicated. This area is far to the north and east of Gaza. The peace agreements created 3 separate zones in the West Bank. Area A was under control of an established Palestinian government. Area B was under civil control of the Palestinian government, but Israeli forces were allowed to assist in security control. Area C included all the Jewish settlements established in that area since 1967 and was under full Israeli control. Approximately 61% of West Bank today is made up of Jewish settlements that look more like suburban neighborhoods.
Keep in mind, for many years after 1967 more than 214,000 Jewish settlers were living in Gaza or the West Bank with more than 5 million Palestinians! Israel still controlled the air space and all access into Gaza and the West Bank. Even though the Arabs live under their own Palestinian government, they were still subject to Israeli restrictions until 2005. In 2005, under international and domestic pressure, Israel withdrew their military forces from Gaza and relocated the more than 9000 Jewish settlers that had been living there.
In 2006, a newer political party called “Hamas”, an Islamist militant group, won the election over Fatah in Gaza and took control. Israel, however, maintained a blockage by land, air, and sea on Gaza which created devastating economical effects on the Palestinians living there. Hamas provides social services for people in Gaza, including education and medical care. They state their goal is to free Palestinians from blockades and prison-like conditions. Palestinians in Gaza are not allowed to leave the area except in rare instances. And more than 65% of the population in Gaza live under the poverty line with 40% unemployment.
The popularity of Hamas has grown, and they have become the largest militant group in the region. They have been known to unite with the second largest militant group, Islamic Jihad, at times. Hamas is also allied with the Hezbollah in Syria, Lebanon, and Iran, two of which border Israel. Hamas states it was compelled to attack Israel because of continuing oppression of their people with blockades, desecration of their mosques by Israeli military, continued construction of new Jewish settlements in the West Bank, and thousands of Palestinian prisoners being held in Israeli prisons.
So why should we care? For the same reason that much of the world cared when 9-11 happened to the United States. It could be the beginning of the next world war. Or it could be just one more sign of the end times. Luke 21:20 says, “When you see Jerusalem surrounded by armies, you will know that the desolation is near.” At the very least we should care because the war has now taken the lives of more than 2000 people in a week, many of them civilians, including women and children.
What can we do? Pray! Israel is between a rock and a hard place. The Arab world is teetering towards complete violence. Hamas has issued its demands: free all prisoners, respect the sanctity of Palestinian holy sites in Jerusalem, end the siege of Gaza, and more. If Netanyahu concedes, his government may collapse. If he fights the demands, it may cost many, many more lives, both Palestinian and Israeli. The Palestinian resistance appears to be prepared this time. They do not present an easy target for Israeli rockets, warplanes, and drones. Much of their operation is underground and would require a massive land invasion.
If you think, “This doesn’t concern me!” then remember the story of the mouse who looked through a crack in the wall to see a farmer open a package with a mousetrap in it. The mouse ran back to the farmyard alarmed and asked the chicken, the pig, and the cow, “What am I going to do? There’s a mousetrap in the house! There’s a mousetrap in the house!” The chicken clucked and couldn’t be bothered with it. The pig felt there was just nothing he could do to help. The cow replied that it was no skin off his nose. That very night a sound was heard throughout the farmyard…the sound of a mousetrap catching its prey. The farmer’s wife rushed in the darkness to see what had been caught but did not see it was a poisonous snake whose tail had been caught. The snake bit the farmer’s wife, sending her to the hospital. After returning home, she had a fever. Everyone knows you treat a fever with chicken soup, so the farmer killed the chicken and made soup. But the wife got sicker. Friends and neighbors came to sit with her around the clock and the farmer butchered the pig to feed them. The wife never got well and died. So many people came to the funeral that the farmer had to slaughter the cow to provide enough meat for all to eat. The mouse looked at all this through the crack in the wall with great sadness.
When one of us is at risk, we are all at risk. We are all involved in this journey called life! Pray for wisdom for the leaders. Pray for all those Israelis and Palestinians who truly want to live in peace. Pray for the safe return of those kidnapped. Pray for peace!
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Anne Hope is the award winning author of Bent Pages...a sharp, funny, and deeply inspirational narrative.
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