The Israel-Gaza Conflict has Names and Faces: Hearing Voices from Both Sides of the Wall

Wall Israel

Over the past several weeks, my heart has grieved the violence taking place in Gaza. Hamas hurts the cause of all Palestinians when they shoot their homemade rockets over the wall at innocent civilians in Israel. And Israel perpetuates the desperation of groups like Hamas with their unjust policies, walls, and discrimination. Both sides of the story need to be told. A better future is possible–but it won’t come through violence. Violence begets violence–every time.

Most Christians, I hope, agree that war isn’t helpful. The ridiculous number of Palestinian civilian casualties and deaths testify to this reality. But so often I’ve read many folks’ comments who appeal to this conflict through the grid of justified violence and theories. So much of the rhetoric often dehumanizes the “other” rather than actually seeing in each victim one created in the image of God (and here I’m thinking of Israeli civilian victims also, who fear for their lives when rockets start coming over the wall).

Some say: “Until Palestinians denounce rhetoric about Israel’s right to exist I won’t feel compassion for them.” Unfortunately the same sorts of things are said about the Palestinian people from the Israeli side of the wall (and even within Palestinian territories where settlements exist). I personally saw banners that had just been placed all around the division point of the Israeli settlement in Hebron that said “Palestine never existed” and other violent language (sadly funded by American zionists). So, we need to name the language games that are played by extremists on both ends of this conflict.

But, are extremists the only faces and names that we need to consider in this conflict? I. Sure. Hope. Not!

But before we go on to talk about people that are easier to get along with, let’s not forget the Christian demand of discipleship: “Love your enemies.” Central to the Gospel announcement of Jesus is the nonviolent love of those who would oppose us: sometimes physically and other times ideologically. At the center of discipleship is love–love for God and for neighbors. And lest we forget the criteria for a “neighbor,” Jesus makes that clear in the story of the Good Samaritan: a neighbor is the person we naturally hate. For a Jew in the first century to even acknowledge a Samaritan as anything but a despised traitor to the God of Israel was unthinkable! Yet that is exactly what Jesus called his hearers to–to equate enemies to the status of neighbor. Therefore, a neighbor is any and every person on the face of this earth that we like, dislike, or would even consider an enemy. We are called to love our enemy-neighbors.

Can you love a neighbor while cheering on their destruction? No. Can you love a neighbor while shooting them? No. Therefore, we as Christians should have no skin in the game regarding the current conflict except to seek peace and love. Justifying the death of kidnapped teens in Israel or the bombing of children on a beach in Gaza doesn’t fit Jesus-centered conversation. Jesus is morally opposed to both scenarios.

Of course nations aren’t “Christian” so we can’t expect them to act out of our own Christian values. However, we should expect that Christians would embody Christian values during times of violence and destruction. For Christians, when we see our Palestinian friends being tormented by the American-funded Israeli military machine–we should see the faces and names of image-bearers. And when we hear about the fear that many Israelis experience on a regular basis due to indiscriminate rocket fire from Hamas–we should see through their fear and discover human beings created in the image of the Divine.

Most Westerners haven’t had the opportunity to visit Israel/Palestine to look human beings in the eyes. I was fortunate to spend ten days in the region this past winter with The Global Immersion Project. I visited both Israeli regions and the West Bank. And let me tell you this: on both sides of the wall are WONDERFUL humans who are kind and hospitable. Both live with lingering fear. But both also have hope. Peacemakers on both sides of the wall desire peace and justice to become normative.

I asked one Israeli and one Palestinian friend to give me their own perspectives on the current conflict. If we are going to humanize this issue, we need to hear from credible sources on the ground. Granted, these are just two perspectives–moderate perspectives–but it’s a start.

Milad (a Palestinian Christian peacemaker) and Liel (an Israeli peacemaker):*

In what follows I want to offer a few insights offered by each of these friends. Both are wonderful human beings. Milad leads a community center that is making a powerful impact in the West Bank. Liel is a peace activist who has facilitated Israeli-Palestinian sharing circles and organized Arabic learning groups.

In a war like this one, relevant information changes on a daily basis. These comments were put together a couple weeks ago, so they might need to be nuanced on some minor points. Liel responded on 7/27 and Milad on 8/4. Much has unfolded since these initial responses came in, but they help frame the situation for us.

Milad: [When I asked about experiences in the West Bank...] In the West Bank it more than fear: it is about human rights and the killing of civilians. We feel sorrow and sadness for our brothers and sisters in Gaza. What is happening is a war crime and the world is silent… and United Nations too. The images we see [in the media] create anger, revenge, and violence. I don’t see hope; we are seen as numbers not humans.

Liel: [When I asked about experiences of Israeli citizens...] I’m not an average Israeli and because we Israelis are very different from each other, it is very difficult to define. But in general, I can say that the common feeling is frustration and fear. The question is: from what and why? Some have these [negative] feelings towards Palestinians, others towards [Israeli] Leftists and some because of the [Israeli] Right Wing.

Milad: [As a Palestinians Christian...] Moments like this keep my spirit in continuous prayer. As Christian Palestinian we are [part of] one nation with our Muslim brothers. It is a real challenge to see the evilness of war and killing toward us Palestinians..and the [cycle of] revenge and discrimination. We as peacemakers have hope in Christ Jesus. He is our savior from the death and evil. Hate and not recognizing the “other” with pride kills everyone here. I believe God is in control and will bring peace.

Liel: [As an Israeli who believes in peace,] I believe the situation is dialectical In some way. On the one hand, this escalation challenges my beliefs as it exposes clearly the violent actors in this conflict that need to be confronted. Not convinced, but really confronted in order to weaken their actions and strengthen the opposite direction. In calmer periods it is often easy to believe that you can convince everyone but now some enforcement and confrontation seem legitimate as well. On the other hand, the same specific escalation together with its violent actors exposes more clearly the people that work for peace. One extreme is bringing light to the other side which brings hope to the alternative.

Milad: [What Americans should know is] that the country of Israel is against international laws and human rights. We [Palestinians] are not slaves–we are people. Americans should stop supporting a criminal state. Through your tax dollars you are killing a child; you are destroying a school; you are poisoning our dreams. You are investing in war. If you love Israelis that is fine.  But don’t forget that there is a Palestinian child without a school or that he doesn’t have food or that he is without house. By the way, more than 500 house or more was destroyed [based on when this response was originally written]. We need Americans to support our freedom, justice, peace and reconciliation. We need your voices to end occupation and this apartheid system. The two nations are tired from fear, hate, and violence. We want to move freely in our countries and not to feel that we are unwelcome or foreigners. We are tired from negotiation and peace processes. We want real steps toward peace. If violence will bring our peace, we all will go for it, but we know that it isn’t the solution. As Martin Luther King Jr. said: I have a dream. We’ve been dreaming for almost 64 years. To seek nonviolence we need courage, hope, faith, and salvation. We need love and reconciliation. We need humbleness and the occupation needs to end.

Liel: [What I hope Americans will hear from me is that...] When two kids are fighting, the parent gets in the middle strongly in order firstly to separate them. The parent doesn’t offer other options, try to learn the local narratives or even declare that the sides know what is best for them. We don’t know. Americans must know that they are the parent or minimum the big brother in this conflict. [Editor note: I think Liel is encouraging us Americans to get to know the local narratives, etc. As we learn from both sides we then can help discern the things that will make for peace.]

 Concluding Thoughts

Milad and Liel are humans directly affected by this war. In Liel, you have the perspective of a thoughtful and compassionate Israeli. (And without getting into another story, I’ve witnessed Liel’s compassion firsthand toward a Palestinian child). In Milad, you have a Christian wrestling with the pain of witnessing friends and family killed. Not only so, but Milad is in the emotional mix of this very human conflict. Even when it isn’t violent, each day his people suffer from a lack of resources and dehumanizing restrictions imposed by the Israeli government and Defense Force. He (and his family and co-workers) are sources of light and love in his neighborhood and town even in the midst of instability.

In both of these perspectives, I see hope. I see that peace is possible. It may require a radical shift in how Israel relates to its Palestinian neighbors. But ultimately, this will be fueled by peacemakers who decide that there are human beings on both sides of the walls. As Palestinian Muslim Peacemaker Ibrahim Ahmad Abu El-Hawa said when we were sitting at a dinner table in Jerusalem: “The hardest walls to topple are the walls of fear the separate our heads from our hearts.” It’s time to conquer fear with humanizing love.


*I helped clean up language on a few points but kept the essence of their comments in tact–to the best of my ability. I was honored that my two friends were willing to contribute to this article. 

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  • Linnea Hauritz Larsen

    I’m glad you weighed in on this. I see very few Christian pacifists on FB regarding this particular issue. One of my friends is posting comments like “Nuke ‘em all!” Most of my Christian friends believe we are to support Israel no matter what for fear of God’s wrath. Their minds seem to be made up.

    • Kurt Willems

      Thanks!!!!! Lots of people have narrow views on violence. I hope this piece helps some to see that its more complex than “right and wrong” when it comes to Gaza.

  • justjohn

    “love thy neighbor” with bullets? yes, christians have been doing this for 1500 years. duh.

    most recently and obviously dissonant is towards gays: we love you enough to destroy your self identity and family you have built.

    why should gaza be any different?

    it’s all in how CHRISTIANS define … “love” isn’t it?

    • Kurt Willems

      Sounds like you have lots of anger. But I think you are also unfairly painting Christians with a broad brush. That sort of caricaturing isn’t helpful toward any people group.

      • psydneyh

        And your caricaturing of Zionists? You are certainly painting Jews/Israelis with a broad brush. Why don’t you spend more time in Israel getting to know more people, not just left-wing peaceniks. I have made 4 visits to Israel over a period of 20 years, seeing many changes. The last 2: studying at St George’s College in East Jerusalem and getting fed up with the Palestinian propaganda, and then volunteering with the Israeli army in a hospital in Haifa. I certainly got very different impressions than you write about.

  • Jet

    I love your post, Kurt. As a recovering terrorist wannabe, I desire to be a pacifist. In the past, I wanted to contribute to the violent removal of British occupation forces in Northern Ireland. Since coming to understand the message of Jesus, I no longer believe in violence as a solution. Instead, I believe that the grace and love of Jesus Christ in solution to all heart conflicts in the world. Having said that, it’s not easy for me to believe that the non-violence of love and grace is the answer. People like Liel and Milad inspire me that I, as a Christian, can do this. I want to love my neighbor whether they are people who are easy to love and hard to love. Thanks for holding up examples of people who are loving in the power of Christ despite the challenges.

    • Kurt Willems

      Thanks for your wonderful comments here. It’s amazing how Christ changes our violent impulses into loving ones.

      KURT WILLEMS, M.Div.
      Pastor, Pangea Communities
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  • Steve

    Kurt; I to spent 10 days in Palestine and Israel last October. The group I was with started in Bethlehem, worked are way to Hebron, Nazareth, Sea of Galilee, The Old City and other places as well. Since I came home, I have spent a lot of time educating myself to the causes of the violence in Palestine. You state you see hope, you see that peace is possible. But what needs to be said is, this is with moderate perspectives. Have you researched the Talmud? How about Zionism? What did you discover about the racial hatred between the Jews and Arabs? I do not mean to rain on your parade, but, the issues I just brought up I find that peace will be far from coming. When Israel bombs a cemetery, today 8/21/14, and kills 4 people who were burying their relatives, I find it disgusting. When Hamas fires is “firecracker” rockets into civilian populations and breaks the truce, I ask myself, why? I found a “poster” on a FB group I am on it states: “My Empathy for the suffering in Gaza does not make me anti-Semitic, nor does it make me pro-Hamas or anti-Israel. It Makes Me Human.” I believe strongly that is what Jesus cared about, humans.

    • Kurt Willems

      Just getting to this… I responded to your second comment. I would simply say that I’m trying to cut through the noise and highlight voices working for peace. Extremes are reality. Violence is reality. I’m not minimizing violence and death… for goodness sake, re-read what I wrote or Milad’s comments! But, if we don’t have hope as Christians… or as humans… then we give into the cycle of violence. This is something I’m not willing to do. Caring for humans means we seek justice for all and peace for all. If you read anything other than that in what I wrote I’m sorry… and would guess that you haven’t read anything else I’ve written on this issue.

      • Steve

        “For goodness sake”, lets get to know each other some Kurt. I went on a 10 day Learning Tour with Mennonite Central Committee. We stayed mostly in the West Bank and saw things I never imagined. I have only read one other blog you have written, so I don’t know all that you have commented on, sorry. For goodness sake, is that how you greet a new comer? Well I won’t hold it. I know where you went to Seminary, I was on the Board there for 8 years, termed off a few years ago. Must of missed you in the transition. So, I am on board for peace, justice, ending the cycle of violence, that is what I see as the good news, what Jesus brought as his message. But did you answer any of my questions? No. I did say, “peace will be far from coming.” I did not say it will never come. But there is ideology, religion and ethic biases that are going to make it so difficult, it seems to me, almost impossible. The Talmud, Zionism and racial hatred are my 3 core issues. The Talmud, the Jews holiest book, is the religious obstacle, where a Non-Jew is not seen as even human. Zionism is a disease and knows no people group and wants to consume all the land and resources. Then there is racial hatred, just like we have and have had in the States. It is so much deeper in the ME, because it goes so much farther back in history. I believe God created man in his own image and said it was good. The FB page I am on I have more Muslims friends now then Christian. And my heart BLEEDS, every time I see a picture of a baby or a child in 3 pieces because of the bombs and shelling from the IOF. I agree with you, hope is the only thing that keeps us alive. Ask the people of Gaza they will tell you of hope and they will tell you of death.

        • Kurt Willems

          “For goodness sake” wasn’t to be rude or sarcastic. I was just trying to make the point that I don’t think we disagree very much. But based on that first comment, I sensed that you believed that we were further apart than we actually are. All that to say, I feel like our debate is it helpful so I’m going to concede and say it’s obvious that we both care about peace and care about the issues in Palestine. For whatever reason, the medium of text isn’t serving us well. I hope you’re doing well.

          KURT WILLEMS

          • Steve

            In part Kurt, I have been so angry since coming back from Palestine and then the war with Gaza, I just don’t know where to channel it quite yet and at times is spills all over. I am sorry for that. Continue on your journey and bring many more stories. Steve

        • Kurt Willems

          Ps- I hope u saw my response to your second comment….. Peace!


          KURT WILLEMS

          • Steve

            Yes, I did. Peace to you.

  • phil1942

    So many people have ignored that started this particular episode. That HAMAS deliberately kidnapped and murdered three Israeli teenagers. The fact that most people in the West, especially Christian people, cannot comprehend that anyone could do so a thing, especially deliberately, lets everyone accept the comments like those from the UN about there being no ‘concrete evidence’ that they had been kidnapped (This was before they were found.) That there then became manufactured stories – one saying they had been killed in a car accident and then used by the ‘Zionists’ to provoke war – another that they had been killed by other Israelis..

    Then HAMAS not only admits to being responsible, they call it heroic.

    All this death and destruction, and the broken ceasefires, the demands, the protests. And what does anyone say about Gilad Shaar, Naftali Fraenkel, Eyal Yifrach, and Mohamed Abu Khdei?

  • Duane Bauman

    Kurt; Thank you for your thoughts and incites. I agree to love God I need to love my Neighbour. I conclude that I don’t have the insites to become directly involved in the conflict between Israel and the West Bank, To do so for me would be only increasing any power the demonic imposes upon my life. What I need to do is pray for peace and understanding , but peace begins in my own station. I cannot love my God and Savour if I don’t give my efforts to express love and kindness to every one I encounter in my daily walk. It is a journey an attitude of life few possess. We must pray for and learn to forgive to realize our own salvation. The true pacifist I have met are those who have experienced God’s Grace to an extent that they are able to truly live this attitude. Shalom

  • Steve

    Kurt; Thank you for your comments about your journey in Palestine. It is a complicate situation and peace will not be easy to come. For peace to come there has to be justice and that probably will be the hardest part. I sent your article to a FB friend of mine who lives in Gaza, here is his comment: Hamas
    is hurting the Palestinian cause its totally BS….. there was no Hamas
    before 87′ yet Israel was killing innocent Palestinians … people can’t
    see the big picture , Israel wont stop on Palestine. Greater Israel; The Zionist Plan for the Middle East; (this) is their real hidden goal:
    Would be interested in your thoughts Kurt.

    • Kurt Willems

      I think you are 100 percent right: for peace to come justice is needed. As many of us continue to say: justice brings the conditions for peace. Milad’s final comments in this piece tell us quite a bit about justice I think— “Through your [U.S.] tax dollars you are killing a child; you are destroying a school; you are poisoning our dreams. You are investing in war. If you love Israelis that is fine. But don’t forget that there is a Palestinian child without a school or that he doesn’t have food or that he is without house…. As Martin Luther King Jr. said: I have a dream. We’ve been dreaming for almost 64 years. To seek nonviolence we need courage, hope, faith, and salvation. We need love and reconciliation. We need humbleness and the occupation needs to end.”
      So sad and so true. It is only in the conditions of injustice that groups like Hamas are born. I agree with your friend.
      I’m not full of silly optimism… but I do have hope when I see that the extremes aren’t the only voices.
      And as for Israeli expansion… that is one of the goals of many of the far right wingers… and of many Christian Zionists (I’ve heard that from John Hagee for instance). Let’s pray that Christians continue to call the BS of Zionist theology and the tide turns towards justice and peace for both groups in the regions.
      Thanks for your comment!


      KURT WILLEMS, M.Div.
      Pastor, Pangea Communities
      The Pangea Blog
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  • Yonah

    Kurt, you are confused and making up stuff.

    If you want to talk about Gaza, then please do. A note to the readers…look at Kurt’s photo of the wall. The graffiti is referencing the Jericho Rd….that’s the West Bank, not Gaza. Oh. And, Hebron. That’s the West Bank, not Gaza.

    Geography matters.

    So, does accurate biblical interpretation.

    Like so many intent with veiled slams to Jews, Kurt does the old Good Samaritan (Weren’t and aren’t Jews horrible people) interpretation. Now let us look at Luke 10:29-37. Jesus has a typical intra-Jewish debate with another Jew…this happens every minute of every day. In verse 37 Jesus hears from his fellow Jew the confirmation that the Samaritan did the right thing. The “lawyer” did not tell Jesus “to go to blazes” (I edited this comment myself in repentance of violent language that on second thought I deemed unworthy). I would suggest to Kurt and any like him that they consider again that Jesus addressed the Good Samaritan story to Jews in confidence that, despite cultural conflict, Jews themselves would see neighbor in the proper context…and verse 37 delivers that.

    As for Kurt’s claim that hears people say they will have no compassion for Palestinians until they do this or that…he should be specific. Or is he making up rhetoric?

    Then Kurt says “our Palestinian friends” but refers to Israelis in the general…not as friends. Want to correct that Kurt? Or not?

  • Yonah

    Well, let’s do something Christian here. It is not Christian to engage in inbalance and untruth. It is not Christian to proclaim a friendship to one proverbial side over against the other. And, in this instance, it is unbiblical…specifically to the Lukan text cited and made into a anti-Jewish text.

    First, there is a difference between the West Bank and Gaza. Why is this important here? It is important because of the intra-Palestinian political realities. Fatah, largely resident on the West Bank as opposed to Hamas, largely resident in Gaza…don’t like each other. Fatah wants to take control of Gaza under Abbas. Israel want’s that. The U.S. wants that. Egypt wants that. The Saudis want that. EVERYBODY wants Hamas to be deposed.

    So, Kurt…yes or no? The Israel – Palestine conflict could come to an end if Fatah had overall leadership over both the West Bank and Gaza….yes or no?

    Now, again: The parable of the Good Samaritan.

    It is not a anti-Jewish text, and it is wrong to use it as such. Rather, Luke being rather the universalist, the text is pro-pan-human.

    The text is a story within a story. In the text, Jesus addressed the story of the Good Samaritan to Jews. But, the text itself is addressed to Gentiles. Now, among scholars there is debate as to whether the story is authentic to Jesus or a product of Lukan editorship. Either way, there are some universalist points to be gleaned from the text. Even while the text is addressed to Gentiles, it is done so well in a way that respects the cultural and geographical particulars…it is not just a story totally ungrounded to real lives….but, there was real world application an implications woven into the text.

    So. A Jew is robbed on the road from Jericho to Jerusalem. That was a real thing. It happened a lot. The odd thing that emerges in the text is that a Samaritan was on that road. Some scholars claim that would not have happened. Some claim that it could have happened. But, we should note, that the text recognizes the unusual nature of the circumstance by its need to explain that the Samaritan was journeying…as opposed to being where most Samaritans were to be found…in Samaria. The text thus intelligently gives its Gentile readers credit for being able to read a map. In the scholarly treatment of this issue, some scholars will make an issue of the geographical improbability of a Samaritan being on the Jericho-Jerusalem road…only to be countered by other scholars that the text is a parable presented to convey a moral point, not a historical/geographical point. I would propose that the difference should be split. I would propose that the text tells the story in such a way that it portrays the most obtuse context possible. I think it is important that this is a road attack story…and that you have a Samaritan far out of typical Samaritan environs. Why? Because not only was the Jericho-Jerusalem road a bad run… also, IN THAT DAY, the road from Galilee to Judea…..through Samaria….upon which Jews were frequently set upon, robbed, and even killed………by, yeah….Samaritans. You can read the description of Samaritan attacks on Jewish pilgrims traveling through Samaria between Galilee and Jerusalem in Josephus. So, then. Take the then con-CURRENT hostilities between Jews and Samaritans, not unlike Israelis and Gazans, into consideration…and THEN consider how much more radical the Good Samaritan story was…addressed to Jewish ears. That it was assumed to be difficult, but not impossible to Jewish ears can be seen in the answer of the lawyer in verse 37. The lawyer, in answering Jesus, cannot bring himself to even say the word “Samaritan”….but says, “the one”. Nonetheless, he said that…and that is not for despair, but for hope.

    Should we not then pray and work that both the Israeli and the Gazan will both be able to say, at least, “the one”….”the one” who broke the cycle….who broke the mold….who did the math of the Kingdom to come.

  • Margaret O

    Give an inch and Israel would cease to exist, says Chief Rabbi



    AUGUST 16, 2014 12:00

    Thousands of Israelis rally in support of Gaza offensive

    Renewed Gaza truce holds after rocky start

    Israelis at the Tel Aviv protest call on the government and the army to end Palestinian rocket attacks from Gaza.Source: AFP

    Thousands of Israelis rally in support o…

    Renewed Gaza truce holds after rocky sta…

    Can’t give an inch, says Chief Rabbi

    ISRAEL would cease to exist if it were to lay down its weapons, the Chief Rabbi has said in a staunch defence of the country’s “understandable and justifiable” use of force in Gaza.

    Ephraim Mirvis also warned that British Jews were increas­ingly worried about “abominable and unacceptable” acts of anti-Semitism.

    “During this war, it has been a truism that if Hamas would lay down its weapons, there would be peace,” Rabbi Mirvis told the BBC Radio 4 Today program yesterday.

    “If Israel would lay down its weapons, there would be no Israel. Israel has faced a direct, unmasked attempt to destroy Israeli life with some 3500 missiles being fired purposefully at population centres. The Israeli government has understandably and justifiably defended her citizens.”

    A straw poll of 150 Jews published yesterday by the Jewish Chronicle found that almost two thirds had questioned the future of Judaism in Britain since protests began against Israel’s incursion into the Gaza Strip.

    Rabbi Mirvis, the 11th head of the United Synagogue, said the Jewish community was “deeply concerned” about a rise in the number of attacks and insults against Jews. “The situation in the Middle East should not be used as an excuse for simply abominable and unacceptable conduct,” he said. “Anti-Zionism is not necessarily anti-Semitism. However, anti-Zionism does create a context within which anti-Semitism can thrive. That is exactly what we are seeing.”

    Gillian Merron, chief executive of the Board of Deputies of British Jews, warned that the violence faced by Jews in parts of France and Germany, where Jewish shops have been torched and graves marked with swastikas, could erupt in Britain.

    Several British Jews told the newspaper survey that they wanted to move to Israel, where they would be safer.

    Yael Wilk, a housewife from London, said: “I think everyone in Europe feels unsafe. We are absolutely desperate … More than ever, we want to leave to go to Israel.”

    The Times

    • Yonah

      It does seem like there is a strong British anti-Israel presence on Patheos. It must be the new British Mandate.