Not just another round of violence in Gaza

It’s the holidays.  The lull between Christmas and New Years when so many of us have a little time off from work and spend extra hours enjoying the company of loved ones.  A time of peace, joy, and celebration.  A time to be thankful for the blessings of the past and consider what possibilities the future may hold.

Not so in Gaza over the last two days.  Israel has pounded the Palestinian territory with precision air strikes causing over 250 deaths and over 600 injuries.  Casualty statistics vary according to source, but all are climbing in the wake of some of the worst single-day violence in recent years of the conflict. The airstrikes come on the heels of a tenuous months-long cease fire that was punctuated by mostly ineffective Hamas sponsored rocket fire from Gaza into Israel.  Reaction in the Arab world has been quick and vocal.

  • At least one Saudi cleric has issued a fatwa condemning Israel and calling for attack on Israeli targets anywhere.  The cleric does not appear to have any “official” standing – but I am sure more and more of these edicts will begin to roll out from clerics of varying degrees of stature
  • Libyan president Muammar Qaddafi has called upon the Arab League to end all attempts at its peace initiative with Israel
  • The Arab League (not in response to Libya) postponed a regularly scheduled meeting to be held over the weekend to meet later this week reportedly to establish an official response to the airstrikes
  • Iranian Ayatollah Ali Khameini (Ahmadinejad’s boss) said, “”The Zionist regime should be punished by Muslim states. This usurping regime’s leaders should also go on trial and be punished for this crime.  All Palestinian Mujahids (fighters) and believers in the Islamic world are required to defend in any way they can the defenseless women, children and people of Gaza.”
  • Protests broke out in leading cities from Iran to Syria to Lebanon to Morocco to Spain to England

There were even protests here in Jordan.  My wife called from the grocery store with the news, “Something’s up – people are all gathered around televisions sets and it looks like buildings are on fire and there are people protesting.” As it turned out the fireswere in Gaza and the protests were here in Amman. An hour later she was stuck in traffic being held up by the army while a protest wound it’s way through the old city of Amman (see picture below).  My wife called and said she could see the protesters were waving green flags.  I guess they could have been Amman Municpality flags, but I was fairly certain that they were Hamas flags (which they were).  According to the Jordan Times some protestors “expressed allegiance to Hamas” and chanted, “We will avenge you, we sacrifice our blood and souls for you Gaza.”  I would have tried to find a safe vantage point to observe but everyone in our house has been sick of late, so I stuck at home and watched a little news coverage.  Today a friend and I exchanged typical greetings with a Muslim neighbor. Instead of the usual stock answers he said he was terrible “because of Gaza.”  Seems this latest attack has really struck a chord here.

Jordanians protesting Israeli airstrikes in Gaza on Dec 27th 2008 (photo from Jordan Times)

Jordanians protesting Israeli airstrikes in Gaza on Dec 27th 2008 (photo from Jordan Times)

I’m afraid this is not just another deadly tit-for-tat in the ongoing struggle between Palestine and Israel.  Both popular and political reactions were swift.  It might just be saber rattling on the part of leaders like Khameini or Qaddafi.  But I’mnot sure how much longer the man in the street willput up with the situation in Gaza.  The situation has gone from bad to so much worse in the last 24-months.  Under American pressure premature elections were held resulting in Hamas legally (and democratically) winning power.  Of course democracy is only a good thing when the people “we” want to win actually do.  This unexpected (??really?? kinda like the Shiites winning in Iraq, right?) outcome has resulted in a civil war between Fatah and Hamas in Gaza (some in the western media allege  this was partially funded and equipped by the US), a fracturing of the Palestinian government, and a prolonged siege of Gaza.  For the past 18-months Israel has blocked shipments in and out of Gaza – including humanitarian aid.  Airstrikes have knowcked out power supplies and conditions on the ground are worse than they have ever been before.

Add to this some fresh post-Christmas, pre-New Years blood shed.

The initial barrage reportedly started right around the same time school children leave for home after the mornign shift at school and lasted for about 3 hours.  40 targets were reported, including mostly police stations, smuggling tunnels, and “Hamas related” posts.  Yeah, that makes sense.  Knock out the police stations.  Then let’s see how fast they can restore order.  Despite the official list of targets, missiles were reported as hitting near playgrounds, vegetable markets, the headquarters of a major charity organization, and near the entrance to the largest hospital in Gaza (where a friend of mine used to work).  Refugee camps were hit. Camps where I’ve walked the main streets and stretched both arms out to touch the cinder block  buildings on either side.  Camps where no amount of precision computer controlled targeting is going to keep civilians from being injured.  At least 20 children have been reported dead so far as a result of the strikes.

Of course, the Palestinians and, yes, the world should have seen it coming.

Back in February I mentioned that a Deputy Israeli Defense Minister made waves by saying, “The more Qassam (rocket) fire intensifies and the rockets reach a longer range, they (the Palestinians) will bring upon themselves a bigger ’shoah’ because we will use all our might to defend ourselves.”  The big stir was over the use of the term “shoah” which Israelis primarily reserve to refer to the holocaust.

But that’s not the only reason why the world should have seen this brutal attack coming.  On Christmas Day Ehud Olmert was interviewed by Al-Arabiya (a Dubai based news agency).  He gave this ominous warning:

Israel withdrew from Gaza approximately three years ago not in order to return to it. I appeal to the residents of Gaza: I speak to you as a father and grandfather and I know that there is nothing I want less than to put my children and grandchildren in danger. Is it the spirit of Islam to kill innocent children? To shoot rockets at kindergartens and at civilians? I do not think that this is the spirit of Islam. Hamas, which does this against the spirit of Islam, is the main reason for your suffering – for all of ours.

I say to you in a last-minute call, stop it. Stop it. You the citizens of Gaza, you can stop it. I know how much you want to get up in the morning to quiet, to take your children to kindergarten or school, the way we do, the way they want to in Sderot and Netivot.

Hamas is the enemy of the residents – not only in Israel but in Gaza. We want to live as good neighbors with Gaza. We do not want to harm you. We will not allow a humanitarian crisis and that you should suffer from a lack of food or medicines. We do not want to fight the Palestinian people but we will not allow Hamas to strike our children. We have very great and destructive strength – which we do not wish to use. I think of the tens of thousands of children and innocents who will be in danger as a result of Hamas’s actions. Do not let the murderers of Hamas, which is acting against the values of Islam, put you in danger.

Could I allow more missiles against the residents of Israel? More strikes at children and civilians and do nothing? Certainly not. Hamas is firing at us and at the power station that is supposed to supply electricity to Gaza. Stop them. Stop your enemies and ours. Tell them to stop shooting at innocents.

I did not come here to declare war. I have said in the past – as long as I am Prime Minister, I intend to reach peace with, not fight, the Palestinians. But Hamas must be stopped – and so it will be. I will not hesitate to use Israel’s strength to strike at Hamas and Islamic Jihad.  How? I do not wish to go into details here.

2 days later the world found out.  Merry Christmas.

What I find most galling in Olmert’s statement is his outright lies about his desire not to harm the civilians of Gaza or cause a humanitarian crisis.  Way too late for that – the humanitarian crisis started several months ago because of Israel’s blockade of Gaza.  It’s interesting that he addresses the exact same issues that the Deputy Defense Minister did back in February – the rocket attacks in southern Israel and the fact that Israel has a lot of power and can use it if they want.

Did you catch what he said in the interview, “the tens of thousands of children and innocents who will be in danger . . . “ What’s he talking about?  So far only a couple of hundred have died.  Is he alluding to some far greater, far more destructive attack? Let’s pray that this is not the case!  However electronic intifada reparted,

As Lieutenant-General Gabi Ashkenazi, the Israeli occupation forces Chief of Staff, said this morning, “This is only the beginning.”

Only the beginning?  Of what?

Olmert’s appeal to the citizens of Gaza might seem reasonable on the face of it – after all they elected Hamas, presumably the citiznery could do something about it.  But, really?  When have you or I ever really held sway over a duly elected official in the peace-loving United States? Now what is the average Joe Gazan going to do? Sidle up to the rocket launchers and say, “Look I know we elected you a couple of years back, but it seems like you’re making matters worse than better, could you maybe stop with the rockets for a little bit?” It like asking the people of LA or Southern California to take on the gangs and the Mexican drug lords.  Its rubbish.

It’s at this point that we all should start wringing our hands and say, “there’s no easy answer.  There’s innocent blood on the hands of both sides.  I’m just one person, what difference can I make?”

I don’t know.

But now, more than ever we need to pray for peace.  And work for it in whatever small ways we can.  In the spheres of influence that we have.  Maybe your circle has nothing to do with Israel and Palestine, but I’m sure there is conflict, and I am sure there is a way of peace that can be pursued.  Don’t take the easy way out and just ignore it.  Bad things don’t go away when we ignore them they just get worse.

Until someday we all have innocent blood on our hands.  Let’s pray it’s not too late.

Greg Boyd’s Discussion on O.T. Violence and the Teachings of Jesus

You may or may not be aware of my friend David’s blog. A week or so ago his blog alerted me to a very fascinating discussion about the difficulty of reconciling the violence that the God of the OT seems to advocate with the teachings on love and peace from Jesus over in the NT. For me this issue also speaks to the Christian-Muslim dialogue, in that the OT and Qur’an can sound similar re. the topic of religious violence, yet the NT is very different.

Boyd is a former atheist who became a Christian and now pastors a church in St. Paul Minnesota. He’s posted 3 reflections on this discussion of OT violence vs. NT peace and love. I’m still working through the posts – there is a lot to think about in each one. I expect to post some sort of response as a comment on this post here sometime next week – but if someone else beats me to leaving any thoughts or comments here that would be great!

Here’s an excerpt from his first post:

A number of years ago I read a Christian apologist who argued that one proof of the Bible’s inspiration is the fact that it is “the most beautiful book ever written.” Now, I believe the Bible is divinely inspired. But this statement made me wonder how many books this guy had actually read. In fact, it made me wonder if he’d read the Bible!

Here’s an inspired verse I don’t find particularly beautiful.

Daughter Babylon, doomed to destruction…
Happy are those who seize your infants
and dash them against the rocks (Psalms 137:8-9)

When an army conquered a city in the ancient world the victors would sometimes celebrate by smashing the heads of the infants against rocks. (Possibly inspired by this verse, this practice was resurrected by Christian Crusaders conquering Muslim cities). In this dark passage, the Psalmist is eagerly looking forward to this being done to Babylonian infants. He thinks the warriors who get to do this are lucky!

Most beautiful book in the world? Sorry. I’m not feel’n it.

If you’re like me and you’ve struggled with reconciling passages like this with Jesus’ commands to love our neighbors and enemies then take the time to check out one or all of Boyd’s posts below.

Divinely Inspired Infanticide and Genocide?

What’s at Stake in Trying to Explain the Violent God of the Old Testament?

The Violent Strand of the Old Testament and Our Picture of God

And here is Greg’s website if you’re at all interested in his ministry. I’m thankful to David for pointing out this resource and will most likely be reading one of Boyd’s books (Myth of a Christian Nation, Lord or Legend: Wrestling with the Jesus Dilemma) soon.

On a side note some of you may recognize Greg Boyd’s name. He is a prominent supporter of what is termed open theism. This makes Boyd somewhat controversial in some evangelical circles. But as you all know, I won’t shy away from a good controversy. I don’t have the time or inclination to adress open theism in this post. If you would like to read something about it, you could start here.

Palestinian Holocaust and one Family’s Grief

I’ve been trying to stick to updating once every Friday – but today I saw two articles on another blog that absolutely had to be posted ASAP. I cannot believe the insanity of both of these items!

Part 1 – Israeli Defense Minister Warns of a Palestinian Holocaust

One article is about a Deputy Israeli Defense Minister who made big waves this morning by issuing the following warning:

“The more Qassam (rocket) fire intensifies and the rockets reach a longer range, they (the Palestinians) will bring upon themselves a bigger ’shoah’ because we will use all our might to defend ourselves.”

The Hebrew term “shoah” that is used here is almost exclusively reserved for discussing the Nazi’s genocide of European Jews during World War II. In Israeli/Jewish circles it is extremely unpopular for the term to be used of any current events, even though it does have the literal meaning of “disaster” This statement made some diplomatic shockwaves and there seems to have been some official backpedaling. In his blog post Liam Bailey even notes that the Yahoo! News article that he originally found this information in was re-worded later in the day. His full take on the situation is linked to here – please take a moment to read it.

Part 2 – One Family’s Grief

Liam Bailey also posts an important behind-the-scenes report of a Gazan family who lost their 6-month old baby to a shrapnel wound to the head during an Israeli airstrike on the Department of the Interior headquarters in Gaza. The young family lived across the street and became “collateral damage” in this sickening conflict. The mother had just finished nursing her baby when the missile slammed into the building across the street causing damage in the neighborhood and tragically destroying this young life. Click here to see Liam’s article including a YouTube video of al-Jazeerah’s reporting. (Be warned the footage shows the dead infant). BTW this happened Wednesday night. Did anyone hear about it in the news? I am deeply saddened by this report and hope you will join me in praying for peace in Gaza and especially for this family.