Palestinian Christians and Messianic Jews Relapse on Reconciling

Hanna Maher’s wife is nine months pregnant, due any day now, with only four hours of daily electricity. Her two older boys scurry about in the dark, kept ignorant by parents about the dead at the border.

But it is hard to be ignorant in Gaza.

A Norwegian charity estimates 56 percent of children in the Palestinian territory suffer from traumatic nightmares. Suicide, rarely seen culturally, is a growing concern. Maher, an Egyptian-born Baptist pastor, says some at the border see death as the best option.

Two million people are squeezed into a coastal strip roughly the size of Philadelphia. Exit is severely restricted on one side by Israel. The waiting list into Egypt is 40,000 names long.

Unemployment is over 40 percent. Clean drinking water is hard to come by. And on May 14, as tens of thousands massed near a chain link fence demonstrating for their “Right to Return,” Israeli snipers picked off dozens.

“Monday was a hard day. But at least it is quiet now,” Maher said. “It has been bad for years. But conditions now are the worst I have seen.”

Maher went to Gaza in 2011, and married his local Palestinian wife a year later. His congregation is the strip’s only evangelical church, with about 60 regular members. Overall, Gaza’s Christian population is about 1,000, mostly Greek Orthodox; in the last 10 years, it has declined by a third.

Maher provides food aid to about 120 families. His marriage preparation classes are a crash course in how to nurture a family amid poverty.

And he says local Christians are critical of just about everyone.

They did not go to the protests, seen as a Hamas initiative. The Palestinian Authority hasn’t paid salaries in months, trying to pressure Hamas. And Israel, says Maher, only lets in enough goods to keep people alive.

But being critical, Christians still try to speak. They oppose the transfer of the US embassy to Jerusalem. They demand the UN-mandated right to return to Israel for Palestinian refugees.

“And they call out,” says Maher, “‘Where is the world community?’”

The answer: debating who is to blame.

The Europe Union asks for an independent inquiry. The 57-member Organization of Islamic Cooperation wants a protection force. The US praises Israeli restraint.

But 60 miles northeast toward Jerusalem and the West Bank, the Gaza violence also divides Israeli and Palestinian Christians.

“What is happening in Gaza is a human disaster of epic proportions,” said Lisa Loden, a Messianic Jew and co-chair of the Lausanne Initiative on Reconciliation in Israel-Palestine.

“Israel is not entirely responsible for this situation. But she bears much of the responsibility for the ongoing suffering of Gaza and her people.”

Loden views the US embassy move as an “impediment to peace,” and believes the Gaza protests were a “peaceful initiative” only later joined by Hamas.

It is hard to control the handful who had weapons and tried to cross the border, she said, but the Israeli response was disproportionate. Beyond the dozens killed, thousands were injured.

The context is important, Loden believes. “The people of Gaza have lost hope and are acting out of desperation.”

Her views are shared by a small minority within the Messianic Jewish community, Loden freely admits. Far more common are those of David Friedman, rabbi and former dean of King of Kings College in Jerusalem.

“This media ploy is inhumane,” he said. “It knowingly involved Hamas operatives and sympathizers getting killed while obeying orders to storm Israel’s borders.

“No country in the world would allow this to occur.”

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SOURCE: Christianity Today