People across the world are in shock after witnessing a devastating escalation in violence in Israel and Palestine. On Saturday, reports emerged describing a large scale incursion into Israel by Hamas terrorists – catching Israeli security forces off guard. Videos on social media showed bloodied bodies, Israeli civilians pursued in the streets by gunmen, and kidnapped Israeli children in cages. A music festival in Southern Israel saw some of the worst atrocities, with eyewitness reports describing civilians being gunned down indiscriminately, and women being raped. Recent reports suggest that at least 900 Israelis have died and 2,000 have been injured.
Israeli retaliation has been swift, and brutal. Bombing of Gaza – a city populated by tens-of-thousands of Palestinian civilians – has been ongoing since Sunday. As of this morning, more than 400 Palestinians have been reported dead, and 2,000 injured. The UN humanitarians relief agency warns that more than 100,000 people have been displaced by air attacks and shelling aimed at houses and apartment buildings. Many of those forced to flee their homes are sheltering in schools, with safe passage out of the Gaza strip impossible at present, given geopolitical tensions. It’s a desperate situation for civilians on both sides.
UK commentators have focused on the scope of the violence being witnessed in this latest conflict – the worst in many years – and also statements by UK politicians on what is a divisive political debate in the West. Whilst most leaders have unequivocally condemned the terrorist actions of Hamas, a few, including ex Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn, stopped short of doing so. Scottish Green MSP Maggie Chapman even appeared to act as an apologist for Hamas’s actions, taking to X (formerly Twitter) to say: “What’s happening in #Palestine is a consequence of #Apartheid, of illegal occupation,m & of imperial aggression by the Israel state. Palestinian civilians have seen their homes destroyed, their water stolen & their land appropriated illegally #GazaUnderAttack #VivaPalestine [sic]”.
Western politicians have strong views on Israel and Palestine. There is, of course, wrongdoing on both sides of this long-running conflict. However, any apparent dismissal of a proscribed terrorist organisation brutalising and murdering innocent Israelis can only be described as immoral. It is quite possible to condemn Hamas whilst also extending solidarity to innocent Israelis and Palestinians caught up in a brutal conflict. I think it’s right that Scottish politicians and others are now calling for Maggie Chapman to be censured for her statement. Perhaps her parliamentary colleagues will rethink her position as Deputy Convener of Holyrood’s Equalities, Human Rights and Civil Justice Committee.
I was impressed by a statement made by Humza Yousaf today. The First Minister – who is in the awful position of having relatives trapped in the Gaza Strip – unequivocally condemned Hamas’ actions as a “barbaric act of terror”, called for a humanitarian corridor to allow innocent civilians to leave Gaza, and extended his solidarity to Jews living in Scotland. In an interview with LBC’s Gina Davidson, he said the Scottish Government is liaising with Police Scotland to ensure that Jewish communities are reassured, following a spate of anti-Semitic incidents. In doing this, he has demonstrated real leadership. And created clear water between the SNP and their partners in government the Greens.
There is so much to say about what is happening in Israel and Palestine. Much will be said in newspaper columns and on television screens in days to come. Violence could well escalate further. For Christians, the primary response to this dire conflict, in which peace feels like a distant prospect and hatred and fear are palpable, is prayer. In days to come, believers across Scotland and the wider world will gather in churches and in homes to petition our Heavenly Father. We will pray for: wisdom for world leaders – appointed to positions of authority by God, and tasked with administering justice; a swift end to bloodshed; safety for innocent Israelis and Palestinians; and lasting peace.
In doing this, we recognise several truths that make sense of the world we live in, and provide hope for the future. We recognise that we live in a moral universe, where good and evil are absolutely and objectively defined. We recognise that God, the creator and sustainer of all things, judges human beings for their actions, and brings justice. And we recognise that the God of Abraham loves Israelis, Palestinians, and people of every nation with a deep love. As the Bible says, God sent sent his only begotten Son to die, so that those who trust in Christ may be forgiven, and saved for all eternity (John 3:16).
God is not indifferent to bloodshed in the Middle East. He hears the tear-filled cries of human beings, and answers. Neither is he indifferent to you. Call out to Him today.
“There are six things the LORD hates, seven that are detestable to him: haughty eyes, a lying tongue, hands that shed innocent blood, a heart that devises wicked schemes, feet that are quick to rush into evil, a false witness who pours out lies and a person who stirs up conflict in the community” – Proverbs 6:16-19.