We all watched in horror as news reports described the brutal murder of four Jewish rabbis in their Jerusalem synagogue. The slaughter at the Kehilot Bnei Torah synagogue in the Har Nof area of west Jerusalem has been called “blood libel” by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and was condemned by Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas.
Why so much violence now?
The current round of conflict began with the collapse of U.S.-led peace talks in April. On May 15, two Palestinian teenagers died in a West Bank clash with Israeli troops. On June 12, three Israeli teenagers were kidnapped and killed by Hamas operatives in the West Bank. Israel’s response was countered by Hamas with a rocket-launching offensive that lasted 50 days.
Since an uneasy truce was declared, violence has continued. Some Jews have pushed for the right to pray on the Temple Mount; Palestinians have interpreted their actions as an Israeli plot to expel them from their third-holiest site (after Mecca and Medina). On October 22, a Palestinian man rammed his car into a crowded Jerusalem train station, killing a woman from Ecuador and a three-month-old Israeli-American girl. On November 5, a Hamas militant drove a van into a crowd waiting for a train, killing two. Last Sunday, a Palestinian bus driver was found hanged. A Palestinian coroner has determined that the man committed suicide, though some claimed he was murdered by Jews. According to Hamas, the cousins who slaughtered Jewish worshippers on Tuesday were responding to the driver’s death.
But there’s more to the story than these tragic events. There was a day when Palestinians felt represented by a single political organization and its leader, Yasser Arafat. They believed that they and Israel were moving to a two-state solution by which they would have their own independent nation. The U.S. and other countries were actively working to broker such a lasting peace.
Now Palestinian governance is split between Hamas in Gaza and Fatah in the West Bank. The two continue to fight for power; neither has the trust of the Palestinian people. Israel no longer has a partner in negotiations, since Hamas is pledged to Israel’s destruction. Fatah has been working behind the scenes in the West Bank to prevent even more terror attacks, but there is no apparent solution to the Jewish settlements there (which Israeli claim to need for security and Palestinians claim are being built on their land). Fatah leader Mahmoud Abbas is scheduled to meet with U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry Thursday in Jordan, but no one knows what progress they will make.
While there is no apparent solution in sight to the Israel-Palestine conflict, we should not think that the headlines tell the whole story. Having been to the Holy Land 25 times, I can tell you that news reports in the West do not capture the situation in Israel. These attacks, while terrible, are sporadic and do not keep the people from their daily lives. They continue to do business, go to school, and worship in their synagogues and mosques. The extremists at either end of the political spectrum do not speak for the vast majority that have learned over the centuries to get along with each other in this tiny land.
In Jerusalem’s Old City, you find Arab and Jewish shopkeepers working together while their children play in the streets. Jews and Arabs living outside Gaza and the contested West Bank grieve the violence as we do, but it does not affect their lives.
An unreported spiritual awakening in the Middle East has brought more Muslims and Jews to Christ in recent years than in centuries. Every Jew I have met in Israel believed that the Palestinians deserved a homeland; every Palestinian I have met believed the Jews deserved a homeland as well. As is true in so many of the world’s conflicts, the extremists are dictating the situation and victimizing the large majority who simply want to raise their children and live their lives.
How can we “pray for the peace of Jerusalem” today (Psalm 122:6)?
First, ask God to give Israeli and Palestinian leaders wisdom and courage to do what is right for all in the land, not just their political constituencies. Pray for intermediaries who will be trusted by both sides. Pray for divine protection for Palestinians and Jews who would otherwise fall victim to violence.
And pray for spiritual awakening to continue in this ancient land. From Abraham to today, God has chosen Israel to be the hinge of history. What his Spirit is doing there could bring millions around the world to Christ.
Does God want to redeem the violence in Jerusalem by leading the world to the Prince of Peace? Will you join him in intercession today?