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The Holy Land at WAR

Before sunrise on Saturday, terror from land, sea and sky rained down on Israel. This surprise attack happened at the end of the seven-day Jewish celebration of Sukkoth that commemorates God’s protection of Israel as they fled slavery in Egypt 3000 years ago. Families were gathered to enjoy the holiday when air raid sirens sounded to warn of an attack. As 1000s of missiles were launched into Israel, armed Hamas militants stormed the defense barriers, breaking through to begin attacks on Jewish settlements in Gaza.

Mohammed Deif, commander-in-chief of Hamas’ military released a video statement that claimed responsibility, declaring that the attack was in response to the Israeli “occupation of our Palestinian homeland that has displaced our people, destroyed our towns and villages… killing children, women and the elderly.” By 10:30am, Israeli fighter jets launched retaliatory strikes on Gaza, leveling apartment buildings and the Al-Sousi Mosque in Gaza City. At 11:30am the Prime Minister of Israel, Benjamin Netanyahu made his first public statement. "Israel is at war. This is not a so-called military operation, not another round of fighting, but war." By the end of Saturday, over a 1000 people had died in day-one of the conflict. And once again the Holy Land is caught in the throes of war.

The land now known as the modern nation-state of Israel has a long and troubled history. For thousands of years, this small parcel of land about the size of New Jersey has been the scene of many conflicts. In fact, Israel is the most fought over tract of land in history. More blood has been shed to gain control of this land than anywhere else in the world. Consider Israel’s history. For those of us who see the world through the lens of the Bible, we would probably begin the story of the land with God’s promise to Abraham in Genesis. The borders God described of the promised land stretched from the wadi (valley) of Egypt’s great river Nile, to the Euphrates River (in the modern-day Iraq), to the highlands (found in modern-day Lebanon and Syria), to the sea coast of the Mediterranean. Note the size of the initial land promised is significantly larger than the modern-day borders.
Also, keep in mind that the promised land, at the time of the promise, was already occupied by other peoples, but Abraham and his family moved in quietly, without conflict or bloodshed. Abraham’s claim on the land did not upset the balance of power in his day.

If you follow the Genesis story, you find Abraham’s descendants leaving the promised land to find food in Egypt. They stay in Goshen for hundreds of years, growing from a family into a nation, ultimately being enslaved by the Pharaohs of that land. Finally, God sends Moses to rescue the people. They return to the land promised to them by God, only to find it occupied by people armed and ready to fight. You may remember the story of Joshua fighting the battle of Jericho. That battle was just the first of many as the Israelites moved in to claim the land from the residents of Palestine. [Palestinians and Jews have fought over their claim of the land since those early days.] The rest of the Old Testament history tells the tale of one battle after the next to claim and reclaim the land. The Babylonians, the Assyrians, the Egyptians, the Greeks and in Jesus’ day the Romans, all fought to claim the land.

Following the history, we find the Crusades as Jews, Christians, and Muslims battled over control of the land again and again. The value of this embattled land was not found in oil or natural resources, nor in arable land for farming, nor in fresh water sources so valued in a desert region. By all those measures, the land of Israel has little to offer. Rather, the value of the land is found in the sacred sites that make the land “holy” for all three major western religions. In fact, in some places these religions claim the same site but for different reasons. For example, the Temple mount in Jerusalem- sacred to Jews as the location of the last temple in Israel destroyed by the Romans in 66CE, is also the site of the Al-Aqsa Mosque (the Dome of the Rock) where Muslims say that Mohammed ascended to heaven to talk with God.

In 1948, the United Nations voted to establish the modern nation-state of Israel in response to the atrocities of WWII. The intention was to create a safe haven for Jews who had long lived dispersed across many nations with no borders or diplomatic authority to protect them. But the consequence of the UN Resolution was to displace 700,000 Palestinians from their homes, turning them into refugees overnight. Many of the children and grandchildren of those Palestinians continue to feel displaced from their homeland today. The question of rightful ownership of the land has caused one battle after the next. Modern day Israel has never known peace in its 75-year history. But today, those battles have become all out war with both sides intent on the elimination of their enemy. How is it that the holy land is the scene of such unholy acts?

Our hearts are heavy as we hear the report of precious lives lost on both sides of this war. Now is the time to join in prayer, that God would raise up leaders who yearn for peace in God’s holy land.

With you in prayer,
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