One hundred tons of bombs are Israel’s way of saying to the captive citizens of Gaza, “Merry Christmas, Happy Eid (feast) and Happy New Year.” These “gifts” that were showered from U.S.-made F-16 fighter jets demolished government buildings, mosques, a university, hundreds of homes and snuffed out many lives—among them scores of children.
Like many in this part of the world and around the globe my heart aches when I read and see pictures of the Israeli bombardment of the Gaza Strip, and likewise when I see Israelis killed or injured by Qassam rockets.
However, I have a special love for Gaza and its people. Before the strict closure of Gaza, Bethlehem Bible College used to have an extension there. I went to Gaza once every Thursday to teach our students, and often I stayed the night there. Interacting with Gazans in class, in church and in the community, I learned much about the kindness and the hospitality of the people of Gaza, both Muslims and Christians.
The majority of the people of Gaza are not Hamas militants. They are people like you and me who long to live in peace day in and day out. Regretfully, everyone in the Gaza Strip—men, women, children, civilians and fighters alike—is now feeling the horrible impact and devastation caused by the newest and deadliest Israeli incursion over the Strip in many years.
There is no doubt that the Qassam rockets launched against the western Negev and Ashkelon by Islamic militants linked to Hamas cause great pain and anxiety for many Israelis. Most people agree that Israel, like any other country, has the right to defend itself from outside attacks.
However in this unequal conflict between Israel and Hamas, Israel, as usual, has overdone it. When it comes to dealing with its enemies, Israel has a pattern of being extreme. “An eye for an eye” does not satisfy. It has to be more like 100 eyes for one eye and 100 teeth for one tooth. When the Israelis attacked Lebanon in June 2006, they sprayed the country with millions of cluster bombs (which are internationally banned), and these bombs continue to kill innocent people even today.
What troubles me most in this current war is that most of the victims of this Israeli incursion on Gaza are average people—men, women and children—who are struggling just to survive under the extreme and harsh conditions that the Israeli siege has created.
For 40 years the Gaza Strip has been under Israeli occupation and during the last few years, although the Israelis redeployed their troops from Gaza, they never withdrew the symbols of their dominance and occupation. They continue to control the borders, which means controlling food, medicine, fuel and goods going in and out of the Strip. In essence, they have turned Gaza into the largest open-air prison in the world.
If the Israeli leaders assume that they can assure the security of their citizens by the might and the power of their superior army and air force, they are mistaken. The outrage caused among the peoples in the Arab and Islamic world by these horrible attacks will most likely blow dark clouds over the skies of Israel or elsewhere in the world.
Israel should learn to negotiate with its neighbors in good faith. Negotiating in good faith means implementing U.N. resolutions, ending the occupation of the West Bank, opening the borders of the Gaza Strip to the rest of the world and stopping military incursions into the West Bank and the Gaza Strip.
The rise of Hamas and militancy in Gaza is directly related to a vacuum that Israel and the United States have created by dragging their feet in never-ending and fruitless peace negotiations with moderate Palestinians. As long as Israel continues to place obstacles on the path of the peace process and as long as the United States continues to allow it to do so, we can expect new outbursts of violence in the Middle East that will cause more horrors and waste more lives on both sides of the political divide.
The Israelis have the right to live in peace and security, and so do the people of Gaza. I call on you, friends, to pray for the civilians on both sides who are caught in this nightmare. In addition to praying, let us protest these lethal bombs with a barrage of our own letters to our elected leaders calling for an end to this human tragedy.
Rev. Alex Awad is dean of students at Bethlehem Bible College. This column appeared previously at www.comeandsee.com.
Awad lived and served in Palestine for decades, serving as pastor of East Jerusalem Baptist Church as well as professor, dean of student and direct of the Shepherd Society at Bethlehem Bible College in Palestine.