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On Israel and Gaza

It is now over one hundred thirty six days since Hamas broke the fence separating Israel and Gaza. From the cynical betrayals of the Palestinian people in the “Abraham accords” and the festering injustices on one side, and the atrocious rampage of Hamas in Southern Israel on the other, the situation has exploded into over four months of extreme violence. Since the bleak and murderous night of October 7, Israeli hostages have languished in captivity in Gaza, and the people of Gaza have suffered under a massive bombardment.

If we hope to have God’s voice heard amid the slaughter, the suffering, the hate and the dying, then Christ’s church will have to speak: speak with the rage of the prophets, yes, but also with the compassion of the One who chooses to heal. As our prayers for the peace of Jerusalem raise our appeals to God, our speech to one another and to the Jewish and Muslim communities must acknowledge the deep trauma each community has suffered, and speak of the need to avoid causing further dislocation and greater suffering.

Members of St. John’s have an honourable history of standing with both the Jewish and the Muslim communities of this city when they have come under threat. We have a voice, as do many of the other churches of Toronto, and a measure of trust based on patient dialogue, advocacy, and relationship building. We can speak now. Some will not hear us over the din of bombs and the rockets and the pain, but we can hope some people will.

We must make these appeals to governments, but also to our fellow Canadians, reminding those who mourn the children of Gaza, and who burn with anger at the violence, to remember the Jewish community of Canada is not behind the bombs, just as we remind our Jewish friends and relations the Islamic community is not Hamas; the vast majority of people in both communities want only to live in peace.

As we promote peace, let us remember this too: the Christian community bears responsibility for this strife, too. Palestinians include Christians among their number. Much of the intergenerational trauma affecting Israeli policy comes from Christian persecution, and much of the Islamic world has bitter memories of colonization by mostly Christian nations. Today, Christians bear a special responsibility: among those advocates for the most brutal mistreatment of the Palestinian people, among those who support settlements and policies which make a state for the Palestinians impossible, Christians almost certainly outnumber Jews. We have to confess that too many of our co-religionists have followed the false promise of those who do not only claim to predict the Coming of Christ in glory, but also make the blasphemous claim they can cause or at least facilitate it. Those who claim the title “Christian Zionist” include not only those who truly care for the lives and the peace of Jewish communities in the land between the Jordan and the Mediterranean coast, but also those who want to use the State of Israel to bring about the end of days; an end in which many of them anticipate the Jewish community will face a fate no better than the one Hamas intends for them. The church has a duty to rebuke these people for the harm they cause to the peace of the world and the peace of the faith. Repentance, and a call for all the church to turn again, must accompany all our work to heal divisions.

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