On a chilly January morning, three of us drove beneath a cloud-strewn sky through forests, fields, and ancient terraces, making our way from Jerusalem to Israel’s southern region where thousands of people live within range of Hamas’s rockets. As we approached our destination, I noticed another cloud, a towering column of black smoke on the horizon, billowing from northern Gaza, where a battle was raging.
We passed the community of Sderot-literally “on the map” because of the Qassam strikes it has endured-and soon arrived at Kibbutz Gevim, situated just a few miles from both Sderot and Gaza. We were there to assist in a temporary evacuation of the kibbutz’s senior citizens. The two Christian organizations my friends represent were treating these elders to a few leisurely days in the seaside resort town of Eilat, a welcome respite from the relentless bombardment.
I talked with several genial but visibly anxious men and women while they waited for the bus to arrive. Many of them had lived at Kibbutz Gevim for more than half a century. They were eagerly looking forward to getting a good night’s sleep in Eilat, with no sirens and no rush to the “safe room” in their houses.
“Do you think this war will make your life better?” I asked one man named Moredcai “Yes, I think so” he nodded. “And not just my life. It will also be better for the people in Gaza once Hamas is broken.”
A woman named Edna seemed particularly nervous, her hands in constant movement.. “Aren’t you afraid to come here?” she asked me with a worried frown. “My own family won’t even come to visit! I have to meet them in Tel Aviv.” The sound of a large explosion startled us all and punctuated her comment. She added, “Anybody who says they aren’t afraid to live here is lying.”
Several residents mentioned medications that made it possible for them to function- prescriptions for anti-depressants and anti-anxiety drugs are very much in demand, and for good reason. I learned that a few months before, a small boy from Kibbutz Gevim had been injured by a Qassam strike; in fact not a single child could be seen in the carefully-tended kibbutz playground. One woman described her house, which had taken a direct hit and needed extensive repairs. Other rockets had ignited fires and damaged structures. Everyone spoke of the nerve-wracking noise that never seemed to end: sirens, explosions, helicopters and warplanes.
These ordinary men and women couldn’t have been clearer about their dearest hopes: they want nothing more than to live out their lives in peace. Unfortunately, they face an extraordinarily hostile enemy that has fired 6,000 rockets into Israel’s civilian communities over the past eight years. Hamas’s actions reflect the spirit of their 1988 Charter, which calls for the death of Jews and the eradication of Israel.
It’s not just Jews, however, who suffer at the hands of Hamas. Getting far less media attention is the situation facing 3,000 Christians who live inside the Gaza strip. Following the Hamas coup in Gaza, a radical sheikh, Abu Sakir announced, “‘I expect our Christian neighbors to understand the new Hamas rule means real changes. They must be ready for Islamic rule if they want to live in peace in Gaza.’” Months ago I had a conversation with two Gazan Christians, who had fled their homes and were hiding out in the West Bank while hoping for asylum elsewhere. Their stories exposed the dangers Christian families face under Hamas, including extortion, rape, beatings and murder.
Our little gathering at Kibbutz Gevim wasn’t especially religious. It amounted to an ad hoc coalition of concerned Christians hoping to make life a little easier for a group of war-weary Jews. Everything centered on life-affirming values and life-sustaining actions that are deeply rooted in both Christianity and Judaism.
Yet even as we said our goodbyes, another deadly explosion shattered the morning stillness.
As my friends and I headed back to Jerusalem, I thought about encroaching terrorism that has cast its terrible shadow across so many lives across the world. We are often told that its root causes are economic, territorial, ethnic and political. While these issues may indeed play their part, public declarations from groups like Hamas and Al Qaeda are almost entirely religious. By now the world has seen more than enough columns of black smoke towering above our cities, heard enough body counts, and witnessed enough of terrorism’s tragic consequences. Still I can’t help but wonder-are we taking seriously enough the hateful religious ideology that inflames radical Islamists?