An Open Letter To Christians, Regarding The Middle East

Christians among the 500,000 fleeing Mosul after ISIS took control of the city. Photo from Catholic News Service
Christians among the 500,000 fleeing Mosul after ISIS took control of the city. Photo from Catholic News Service

To My Fellow Christians Everywhere,

As I’ve been reading news headlines over the past few weeks, my heart has been breaking. In the Northern Iraqi city of Mosul, our Christian brothers and sisters are being forced to either submit to a strict Sunni Islamic law at the hand of invading ISIS forces or face martyrdom for their faith. The rule instituted by ISIS is so historically unprecedented, that a prominent Catholic leader in the country said it surpassed the brutality of even the likes of one Genghis Khan who ransacked medieval Baghdad.

We must pray for Christians in Iraq. 

Furthermore, west of Iraq in the Gaza Strip, Palestinian civilians are repeatedly caught in the crossfire of a war between Hamas and the Israeli government, the death toll in which is disproportionately staggering. On Monday, the death count in the conflict reached 548 after the UN reported that a hospital was hit in the Gaza strip, killing at least five civilians, including medical staff. Since then it’s climbed past 700. The Israeli attacks are in response to the Palestinian based Hamas’ repeated rocket attacks on Israeli settlements over the previous months.

gaza-crisis

My heart breaks for all of these people: for terrified Israeli civilians who have lived in fear of rockets being launched into their neighborhoods, for Christians in Mosul who have been forced to flee or face the sword and for civilians in Gaza who have seen family members gunned down and labeled as “collateral damage.”

And yet, when I read headlines of Christian papers, when I read Christian status updates, when I attend Christian prayer meetings, I hear requests for the Christians in Iraq, I hear people praying for the civilians in Israel suffering under Hamas’ attacks, but rarely do I hear mention of the 700 Palestinian civilians who are now dead as a result of Israel’s invasion.

And I ask myself:

Why, Church, why is this? How can we not possibly pray for the plight of the Palestinians? How can we not possibly sympathize with the civilians who have been murdered by invading Israeli armies in the last week?

Many, like Dr. Dennis Prager of Prager University, claim there is a simple answer to this question: Arabs in the Middle East have a singular goal: annihilation of the Jewish nation. To support this thesis, Dr. Prager cites evidence from numerous events post-1947, concerning how since the foundation of Israel as a nation, the state has faced constant opposition by every Arab country in the region. With a broad stroke of generalization, Dr. Prager states that the problem in the Middle East is simple: “one side (Arabs) wants the other side (Israel) DEAD.” As it stands the death toll is at 700. Of those only 32 are Israeli, 75% of them are civilian (meaning they had absolutely no connection or affiliation to the Hamas organization) and an unjustifiable 33% are children. Dr. Prager’s logic does not seem to co-align with facts from the front lines.

The point of this letter is not to debate whether or not we should all be Zionists. It is not to dissect Scripture on the issue and dive into relevant exegesis in order to come to a firm conclusion. Because yes, maybe it is possible to find Biblical support for a pro-Israeli stance, one that would provide adequate reason to label Hamas and their Palestinian counterparts as “the enemy.”

But even if this disputable point were the case, how does the Bible say we should treat our enemies?

“You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your Father in heaven.”         Matthew 5:43-45a

Is this not the most basic and most recited tenant of our faith? So why do we praise the Israeli army for their actions in killing, not even Hamas, but civilians, mostly women and children who are explicitly NOT the enemy. The UN has now confirmed that Israel missile strikes have hit a school, a hospital, numerous civilian shelters and a refugee camp.

Israel’s Prime Minister said earlier today that Hamas’ notorious use of civilians as human shields and endangering of civilians is a “travesty”. And yet, with no admission to irony, Israel’s ambassador stated on Monday that Israel’s troops should all receive a Nobel Peace Prize for their restraint, despite the fact that, according to the Washington Post, at the time of the report there were over 400 civilian deaths an estimated 25% of which were women and children. 

The hypocrisy is scathing.

The point is: Palestinian civilians are not Hamas. Yet they have been caught in the cross-fire; their borders are literally barricaded (in 2010 the British Prime Minister described the accessibility of the Gaza Strip as “an open-air prison”). They are unable to flee and their refugee camps are being bombed.

And so I want to make this case to you, my fellow brothers and sisters: the global Christian community does grave injustice to those we are called to care about most and grave disservice to our Savior by choosing to paint the entire Palestinian population in this same light as one rogue terrorist organization. They are “the least of these.”

I’ve heard numerous Christians say things like: “all the Koran talks about is killing the infidels, Muslims are all just set on killing people.” Such statements ring of ignorance in the same way that saying all Christians are bent on genocide of Canaanite-pagans. These generalizations ignore the present day reality of the Muslims in Baghdad who, seeing their Christian neighbors facing imminent persecution and possibly martyrdom, have sided with them against their persecutors. In a recent rally in Baghdad, over 200 Muslims gathered outside a Christian Church holding signs saying “I am Iraqi, I am Christian” to show solidarity and support for the Christians facing persecution. 

A Muslim standing outside a church in Baghdad holding a sign that reads: "I am Iraqi, I am Christian"
A Muslim standing outside a church in Baghdad holding a sign that reads: “I am Iraqi, I am Christian”

The point being: not all Muslims are bent on killing Christians and not all Palestinians are Hamas’ terrorists bent on destroying Israel. Yet, at this time, most if not all Palestinian civilians are caught in a deadly crossfire. And all too often our prayers are slanted in Israel’s direction, our favor towards Israel’s forces.

Fellow Christians: we need to stop praying for just Israel’s protection. We need to stop praying just for the softened hearts of those in Hamas. We need to stop seeing this as a black and white issue but as an issue splattered in the blood of innocent people and covered in the weeping cries of numerous mothers, brothers, parents, sisters and daughters who have been affected by this violence.

Pray for peace in the Gaza Strip.

Pray for cease fire.

Pray for compassion in the hearts of Israelite soldiers and Israelite leaders.

Pray for protection for civilians on BOTH sides of the conflict.

Pray for Christians in Mosul and their brave Muslim neighbors in Baghdad.

Pray for God’s will to be done in and through the Middle East.

 

Lamb of God that takes away the sins of the world,

have mercy upon us.

 

Lamb of God that takes away the sins of the world,

grant us thy peace.

Pray For Peace.

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