The horror of Hamas and the tragedy unfolding in Gaza are almost impossible to take in. The world seems to be reeling from one catastrophe to another. Christians sometimes find it as hard to react as anyone else. Thinking and praying through these issues, it seems to me as though there are some basic principles we should all be able to put into practice when we reflect and comment on these issues.
1. Never excuse or add 'but' to the atrocities of Hamas
The deliberate targeting, torturing and killing of civilians - young children, babies, the elderly, and the raping and murder of women – is inexcusable in any circumstance. They are not 'collateral damage' from an act of war such as a bomb. I listened with horror to a young Jewish grandchild who wept as she told of how she had found out about the death of her grandmother through a video of the killing that Hamas posted on her private Facebook page. The depravity and cruelty of that is unspeakable. Never add 'but' to such stories.
2. Don't glorify the violence or spread the horror
The Israeli government issued an advisory to journalists, media organisations and other interested parties. They warned that Hamas were going to disseminate photos and videos of hostages and acts of torture across social media platforms. And they requested that these images should not be shared, as they were part of the psychological warfare being waged by Hamas. They also warned of the damage that such images could do to 'minors'. Surely that is wise. Personally, when someone offers the clickbait of horror, it immediately makes me turn away. I have no desire to participate in such voyeuristic violence.
3. Don't forget the suffering of the people in Gaza
The people of Gaza are under the brutal regime of Hamas – supported and funded by Iran. Hamas uses children as shields and has no regard for civilians. To the south, Egypt blocks the border, to the West there is the sea. And then there is the bombardment and coming invasion of the Israeli military. And, without in any sense excusing or justifying Hamas, remember that some Israelis have at times acted in a harmful and unjust manner.
4. Don't use the doctrine of equivalence
This is what so many have done – including the English Premier League. They argue that what happened to the Jews was horrible but now look at what is happening to the Palestinians, that violence begets violence and that somehow the two sides are essentially the same.
Unquestionably there have been individual Israelis soldiers who have behaved badly – but there is no equivalence between that and what the Jewish people have had, and continue, to endure. Normally when soldiers kill civilians, they try to hide the bodies, or excuse what they have done. Not Hamas. They glory in it. They stand next to their victims, parade them, take photos, as if they were trophies to be displayed. The purpose of doing this is to terrorise (which makes it all the more puzzling that the BBC seems to have so much difficulty in describing them as terrorists!). The Israelis warn civilians when they are going to attack. Hamas attacks and targets civilians without warning.
5. Remember the hatred towards the Jews - and why Israel exists as a country
There are almost 10 million people in Israel, 7.5 million of which are Jews. Why can't they all just live in peace? Who would want to kill 7.5 million Jews? People who ask this seem to have a very short historical memory.
A few years ago, the Israeli ambassador came to visit the Free Church offices in Edinburgh. Apart from it being the first time I had seen police with machine guns, what stuck out for me was his description of students and others at the University of Glasgow chanting "from the Jordan to the Sea, Palestine shall be free". It is a cry I have heard many times since at anti-Israel demonstrations. They are not talking about political freedom – they are talking about 'free of Jews' – the ultimate ethnic cleansing.
This hatred is not just seen in some of Israel's neighbours, it is also prevalent in so many countries. I cite just these few examples from the past week. In the UK Rivkah Brown of Novara Media wrote of the Hamas attacks that it was "a day of celebration" and that "the struggle for freedom is rarely bloodless". Several days later she apologised – before then going on to attack Israel again.
Meanwhile in Scotland, Green MSP Ross Greer argued that "Palestinians have a clear right under international law to defend themselves, including by attacking their occupiers", adding, "War won't solve this, ending the occupation will." The MSP Maggie Chapman tweeted that the slaughter of Jews was Israel's fault. She was also on a five-person committee which refused to fly the Israeli flag from the Scottish Parliament.
Meanwhile we have seen marches in many UK and European cities where people celebrated the Hamas attacks. I never thought that in my lifetime I would see people once again on the streets of Berlin celebrating and demanding the death of Jews. The hatred on the streets of London was chilling to witness.
Meanwhile here in Sydney we had the grotesque sight of over a thousand people on the steps of Sydney Opera House (which had been lit up with the Israeli flag), chanting 'gas the Jews'! It is beyond belief that Jewish residents of Sydney were advised by police to stay at home – and one man was even arrested for carrying an Israeli flag in the city centre!
As in Europe, Australia and the Middle East there have been anti-Israel demonstrations in the US. In Harvard 31 student organisations signed a letter "holding the Israeli regime entirely responsible for all unfolding violence". Black Lives Matter posted a graphic of a paratrooper with a Palestinian flag and the phrase 'I stand with Palestine' in a since-deleted tweet. The terrorists who slaughtered 260 mostly young people at a music festival in Israel came in on paragliders. Speaking of BLM, the England team and especially its manager were enthusiastic in their support of BLM, but there is no chance they will take the knee for the 1,300 Jews killed by Hamas. Instead, they, like the English Premier League, will play the 'all lives matter card'.
6. Pray and Weep
The Bible tells us that Gaza became part of Israel, under King David, over 3,000 years ago. Samson was imprisoned there (Judges 16), and he ended up bringing the whole temple down as a judgement. It may be that that is what will happen in Gaza today. But surely we should all, as followers of the Prince of Peace, desire the situation as it prevailed in 1 Kings 2:24: "For he ruled over all the kingdoms west of the River, from Tiphsah to Gaza, and had peace on all sides."
Last Sunday I read in our church this ancient Hebrew song. It is as appropriate today as it was in David's day:
"Pray for the peace of Jerusalem:
May those who love you be secure.
May there be peace within your walls
and security within your citadels.
For the sake of my brothers and friends,
I will say, 'Peace be within you.'
For the sake of the house of the Lord our God,
I will seek your prosperity." (Ps 122:6-9)