A streak of light split the pale morning sky, and then a flash. I didn’t hear the explosion. I couldn’t. My ears were filled with water. I floated lazily on my back and watched Israel’s Iron Dome shoot down rockets from Gaza. My thoughts were miles away. The moment felt surreal, a dichotomy. I was relaxing in a hotel pool while Israel’s enemies pelted her with rockets. And then my mind cleared, and the moment was over. I stood up, shook the water out of my ears, and could hear the bomb siren blaring. Belatedly, I joined the other hotel guests in the basement bomb shelter. That was 2014. It was my eleventh trip to Israel and my first personal experience with the aggression of Israel’s neighbors.
Conflict in the land of the Bible is nothing new. This place has experienced war regularly for thousands of years – since the time of Abraham. Despite being a small, seemingly insignificant strip of land, Israel has received the attention of almost every historical world power. The Egyptians, the Assyrians, the Babylonians, the Persians, the Greeks, the Romans, and the Ottomans each controlled the area in turn.
In recent years, the Israelis have been experiencing ongoing conflict with their Palestinian neighbors, particularly with Hamas, the terrorist organization that controls Gaza. Additionally, the surrounding nations are all Islamic. Israel is surrounded by enemies.
Between 2006 and 2019, I traveled regularly to Israel for archaeological digs. In 2021, I moved to Israel to pursue a Ph.D. in archaeology at an Israeli university. Despite the ongoing tensions between Israel and her neighbors, I have never felt unsafe there. I decided long ago that I would go where God called me and trust Him to protect me.
I was in Germany for a conference when I heard the news of Gaza’s October 7 attack on Israel. At first, I brushed the news aside as of little importance. Gaza was always attacking Israel. But as details began to emerge, I realized this was no ordinary attack. And when Israel declared war on Gaza, I knew that the situation would get worse before it got better.
I made two attempts to get back into Israel, but each time, my flight was canceled. And so, I waited in Europe, in limbo. Since I couldn’t get into Israel, I finally decided to make an extended visit to my family in the U.S. I hope to return to Israel soon, but I trust that God has a reason for keeping me out of Israel for the time being.
Meanwhile, news continued to emerge from Israel, and the death toll continued to rise. I learned that Hamas had successfully launched a ground attack against Israel. They had brutally murdered the weak and the helpless, old women, children, and even babies. They had taken hostages, including small children, to Gaza. The death toll rose from the hundreds to the thousands.
Israel quickly responded to Hamas’ attack and launched a ground attack into Gaza. Unfortunately, Hamas uses the cowardly tactic of hiding behind civilians, especially women and children. This makes it difficult for Israel to successfully put a stop to Hamas’ acts of terrorism without harming civilians.
All of my friends in Israel, both Jewish people and Arabs, have been affected by this war. Many of them have family members who have been killed or kidnapped, and many of them have been drafted into the army.
Funeral announcements with photos of the deceased fill my social media feeds. They are the faces of young, beautiful people, full of joy, full of life. Each of the victims has left behind family and friends who will forever be affected by their loss. I saw the photo of a young soldier who was alone in Israel when he was killed. His family is in the U.S. The funeral announcement urged people to attend his funeral as a way of comforting his family since they couldn’t attend. I saw the photo of a little girl, 8 years old, who had been missing since the original attack. They found her dead, and her family was relieved because being dead is better than being a hostage of Hamas. Each of the thousands of people killed has a story. Each will be mourned and remembered.
My heart hurts for the people who have lost loved ones. It hurts for the people who were kidnapped and are hostages in Gaza. Some have been released, others have not. My heart hurts for those who live in fear, waiting for the next bomb siren. It hurts for the people who are separated from their loved ones – those outside Israel trying to get in and those in Israel trying to get out. It hurts for the mothers and fathers of soldiers, watching their sons and daughters go off to war. My heart hurts for the soldiers, bravely going to battle, each one knowing that his or her face might be the next one to appear in a funeral announcement. My heart hurts for the people of Gaza, who live under the control of Hamas and are helplessly caught in the middle of this war. And yes, my heart even hurts for the terrorists, who allow themselves to be ruled by an intense hatred that enables them to commit these atrocities.
Historically, the situation between Israel and the Palestinians has been complicated. There have been two sides to the story, and both people groups have mistreated the other as fear and hatred did their work among the conflicting groups. I have witnessed this firsthand.
But I want to be clear that the current situation is not complicated in the slightest. Hamas attacked Israel. They slaughtered helpless people, specifically targeting children and babies. What they did was horrific and evil. It was terrorism in its worst form. And Hamas has continued its inhumane behavior, using the Gazan people as human shields, preventing them from evacuating, so that for the Israelis to destroy Hamas, they must also kill civilians.
The current situation in Israel is bad, and it may continue to get worse before it gets better. Please join me in praying for Israel. Pray for protection against the enemies that surround Israel. Pray that God would intervene to confound the plans of the terrorists and bring them to justice. Pray for peace in Israel. “Pray for the peace of Jerusalem: they shall prosper that love thee.” (Psalm 122:6).