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As genocide brews, what do Christians owe Christians in the Holy Land?

Nate Tinner-Williams laments the Israel-Hamas War, which has brought harm largely to Palestinian civilians while Western leaders turn a blind eye.

An Eastern Orthodox priest presides over a funeral liturgy on October 20 at Gaza City's Saint Porphyrius Church, where an Israeli airstrike killed 18 civilians sheltering on the property. (Ali Jadallah/Anadolu/Getty Images)
“A cry is heard in Ramah—deep anguish and bitter weeping.
Rachel weeps for her children,
refusing to be comforted—
for her children are gone.”
(Jeremiah 31:15, NLT)

We have reached the point in the Israel-Hamas War that the killing of children has become mundane. Sources in the Gaza Strip have estimated that as much as 40% of the 10,000+ Palestinians killed since the beginning of the conflict are under the age of 18.

That should be the beginning and the end of the debate about whether there should be a ceasefire, and about whether the concrete actions of the government of Israel are really about defending land, ensuring safety, or eliminating a terrorist threat.

They are eliminating the most vulnerable people in the Holy Land, and the governments of the West are complicit in the bloodshed.

I speak as a Catholic Christian living in America, a place where military support for Israel is not only a given, but something of a doctrine of faith. To speak ill of the regime in the Levant is seen as tantamount to denying prophecy, betraying the people of God, and—perhaps most of all—threatening patriotic American interests.

It’s a strange thing, this line of thinking. It was a position I myself held for most of my life, being reared as a multi-stream evangelical Christian in one of the more conservative areas of the country. It was effortless to believe that it was a Christian duty to support “God’s people” by endorsing a 75-year-old political project halfway across the world.

I went on to attend college in the big city, meeting people and, by proxy, places I had never imagined or experienced. I befriended Muslims for the first time. I experienced awkward intercultural moments of offense and of clarity. I learned how to say “Hello” in Arabic, and—long after the onset of media distortion in the War on Terror—that the phrase “Allahu Akbar” is used by Muslims and Christian Arabs alike.

Still, though, I “stood with” Israel. I believed that there could be apocalyptic, eternal consequences for doing otherwise. Even after meeting Arab Christians descended from longstanding families in the holy city of Jerusalem, whose experiences were far-flung from my ideas borne of misconception and arrogance, I didn’t budge.

Not, at least, until 2019, when I slowly began lowering my evangelical shield. In a crisis of faith, I discarded what was ultimately my folk religion and embraced a new identity. I became a Catholic, after months of exploration in Eastern Orthodox circles.

With a more global perspective, I began to question more and more the half-truths I was taught about history in the Holy Land, and the lockstep obligation I had formerly felt toward a State of Israel that was just as questionable in its actions as my own colonial-based government here in America.

The American mind can hardly comprehend it, but the reality is that the Israel-Hamas War is not a battle between good and evil. Much less is it a battle between God’s people and God’s enemies. It’s hardly even Israelis vs. Muslims.

Historically, Palestinian Christians—most of them of the Eastern persuasion, rather than Western Catholic or Protestant—have had a strong presence in the occupied territories, though their numbers have dwindled due to various factors since the creation of the State of Israel and the waging of various wars in the region thereafter.

Today, Christians number some 3,000 in Gaza, a small fraction of their former presence and just 2% of the total Palestinian Christian share.

Despite this, they have suffered greatly in the weeks since Hamas invaded Israel and were met with an ongoing bombardment like none ever seen before in the region. An explosion at an Anglican hospital on October 17 is estimated to have killed hundreds. An Eastern Orthodox church, Saint Porphyrius, had two shelter halls leveled by an Israeli rocket two days later, killing 18.

The heads of churches have called for a ceasefire and for peace, including Patriarch Theophilos III of Jerusalem, Patriarch Kirill of Moscow, and Pope Francis of Rome. Heads of state have remained stoic, with the Catholic president of the United States continuing to pour aid into Israel’s coffers as blood flows in the streets. For Biden and Netanyahu alike, a ceasefire is off the table.

The war machine is in full churn. Christian American politicians have bought stock in weapons manufacturers without shame during the past month-plus, as though their souls and those of their co-religionists are of no import. Meanwhile, Palestine is to receive no aid in a new $14.3 billion funding plan passed last week in Congress.

What do Christians owe Christians in the Holy Land? Perhaps the better question is this: What do the leaders of the free world owe human beings in crisis—trapped between armies, praying to God above and receiving missile strikes in return?

The answer is obvious. We owe them much more.

Nate Tinner-Williams is co-founder and editor of Black Catholic Messenger.

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