Just days ago, the fragile peace in the Middle East was shattered, with an unexpected, brutal assault from Gaza by Hamas on the State of Israel. In response, Israel declared war, and began to retaliate with foreseeable force. On the day of the assault, and in the days following, thousands of people have been killed, including civilians on both sides of the border now counted among the dead, and hundreds of Israeli men, women and children have been taken hostage by Hamas forces, likely to be used as human shields to lessen Israel’s continued retaliation in the Gaza Strip.
The National Council of the Churches of Christ in the USA began its annual Christian Unity Gathering in the days following the initial attack, with the NCC’s governing board meeting on Wednesday and Thursday, October 11-12. After praying for peace in Israel and Palestine, and in the wider Middle East region, the governing board called upon both Israelis and Palestinians to cease hostilities. We did so confident in the fact that the land is considered holy by Jews, Christians, and Muslims; with the knowledge that the Israelites of old were our forebears in the faith; and in solidarity with the Christian Churches of the Holy Land, whose adherents comprise a significant percentage of the Palestinian community.
While we condemn the Hamas attack and recognize Israel’s right to protect its people, we affirm the value of all human life. We therefore call upon Israel, with its overwhelming firepower, to temper its response in the name of human decency. The innocence of both Israeli and Palestinian civilians cannot be ignored. While Israel’s response against Hamas is understandable, its anticipated retaliation in Gaza, from which Palestinian civilians cannot flee due to the closed border, must not match, or exceed the brutality of Hamas’ assault. This includes both military action and the shutdown of critical infrastructure. In turn, Hamas must release all hostages immediately.
Finally, we call upon all international actors to take actions that will lead to an end of the conflict, including the assurance of humanitarian assistance. In particular, we call upon the United States and the Biden Administration, even though in support of Israel in the current crisis, to not allow the conflict to deflect from a consideration of root causes of the enmity between Israelis and Palestinians. This is not the time for such consideration. Nevertheless, care must be taken not to enable the kind of extreme force that would preclude this consideration in the future.
We end this statement with a prayer for God’s comfort for all those directly impacted by this conflict, and for the eternal memory of those who have lost their lives.