The day after the war

Dear coworkers,

There’s a door at the Jordan River border crossing into Israel marked “No Entry” in red letters. Exactly twenty years ago, Thanksgiving week 2003, that door opened and for the first time an Iraqi child entered Israel for heart surgery. It was a huge break through the wall of enmity between two countries which are still technically at war.

Today thank God that door opened again, and for the first time since the outbreak of war on October 7 another “enemy” Iraqi child entered Israel for an urgent heart surgery:

Many of the Israeli staff at the border seemed delighted at the renewal of the connection, and couldn’t have been more welcoming. The tender hearts we’ve seen for decades are still there. It’s a sign of hope during these dark days of war, that healing of the relationship between Israel and many of its Muslim neighbors is still possible.

So let’s turn our thoughts to the day after the war. It’s essential we recognize how much will change. First of all God will raise up a new leader and a new government in Israel. It hasn’t been adequately reported outside the country how angry and disillusioned and betrayed the people of Israel feel about the mistakes that led up to October 7. There will be an accounting.

It was a dark turn that led to the creation of the present government in Israel a year ago. It’s broadly true that since the restoration of Israel in the land, the Jewish people have sidelined their extremists, and their Palestinian neighbors have sidelined their moderates. But the current Israeli government regained power through a campaign of fear, lies and demagoguery toward Arabs. By inciting base instincts they let a long-suppressed genie out of the bottle, and the farthest fringes of Israeli culture were mainstreamed; most egregiously a man who wasn’t even allowed to serve in the IDF, an acolyte of mass-murderer Baruch Goldstein, became the minister of national security in Israel. His chief of staff is a fundraiser for the man who placed a bomb in a Purim basket outside the home of a messianic family, very nearly killing their teenaged son.

Friends, as students of the Bible we know that from time to time evil men come to power in Israel. Kings who start out well become corrupt after years in power. Can we be as honest about this as the biblical chroniclers were?

It’s these kind of men who have debased the national dialogue in Israel, and have helped weaken the precautions Israel’s military once took to avoid harming civilians. They even spread the idea that there are no truly innocent among our civilian neighbors.

Discussing this in the abstract is just useless posturing and pontificating. You have to see and know our neighbors in order to discern how wrong it is. For this reason I’ve shared with you what happened to the family of Naim, who is sheltering with us in Israel until the war is over. Today the New York Times painstakingly put together a photo essay about three more extended families whose members were killed in their homes in the southern safe zone in the Gaza Strip. Three times the same response from the military is printed to devastating effect: “The Israeli military said it could not address questions about a strike on the family.”

Some of us don’t trust the Times. (Though the core of the good news is that people can change, and the paper’s wartime coverage has surprised with sympathetic portrayals of all that Israel has suffered.) And some of us have been swayed by the argument that there are no innocents in Gaza. So I’ll share also this week’s account from a trusted brother who founded a Christian school in Gaza:

Ilham, our dear sister, an elderly woman who played the piano at the Baptist Church in Gaza for many years, has gone to be with Jesus. On Sunday afternoon she left the Catholic Church compound where she had been with 600 plus Christians for the past four weeks. She was desperate to know about her house and was wanting to see if it was still standing. She was shot in the leg by an Israeli sniper and lay in the street until Monday with no one able to reach her…The last call with her was yesterday, she said “I’m thrown in the street, I don’t feel my legs, I can’t move.”

It may not be possible to verify who shot Ilham. But it is clear there are innocents in Gaza. And the cumulative effect of reports like these leads to the second major change we’ll see on the day after the war: Israel will be hated far more widely than ever. The core of this is a spiritual phenomenon. Before Israel made any response to October 7 there was already a worldwide outpouring of rage and hatred toward the Jewish people and justifications of the attack. But every time that Israel appears to disregard the value of lives in Gaza it turbocharges this phenomenon. The conviction is hardening among vast numbers of uninformed young people that Israel is an unparalleled locus of evil in the world. Overnight the multiple biblical prophets who speak of the nations of the world uniting to destroy Israel are making a lot more sense.

So we who love and support Israel–who believe that its restoration is essential to the redemption of the world–must be prepared to bring the light of the word of God to our generation. There are some who can be saved from the anti-Jewish darkness descending on the earth.

But to do this we must be truthtellers. We have to call good good and evil evil. We can’t make claims that are easily disproved, and we cannot justify the unjustifiable.

Particularly we have to think about the people of Gaza in this light. They are precious in the eyes of our God. The third sweeping change we may face the day after the war will be their new freedom from religious dictatorship. The power of God through our little community has touched so many families there through the last three decades. Will we still have a voice to speak to Gaza when the smoke clears? It depends whether we speak the truth now in their moment of trial.

Friends, I hope and pray Israel gets its old footing back in the days after the war. It makes it far easier to stand by them. But let’s look honestly at our own lives. If God had waited for us to pull ourselves together we’d still be lost. Messiah loved us and gave himself for us when we were still in the wrong.

So Israel is still Israel. God’s calling doesn’t change. Israel despite itself has a glorious future:

Therefore tell the house of Israel that this is what the Lord GOD says: It is not for your sake that I will act, O house of Israel, but for My holy name, which you profaned among the nations to which you went. I will show the holiness of My great name, which has been profaned among the nations—the name you have profaned among them. Then the nations will know that I am the LORD, declares the Lord GOD, when I show My holiness in you before their eyes. 

For I will take you from among the nations and gather you out of all the countries, and I will bring you back into your own land. I will also sprinkle clean water on you, and you will be clean. I will cleanse you from all your impurities and all your idols. I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit within you; I will remove your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh. And I will put My Spirit within you and cause you to walk in My statutes and to carefully observe My ordinances.

Then you will live in the land that I gave your forefathers; you will be My people, and I will be your God. 

Jonathan for Shevet Achim

“Behold how good and how pleasant it is for brothers to dwell together in unity” (Psalm 133).