Every living human is of great worth

Dear coworkers,

The mother of year-old Lya from Kurdistan traveled into a war zone three weeks ago, her eyes fixed on the heart surgery which she hoped would give her daughter new life:

lya travelsDue to dangerous fluctuations in her oxygen levels, doctors in Israel rushed Lya into surgery after just three days. As she was on the way back to the ICU after surgery it became apparent that she was unstable, and our coworkers Zech and Petra began to pray:

praying for LyaWe’ve all been praying ever since, as Lya went on ECMO heart-lung support and was hovering for many days between life and death. Which is why Max’s report tonight is such blessed good news:

Lya is finally in sight of being removed from all major supports, with her extubation coming in the next few days!

lya recovers

We are approaching seeing this little girl free from the supports that restrain her; nearly every organ in her body has needed some support after her surgery, the heart, lungs, kidney, liver, and more, but now we are close to her being able to support this all herself. Her mom and doctors are looking forward to this, but a few roadblocks remain, and many hurdles after this as well.

Lya has some congestion in the lungs, so doctors worked today to clear that out before they extubate her, so her lungs will be clear and functional to breath. After she is extubated, they will completely take her off of sedatives, along with a few of her other medications. The issue here arises as she will be going through some pretty serious withdrawal, since her body has been used to these drugs for over two weeks now. Even as she is being slowly taken off of the medications, she is starting to experience some symptoms.

This is all very hard to explain to the mother, so we pray that she can be given peace, and that Lya can continue in her healing as she will soon face another hurdle, but one which we have faith she shall overcome, just like the rest.

Friends, this is the life from the dead which is at the very heart of our faith as followers of Messiah. And I start with this story tonight because we need to hold onto that same resurrection hope–despite all obstacles-as we enter the third month of the war between Israel and Hamas.There’s no shortage of discouraging voices in Israel claiming it’s naive to think there are “normal people” in Gaza and “it’s hard to imagine even a handful of righteous people looking to change their society rather than celebrate its deeply rooted evil.”

This is adopting the language of the Torah, as it speaks of Sodom given over to total destruction due to its irredeemable depravity. We’re tempted to believe the same about the people of Gaza, and to give up hope for their redemption.

But the article linked above ends with a curious finding, even as it overlooks its significance:

According to the AWRAD poll, innocent Palestinian Arabs in the West Bank support the massacre against Israel at a far greater rate (83.1%) than those in Gaza (63.6%).

The AWRAD poll shows that innocent Palestinians are delusional and hold self-defeating views.  It raises the legitimate question as to whether Israel has, or ever will have, peace partners.

Friends, it’s true our community may want to see the glass as half-full because we’ve spent decades bringing Gaza children into Israel for heart surgeries. We don’t want to feel our work has been in vain (although every student of scripture knows we should do the job our master gave us whether it makes sense to us or not).

But if we were called upon to report the results of that poll our headline would be different: Wow! More than one-third of Gazans disapprove of the massacre against Israel!

And the anecdotal evidence increasingly shows that disapproval within Gaza is only growing:

Former Hamas communications minister Yousef al-Mansi heavily criticized the current leadership of the terror group in Gaza as a group of “crazy people” led by Yahya Sinwar, in footage of his interrogation published by the Shin Bet security agency Sunday.

Gaza interview

“They destroyed the Gaza Strip. Set it back 200 years,” al-Mansi, who served under the Strip’s former ruler Ismail Haniyeh — currently the head of Hamas’s political bureau — and in several other roles, said in translated excerpts provided by the Shin Bet. “There is no opportunity to live..”

In the 14-minute video published by the agency, al-Mansi said, “People in the Gaza Strip say that Sinwar and his group destroyed us, we must get rid of them…”

“I have not seen anyone in the Gaza Strip who supports Sinwar; nobody likes Sinwar. There are people who, day and night, pray that God will free us from him,” he said, adding that if he were in Gaza now, he would go and demonstrate against Sinwar…

“This is heresy, madness. What they did is unacceptable according to logic, religion, or intellect. Those who are responsible for this are Sinwar and his group,” he said, according to the excerpts, adding that the entire Gaza Strip was paying the price for the onslaught.

This last statement that October 7 is unacceptable “according to logic, religion or intellect” is key. Those we call extremists or Islamists among our Muslim neighbors are those who seek to pattern themselves as closely as possible on the Quran and the life and sayings of their prophet. They believe they find there justification for the violence of October 7.

But these Muslims are a minority, just as only a minority of professing Christians sincerely ask themselves “What would Jesus do?” as the pattern for their life. A far greater number of both Muslims and Christians understand their religion simply as trying to live a good life, and they are guided in this by their God-given conscience. They are naturally repelled by acts of cruelty and violence carried out in the name of their faith. For this reason there is hope that many of our neighbors in Gaza can and will turn away from the evil obsession of the ayatollahs/Hamas/Amalek with destroying the Jewish people.

In last week’s letter we discussed whether it was only Hamas or all Gazans who could be identified with Amalek, the ancient enemies of Israel whose total destruction was commanded by Moses. Our coworker Jan from Holland replied with a challenge to frame the question differently: not whether Gazans are cursed as Amalek, but whether they may be blessed as descendants of Abraham through Ishmael and Esau. Here we find ourselves stepping onto firmer ground. We can argue endlessly about what Gazans really think, and about what we think about them. But what does the word of God say? Curiously the Torah records a sure blessing for the descendants of Ishmael, who our Arab neighbors indeed see as their father:

Then God said to Abraham, “As for Sarai your wife, do not call her Sarai, for her name is to be Sarah. And I will bless her and will surely give you a son by her. I will bless her, and she will be the mother of nations; kings of peoples will descend from her.”

Abraham fell facedown. Then he laughed and said to himself, “Can a child be born to a man who is a hundred years old? Can Sarah give birth at the age of ninety?” And Abraham said to God, “O that Ishmael might live under Your blessing!”

But God replied, “Your wife Sarah will indeed bear you a son, and you are to name him Isaac. I will establish My covenant with him as an everlasting covenant for his descendants after him. As for Ishmael, I have heard you, and I will surely bless him; I will make him fruitful and multiply him greatly. He will become the father of twelve rulers, and I will make him into a great nation. But I will establish My covenant with Isaac, whom Sarah will bear to you at this time next year.”

Friends, our community of faith–the community of faith–is built on the covenant of God with Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. And as sure we are of that covenant, we can be sure of the blessing of God on Ishmael and his descendants. Those who are true friends of Israel will be true friends of Ishmael.

A fine example of this spirit comes this week from the messianic writer Michael Brown: “My strong support of Israel doesn’t prevent me from having sympathy for the Palestinians.”

As reported in a November 2023 article in Haaretz, “other studies show that Palestinians feel profoundly, existentially, alone. The second post-October 7 West Bank survey…asked which international actor is Palestine’s most important strategic ally: 56% said ‘none…’ Palestinians have no homegrown heroes either. In focus groups, the institute quoted a participant saying ‘I feel that the Palestinian population is orphaned, there is no one to lead them…’”

Earlier this week, while visiting some colleagues in Asia, I was invited to participate in an international student forum at a major university discussing the subject of equality…

One young man stood to speak, filled with anger. He was a Palestinian from Gaza. Israel, he said, killed his father and brother. Yet America supported Israel. And here in India, no one said a word about Palestinian suffering under Israel in recent weeks. The students applauded his words.

At the end of my brief talk, I said that as a Jewish American, I wanted to speak to the students from Gaza and Syria, to hear their perspectives rather than to share mine.  (Another Gazan student told us that in the recent war, Israel killed his mother and father.)

They asked me instead to share my perspective, which I said I did not have the right to do. I was a stranger to them, and they had lost family. How could I speak to their suffering?

But they insisted I did, so I asked them to forgive me for anything I said that was offensive, and I would give my perspective.

As I began to describe the monstrous acts of Hamas on Oct. 7, they immediately objected. No babies were killed, they told me. No women were raped. This was all propaganda.

When I described Hamas operating under Al Shifa Hospital, they mocked the idea, saying these were all manipulated images on social media. And on and on it went…

Afterward, I went to shake the hand of the first Gazan man who spoke. He said to me, “I will not shake your hand. The blood of my family is on your hands.” (Again, this was because America supported Israel.)

I approached the second Gazan man who spoke, and he said to me, “Your rockets killed my family.”

How can you not have sympathy for people like this? How can your hearts not break for them?

I was able to tell them that, over and over on my radio show and in writing, I have reiterated that Palestinian blood is as precious in God’s sight as Israeli blood and that the death of a Palestinian baby is as grievous as the death of an Israeli baby.

And just last week, an Orthodox Jewish colleague in Israel reached out to me, asking me to endorse a major initiative calling for Christian prayer for Israel. I was thrilled to do it, with only one request: He needed to add a specific line with prayers for the suffering Palestinians, which he was happy to do.

So, my support for Israel remains the same as ever, but my burden for the Palestinians continues to increase.

I’ll close tonight with one other piece of correspondence received this week from a brother named Pierce in Canada:

My son, Jesse, was born with the wonderful Trisomy 21 love chromosome. Through him God has shown me what unconditional love is all about…I needed that gift through Jesse.

pierce and jesse
And through Jesse God has shown me how to love those like Jesse in our community. The defects of us humans are not meant for judgement and death, but for love and life. The person inside every living human is of great worth needing love. Some are very hard to love, and I wonder what love there can be found for Hamas, but they also can be saved by God if He wants to make it happen.

There’s our challenge tonight friends. It’s too easy to fall back on the position that only Hamas is Amalek and therefore worthy of destruction. Yes the spirit of Amalek is evil, but even members of Hamas can be saved by God. Those who continue in evil will be destroyed; but let’s not forget “therefore repent and be saved.”

Half our New Testament was written by a former violent religious zealot named Shaul who encountered the Messiah and was transformed. After the great undeserved mercy that he and we have been shown, we too must stand with Pierce and say that every living human is of great worth needing love.

Jonathan for Shevet Achim

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