There may yet be hope

Dear coworkers,

On November 1 Israel’s ministry of health asked us to remove all Gazans from Israel after they completed their medical treatment. And the next day the sweeping decision of Israel’s security cabinet was announced: “Israel is severing all contact with Gaza. There will be no more Palestinian workers from Gaza.”

As soon as their condition allowed we started moving the six Gaza children in our care to the West Bank, eventually settling them with believers in Bethlehem by mid-December.

gaza babiesAt that point we were told “There is no entry of Gazans by any means to the state of Israel…They can go to Egypt for medical treatment, or to Turkey…They won’t succeed in coming to the state of Israel.”

But just a week later baby Hur had her first echo with a cardiologist in Bethlehem, and we were surprised to learn that her heart was already failing, and she needed further intervention from her doctors in Israel which was not available in the West Bank.

“No,” was the one-word answer we received when we asked the health ministry in Israel in January if this was possible.

This week we asked the health ministry again for permission for Hur to come to Sheba Medical Center for a long-scheduled appointment, and reminded them that for 30 years we’ve never seen Israel turn away a child whose life is at risk. The reply Wednesday was that they’d send the Palestinian authorities to take her to Jordan!

hur in bethlehemBut something shifted. Thursday night we were shocked to hear that Hur’s permission was granted; the first Gazan to our knowledge allowed to enter Israel since the start of the war. This morning our coworker Keyla and I set out early from Bethlehem with Hur and her aunt to see if it was true:

As Keyla writes in her blog tonight:

When we arrived at the checkpoint they told us that Hur had permission to go to the hospital but her aunt did not. We were waiting for about three hours so that they could solve the issue of permission; during that time I learned many things, and one of them, perhaps the most important, is not to give up and keep trying until the end because it is God who has the last word and He is the one who opens and closes doors.

Now this could be a breakthrough, similar to the baby girl Bayan who broke through the barrier between Iraq and Israel 20 years ago. But we also have to be aware that since October 7 there is widespread resistance in Israel to helping Gazans. From a thoughtful NY Times article this week:

NY Times article

After the Hamas invasion on Oct. 7, Doron Shabty and his wife and their two small children hid in Sderot, near the border with Gaza, and survived. A reservist in the infantry, he went into the army the next day.

He just returned after more than 100 days in Gaza, having lost friends. Mr. Shabty, 31, who sees himself on the political left, said he felt no sense of revenge, even if other soldiers did. Nor did he justify every act of the Israeli military, expressing sorrow over the many thousands of Gazans killed in the fight against Hamas.

But he said he felt certain that to restore Israelis’ faith in their country’s ability to protect them, there cannot be a return to the situation of Oct. 6. “We can’t live with an armed Gaza — we just can’t do that,” he said. “And in order to disarm Gaza, you need to pay a terrible price.”

The shock of Oct. 7 was emotional, physical and psychological, undermining the idea of security, both personal and national, and reminding Israelis that they have powerful enemies next door who wish them dead and gone…

“Every Israeli sees themselves as a hostage family,” said Yossi Klein Halevi, a senior fellow at the Shalom Hartman Institute. “We are all hostages,” read the slogans on the billboards and in the supermarkets, he pointed out. “And emotionally that’s true,” he said.

“We saw ourselves as a safe haven for Jewish people, rescuing Israelis and Jews in danger, and that was the best part of ourselves,” Mr. Halevi added. “So the ongoing horror of the hostage situation and our helplessness is tormenting us…”

The gnawing vulnerability seemed an echo of an earlier time, agreed Bernard Avishai, an American-Israeli professor and analyst.

“There is a growing recognition that Israel is on the edge of a volcano, as it was between 1948 and 1967,” he said, again surrounded by enemies. “So everything feels genuinely existential.”

This is true even among the Israeli medical staff whose mantra has always been “a child is a child.” This week two nurses at Sheba shared their hearts about this as they took stitches out of my forehead:

“I used to think like you,” one said, “but we changed after October 7…People in Gaza are brainwashed from their youth, they’re irredeemable. There’s no way out…there’s nowhere else for us to go…my grandsons will still be fighting this battle.”

Friends, we need to hear and understand these voices. I’ve made much in recent weeks of the harsh, ungodly words and actions toward non-Jews coming from the handful of modern-day zealots who prop up Israel’s current government. But there are also many non-extremist Jews in Israel who have simply lost hope that they can ever find peace with their neighbors. And this may not be entirely a bad thing. How many of us came to Israel’s Prince of Peace only after we came to the end of ourselves?

The one who is near to the brokenhearted may be calling us not to condemn, but to comfort, comfort his people. Not confirming them in their rejection of their neighbors, but affirming that in their God there may yet be hope.

four-nation delegation of Christians came to Israel this week and went first to visit communities near Gaza that were devastated on October 7. Among the many moving messages they heard there was also a misleading one: “Hamas and Gaza are one.” So I’m grateful for the unique calling that God has given our community, to bear witness to Israel and to the nations that the people of Gaza are not uniform, and they are not irredeemable. We of all people, who have come to the Father convicted of the sinfulness of our own hearts, know that there is no one beyond the reach of his mercy.

This group really brought a burst of joy and energy to our community, buying toys for our children and dramatically improving the landscaping around our Ashdod homes. Most moving for me was their time of tearful intercession for the life of baby Mohammed from Kurdistan, even as ICU doctors have thrown up their hands at his unexplained deterioration and told us there is nothing left for him but prayers:

mohammed intercession

We’d like to ask you too to join with us in prayer for Mohammed and his family. From Zech’s blog tonight:

Mohammed’s health has been undergoing a slow, steady decrease. Every time we go to the hospital, the doctors give us more difficult news…Today we learned that he has a violent blood infection which is damaging him farther still. Considering we still don’t know what even caused this immense deterioration, it feels like the world itself is pushing down on this little boy. He is barely recognizable from a month ago.

We had a meeting with his mother and his doctors today. They told her that Mohammed’s risk of death is very high, and that there is nothing that they can do in his present situation besides support him. All that’s left, they said, is to wait and see if God will heal him. They expect that the next three or four days will be the deciding point on if he will live or die.

Friends, we know and trust that death is not the end, but this is a heavy reckoning all the same. My father and I went into Mohammed’s room after the meeting to pray over him. We asked God, in this time when science and medicine has reached its limits, to heal Mohammed’s broken body and restore him to life; we asked God to demonstrate his power and glory with such a miracle. And we told him that we will trust, if he does not heal Mohammed now in the time that we want, that Mohammed’s future healing on the last day will be all the more glorious for the wait. But still we want to see him healed now; and so still we pray for it. Please join us in praying for this beautiful boy, hovering on the brink. We wait on the Lord.

Thank you coworkers among the nations for standing with us. Alone we can do nothing; but when we join together in Messiah’s name all things are possible.

Jonathan for Shevet Achim

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