A surprise attack by the militant group Hamas on Israel and the resulting military counteroffensive on Palestinians in the Gaza Strip prompted calls by Anabaptist organizations for diplomacy over military action as civilians on both sides of the conflict were killed and injured.
“While the Anabaptist-Mennonite community does not have church presence in Israeli and Palestinian territories, this is a land that pays homage to multiple faiths: Judaism, Christianity and Islam,” wrote Mennonite World Conference President Henk Stenvers in an Oct. 9 pastoral letter for peace in the Holy Land. “As followers of the prince of peace, as people who do not put trust in earthly rulers, we refuse to take sides with political interests, but mourn with all who suffer.”
Stenvers lamented that the crisis quickly escalated with air raids, land battles, random killings, hostage kidnappings and war propaganda. Citing Jesus’ call to put away the sword in Matt. 26:52, he asked churches to pray violence will end, hostages be returned and that those who mourn will be surrounded by loved ones.
“Pray that peace workers, negotiators and government staff will put people’s lives and human dignity above political or military gains,” he wrote.
Hamas militants fired rockets and broke through Israeli barriers, killing more than 1,200 people in Israel and kidnapping many to the Gaza Strip, where more than 2 million Palestinians were already living with little access to electricity, food, fuel and hospital supplies. The area has been under a blockade by Israel and Egypt for more than 16 years, exacerbating tensions that have existed since the 1948 Nakba (“catastrophe”) displaced more than 700,000 Palestinians to help establish the state of Israel.
The Mennonite Jewish Relations Working Group condemned the actions of both Hamas and the Israeli military that led to killing both Israeli and Palestinian civilians.
“Much of the coverage has depicted a dichotomy between Palestine and Israel,” wrote the group in an Oct. 13 statement. “While we recognize the experiences of both to be different, we also recognize the fear is real on both sides. The pain is real on both sides. Both call this land home, and it is currently teeming with the blood of innocents and tears of both Israelis and Palestinians in the violence.”
The group invited others to join in committing to humble learning across lines of faith that divide, remembering that many Palestinians and Israelis want to coexist and live with equal rights and freedoms. The group is an outgrowth of the 2017 MC USA delegate resolution “Seeking Peace in Israel and Palestine.”
“Our work centers on brainstorming ways to continue to decolonize and combat white supremacy and Christian superiority that has led to antisemitic rhetoric and violence even within our own faith communities,” states the group in a summary of its work.
The Mennonite Palestine/Israel Network similarly condemned violence both by Hamas and the Israeli military, calling on the international community to support a diplomatic solution that address the injustices that perpetuate violence. MennoPIN is an independent network that relates to Mennonite Church USA’s Peace and Justice Support Network.
“MennoPIN likewise recognizes that the Hamas attack was not unprovoked,” the group wrote in an Oct. 10 statement. “For decades the people of Palestine have been oppressed by the violence and occupation of apartheid Israel against them with home demolitions, child detentions, separation walls, settler colonialism and violence, seizures of land and controls over water and food supplies.
“And Gaza has been an open-air prison where Israel controls how much water, electricity and food Gazans can have. The extreme measures taken by the recent Netanyahu ultra-right government have made life increasingly hostile for Palestinians.”
Jonathan Kuttab — a Palestinian attorney and human rights activist on MennoPIN’s steering committee who is also executive director of Friends of Sabeel North America (FOSNA), a Christian organization that promotes Palestinian Liberation Theology — wrote in a FOSNA analysis about his distress that instead of calling for a quick end to fighting, many around the world praised military responses that will continue to claim civilian lives.
“This war reveals the veracity of the message we have long been communicating: today’s violence was the inevitable outcome of Israel’s persistent and systematic violation of the rights of Palestinians,” he wrote. “… The current round of fighting must lead all parties to think in new terms and not be lulled again into doubling down on policies that have failed time and again. Palestinians and Israelis must seek ways to live together in peace and harmony.
“This requires that the demands of justice be met. This is not a conflict that can be resolved through the violent overpowering of one’s enemies.”
Revenge unified Israel’s fractured and divided government, as Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu agreed on Oct. 11 to form a national unity government with his political opponents, promising that “Hamas will understand that by attacking us, they have made a mistake of historic proportions. We will exact a price that will be remembered by them and Israel’s other enemies for decades to come.”
Deadly attacks on Palestinian medical workers and United Nations relief workers heightened concerns of a humanitarian disaster in densely populated Gaza, which could widen significantly if Israel expands fighting to target militants in other countries, such as Lebanon.
Mennonite Central Committee operates more than a dozen projects with partners in both Israel and Palestine and is planning relief efforts to the crisis with those partners.
“MCC’s work will build on previous responses to the ongoing conflict, including the distribution of food and bedding for those affected,” the organization said in a statement that noted lament and mourning for lives lost in Palestine and Israel. “We are also planning to offer trauma healing support and housing reconstruction.”
The outbreak of violence upended the work of a Community Peacemaker Teams delegation in the West Bank, where Israeli forces shut down all 260 checkpoints in the territory and killed at least 17 people over the weekend. The delegation of five Americans arrived Sept. 27 for accompaniment work around Hebron, which was interrupted the morning of Oct. 7.
Amy Yoder McGloughlin, pastor of Frazer Mennonite Church in Pennsylvania, was part of the delegation that spent days working to get through military checkpoints, out of Bethlehem and into Jerusalem. The group eventually made their way to Jordan and flew home Oct. 12.
A team of Palestinians worked for days to coordinate the Americans’ passage into Israeli territory. The group made its way to a Bethlehem checkpoint Oct. 9, where soldiers’ guns poked over a makeshift barrier of dirt and concrete.
“With another delegate, she and I walked toward the soldiers, holding up our coveted blue passports, and demanded to be let out of the West Bank,” wrote McGloughlin about the experience on CPT’s website. “The disinterested soldiers only asked a few obligatory questions. They didn’t even inspect our passports closely. They let us pass.”
She had conflicted feelings on the way to Jerusalem.
“I was amazed by the network of Palestinian friends and strangers that devoted themselves to getting us out of the West Bank, who were concerned for our welfare, who were willing to help us, even though my home nation was throwing more resources into killing their people,” she wrote. “And I was also so sad to leave my friends behind. Because I carry a U.S. passport, I can climb over rubble and demand to be let out of the West Bank. But my friends would be shot if they tried the same thing.”
CPT called for ending the Israeli occupation of Palestinian territories in an Oct. 9 statement, categorizing Hamas’ efforts as unprecedented resistance resulting from continuous human rights abuses as it continued its focus on accompanying partners in nonviolent resistance and advocacy.
“A large majority of the international community is calling for Hamas’ adherence to international law,” stated CPT, calling on the U.S. government to stop $3 billion in annual military aid that is used to perpetuate occupation of Palestinian territory and cyclical violence. “CPT urges these governments to examine their hypocrisy of condemning Palestinian resistance to occupation while at the same time refusing to hold Israel accountable for the blatant flouting of international law through 75 years of occupation, apartheid and ethnic cleansing.”