JERUSALEM (BP)–It’s blood and grief, random rockets and sudden explosions. It’s sudden tragedy for people like Mary Jane Gardner of Wycliffe Bible Translators, killed by a bus bomb in Jerusalem on March 23. And for Israelis and Palestinians, it’s never over.
“Each strike by Palestinians against Israelis and each strike by Israelis against Palestinians are in retaliation for a previous attack,” said Stephen Johnson*, a Christian worker among Palestinians. “‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth’ is never ending.”
It’s been years of territorial back and forth for the two groups, ending most recently in 2009 after a war that saw 1,300 Palestinians and 13 Israelis die. Since then, relative calm had pervaded, and Israel had seemed like the eye of the political storm sweeping the region.
But that all changed in the past few weeks.
More than 80 rockets and mortar shells have been launched from the Palestinian territory of Gaza into southern Israel, and the bus bomb that killed Gardner injured more than 30 others. Retaliatory attacks by Israel have killed 10 Palestinians, with Israeli officials voicing regret over the deaths of two teens playing football outside their house.
International media have questioned why the unofficial ceasefire broke recently, and some commentaries suggest the attacks perhaps were used to detract attention from protests staged in Palestine. In March, thousands of Palestinians have followed suit with the rest of the region, calling for Gaza’s power-holding party Hamas and its rival Fatah to come together.
Plenty of other theories exist as to why tumult has erupted anew.
“It’s an ongoing story,” said Bruce Mills of Jerusalem Baptist Church. “There’s conflict in many layers and levels.”
In Mills’ church — an English-speaking international body — Messianic Jews and Palestinian believers in Christ sit side by side every Sunday.
“They worship in spirit and truth, as brothers and sisters with no territorial claims,” Mills said.
It’s because they both have the same peace — peace that the rest of their countrymen need, said Ben Martin*, a Christian worker among Jews.
“Both are groups that need Jesus. We are not dealing with saved people — that’s why we are here,” Martin said. “Both sides of the conflict need the knowledge that we know will bring peace.”
The Messianic Jews he knows “cry out for the salvation of the Palestinians,” Martin said.
And Palestinian believers want to reach out to Jews too, so that they can come to know salvation in Christ.
“I have a heart to work with Jewish people, to minister with Jewish people, to make a bridge between Palestinian and Jewish people, to see them come to Christ together,” said Esa*, a Palestinian believer in Jesus.
Palestinians “are caught in a seemingly never-ending cycle of violence,” Johnson said, noting that believers among them are just as affected by the tensions as other Palestinians.
Amid the turmoil embroiling the Mideast and North Africa, Arab and Muslim peoples are questioning long-held assumptions, Johnson said. “The result could be a time of more openess and individual freedoms, but it is too early to tell,” he said.
He asked that Christians would pray:
— That as people weigh their questions, they would understand that Jesus is the answer.
— That people who are already believers will be bold in sharing that they know the Truth and He has sent them free.
*Names have been changed. Ava Thomas is an International Mission Board writer/editor based in Europe.