ISRAEL — Several days after the death of three schoolboys in Gaza, Stephen Johnson still weeps. He isn’t the only one.
And he isn’t the only one praying that the heartbreak of war casualties among Palestinians and Israelis ends soon.
More than 50 Jewish and Palestinian believers met together to pray for peace on July 13, a show of solidarity in the conflict that is rocking their region.
“We pray for all people caught up in the conflict, that the church will be an instrument of peace and that hostilities would end,” said Johnson, in the West Bank.
The young boys, who were part a Christian-sponsored school in Gaza, are the faces of the conflict for Johnson and his wife Rebecca.* They are examples of the high cost of the conflict between Israel and Hamas, the hardline Islamist terrorist organization controlling Gaza.
“We ask you to join our team in weeping with the parents and family of these three children,” Johnson said. “Pray with us for the safety of our students and teachers at the school, for all our friends in Gaza and also for all Israelis. May no more mothers have to cry over the loss of their children.”
The three children — Jehad and Wisam Shuheiber and their cousin Afnan — represent three too many innocent lives lost, Johnson said.
Ben Martin,* a representative in Israel emphasizes that this conflict is not between Jews and Palestinians, but between Israel and Hamas, a U.S.- and European Union-recognized terrorist organization.
“Terrorism comes because people give their hearts over to hate. They hate their enemy more than they love their own people,” Martin said. “My prayer is that people on both sides of the conflict would not fall into the trap of hate, which is a dark prison.”
The recent violence started with the kidnapping and murder of three Israeli students in the West Bank on June 10 and the revenge killing of a Palestinian youth July 2.
Back-and-forth rocket attacks and airstrikes between Hamas and Israel ensued, culminating in a major offensive against Hamas in Gaza on July 8.
A temporary cease-fire ended abruptly July 17 after Hamas fired rockets into Israel. The proceeding ground invasion of Gaza by Israel is the first major Israeli ground incursion into Gaza since 2009.
On July 19, rockets fired by Hamas militants killed a Bedouin Muslim man in Israel and wounded three others in his household, including two children. The tragedy highlights the blurred lines in the conflict.
The situation is unpredictable, but despite the violence, local ministries keep their focus on the needs of the people.
“We are confident that this is where God wants us to be,” Johnson said. “Our team remains where it is to share His love with the hurting world around us.”
In Gaza, a church of about 50 people suffers alongside others with a lack of food, inability to move about freely, no electricity for large parts of the day and uncertainty of what is to come.
“Pray that our team and other local believers and partners can have opportunities to share our source of hope,” Johnson said.
Holman, who lives close to the conflict in Israel, regularly retreats to her room when sirens go off but also reports busy markets and life as usual between moments of chaos.
Hundreds of missiles were lobbed into Israel every day in mid-July, she said, noting moments of peace were rare but welcomed.
She recently relocated to a safer distance from the violence but is burdened for those who have no safe place to go.
“Thankfully there have been few deaths or serious injuries in my town as a result of the missiles or the riots, but the situation is very tense,” she said. “Pray that this situation will open up opportunities for me and other believers to share about the true Prince of Peace.”
— by Nicole Lee | BP