". . . and having done all . . . stand firm." Eph. 6:13


How Can Christians Respond to Israel’s Ongoing War?

May 22, 2024

A few days ago, in an online conversation with a Jerusalem friend, I inquired about her current state of mind. She has lived in Israel for decades. And after so many months of the Gaza conflict, along with political disagreements, protests, and other bad news, I asked her, “Are you and your friends hopeful? Are you anxious? Or angry? What is the general mood in your community?”

“Yes!” my friend replied, “Anxious! Angry! Hopeful! That’s exactly the mood of the country —all of the above!”

She later wrote, “This Independence Day — May 14 — was unbelievably somber. After some five decades of living here, I have never, ever experienced any Independence Day holiday like this before! No street parties. No fireworks. No loud, reverberating music performances throughout the city. Even during the day when normally the whole country would be out barbecuing and the smell of smoke would fill the air, this year there was none of that.”

Apart from birthdays, anniversaries weddings, babies born, and young soldiers returning alive and well, there’s been little to celebrate in Israel over seven long months. In the meantime, much remains to frighten and fret about — air raid sirens at all hours, the sudden blast of nearby explosions, rumors about lost sons and daughters, and persistently negative media reports and hostile commentary.

Quarreling among Israel’s political leaders continues to be distressing. But far worse have been the tearful farewells to sons, daughters, spouses, and other beloved ones deployed to Gaza. A constant shadow of uncertainty darkens families’ daily life until they are welcomed home. Unfortunately, hundreds have not returned alive. On May 13, the Associated Press reported, “According to the IDF, 630 soldiers have been killed since October 7, including 282 killed since the Israeli army began its Gaza offensive on October 27. On Sunday, the IDF also disclosed that 44 soldiers were wounded over the weekend, including eight who are in serious condition.”

Meanwhile, violence along Israel’s borders — particularly in the north where Iran’s Hezbollah militia threatens with increasing assaults — has led to a national sense of uncertainty. Tehran’s terrorist proxies have been primarily responsible for the bloodshed since October 7.

Iran became Israel’s primary enemy following the Iranian revolution in 1979. Ever since Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini and his radical Shiite Muslim regime overthrew Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi and seized absolute power, the Islamic Republic’s ruthless religious leaders have labelled the U.S. as the “Great Satan,” and Israel as the “Little Satan.”

So it was unsurprising that both countries breathed a sigh of relief when they learned on Sunday, May 19, that Iran’s notoriously hateful and bloodthirsty president, Ebrahim Raisi, and Foreign Minister Hossein Amir Abdollahian were both killed in a helicopter crash. While returning to Tehran from Azerbaijan along with other dignitaries, their aircraft crashed into a remote mountainous area. Through freezing rain and fog, search and rescue teams struggled for many hours to locate the missing chopper. But once the rescue team finally reached the accident site, they found no survivors.

The death of Raisi — a tyrant who crushed dissent brutally and was a potential successor to Khamenei — took place just weeks after Tehran came close to live conflict with Israel and the United States. On April 13, Iran’s shadow war with Israel burst into an open exchange of weapons. Iran launched a large salvo of missiles and drones at Israel; all were shot down or otherwise failed to reach their targets. Designated “Operation True Promise,” Iran’s attack reportedly included around 170 drones, 120 surface-to-surface ballistic missiles, and 30 cruise missiles. Israel’s measured response was both symbolic and precise.

Amid ongoing conflict, the sudden and unexpected demise of Raisi, Abdollahian, and their high-level companions felt like a momentary breath of fresh air. However, the following morning a different kind of “attack” emerged. The Wall Street Journal reported:

“The International Criminal Court’s prosecutor is seeking arrest warrants for Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, the country’s defense minister and the leaders of Hamas, an unprecedented move against a close U.S. ally that could deal another blow to Israel’s international standing as it fights a war in Gaza. The prosecutor said there were ‘reasonable grounds to believe that’ Netanyahu and Defense Minister Yoav Gallant ‘bear criminal responsibility’ for a series of ‘war crimes and crimes against humanity,’ committed since at least Oct. 8, the day after the Hamas-led attack on Israel. If granted by the court, arrest warrants for Netanyahu and Gallant could further complicate Israel’s ability to fight the war.” 

Israel’s “crime” is supposedly having created a humanitarian crisis in Gaza by “intentionally starving civilians.” At the same time, Hamas’s leaders also stand accused by the International Criminal Court (ICC), including the heads of the militant group’s armed wing, Yahya Sinwar and Mohammed Deif. These two terrorists, who have the blood of tens of thousands on their hands, are assumed to be sheltering in Gaza’s tunnels. Meanwhile, Ismail Haniyeh, the political head of Hamas, lives luxuriously in Doha, Qatar.

The demand for arrest warrants paints an absurdly distorted portrait of the State of Israel and the terrorist group Hamas and their allies, as if they share equivalent murderous intentions. On Monday, Senators Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) and Chris Coons (D-Del.) joined President Biden in condemning the ICC’s move against Netanyahu and Gallant.

Since October 7, the pressure on Israel and its leadership has been continuous. Not only do they face a barrage of false political accusations, threats, and lies, but their warriors confront death every day. Those of us who support our Jewish friends from afar can do little more than shake our heads in disbelief. For 76 years, Israelis have endured relentless efforts to discredit, demean, and destroy the only democracy in the Middle East — the State of Israel. And it never stops.

As my Jerusalem friend told me, her friends and neighbors — surrounded by the Gaza War’s uncertainties and injustices — are indeed “anxious, angry but still hopeful.” It’s true that our U.S. Christian community is geographically half-a-world away from Jerusalem, but we remain close in heart and spirit. While we watch this painful and complicated conflict unfold, let’s add “steadfast in prayer — watchful and thankful” (Colossians 4:2) as our own response to Israel’s wartime challenges and uncertainties.

Lela Gilbert is Senior Fellow for International Religious Freedom at Family Research Council and Fellow at Hudson Institute's Center for Religious Freedom. She lived in Israel for over ten years, and is the author of "Saturday People, Sunday People: Israel through the Eyes of a Christian Sojourner."