By Father Casey
It is difficult to watch the news from the Land of the Holy One. Even as we continue to grieve the murder and mayhem perpetrated by Hamas upon Israelis two weeks ago, now we grieve the military reprisals that have killed thousands and laid waste to whole communities. Pain has quickly multiplied into more pain, death into more death, and we have not yet seen the worst.
On Tuesday, as we were in the midst of a Day of Fasting and Prayer for Peace in solidarity with the Christians of the region, we learned of the destruction of the Al Ahli Hospital in Gaza City. This hospital has been operated by the Episcopal Diocese of Jerusalem for decades, serving the overwhelmingly Muslim population of Gaza. Hospitals should be safe havens, and indeed, Ahli Hospital was hosting hundreds of displaced people from northern Gaza who hoped for protection in its enclave. But in a split second, it was destroyed.
Though I’ve never been to Ahli Hospital in person, I feel a strong tie to it. Transfiguration has sent donations to it for years through the Good Friday Offering and the American Friends of the Episcopal Diocese of Jerusalem, and every time violence breaks out in the region, I pray for the medical staff, knowing how vital they are to all the innocent people trapped in a warzone. Ahli Hospital is a ministry of our church, an expression of the love of Christ to that long-troubled place and people. Only hours before the fateful bombing, the children who sought safe shelter at the hospital had gathered in the hospital’s courtyard to sing for peace (“Salaam”) in a moving moment of hope. Most of the people in the video are now presumed dead.
Archbishop Hosam Naoum has called the destruction of the hospital a “crime against humanity.” Hundreds of human lives were taken needlessly, pointlessly, to add to the thousands of others who have died or will die in this conflict, Palestinian and Israeli. But the crime against humanity is not limited to the explosion, but rather the whole awful tragedy of this conflict, which has caused far too many people to only respect the humanity of their “side.” Since last week, I have heard from several who wonder how I could sympathize with the Gazans, “who are all complicit” in the murder of babies. And I have heard from others who decry my sympathy for Israelis, “whose oppression and colonization brought this on themselves.” How could I pray for Gaza, some ask, for they are obviously wicked. How could I pray for Israelis, others ask, for this is all their fault.
As Christians, we are called to love our enemies, which is essentially Jesus’ way of saying we aren’t supposed to have enemies in the first place. All our sisters and brothers in this world are fellow human beings, made in God’s image, deserving of dignity and respect. There aren’t some who have more of God’s image than others. There aren’t some who should get an extra helping of love because they’re on “our side.” There aren’t some dead children who deserve our grief, and other dead children who deserve a shoulder shrug. There are simply children, and they are all God’s children.
Wars always inflict massive moral harm, no matter what claims we make about their “justice,” and this one is threatening us to our soul’s core. If we are not careful, our belief in the God-given value and goodness of every person will erode beneath the onslaught of footage of violence and bloodshed. We will begin to see some lives as precious and others as expendable. Some deaths will be tragedies, while others will be victories. Our moral core, that place where Jesus abides in us and grows our consciences, will begin crumbling beneath the bombardment of anger and bitterness.
That’s why, in addition to all our prayers for the people of Israel and Gaza on Tuesday, during the nine liturgies we conducted on the Day of Fasting and Prayer, we also prayed extensively for our own repentance and humility. We need God’s help to resist the evil that lurks all around, tempting us to see some people as less human than others. We need the mercy and grace of God to shield our hearts from cruelty and contempt. That is how we can inoculate our souls against the poison of hate and be agents of peace in a world infatuated with war. So if you’re not sure what you can be doing in response to this long, terrible nightmare, start within. Ask the Holy Spirit to fill you with love for all the hurting and devastated people of this terrible conflict, for that is always our first step toward making peace.
Father Casey +