I have seen the raw footage of the October 7 attack - this is what I pray for

By Opinion Contributor |
Israeli soldier on tank
SOUTHERN ISRAEL, ISRAEL - FEBRUARY 09: An Israeli soldier stands on a tank near the border with Gaza on February 9, 2024 in Southern Israel, Israel. As Israel examines the details of a fresh truce agreement with Hamas, there is mounting pressure on the Netanyahu government over handling of events since the Oct. 7th attacks and returning the hostages to Israel from Gaza. | Amir Levy/Getty Images

I recently attended a screening of raw footage of the October 7th, 2023, attacks in Israel. It was a spontaneous decision – the queue to get in was long, and I quietly prayed that if I got in, God would help me use it to potentially contribute a meaningful voice to the highly polarized and emotionally charged global debates – including among Christians – on what could possibly bring an end to the war and suffering in the Holy Land.

Words cannot convey the indescribable horror of the video recordings from victims, perpetrators and first responders. I will not attempt to share details. Several people left before the screening finished, and while I did stay until the end, I often had to close my eyes, praying that God would have mercy and not let those images and voices haunt me forever. Even this second-hand experience gave me some insight into the awful trauma experienced by victims of violence.

Since the screening, I have reflected a lot on God’s perspective on what happened on that day and in the months that have followed.

I should mention that the issues in Israel and Palestine are not unfamiliar to me. I have had the privilege of visiting Israel and the West Bank several times. I have been part of Christian delegations meeting government officials from both Israel and the Palestinian Authority. I have shared shabbat dinner with a Jewish rabbi’s family in Jerusalem and eaten with Muslim leaders in Bethlehem. I have listened to many stories of pain and difficulties from evangelical Christians in Israel and in Palestine, coming to deeply appreciate brothers and sisters in Christ in both Palestine and Israel.

Just knowing that I have family members – my spiritual family members – in every part of the Holy Land and in every neighboring country, listening to their stories and remembering their faces every time I read the endless stream of tragic news from the region has been a harsh reminder that there are no single simple solutions to end the suffering.

I have come to believe that this is part of the challenge: that we long for simple solutions. If Hamas can be eradicated, there will be no more such attacks. Establish a permanent ceasefire and the suffering on all sides will end.

We all wish that it were that simple: that the conflicting demands of conflicting ideologies would all just go away. We are tired of the unceasing flow of images of war and suffering. And though that applies to every conflict in the world, the Holy Land tends to hold our attention longer than others, which often just briefly make the headlines and are quickly forgotten – or never make the headlines at all, regardless of how many people are dying.

Is military victory the solution?

Israel’s Prime Minister has vowed to continue the war until all hostages are freed and until Hamas is damaged beyond recovery. For Israelis, the trauma of the 7th October attack runs very deep because it was so totally unexpected, and because it was so horrific. The brutal and senseless killing of innocent Israelis – and foreigners – the sexual violence against women including rape and mutilation, the taking of hostages including children. It has often been described as the worst attack targeting Jewish people since the Holocaust.

The ensuing military response has caused massive destruction and has led to a huge number of civilian deaths: so, the outcry against the war has grown. The conflict is terrible, from any angle.

On the one hand, there are reports that the Israeli military has attempted to reduce the risk to the civilian population, and it is clear that Hamas intentionally puts civilians in harm’s way.

And, on the other hand, there is the religious nature of Muslim-Jewish relations, the occupation of Palestinian territories by Israel, the decades of trauma from what Palestinians call the Nakba [the mass displacement and dispossession of Palestinians during the 1948 Arab-Israeli war] that is ever-present in the minds of almost all Arabic peoples, the refugee issue, the interest, influence (and interference?) of many outside powers.

Therefore, while Israel may be aiming to eradicate Hamas, considering it the source of the evil behind the October 7th attack, the underlying issues and the additional immense suffering the war has brought about raise serious questions how this war could ever be successful and lead to peace.

Is a permanent ceasefire the solution?

Calls for a permanent ceasefire are (understandably) growing around the world, as the number of casualties grows. Protests are being held in many different countries. Christians are among those calling for a ceasefire as a first step towards peace.

Part of my personal frustration with some media coverage and some of the calls for a permanent ceasefire is that they can too easily ignore the fact that Hamas has publicly pledged to repeat the same attacks over and over and over again.

Ghazi Hamad of the Hamas political bureau stated the following on TV less than three weeks after the 7th October attacks: "Israel is a country that has no place on our land. We must remove that country, because it constitutes a security, military, and political catastrophe to the Arab and Islamic nation, and must be finished. We are not ashamed to say this, with full force. We must teach Israel a lesson, and we will do this again and again. The Al-Aqsa Flood [Oct 7th attack] is just the first time, and there will be a second, a third, a fourth, because we have the determination, the resolve, and the capabilities to fight. Will we have to pay a price? Yes, and we are ready to pay it. We are called a nation of martyrs, and we are proud to sacrifice martyrs.”

Hamas’ ideology calls for the eradication of Israel. It is notable that Hamas is not calling for a two-state solution, but solely that Israel “must be finished.” And on the other side are some of the Jewish settlers in the West Bank who are using violence in an attempt to take all of the Palestinian territories to themselves.

As long as mutually destructive and competing ideologies exist in the Land, it is difficult to imagine peace in the Holy Land: so, although a ceasefire might be a necessary (even essential) first step and it currently appears within reach, it will (sadly) not bring a lasting solution to the conflict.

What then should we pray for?

The Holy Land is a deeply complex place. Christians as well as Jewish and Muslim people all have strong spiritual and religious connections to the Land.

At the October 7th footage screening, one of the things that struck me was how the young attackers cheered triumphantly and praised God throughout the attack. They evidently believed that what they were doing was bringing glory and joy to God.

It was painful to imagine how these young men had grown up, being brainwashed, and filled with blind hatred that completely dehumanized those whom they considered the enemy.

And that is one of the issues on all sides of the tragic conflicts in the Holy Land: the dehumanization of the other.

I can’t help but be reminded of the suffering of our Lord, Jesus Christ.

God loved us sinful and broken human beings so much that He sent His one and only son (John 3:16). God became human (John 1:14).

But in the end, Jesus was betrayed and arrested, he was flogged, he was beaten, he was spat on, insulted, totally humiliated. Ultimately, he was forced to carry his own cross, stripped of his clothes, which the soldiers divided among themselves, and nailed to the cross almost naked for everyone to see.

Jesus Christ, God who became human, was dehumanized by us humans whom he came to save.

But then what does Jesus say as he hung upon the cross? Jesus said, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.” (Luke 23:34a)

Whatever we may think of the current conflict in Israel and Palestine and the best ways to end it, we must remember that God sees every person as created in His image. He does not want anyone to perish but wants everyone to come to repentance (2 Peter 3:9).

Every victim, every casualty, every innocent life lost and even every terrorist killed, is someone created in God’s image: a human being.

God’s answer to man’s unspeakable wickedness and evil was the cross. So, ultimately, the hope of peace in the Holy Land is found in the cross.

So, as I pray earnestly for positive ways forward for all the peoples of the Land, and as I pray for peace with justice and security for Israelis and Palestinians, I am also praying that Israelis and Palestinians find Jesus, the Prince of Peace.

Jesus brings a peace that the world cannot give (John 14:27). He has broken down all barriers of hostility to reconcile all humanity to God and to each other (Ephesians 2:24-26). He leads us to the Father of mercies and God of all comfort (2 Corinthians 1:3-4).

Amidst all the suffering, the violence and destruction of war, and the loss of life, there are reports of people coming to faith in Jesus Christ in the Holy Land and surrounding nations. It is a reminder of John 1:5, The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it. And so, amidst all the darkness, this is how I am managing to continue to pray, with meaningful hope. Will you join me in these prayers?

The views expressed in this or any other opinion article do not necessarily reflect the views of Christian Daily International. The identity of the author is known to CDI but has been withheld for the author’s personal safety and protection.

The views expressed in this or any other opinion article do not necessarily reflect the views of Christian Daily International.