ISRAEL — Jay* doesn’t have flashbacks, but he does think
often about the day he saw a neighborhood of fellow Israelis get gunned down
“There were bullets flying over our heads,” he said. “It was intense urban
He and fellow soldiers were pursuing the shooters from house to house as the
wounded lay around him. A little boy got the first bullet. A little girl,
fleeing into a tent set up for the Feast of Tabernacles, took one next and fell
face forward into the tent.
“We had to clear all the houses and all the tents set up for the feast, just to
make sure shooters weren’t hiding in them,” Jay recounted.
That was several years ago, but now every year when he sees the tents or builds
them for his family, he remembers the day he walked through them with his gun
drawn. And he thinks of the teens who did the shooting – 17- or 18-year-olds —
and he wonders one thing: “What kind of message did they get from those who
invested in their lives? What kind of message of anger and hate in their lives
made them willing to give themselves to kill and avenge?”
And he committed to do everything he could to teach a different message — one
of hope and unity in Jesus Christ.
Jay, a Messianic Jew, had for years already spent time reaching across the
Jewish-Palestinian divide to train youth leaders in the Palestinian territories.
He also had long been committed to building relationships with teens who live
there and connecting them with Jewish youth leaders and teens.
“The shooting didn’t change my heart to work with the Palestinian people. We
had to pursue the shooters, but because of Christ, I can still turn around and
say we are to love these people with the love of Jesus,” Jay said. “Yes, as I
carried the dead away that day, I was sad and hurt over the situation. But it
gave me even more of a burden for Arab teens.”
The deep strife between Jews and Palestinians has long been inflamed, but Jay
is convinced that hearts changed by Christ can be the catalyst for peace.
“There are many cultural and theological differences, many years of pain and
anger. But when we focus not on the conflict but on Christ, we see each other
through Christ,” he said.
Once at a moment of high tension between the two groups, Jay was with a group
of Palestinian teens sharing prayer requests, and someone mentioned that he
would be going to do reserve work for a month in the Israeli military.
The teens tentatively prayed for him, and afterward as they were getting on the
bus to go home, one paused.
“Did you say that you are going to be with the military for a month starting in
two weeks?” he asked.
“Yes,” Jay said.
The teen paused. “I will stop throwing stones at soldiers when you go.”
It was one sign of changing hearts, Jay said.
“It’s typical for Palestinian teens to throw rocks at Israeli soldiers for fun,”
he said. “It was different once he knew one of the soldiers.”
The depth of tension is great, Jay said.
Most recently on May 15, Palestinians gathered at Israeli borders to protest on
the “Nakba” or “Catastrophe,” their commemorating of the founding of the
Israeli state in 1948. As protests escalated, 10 or more fatalities were
reported, with each side blaming the other for the outbreak.
There’s a lot for the two groups to overcome. But the Gospel of Jesus is even
more powerful than any tension, Jay said.
“We are called to be salt and light — change agents in the world,” he said. “Unity
in Christ is the sign to the world that God sent His Son. If we love God, and
if we want to share the Gospel, there has to be unity. And if there is, then
God will be shown to the world.”
Jay asked for Christians to pray:
- for unity, growth and boldness to be open about faith in Jesus Christ.
- for Jewish and Palestinian believers to continue to be change agents among
their people and express God’s love to each other.
- for spiritual growth among the young people of both people groups.
- that both people groups would find peace in Jesus Christ.
*Name has been changed.
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