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Rockets, Riots, Sermons, and Soccer: Christian Views on the Conflict in Gaza and Israel

Palestinian Boys Play Game Of Soccer. (Photo By Abid Katib/Getty Images)

Bombs fall in Gaza as rockets target Israel.

Frustrated Arab rioters are met by extremist Jewish settlers.

And in the middle of it all, Danny Kopp sent his boys out to play soccer.

Numbers were down at the Jerusalem neighborhood park frequented by Jew and Arab alike, but his 13-, 10-, and 8-year-old sons still translated between the sides.

“These encounters, as small as they are, remind belligerents that coexistence is still viable,” said the chairman of the Evangelical Alliance in Israel.

“Wholesale vilifying is simply inaccurate.”

But it is easy to do, if attached to a favored narrative.

Since the outbreak of fighting on May 10, Israeli bombs have leveled almost 450 buildings in Gaza, including six hospitals, nine health centers, and the headquarters of the Associated Press. Hamas authorities count 232 dead, including 39 women and 65 children. More than 1,900 people have been injured, and 52,000 displaced from their homes.

But 160 of these have been militant fighters, said Israeli authorities. Hamas’s indiscriminate barrage has launched more than 4,000 rockets and killed 12 people—including two children—while injuring hundreds. Israel’s Iron Dome defense system has intercepted most rockets, but Iranian sponsorship of Hamas has led to a dramatic increase in missiles able to target Jerusalem.

Such long-range weapons represent 17 percent of the thousands of missiles fired this month. Nine years ago, they represented only 1 percent.

A ceasefire is now in place. President Joe Biden pledged to work through the United Nations and the Palestinian Authority to rebuild Gaza. The US would prevent such aid from restocking Hamas’s arsenal, while allowing the replenishing of the Iron Dome’s defenses.

The weapons evolve, though the animosity is familiar.

But what has shocked and saddened a dozen sources interviewed by CT—half Jewish and half Palestinian—is the ethnic violence that has torn through previously peaceful towns of coexistence. In Lod, Haifa, Nazareth, and elsewhere, Arab rioters have set 10 synagogues and more than 100 Jewish homes on fire, while looting or damaging hundreds more.

Israel called up 7,000 reservists to quell the violence. But reports say police have been far more lenient with Jewish settlers who have responded in kind, though with less damage. Video recordings, however, depict settler attempts to seize Arab Israeli properties.

The outbreak of violence is tied to Israeli legal proceedings to evict Palestinians from their homes in the East Jerusalem neighborhood of Sheikh Jarrah. The families have resided there for generations, and the land dispute has alternate explanations. Protests were met with violence, which then spread to the al-Aqsa Mosque. Hamas fired rockets in solidarity.

And amid the backdrop of this quagmire, Kopp sent out his children.

On Saturday, he preached the same message to his mixed Jewish-Arab Narkis Street Congregation in Jerusalem, asking his flock to purposefully hear both sides.

“Jesus constantly broke out of his information bubble,” he said, “engaging every kind of person imaginable and on a consistent basis.”

Across the separation wall, however, Munther Isaac’s Sunday sermon had a different tone. “What is required is not…”

This article was originally published at Christianity Today on May 20, 2021. Please click here to read the full text. Additional reporting by Jeremy Weber.

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