The Employment of Religion in the Gaza War

It is Operation Pillar of Defense (In Hebrew Pillar of Cloud) vs. Operation Stones of Hard Clay (A reference to a Quranic Verse). Both Israel and Hamas are employing religious symbols to their military actions. Pillar of Defense is a biblical reference that comes from the book of Exodus 31:21-22:

And the LORD went before them by day in a pillar of cloud to lead them along the way, and by night in a pillar of fire to give them light, that they might travel by day and by night. The pillar of cloud by day and the pillar of fire by night did not depart from before the people. (ESV)

The implication of course is that God is on Israel's side in this war.

Hamas is of course no different. The phrase Stones of Hard Clay (In Arabic Hijarat Al Sajjeel حجارة السجَيل) comes from the Quran Surat Al Fil:
Have you not considered, [O Muhammad], how your Lord dealt with the companions of the elephant?Did He not make their plan into misguidance?And He sent against them birds in flocks, striking them with stones of hard clay, And He made them like eaten straw. (Sahih International)
This is a reference to a story in which God interfered to protect Mecca and The Kaaba. The implication is again the same: God is on Hamas's side and he will protect them. 

This rhetoric is confirmed and repeated in the social media's responses and comments on the war. A Twitter account called IDF Rabbi (@IDFrabbi) is tweeting biblical verses that send the message that this is a religious war and that God will lead Israel to victory. Among the verses: 

The implication is that Gaza people are the wicked! 
(It is hard to confirm whether this is an official Twitter account related to the IDF)

The arabic social media is filled also with responses and comments that basically say that God will surely bring victory to Hamas and that the opening of Jerusalem is near. 

So it is God vs. God! 

To make things worst, some Christians are taking sides as well! Christians United for Israel are calling for urgent prayers for the IDF:

The Christian Embassy in Jerusalem is reiterating that God will stand with Israel, and calling for prayers for Israel, with no reference to the victims in Gaza. 

Similarly, many Palestinian Christians and pro-Palestinian Christians are calling for prayers for the victims in Gaza, with little if any reference to the victims in Israel. 

Sadly, this religious employment to this war is having tragic consequences that go often unnoticed. By claiming God on our side, we demonize the other. "God is for us" means that "God is against them". This is reflected in the many nasty and often racist comments that we see in the social media. The comments by some Palestinians and Israelis (and some Christians) on the news are terrifying! In some comments, Jews are called "pigs and monkeys" and in others there are calls to utterly destroy Gaza and kill the "Arabs". 

In addition, by giving the war a religious narrative, it no longer is a conflict over land. Justice is no longer the real issue. Occupation is no longer the problem. The removal of the unjust siege on Gaza is no longer the goal. Instead, people are driven by hate and a religious, and often exclusive, cause. 

So does God take sides? I believe he does. I believe that God is weeping over the death of innocent people on both sides. He is with the oppressed and needy. He is against the violence of both sides

He blesses the peacemakers, and will give the land to the meek - regardless of their ethnicity or nationality. 

I believe that, on top of all, God is the God of justice. I believe in the ancient biblical truth that says: 
Justice, and only justice, you shall follow, that you may live and inherit the land that the LORD your God is giving you. (Deuteronomy 16:20 ESV)


John Daniel said…
You made a good point about mentioning the injured and killed on both sides, at least from a principled stand. I think it is challenging for me to lament Israeli casualties publicly when I know their plight is already over-stated. I feel like I need (whether this is right or not, I'm talking about my feelings as an aide-worker in Bethlehem) to respond in proportion. That's 45 to 3 (15:1), at my last count. Am I behind? I'm asking honestly.
Anonymous said…
Munther, i appreciate your thoughts and i have forwarded your blog onto all of my contacts. Some know alot about the situation in your land and others know very little. I'm also showing speakers from Christ at the Checkpoint every Monday night here in snowy Montana. You never know where the Spirit is moving! Hoping in Jesus, our Prince of Peace. Lacey Stovall
Anonymous said…
John said "respond in proportion". First, one should consider that no response would be necessary if the other side had bombed the Israelis first. Regarding "in proportion", did the rocket and missile barrage stop after the first Israeli response? No. It is unrealistic to expect Israel to stop responding until the Palestinians stop the missile and rocket barrage. One of the reasons that the Palestinians are experiencing higher casualties is that they have placed their rockets and missiles in populated areas to deter Israeli retaliation. Israel has no choice but to destroy them regardless of their location.
Munther, I found a link to this blog post on facebook and am posting an edited version of my comment to the facebook post:

I felt compelled to respond to the blog post you link to here.
For me the conclusion drawn by the author is completely illogical. To follow the sentiment of the article: “…by giving the war a religious narrative, it no longer is a conflict over land. Justice is no longer the real issue. Occupation is no longer the problem. The removal of the unjust siege on Gaza is no longer the goal. Instead, people are driven by hate and a religious, and often exclusive, cause." with yet another, this time Christian, response to the conflict is just another way of escalating the religious narrative. The phenomenon becomes God (Jewish) vs God (Islamic) vs God (Christian) with the author’s conclusion being that, in his view, his Christian interpretation of the scriptures gives the best approach.


I agree with much of the quoted passage and therefore cannot accept your quoting of the scriptures to back it up.
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Coming back to re-read this blog post reminds me once again why I 've made a decision to visit Israel-Palestine this May. What you said about God "is with the oppressed and needy. He is against the violence of both sides." is so right on, and that has encouraged me to do something for peace. It's so easy for someone like me, who lives in the U.S. to be a "joyful peace talker" rather than a "blessed peacemaker" because I am not living in a conflict-torn land. I hope to understand Jesus’ teaching of “blessed are the peacemakers” and what it means to preach a message of hope and peace in a context full of hostility and injustice. I will be coming with 3 more people and we will be staying at Tent of Nations for a week, hopefully we will get to join a field trip to visit a refugee camp, and meet other peace organizations during our 10 days stay :)