A large number of churches from around the world this past week joined the international call for a cease-fire between Hamas and Israel as the conflict entered its second week and the death toll approached nearly 1,000 lives lost.
Christian leaders in the United Kingdom, including the Rt. Rev. Michael Langrish, the Bishop of Exeter joined with Jewish rabbis and Muslim leaders on Friday to urge British Prime Minister Gordon Brown to renew efforts to end the raging violence between Gaza and Israel.
“Behind all the horrors of death and destruction in Gaza are human faces and human stories,” said Langrish in a statement. “Behind all the statistics for those killed and wounded, on either side, are human beings, each one a child of God.”
The faith leaders – which include Rabbi Danny Rich, head of the organization Liberal Judaism and Dr. Muhammad Abdul Bari, secretary-general of The Muslim Council of Britain – warned that continued violence in Gaza will only “exacerbate tensions and nurture hatred.”
Since the fighting began on Dec. 27, more than 850 Palestinians and 13 Israelis have been killed, according to Reuters. Among the casualties are children, who make up 50 percent of Gaza’s population, and innocent civilians.
More than 230 children have been killed thus far in Gaza, including one Palestinian girl during Sunday’s fighting, according to CNN. Palestinian medical sources say about 3,300 people have been wounded.
Israel says it is only targeting Hamas and has blamed the extremist Muslim group for using civilians as human shield.
Despite the U.N. Security Council’s call to stop the conflict this past week, Israel and Hamas on Sunday both vowed to keep fighting. Hamas’s exiled leader, Khaled Meshaal, said his group will not cease fighting until Israel ends its military offensive and lifts the blockade on the Gaza Strip, according to Reuters.
Israel, meanwhile, is demanding a complete stop to Hamas rocket fire as well as regional and international guarantees to a stop in arms smuggling to Hamas through Egypt.
On Sunday, one day after about a dozen rockets were fired into Israel, two rockets hit the southern town of Beersheba, 26 miles inside Israel
Two chief rabbis of Israel this past week told visiting Lutheran leaders from the United States and Canada about the suffering of Israelis living in southern Israel who have been subjected to continuous rocket firing by Hamas for nearly eight years.
“When you return to your countries, please be ambassadors to our feelings,” said Rabbi Yona Metzger to the bishops of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America and the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Canada. “We don’t want war. We don’t want to kill innocent people. We want only to defend ourselves.”
Metzger and his colleague, Rabbi Shlomo Amar, said they feel “deep distress” for the loss of innocent lives in the Gaza conflict.
Other churches and denominations that have called for a cease-fire and peace between Israel and Gaza this past week include the World Council of Churches, the World Alliance of Reformed Churches, the Presbyterian Church USA, the Lutheran Church – Missouri Synod, and the Church of the Brethren.
Brethren Disaster Ministries has requested an $8,000 grant to help with the work of Church World Service in Gaza, while the relief arm of the Baptist World Alliance is working in Egypt to provide medical care to people who have fled from Gaza.
U.K.-based Barnabas Fund is meanwhile working with the Palestinian Bible Society, the Bible Society in Israel and the Arab Israeli Bible Society to provide food coupons to 400 Christian families in Gaza. The coupons can be exchanged for food at local grocery stores.
About 1,500 Arab Christians live among the 1.5 million people who inhabit the Gaza Strip, although some have fled because of the violence, according to SAT-7, the Christian television service for the Middle East.