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Christmas Wishes for “Peace on Earth” Are Empty Without Ceasefire in Gaza

How can so many US Christians sing “peace on Earth” without opposing US support for the genocide unfolding in Gaza?

Palestinians inspect the rubble of destroyed buildings after heavy Israeli bombardment of the Al-Maghazi camp in the central Gaza Strip, on December 25, 2023, in Deir Al-Balah. Gaza's Ministry of Health said more than 70 people were killed.

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The message of Christmas has traditionally involved prayers for goodwill toward all and “peace on Earth,” but through their opposition to ceasefire in Gaza, most Western Christians are affirming the opposite values: that violence, weapons and destruction are the only response to real and perceived enemies.

The U.S. Christian Palestinian communities that I am a part of are truly puzzled at the behavior of the many Western Christians who seem to see no dissonance between the message of love and peace that is at the heart of our shared religion, and their backing for Israeli’s military assault against Palestinian civilians, which has killed more than 20,000 people in Gaza alone within the last three months.

In Christian scripture, we are told that on Christmas, the angels proclaimed to the shepherds abiding in the fields outside Bethlehem the good news that Jesus was born and that he was ushering in a new Kingdom of God — a kingdom of love and peace that contrasted with their current reality of Roman occupation, oppressive government and suffering.

In modern-day Bethlehem, for a Palestinian city in the occupied West Bank, the same urgent need for transformation would seem to apply. People are living under severe oppression and military occupation imposed by the Israeli military. Hatred and revenge seem to be the order of the day, yet the message of Christmas has yet to be proclaimed: Palestinians living under these conditions still dream of freedom for captives, justice for the oppressed, and a new world order based not on brute military strength but on justice and peace.

Before October 2023, the evils of the military occupation, the suppression of the Palestinians and the 16-year siege of the Gaza Strip, tantamount to an open-air prison, hardly registered on the conscience of most U.S. Christians. And when Israel responded to the October 7 Hamas attack with disproportionate retaliation, the West responded by accepting the Israeli narrative that such evil needs to be destroyed and eradicated by overwhelming military force.

What followed was the most harrowing campaign of violence against the entire population of Gaza, denied water, food, fuel, medicines, and subjected to a massive bombardment not seen since World War II.

As of this writing, over 20,000 Gazans have been slaughtered, the vast majority of them women and children. Over 1.9 million of the 2.2 million population is now homeless, still subjected to relentless bombing, with no protection, no shelters or anywhere to run to, as Israel continues to pummel them like fish in a barrel. This campaign is not only allowed, but actively supported by the United States, which supplies 2,000-pound bombs to be dropped on the hapless Palestinians. More importantly, it supplies a diplomatic umbrella that justifies and legitimizes what has been described as an ongoing genocide of apocalyptic proportions, and provides Israel relative immunity from international law, the International Criminal Court and outraged international public opinion.

And where do Christians and the Church stand in all this? Where is the message of Christmas, and of peace on Earth? It is almost unheard and unheeded, as Christians dutifully follow the official party line.

In the United States, this policy has been so uniformly accepted by the mainstream media that those who even called for a ceasefire or a de-escalation and reduction in hostilities, or for unencumbered humanitarian assistance to reduce the unbelievable suffering, have been frowned upon and called antisemitic. The general atmosphere is that of demonizing Hamas, and all Palestinians, and applauding the campaign for their destruction, even at the cost of massive suffering for innocent Palestinian civilians.

And where do Christians and the Church stand in all this? Where is the message of Christmas, and of peace on Earth? I fear it is almost unheard and unheeded, as Christians dutifully follow the official party line, as slavishly as people do in totalitarian regimes.

In November, a group of concerned Christian Palestinians attempted to bring a message of peace to a number of churches in the Philadelphia area. They brought with them Muslim Americans and Jewish Americans who stood outside a number of churches with placards and leaflets asking churchgoers to pray for Gaza and call for a ceasefire. They also called for the release of captives on both sides, and primarily asked for prayers. In most cases, they were met with suspicion, resistance and reluctance. But in some cases, they were welcomed into the churches for conversations that later yielded dramatic results: joint prayers for peace and a ceasefire.

Anytime an attack occurs, or lives are lost, we are called to choose between two worldviews in our response. One worldview holds that violence, bombings and brutal force is the only method available and should be pursued relentlessly until the enemy is vanquished, regardless of the cost in lives and destruction for civilians on both sides. This is almost a natural human response, and it has many followers and defenders. It seems to be the dominant view.

But an alternative worldview insists on the way of peace, reconciliation, justice and tolerance. As a Christian, I believe that this second world view more accurately reflects the ethics at the heart of my religion: The way of peace is the way of Jesus and of sacrificial love. Sometimes it appears naive, and is often misunderstood and ridiculed. Sometimes it even requires sacrifices, and entails loss of friends, careers and personal comforts. Those who claim to follow the way of Jesus cannot ignore the commandment to love our neighbors and not to respond to evil with evil, but with love.

This Christmas, more than any other time of the year, and precisely in the land where Jesus was born, I hope it is this second worldview that will prevail. I hope that my fellow Christians will not glibly sing “peace on Earth” in their carols, but rather reflect more deeply on what this would entail: Let there be peace on Earth, and let it begin with me.

At the very least, we Christians here in the United States should call for an immediate ceasefire in Gaza, and a just and lasting peace in the Holy Land.

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