The Gaza Strip is about twice the size of Washington, D.C. (Graphic: www.cia.gov)
News that even in these straitened times international donors have responded so generously to the needs of Gaza is very welcome.
Not just the ravages of the recent war (if so one-sided a conflict can be given that name) but years of economic decline need to be put right, with a modern-day Marshall Plan for the region.
In that great effort, Israel holds the key. It has justifiable fears for its own security, and is right to fear that Hamas will attempt to appropriate for its own use what it is given for the relief of the people. However, it is essential that it eases the passage of aid and raw materials over the border crossings it controls. Many of the restrictions it has imposed—on food and medicines, for instance—look like, and are perceived as, the petty exactions of a conqueror rather than sensible precautions against renewed violence. They feed hostility, they do not disarm it.
The cessation of open warfare, though it could not come too soon, was—as everyone realised—a truce rather than real peace. That the present situation should continue very much longer is impossible. Gaza cannot stand it, and neither will the international community—led, as it now is, by an America which has shown a renewed interest in and commitment to the Middle East.
We may pray for a just and lasting settlement, acknowledging that no one will feel that they have got everything to which they are entitled. Even that is a long way away, and with a new right-wing Israeli government it may be further away than ever.
But even when—and let us have faith to believe in the when, rather than the if—an acceptable agreement is reached, there will be the hatred and fear of generations to deal with. For that sort of work, the patient and faithful work of God's people, witnessing to peace and bearing costly testimony to sacrificial love, is essential. For that reason, the Church in the Holy Land must be strengthened, and the peacemakers must be blessed with prayer, understanding and financial support.
There are Christians in that region whose Spirit-inspired moral courage is truly astonishing. If there is to be real peace there, instead of a temporary cessation of violence, it is in them and people like them that hope lies.
Rev. Mark Woods is editor of Britain's Baptist Times, where this column first appeared.