The cover of Harry Hagopian's bookI DECIDED several weeks ago that it was time to write another article for Ekklesia, following a long absence from its web pages. Ekklesia published my second book in 2019, and may hopefully be able to produce an edited and updated second edition in the near future. So much has happened over the past five years, but Keeping Faith With Hope: The Challenge of Israel–Palestine continues to provide the kind of detailed background that is often missing from news reporting.

I could, of course, write about Armenian issues, ranging from the still unfulfilled recognition by the UK of the Armenian Genocide through to the serious political problems faced by Armenians in their Republic in the South Caucasus. I have done this many times before. But what most evidently presses right now is the calamity that is unfolding in front of our eyes in Gaza, which remains at the core of so many challenges across the vast Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region.

The Gaza-Israel war exploded again on 7 October 2023 with the terror attack against the Jewish-only Israeli settlements in the Gaza envelope, followed two days later by the first of many waves of retaliatory attacks by Israel against Gaza which have devastated a whole geographical area, resulted in well over 31,000 deaths (if you count those victims still under the rubble), and led to the forcible transfer of almost two million Palestinians. As a Christian living through the Lenten season, how can I introduce any element of hope into a situation that is so soaked in darkness and despair?

This is where the Rev Dr Munther Isaac leapt to mind. In fact, some of you may have spotted him on your social media networks during Christmas week, or even attended one of his public talks at the Bloomsbury Baptist Church in London, where Ekklesia itself was headquartered for a time. Munther is the Evangelical Lutheran pastor of Christmas Church in Bethlehem, and also Dean of Studies at the Bethlehem Bible College – in the same town that witnessed the mystery of the incarnation and the birth of Jesus Christ, and of which millions sing every Christmas.

This young pastor has been an outspoken critic of the principalities and powers who have forsaken Gazan Palestinians to their deadly fate in a war pitting a mighty Israeli army, Goliath, against a ragtag group of Palestinian militants, David. This conflict is rooted in a theology of Empire, as Munther Isaac describes it. How ironic that Israel, often depicted as David, has now assumed the role of Goliath.

Ever since the terror attack against Israeli civilians on 7 October last year, and the fires of war that were unleashed subsequently on Gaza, this tiny landmass of 141 square miles and two million inhabitants has suffered starvation and disease as well as deaths and injuries. Munther Isaac has been using both social media and personal agency to voice his grief and rage at what is happening there, calling for global solidarity and also excoriating those Christians in the West who have stood by silently – idly – and justified their indifference or inaction with over-rehearsed political mantras of supposed neutrality, or even reproducing arguments from the Old Testament about standing shoulder-to-shoulder (my words) with Israel. He has also accused some Christian groups, largely in the USA, of being actively un-Christian in their response, adding “we will not forget”. This is a chilling reminder of what people have also said after the Second World War and numerous other conflicts.

In this conflict, many political and religious leaders in the USA and Western Europe have been helpless if not guileless. From the moment the 7 October attack took place, they adopted a compassionate approach to the tragedy that had hit Jewish settlers in the Gaza envelope. However, few managed to extend this same truthful compassion towards the Palestinian men, women and children who were being disposed of by an Israeli military titan in Gaza as if they were mere cannon fodder. Why this muted silence from many religious leaders? I often ask myself this question, and draw some very uncomfortable conclusions about my/our Christian faith.

Arab political leaders have also appeared confused, and unable to present a united front against Israeli aggression or Western indifference and complicity. During times of painful reflection, I understand why the revolutionary movements in the MENA region started in 2010: the Arab peoples and their leaders live in two distinct and separate realities.

So it has been left to the Global South to take action against the traumatising effect of this war. This led South Africa to take the case to the International Court of Justice, the principal judicial organ of the UN located at the Peace Palace in The Hague, seeking a ‘Cease and Desist’ Order to stop the Israeli military juggernaut in Gaza. South Africa, of course, often comes to mind because of the system of apartheid that lasted there until the 1990s, when it was expunged and there was a level of reconciliation – not least due to the efforts of key figures like Nelson Mandela and Archbishop Desmond Tutu.

As I write about the Gaza Strip, it is incumbent upon all of us to remind ourselves about the tensions being ramped up in the West Bank, too. In fact, it is more likely that you have visited the West Bank (Bethlehem, for example) because it is easier to get there than to visit Gaza, which has become an open-air prison as a result of 16 years of punishing border closures. Bethlehem and Jerusalem also have the attraction to visitors of being the sites where the biblical story unfolded – although we often forget to mention that Gaza itself has a tiny but significant Christian community of Greek Orthodox and Catholic Palestinians, as well as institutions such as the Caritas agency or the Al-Ahli Hospital, which is run by the Anglican Church in Jerusalem.

So where does all this leave us at the end of the Lenten season, and with Easter approaching? How elusive is real hope? What saddens me about the situation in the occupied Palestinian territories, and more immediately the vicious war in Gaza, is that hope seems to be in mortal combat with despair. It is perhaps easier for those living thousands of miles away to indulge in sophistry about what is happening, or to quibble with the unimaginable horrors being experienced in this region without truly appreciating the searing hopelessness that is preying upon peoples’ hearts there. As James Abbott, presenter of Middle East Analysis, pointed out in a recent podcast, many Western people’s idea of trauma is when they do not find toilet rolls in a supermarket during a pandemic. For Gazan Palestinians, it is the existential attempt to keep limbs attached to bodies and the desparate quest not to be blown to smithereens – as has happened time and again over the past five months.

It is no secret that much of the region is a tinderbox, from Lebanon and Iraq all the way through to Syria and Yemen. And it is also no secret at all (for many analysts, and increasingly to a wider public) that the current Israeli government is harbouring a number of proto-fascist ministers actively disinterested in peace. So people of faith and wisdom surely need to congregate around one word that resonates most for me both as a Christian believer and also a legal scholar: justice. What the region needs desperately is a form of justice that challenges the brutal antithesis between hope and despair. How might this happen?

I still recall a fateful time when the late Yassir Arafat sided with Iraq against Kuwait following President Saddam Hussein’s invasion of this oil-rich country in 1990. Everyone I know said that Palestinian hopes for a resolution of the conflict had thereby been checkmated for good. Yet, only six months later, the Madrid conference was convened, and this eventually led to the much maligned Oslo process. I also recall the withdrawal (‘disengagement’) by the late PM Ariel Sharon from Gaza in 2005, following the second Intifada.

With the right people at the helm at a particular moment, coupled with the ‘Arab Initiative for peace’, which has actually been on the table since 2002 and has been adopted by all Arab countries, I believe that it is indeed possible to re-humanise this dehumanising conflict by reclaiming a proper quest for justice and ensuring that Palestinians secure their self-determination. This is what justice entails. Otherwise, there will simply be no peace in the region (and well beyond), no matter what the politicians think. Bluntly put, if you want peace, you must work for justice. Do we dare walk the walk for justice as much as we talk the talk about it? Are Christians, in particular, willing to act prophetically enough at a time when they are preparing for Easter, and the message of new life emerging from the darkness of the tomb?


© Harry Hagopian is an international lawyer, an ecumenical adviser on MENA issue, an alternative dispute resolution facilitator, and a second-track negotiator for the historic churches in Jerusalem. His website is and his You-Tube channel can be found here. He is an Ekklesia associate. His book Keeping Faith With Hope: The Challenge of Israel–Palestine is available here. His recent Ekklesia columns can be found here, and archived ones here.