MCC statement on Gaza

If Jesus is under the rubble, where are we?

“A voice was heard in Ramah, wailing and loud lamentation, Rachel weeping for her children; she refused to be consoled, because they are no more.” (Matthew 2:18)

In this holy season of Christmas, as we mark the miracle of the birth of Jesus, we cannot forget the cries that we hear from Bethlehem today. In Bethlehem, as in Gaza City, in Sderot, in Khan Younis, mothers and fathers are wailing for their lost children. Children are wailing for their lost parents.

For more than a century, we at Mennonite Central Committee (MCC) have been listening to the cries of our partners and the communities where we serve – with their voices shaping how we respond.

May each of us hear the weeping and listen to the cries of pastors, like the Rev. Munther Isaac of Evangelical Lutheran Christmas Church in Bethlehem, who ask us to take the pain their congregations are experiencing – and to bring it into our hearts, our prayers and our actions.

Seeing the image of Christ in each child pulled from the devastation, Isaac and his congregation created a nativity with the Christ child in a pile of rubble, Mary and Joseph reaching out to the baby.

“If Jesus is to be born today, he would be born in Gaza under the rubble in a sign of solidarity with us,” Isaac says. “This is what Immanuel means – precisely that he is with us in the midst of our pain and suffering. This is how we understand it, and this is the message of Christmas to us.”

If Jesus is under the rubble, where are we?

Following the brutal Hamas attacks of October 7, which left more than 1,100 Israelis dead, the collective punishment the Israeli military has unleashed on Gaza is nothing short of apocalyptic. In just over two months, more than 20,000 Palestinians, including more than 7,000 children, have been killed by the bombing campaign and ground invasion—largely funded, supplied and supported by the U.S. government.

The staggering number of casualties is difficult to comprehend and each life, each person formed in the image of God, is precious. Each loss of a child, parent, brother or sister is equally world shattering.

In one appalling example, this December two women inside the grounds of the Holy Family Church, a central place of refuge for Christians in the northern part of Gaza, were shot and killed by Israeli soldiers. Tanks fired on a convent on the church grounds that provided care for 54 people with disabilities. The church’s electricity and fuel sources were destroyed, disabling the respirators.

Our partners and pastors in Palestine, like the Rev. Ashraf Tannous, pastor of Evangelical Lutheran Church of the Reformation in Beit Jala, Bethlehem, are asking whether we are hearing the cries of the church and seeing the humanity of the people of this land.

“As a pastor praying the Lord’s Prayer, I’m having difficulty, especially when I pray the first words of the Lord’s Prayer, when I say ‘Our Father,’” Tannous shares, saying it feels like many Christians aren’t including him and his congregation in the shared family of faith.

“They are not recognizing the fact that as a Christian congregation praying and saying ‘Our Father’ means that I am responsible of [sic] the other Christians around this world, and especially those who are living under lots of difficulties, and especially today the Palestinians who are living under war, under genocide.”

If Jesus is under the rubble, where are we?

Mennonite Central Committee began its work in Palestine and Israel in 1949 as a response to the Nakba, or the “catastrophe.” As many as 750,000 Palestinians were displaced when the new state of Israel was established on land inhabited for centuries by Palestinians. Many of those who call Gaza home are refugees, descendants of those displaced in 1948.

MCC works with and walks alongside Palestinian and Israeli partners seeking a just peace for all who live on the land. Through our partners, MCC is responding to humanitarian needs in Gaza, but as conditions continue to deteriorate this has become increasingly challenging and dangerous.

According to the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, half of Gaza’s population is starving, in a situation of extreme or severe hunger, and 90% of the population regularly go without food for a whole day.

Recently, a staff member of one MCC partner organization in Gaza reported that, like most Gazans, members of their family had run out of flour. They risked returning to the home they had fled to retrieve the flour they left behind. But as they opened the door, they were critically injured by an explosion. This is but one example of how dire the situation in Gaza has become, with food and water increasingly scarce.

Out of a population of 2.2 million, an estimated 1.9 million people have been displaced from their homes. More than half of the homes in Gaza have been damaged or destroyed. More than 50,000 people have been injured, while the medical system in Gaza has collapsed from a lack of supplies, electricity and safety.

Until the Israeli government stops dropping bombs, opens more border crossings and allows more fuel for vehicles, sufficient humanitarian aid will not reach those who desperately need it.

‘Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not take care of you?’ Then he will answer them, ‘Truly I tell you, just as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to me.’ (Matthew 25:44b-45)

If Jesus is under the rubble, where are we?

Our partners, both Palestinian and Israeli, fear the ongoing catastrophe has reached a new and terrible zenith. The current situation is beyond tragic, and it will take years to address the repercussions of the death and destruction. Violence will not bring security, nor a lasting peace.

“The cost in human lives right now is just astronomic,” says Rachel Beitarie, Director of Zochrot, an Israeli MCC partner. “It brings unfathomable misery to Gaza, but beyond Gaza, as well, to all Palestinians and Israelis as well in this mindset of revenge and militaristic power.... This is what brought us to October 7. And to all the violence that we experienced. So, we must choose a different path.”

Beitarie went on to urge, “When you stand in solidarity with Palestinians, when you hold your governments accountable, you are not against Jews, you’re not against Israeli Jews. You’re doing this for us as well, for our safety, for our future.”

Pastors like Isaac and Tannous are pleading with us to speak out for the killing to end now.

In response, we, as citizens of countries that continue to provide military and political cover to continue this war, can witness to our governments, urging them to end their role in this violence and all violence, call for the accountability of all parties, and plead with them to commit to work toward a lasting peace. We are seeing the results of Canadians speaking up for change, but we know more is needed. Specifically, we ask policymakers in the U.S. and Canada to:

  1. Negotiate for an immediate and permanent ceasefire.
  2. Pursue all means to greatly expand humanitarian aid access into Gaza.
  3. Call on all parties to negotiate a just and shared vision of the future.

We are grateful for the generous financial support, the prayers and the advocacy actions of MCC supporters to date. May each action we take be grounded in prayer. Recognizing that all our actions come out of our reliance on God’s redeeming work in the world, let us pray that God would work in miraculous ways in the hearts and minds of leaders on all sides of the conflict and leaders throughout the world who have influence; that those who are suffering would experience Jesus’ comfort and healing.

Here are some opportunities to listen to the voices of those we partner with in the region. Hear four Palestinian pastors share in a recent webinar. Read Christmas under the rubble: Palestinian pastors call for sober Christmas observance. See Palestinian Christians share what they want Christians from around the world to know in light of the conflict in Gaza, and Message from an MCC partner in Israel. Listen to Everyone is entitled to dignity and safety, a Nov. 1 episode of Relief, Development and Podcast featuring MCC’s representatives for Jordan, Palestine and Israel. Or explore MCC and Palestine and Israel: Frequently asked questions.

This Christmas, please join us in mourning the immense loss of life in the birthplace of Jesus and weeping with all those suffering under the weight of injustice. In the midst of devastation and grief, may the coming of Immanuel—God with us—bring comfort and hope. And, as we reflect on the birth of Christ, may we find the clarity to recognize Jesus in the rubble and the strength to join our voices with those who cry for justice and peace.