COLUMN | Praying for Peace


Psalm 13 begins with the painful lament, “How long, O LORD?” This cry to God is on my heart whenever I see news of the latest gun. Violence, terrorist attack or outbreak of violence in the world. As of this writing, it’s been 609 days since Russia invaded Ukraine on February 24th last year. As of tomorrow it will be exactly 3 weeks since Hamas waged a terrorist attack on Israel, precipitating a counter attack by the Israel Defense Forces on Gaza. In both “theaters of war,” thousands of military combatants and innocent civilians – men, women and children – have lost their lives. Millions have been displaced. “How long, O LORD?”

I have visited Israel and the West Bank a couple times in my life. I have Jewish friends. I have Palestinian Christian friends. It’s hard to know how to pray other than “let there be peace for all.” There is never justification for terrorist violence. Full Stop. But there are different definitions of “terrorism.” Injustice and unjust violence can be attributed to both Israelis and Palestinians over the history of the modern state of Israel.

During a trip to Ramallah in the West Bank in the late 1980’s I experienced the Intifada.

I went to Ramallah to meet with Palestinian doctors and lawyers to hear “their side of the story.” It was humbling to hear of the tear gas and tit for tat violence going on between the Palestinian demonstrators and Israeli military forces policing the city. As my guide and I left the building and were in the middle of crossing a wide thoroughfare, all hell broke loose. Above us to the right coming down a hill was a group of demonstrators throwing stones and burning tires. Coming from beside us along the road came an Israeli security detail with an armored personnel carrier. Israeli snipers were walking along the roof tops above the security detachment. They began firing warning shots at the demonstrators behind us. It all happened so fast. My adrenalin shot through the roof and we jumped back to the corner of the street from where we had come and a shopkeeper opened a door for us to duck into for safety. He ushered us to the back of his shop where we found an alley and ran as fast and far away from the violence as we could. I wrote an article about the incident for the local paper which offered a critique of the Israeli approach to managing the Palestinians.

Israelis and Palestinians who desire peace ask that you pray for peace for us all.


My Jewish friends were furious. They thought I wasn’t being fair, and to be honest, I probably wasn’t. I relayed as best I could the truth of my experience of Israeli violence against unarmed teenagers, but left out the larger context of bus-bombings and an attempt by Israelis to secure the safety of their citizens. But, of course my Palestinian friends would point to the unjust acquisition of Palestinian land from the founding of the new state of Israel. Hundreds of homes demolished overnight. But, of course the Jews had barely survived the Holocaust, and needed a homeland where they could defend themselves. And on and on it goes…The cycles of violence have repeating in the “Holy Land” for millennia. Violence will only lead to more violence.

So, what can we do? One of the gifts I enjoy in New Canaan is our Clergy Association fellowship. Last Wednesday Chapin Garner of the Congregational Church shared a statement that came from a group their community has supported for years, called the “PeacePlayers Middle East.” Jewish and Palestinian Children are selected at a young age to join a sports team and grow up playing together on the same team. As any of us who have played sports know, you develop life-long friends competing together. Because of the recent war, the teenage friends are not allowed to play together, but they went online to formulate a statement together. I think it is worth sharing as the thoughts of these youth gave me hope:

Encouragement from Israeli & Palestinian Youth who are Friends through PeacePlayers Middle East

Navigating how to be an ally to Israelis and Palestinians is complex, and we encourage you to center on our shared humanity during this time. Continue to speak out against violence, and don’t get swept up in talking points. If you don’t know what to say, know this.

Your Palestinian friends are looking to you to know you see their humanity and their right to a life without disenfranchisement.

Your Jewish friends are looking to you to know you do not support the loss of innocent Jewish lives and that their Jewish identity does not mean they support the actions of the Israeli government.

Your Palestinian friends are looking at you to demonstrate you don’t equate their existence to Hamas and that additional innocent people shouldn’t face starvation, continuous violence, and the stripping of their human rights.

Your Jewish friends also want you to know their grief may be complex, and they deserve time to process, and that their morning is not an endorsement of violence. Their fears and grief are valid and have a historical basis.

While there are loud extremists on all sides, there are even more people who are scared and trying to process, figuring out how to take action, how to grieve, and wondering how this cycle of violence can stop.

You can be critical of Hamas and the Israeli government while holding space and compassion for Jewish and Palestinian people. We need a solution that centers on humanity. We cannot continue to justify human rights violations, and we must confront the reality that the failure to solve this conflict has allowed tensions to boil over in a way that puts innocent people at risk.

Israelis and Palestinians who desire peace ask that you pray for peace for us all.

Indeed, we must pray for peace, שלום ,سلام, for us all. “How long, O LORD?”

However long it takes.

The Rev. Dr. Scott Herr is one of the pastors of the First Presbyterian Church in New Canaan.

Related Posts