Written by: Jackie de Lange, director of JOY! Travel
Article source: JOY! Magazine

In a world often divided by conflict and strife, there are moments that remind us of our shared humanity. Such was the case during a recent fact-finding peace mission to Israel and the Gaza Envelope, where a group of politicians and Christian leaders was hosted by South African Friends of Israel (SAFI), the International Christian Embassy Jerusalem (ICEJ), and Diploact.

Burnt-out cars near the Nova festival site.

A fact-finding peace mission trip
This trip was birthed out of a desire for the Christian community to show solidarity towards the citizens of Israel and the victims of October 7th – in spite of our government’s hostile stance. We embarked on a journey that would not only inform our perspectives, but also deeply move and humble us as we met with families of the hostages, engaged with Israeli diplomats, and interacted with ordinary citizens. What unfolded over the course of our trip was a tapestry of experiences that left an indelible mark on each of us.

The burnt-out houses and kiddies’ playgrounds at Kibbutz Nir Oz were harrowing to behold.

Grassroots encounters
Our first day saw us driving to Judea and Samaria (known by anti-Israel critics as “the occupied West Bank”). Here we visited Shiloh, the ancient biblical site of the first tabernacle and the religious and military capital of Israel during the times of the Judges. We prayed for the land and people of Israel and listened to a security officer who shared the accurate and truthful side of the “settler violence” one hears about in the secular media. Of course, his firsthand accounts shed light on the very precarious position Jewish residents find themselves in daily against Muslim extremists who incite violence and destroy property. That evening, we were privileged to enjoy a Shabbat dinner with a local family in Jerusalem – a deeply moving experience for all. What surprised this family most was the fact that, as South Africans, we came in peace and not in anger, a marked departure from the antisemitic stance of our Hamas-friendly government.

Hostage Square.

Visiting the Gaza Envelope sites
Midway through the tour, we visited the Gaza Envelope – an area bordering the Gaza strip in Southern Israel that includes the site of the Nova festival and several kibbutzim that were terrorised that fateful day. We departed early morning from our hotel, stopping first at the dumping site of burnt-out cars destroyed by Hamas. Seeing the cars and ambulances riddled with bullets and burnt beyond repair was shocking. Our group was left speechless realising that the soot on these vehicles possibly contained the ashes of victims beheaded and burnt alive.

A Hamas terror tunnel replica.

Forsaken but not forgotten
As we drove away from the site, a bus filled with young soldiers pulled up (they are brought to these sites to inspire bravery and commitment to their cause). Several members of our group chatted to the conscripts and handed them beanies sown lovingly by South African residents. The tears flowed as these soldiers received gifts and prayers from our group.

We then stopped at the site of the Nova music festival (less than 6 km from Gaza) where over 360 mainly young people were killed and countless others abducted. Seeing the posters with these young faces was too much for some of the group, and one pastor broke down crying, imagining the chaos as the terrorists encircled the site and how terrified the victims would have been as they were dragged away on motorbikes.

The Nova site memorial.

Despite people’s opinions about the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, every human should be concerned for the hostages – praying and advocating for their return home. Sadly, the 130+ still in captivity have been largely forgotten by the media (and world).

We cannot stay silent
Our final stop was Kibbutz Nir Oz, a site decimated by Hamas. We walked amongst burnt-out homes and heard stories from residents (who only survived because they were away that fateful day). As we listened to their stories and shared in their hardships, our hearts were pierced by the calculated horrors these victims endured.

A pastor prays and plays for peace.

En route home we stopped at Hostage Square in Tel Aviv, an informal memorial site to advocate for the hostages. We heard from a hostage family and wept with the grandfather as he recounted the nightmare they face, with their son still in captivity. As we boarded our plane home, our hearts were heavy with the weight of all we had seen, but amidst the sorrow, there was also a glimmer of hope and resolve – a belief that through our collective efforts, good will triumph over evil (but not if we stay silent)! Thank you to SAFI and ICEJ for your critical efforts.

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Date published: 17/05/2024
Feature image: Our delegation at the Israeli Parliament.

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