Genesis 12:1-3 “Now the LORD had said unto Abram, Get thee out of thy country, and from thy kindred, and from thy father’s house, unto a land that I will shew thee: And I will make of thee a great nation, and I will bless thee, and make thy name great; and thou shalt be a blessing: And I will bless them that bless thee, and curse him that curseth thee: and in thee shall all families of the earth be blessed.”

At the end of February, I made a long-overdue trip to Israel as a guest of the Israeli Defense Force (IDF). As a frequent news contributor for national security and international affairs topics, I have fielded an onslaught of interview questions during the last five months about the ongoing war between Israel and Hamas, and the situation in the broader Middle East. Thus, this two-day visit provided me the opportunity to express solidarity for Israel while better understanding the complex context of the conflict. The trip powerfully provided both.

Shortly after arriving at Ben Gurion Airport outside of Tel Aviv, the sobriety and gravity of situation was on full display. Walking to the airport exit, the terminal corridor was lined with pictures of those still held captive by Hamas, including the face of Lior Rudaeff whose picture I have been carrying around for weeks as a reminder of the Hamas-initiated tragedy. Several conversations quickly revealed that the national psyche was fundamentally impacted by the vulnerability that was revealed on the 7th of October. Everyone had lost someone close to them, and all had lost a collective expectation of safety. Strangers would ask one another – what time zone are you in? – a quick query to reveal how long a rocket launched from Gaza or southern Lebanon would take to reach their home. The answer for much of the population was measured in tens of seconds, with the natural follow-on – do you have your own bunker?

I began at the IDF Spokesperson Unit Headquarters, and was ushered into a room to view Bearing Witness – also known as The Film of Horrors. The closely-controlled 47-minute raw footage, largely taken by Hamas members themselves, displayed unimaginable barbarism and a rampant disregard for humanity. As video clips of mutilation and torture were graphically revealed, it was the joy of the perpetrators and those in Gaza when they returned with half dead bodies in the back of their Toyota pickup trucks, that was the most stunning. From the home of a family he had just slaughtered, a member of Hamas even took the time to call his mom to ecstatically share how he had just killed his tenth Jew.

With such vivid images still in my mind, it was a quick drive from Tel Aviv to the northeast corner of Gaza where that terror had vividly and tragically shaken the national psyche. From a lookout perch just outside a small city that was starting to come back to life, it was easy to gaze out into Gaza City and see and hear signs of ongoing fighting throughout the Gaza Strip. Our lookout city absorbed the wrath of three Hamas rockets shortly after we left, causing its population to scramble to their bunkers with seconds of warning – their time zone was essentially zero.

We paralleled the eastern edge of Gaza, passing trucks carrying tanks back from the front lines to their depot facilities for repair. We lingered outside Kibbutz Be’eri, where a hundred innocents had been slaughtered weeks before. We stopped at the killing fields of the Nova Film Festival where Bearing Witness had shown the joy of celebration quickly turn to the horror of terror on that fateful Sabbath morning in October.

It was easy to see how all Israelis consider this an existential threat. The distances between locations were minute and the hatred from the enemy was limitless. The next day while enroute to the West Bank, a quick stop at Yad Vashem, the World Holocaust Remembrance Center, provided a somber reminder that for Jews in a world brewing with antisemitism, they have nowhere else to go. It was Israel or extermination. Their small sliver of land, from the river to the sea, was the only thing they could count on. And even then, their leaders had let them down.

The nation of Israel is unified in their commitment to respond and survive, but there is a reckoning on the horizon for Prime Minister Netanyahu and the security failures that had allowed such a tragedy to occur on their own soil. IDF members still hang their heads in shame in public, feeling personal guilt that their shortcomings had allowed the undetected attack and that their lagged initial response was far less than their nation deserved. The IDF heroics since then have provided them a partial atonement.

In the midst of the national unity, a division is evident between Israel’s two top priorities in the conflict. The slogans Never Forget or Never Again are stark reminders of Israel’s commitment to defeat and destroy Hamas. Yet, as powerful as those reminders are, the slogan Bring Them Home Now! is the one that tugs on the heart strings of a population in mourning for those who may or may not be alive as hostages in the web of tunnels underneath Gaza. With daily hostage rallies from locations that flank the Ministry of Defense and ubiquitous marches throughout the country sorrowfully displaying pictures of those still held captive by Hamas, the pressure of Now! is palatable. It is clear that the population is eager to accept risk with the former objective to further the latter objective – Now!

The strategic elements of the conflict will play out in the days, weeks, months and years to come. Unrest in the West Bank during Ramadan is imminent. The necessity of resolving the threat of Hezbollah in the north is urgent. A plan for post-conflict governance in Gaza, and the proper balance of humanitarian support to suffering Palestinians, are long overdue. But, there is a lot of healing still needed for the population within Israel, and their efforts to recover from the attack from five months ago is largely unfinished. This reminder was punctuated during my early Sabbath morning walk through Ben Gurion Airport to my departure gate, where I walked down another corridor through another gauntlet of hostage pictures with faces who cry out to Bring Me Home Now!

PLEASE PRAY FOR ISRAEL IN THESE CONTINUED TOUGH TIMES AND PRAY FOR THE UNITED STATES TO BE A TRUE FRIEND TO THEM. God’s contingent promise stands ready to bless or to curse. May we be on the positive side of that ledger.