Sahar Qumsiyeh: Pray for everyone in the Holy Land, whether they be Israeli or Palestinian

I hope that Americans will not support the killing of any civilians.

(Hatem Moussa | The Associated Press) Palestinians inspect the rubble of buildings hit by an Israeli airstrike at Al Shati Refugee Camp Thursday, Oct. 12, 2023. Israel's retaliation has escalated after Gaza's militant Hamas rulers launched an unprecedented attack on Israel Saturday, killing over 1,200 Israelis and taking captive dozens. Heavy Israeli airstrikes on the enclave has killed over 1,200 Palestinians.

I am a Palestinian Christian and a convert to The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. I was born in Jerusalem and grew up outside of Bethlehem in a Palestinian town that was roughly 80% Christian and 20% Muslim.

These days, I hear so many saying that they support Israel in its conflict with Palestinians, almost reflexively, without having ever spoken to a Palestinian about his or her experience. It’s not your fault. The U.S. media rarely shares the voices of Palestinians and their oppression under Israeli occupation.

I want to tell you my story.

First, to understand the current conflict, we should understand the history. This is not a conflict that started on Oct. 7. It started 75 years ago.

My people, the Palestinians, were those living in Palestine before the United Nations created the state of Israel there in 1948. The new Israeli government, wanting to create a homeland for Jews around the world, pushed Palestinians to the margins.

My people have now been squeezed into only 8% of their original land. There, poverty and misery are the default. We are surrounded by walls and checkpoints restricting our movement. Some of us live in Gaza, some live in the West Bank and some are refugees. I grew up under Israeli occupation, subjected to constant curfews, persecution, humiliation and racism.

My mom’s birth certificate was issued by the state of Palestine because she was born before 1948. However, now my people and I don’t have a nationality. As a result, I grew up believing that Palestinian lives didn’t matter, that the world hated the Palestinians and that God had forgotten us. I felt worthless, as if I were not a real human being.

It wasn’t until I was attending Brigham Young University (I had received a scholarship) in 1996 that I was introduced to The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. I embraced the Gospel with all my heart and got baptized. I experienced peace for the first time in my life as I started to follow Christ, the Prince of Peace. Sadly and ironically, however, my people may never experience peace while they live in the Holy Land.

[Read more: Utahns share their perspectives on what’s happening in Israel and Palestine]

I love my country. It is where the Savior was born and where He gave His life for us. It is a holy place. Now, as I read the news about what is happening in the Holy Land, my heart breaks. But what hurts more is seeing many Americans and fellow church members express unconditional support for Israel.

For many Palestinians, this continuous hurt and suffering turns to anger. Gaza is where 2 million Palestinians have been under siege by the Israeli military for the past 16 years. On Oct. 7, Hamas militants broke out of Gaza, attacking civilian Israelis and firing rockets into residential areas in Israel.

In response, Israel closed Gaza completely. The Israeli army cut off water, food, supplies, power, medicine and fuel from about 2 million civilians in Gaza. Since Oct. 7, Israel has dropped more than 4,000 tons of bombs on Gaza. I have seen children and entire families buried under the rubble. The images of Gaza look like a major earthquake leveled entire neighborhoods. I am sad and feel helpless as I watch those images.

I totally agree that Israel has the right to defend itself against Hamas. But Gaza is not Hamas. Hamas is not all Palestinians. The people of Gaza are not terrorists. Israel is bombing an entire city and starving its population in the hope of killing a few members of Hamas, but they are bringing pain, death and suffering to millions of innocent Palestinians at the same time.

I hope that Americans will not support the killing of any civilians. If you say that you condemn Hamas militants for killing Israeli civilians, please also condemn Israel for killing Palestinian civilians.

May we see all people as children of God and advocate for peace. May we pray for everyone in the Holy Land whether they be Israeli or Palestinian. May they be protected, comforted and strengthened.

Sahar Qumsiyeh

Sahar Qumsiyeh is a Palestinian. She was born in Jerusalem, Palestine, and grew up in Beit Sahour, a town close to Bethlehem. She is the youngest of six children and the only member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in her family. After obtaining a bachelor’s degree in mathematics from Bethlehem University, Sahar earned a master’s degree from BYU and a PhD from the Middle East Technical University in Turkey, both in statistics. She has taught at various universities in Palestine and worked for four years as a data analyst with the United Nations Relief and Works agency in Jerusalem. She currently teaches in the mathematics department at BYU-Idaho. She is also the author of “Peace for a Palestinian: One Woman’s Story of Faith Amidst War in the Holy Land.”

The views expressed here are her own and do not necessarily reflect those of her employer or church.

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