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I Went to Israel Looking for Moral Clarity. Here Is What I Found.

Israel
Photo by Dale Chamberlain

As I sat with a group of American journalists at Tulip Winery in Kiryat Tivon, Israel, I might have been forgiven for not realizing the nation is at war. Nestled in an idyllic hillside, the tasting room is positioned on the property of Kfar Tikvah, a community for people with special needs. 

In English, Kfar Tikvah translates to “Village of Hope,” and the community provides a space for more than 220 people with developmental disabilities to live and work. A number of them work at Tulip, which produces award-winning wines. 

Yuval, who has worked alongside residents of Kfar Tikvah at Tulip for several years, told us that when the winery was founded in 2003, its story was intentionally not publicized. The winery’s founders wanted Tulip to be known for its wines. 

It was only after garnering both national and international recognition that Tulip Winery introduced itself to the world. Now, its most popular wine features artwork on its bottle that was created by a man with special needs

As Yuval spoke to us, he wrapped his arm around a resident who approached him, speaking to him affectionately in Hebrew. 

The war has affected operations at Tulip. An entire crop of grapes, which had been growing on a vineyard in the northern region of Israel, was lost after Hezbollah launched an airstrike. 

In the past eight months, much more than grapes has been lost. 

On Oct. 7, 2023, Hamas and other Palestinian militant groups coordinated to launch an incursion from the Gaza Strip into the southern region of Israel, firing at least 3,000 rockets and invading with paragliders and ground forces. Fighters terrorized civilians, committing sexual violence and other atrocities. 

In total, the attackers killed 1,139 people and took 250 others hostage. It was the deadliest attack on the Jewish people since the Holocaust. Since that day, Israel and Hamas have been at war. 

More than 100 hostages remain unaccounted for. Their pictures can be found on posters throughout Israel, alongside these words: “Bring them home now.”

The war has resulted in heavy losses. More than 1,400 Israelis have been killed. For Palestinians, the death toll is more than 35,000, which has led to international criticism of Israel. Charges of genocide have even been brought before the International Court of Justice. 

Nevertheless, others have pointed out that, assuming the casualty counts given by the Gaza Health Ministry are accurate, the civilian to combatant casualty ratio is less than two to one. That’s a remarkably low figure for modern urban warfare—lower than many United States-backed military operations in recent decades. 

In fact, the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) has consistently ceded tactical advantage to warn Palestinian citizens to evacuate. 

If these reports are correct, the manner in which the IDF has operated in Gaza is consistent both with international law and the “Just War” theology held by many Christians throughout history—including a large swath of American evangelicals. 

Even still, Gazan civilians are living through a grave humanitarian crisis, as clean water, food, and access to medical care are all in short supply. Many were struggling to get by before the war began, and conditions have severely worsened since October. 

In the words of American General William Sherman, war is hell. And both Jews and Arabs in Israel and Palestine have been living through it for the better part of a year. 

While civilians in large parts of Israel are living in relative safety, and many are striving to cultivate joy amid adverse circumstances, the war looms like a dark cloud. In cities like Jerusalem and Tel Aviv, young soldiers on leave can be seen savoring moments of normalcy with friends. But while they wear street clothes, rifles are slung across their shoulders, and they stand ready to return to war at a moment’s notice. 

Many of them are barely older than the students at my church’s youth group. 

As I sat across from Sharon at dinner one night, she lived in the tension of serving as our group’s tour guide while knowing that her son was due back in Gaza the next day.