Walking the way of the cross amid Gaza conflict

24 Nov 2023

As a four-day ceasefire announced by Israel and Hamas takes effect in Gaza, the pastor of the Lutheran congregation in Jordan reflects on prospects for lasting peace across the war-torn region.

The Evangelical Lutheran Good Shepherd Church in Jordan

The Evangelical Lutheran Good Shepherd Church in Jordan. Photos: LWF/S. Kit

Pastor of Lutheran church in Jordan reflects on ceasefire in Gaza and prospects for lasting peace in the region 

(LWI) - “I am happy that there is a ceasefire, a time for people to breathe and seek refuge. I am not happy that it will only be four days. And I am really concerned about what happens after that,” says Rev. Imad Haddad of The Evangelical Lutheran Church in Jordan and the Holy Land (ELCJHL). There is talk about peace, he adds, but “what kind of peace will it be,” asks Haddad.  
As pastor of the small community of mostly Palestinian refugees attending the Lutheran Church of the Good Shepherd in Amman, Jordan, Rev. Haddad says the war in Gaza is having deep emotional and physical impact on people. Some members of his congregation have lost family members. Many of them experienced the wars of 1948 or 1967 and feel that they are living through the Nakba [Arabic word for the mass displacement of Palestinians from their homeland] again.” They have experienced despair, felt abandoned and are worried about the future of Palestinians in the Holy Land.  

Born and raised in Beit Jala, Haddad was ordained in the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Jordan and the Holy Land in 2008, serving in Beit Sahour and then Ramallah until moving with his wife and two daughters to Amman in 2020. “As a Palestinian,” he says, “I was dehumanized and humiliated at the checkpoints again and again. My daughters were afraid to travel from Ramallah to visit family in Bethlehem. I have always needed a permit to visit the Church of the Redeemer in Jerusalem. Sometimes I get it, sometimes I don’t.” 

"Statements and letters are not enough, what we need is more action on the ground." 

Rev. Imad Haddad, pastor of the Lutheran Church of the Good Shepherd in Amman, Jordan 

“Every human life matter, every human life is precious to God, and we are all created in God’s image. This must be respected by both Hamas and Israel during war, conflict, and during occupation," adds Haddad. 

Churches and international organizations have been calling for a ceasefire since Israel launched an assault on Gaza in response to Hamas’ attack in southern Israel which killed 1.200 people. Palestinian officials say more than 14.000 people have died in Gaza since then. The Lutheran pastor says that when speaking out on this war, churches should not forget the long standing “suffering, injustice, occupation” and the lived experience of the Palestinian people. However, statements and letters “are not enough,” he insists, “what we need is more action on the ground, such as the Lutheran World Federation efforts to support the Anglican-run Al-Ahli hospital in Gaza.”  

Haddad also appeals to Christian leaders to distinguish carefully between their relationship with the Jewish people and the State of Israel, which has responsibilities and obligations under international law.” Pointing to the challenges of achieving a ‘two-state solution’ for Palestinians and Israelis, he says he is not optimistic, but he wants to be “hopeful” about prospects for viable solutions that can lead to lasting peace in the Holy Land.     

Keeping hope alive 

In this context, it is very hard to keep hope alive, for himself and for his congregation, especially as he sometimes feels that “my faith and my Palestinian identity is being questioned” by some Christians in the West. “When I stand up to preach, I tell [my parishioners] that I am tired and angry, that I struggle with God. But I also tell them that God hears my cry. God is with us even as we cross the checkpoints and that gives us power to continue. We know that what we have now is not what God called us for.” 

Haddad concludes: “For me, hope is to walk towards Jerusalem with Jesus, to walk towards the Cross, but not to end at Golgotha, to continue towards the Resurrection. I have to walk this way with my congregation, every day.” 

Rev. Imad Haddad presides at service in the Good Shepherd Lutheran Church. Photo: LWF/S. Kit

Rev. Imad Haddad presides at service in the Good Shepherd Lutheran Church. Photo: LWF/S. Kit 

LWF/P. Hitchen