“A war siren sounded and 15 seconds later, I heard 5 explosions”: A Palestinian Christian in Jerusalem caught in the crossfire
In May, a horrified world watched as Israel and Palestine erupted in bloodshed, air strikes, violence and death. Salt&Light takes you on an inside look into the conflict in this 2-part series.
Andre Moubarak // June 12, 2021, 12:36 am
As rocket attacks destroyed districts and tension escalated to bloodshed, Andre Moubarak's "first thought was to use my access to social media to update my friends and followers and ask everyone to start praying". All photos courtesy of Andre Moubarak.
Andre Moubarak, 46, was born and raised in the Christian Quarter of Jerusalem.
“The religious and historical sites that people from all around the world come to see, the ancient pavements that believers of every nation and culture travel thousands of miles to walk — these are my neighbourhood,” writes Moubarak in his book, One Friday in Jerusalem.
Israel has not been an easy place to live for Moubarak who, by faith and ethnicity, is a minority among minorities.
“I know them like I know myself; indeed, they are a part of who I am.”
But Israel has not been an easy place to live for Moubarak who, by faith and ethnicity, is a minority among minorities.
He is a Palestinian Arab Christian born in Jerusalem in 1975.
His mother’s family is from Ein Areek, a Palestinian farming village near Ramallah. His father’s family came from Jaffa.
Moubarak gives Salt&Light a first-hand account of living through the Israel-Palestine air strikes in May, and the current uneasy tension in Israel as new reports of violence are breaking out.
My name is Andre Moubarak, and I am from Jerusalem.
I grew up in the Christian Quarter of the Old City of Jerusalem, and I am a citizen of the state of Israel.
I speak five languages: Aramaic, Arabic, Hebrew, English and French. This is typical for the Christians because we usually work in an international setting.
My job is a tour guide and I regularly travel throughout the whole country of Israel, and also to Europe, UK, the United States of America, Canada, South Africa, Philippines and Singapore.
Everywhere that I have visited in the world has a more stable peaceful society than my hometown of Jerusalem.
My family and community have witnessed many conflicts in Jerusalem over the centuries. The Christians are a minority group, caught in the crossfire in the ongoing rivalry between our Muslim and Jewish neighbours.
The Christian culture here is very peaceful and we avoid conflict. In his Sermon on the Mount, Jesus says “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.” (Matthew 5: 9)
“Everywhere that I have visited in the world has a more stable peaceful society than my hometown of Jerusalem.”
Tourism in Israel was at its peak in the year 2019, and we expected even more tourists in the Spring season of 2020. It was going to be overfull capacity at all the hotels, tour sites, and all of the tour guides were fully booked for the whole season.
When Covid-19 first hit Israel in early March 2020, we were surprised by how fast the pandemic spread around the globe, and the government of Israel shut down all tourism and closed the borders indefinitely.
The Covid-19 shutdown was the perfect time for me to take a sabbatical in the USA. I left Israel on May 31, 2020. My wife’s family lives in Maryland and Texas, and we ended up spending one whole year in the USA based in those two states.
We also traveled to a few other states to speak in churches about making a journey to Israel in the future.
People were curious about my background and I was able to teach them some Aramaic phrases, the language of Jesus and His disciples.
I had so much time to develop my educational projects – write my third book, record two seasons of my podcast, build a website and develop virtual tours and Bible Study lessons on Zoom meetings. It was a wonderful time of personal growth.
In early May 2021, the vaccination programme in Israel was very successful and Covid-19 cases were very few in Israel by April 2021. The country was open again for local tourism and the Israeli government announced that foreign tour groups would be welcome to enter Israel in late May, June and July on a provisional basis.
We were hopeful for the tourism industry to heal and flourish, after 15 months of complete shutdown.
Bloodshed and violence
I was excited to return to Israel and be with my team, and my family and friends, in Jerusalem. The Lord’s hands were on me during my long journey flying from Texas, to Newark, to Tel Aviv.
I arrived home in Israel on the afternoon of Saturday, May 8, 2021. My brother picked me up from the airport and, as we drove to Jerusalem, we saw a checkpoint on the main road.
“I went to sit on my balcony to drink my coffee, and was surprised to hear a loud war siren.”
Just a couple minutes after we passed the checkpoint, a huge protest demonstration took place, and the police closed the roads to Jerusalem. I just barely made it home safely.
Outside the tension was escalating around the city of Jerusalem, and there were angry protests through the next of couple days.
On Monday, May 10, getting over jet lag, I went to sit on my balcony to drink my coffee, and was surprised to hear a loud war siren.
The emergency alert also came on my phone. I immediately knew that Jerusalem was attacked and after something like 15 seconds I heard a sound of five explosions.
In my mind I said: War will start soon.
It was a severe culture shock, moving from a peaceful, easy quality of life to a warzone and a lot of bloodshed in the region.
“I immediately knew that Jerusalem was attacked and after something like 15 seconds I heard a sound of five explosions.”
The war intensified the next day, with most of the rocket attacks from Hamas in Gaza targeting the city of Tel Aviv.
I was stuck at home for Covid-19 quarantine for two weeks. But outside my house a war zone was spreading all over Israel.
My first thought was to use my access to social media to update my friends and followers and ask everyone to start praying.
With my team in Jerusalem, I was able to host three virtual prayer meetings about the bad situation in Israel.
People joined these prayer meetings on Zoom from all over the world and we prayed together for the Lord to have mercy and bring peace and healing to the people of both Israel and Gaza. Many of my former tour participants sent their prayers by messenger and email, and this was very encouraging to read to the team in Jerusalem.
“Outside in the streets of Jerusalem it was like a civil war.”
We were all in shock and grief.
I was secure in my apartment building because there is a bomb shelter. But outside in the streets of Jerusalem it was like a civil war between Arab Muslims and Jews. Many fights broke out in the streets and it was wildly violent.
Throughout the whole country of Israel, neighbours turned against each other, and ethnic hatred erupted in cities that were usually models of coexistence between the Jewish and Muslim residents. Almost all of the Christian community stayed inside their homes.
The war lasted 11 days, with thousands of missiles landing in Israel and Gaza.
While there were many casualties on both sides, there are always higher numbers of casualties in Gaza. At least 243 people, including more than 100 women and children, were killed in Gaza, according to its health ministry. In Israel 12 people, including two children, were killed, its medical service says.
Both sides claimed victory in the conflict.
Shock and grief
Our role as Aramean indigenous Christian believers is to pray for peace between the Muslims and the Jews.
In the USA we saw how most people live secure and prosperous lives. In Jerusalem, it’s the opposite – tension, stress, a war zone, people are in a survival mode. There is no steady income. Peace is fleeting. People feel no hope. They are stuck in negative thinking. There are no jobs.
“The war came at a hard time, as people had been out of work for a long time and they were bored and frustrated.”
There still remains some tension in the streets, but much less than during the war of the past month.
In all my life living in Jerusalem, I have never seen such tension in the streets, with fear between the two neighbours.
We need Christians to pray for the body of Christ here to continue in their efforts of reconciliation between Arabs and Jews.
Hopefully tourism will come back soon and people will get busy again and return to work. The war came at a hard time, as people had been out of work for a long time and they were bored and frustrated.
Pray for Israel & Palestine
I will leave with you 5 prayer requests which are so badly needed today.
- Pray for the Peace of Jerusalem, including all its inhabitants and all surrounding areas – for both Israelis and Palestinians.
- Pray for leaders and all those in authority that they may pursue peace so we may live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness.
- Pray for healing of relationships between Jews and Arabs, especially for our young people who are exposed to this kind of hatred for the first time.
- Pray for protection for our churches, communities and for our families. Some churches had to cancel their services or hold them online because of the violence. Pray especially for Haifa, Acre, Lod, Ramle, Jaffa, Cana of Galilee and Jerusalem.
- Pray for us to remember to turn our eyes to God, our refuge and strength, and to Jesus, the prince of peace.
With his wife, Marie, Andre Moubarak, a licensed tour guide and an ordained minister, teaches at churches worldwide, helping people see the Bible anew through Middle Eastern eyes. People all over the world can join his Zoom teaching and prayer meetings here.
Until in-person tours resume, he also offers free virtual tours to Israel. Find out more here.
READ PART 2 OF THE ISRAEL-PALESTINE SERIES HERE: