Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Gilad Returns Home... and Christians Celebrate at the Jerusalem March

An unusually emotional and joyful day in Jerusalem and Israel:  Throughout the morning, Israelis watched with trepidation the unfolding of events surrounding Gilad Shalit’s release after 1941 days - nearly 5 ½ years of captivity.  The price paid for his freedom: 1027 Palestinian prisoners, many of whom ruthless terrorists with blood on their hands.

The Israeli public is divided about the deal.  While everyone is happy to see Gilad come home, many think that the price paid was too high, and that the release of the 1027 terrorists will only endanger more Israeli lives and increase the motivation of Islamic terrorist organizations to kidnap more soldiers or citizens.  The pain was especially felt by the families and friends of those whose loved ones were murdered by the criminals who are now again on the loose.

But the fears and concerns were for the most part set aside today in Jerusalem.  The joy of seeing Gilad come home, the emotion of watching him be embraced first by Prime Minister Netanyahu, and then by his parents, was felt by all.

It seemed like the perfect timing that Gilad’s release coincided with the Jerusalem march.  Thousands of Christians from around the world, many dressed in their traditional clothes, joyfully processed down the streets of Jerusalem, passing out flags and candy to locals, singing songs, and displaying banners with Bible verses or words of love and solidarity with Israel.

No matter the nationality and colors, the message from all visitors was one of solidarity, support, and love.  The red-and-white Canadians carried a banner with the words in Hebrew “Canada loves and supports Israel.”  The Scots processed playing the bagpipes in their trademark kilts.  A group of Americans displayed a flag with the words “welcome home Gilad,” while a Dutch delegation carried a large banner that said “Keep Jerusalem United.”  Even faraway Asian countries such as China, Thailand, and Malaysia were well represented.

And the Israeli reaction?  A lot of smiles and gratitude… and a bit of skepticism.  One orthodox family told me that they come every year.

Why do you think so many Christians come here to Jerusalem, I asked?

“I don’t know,” the mother answered, “maybe to identify with us.”

But what do you think is their motivation? Faith?

“I don’t think so,” she said. “I’m a bit skeptical about the motivation of some… like the Germans for example.”

Another young orthodox man was more optimistic: “It’s really fun to see this that they support us.”  And why do you think they are doing this here in Israel? “I think they see it as a religious vocation… it’s because of the Bible, you know, we are the ‘chosen people.’”

Another man knew exactly why all the Christians are here: “It's very moving. It’s the fulfillment of the biblical prophecies that talk about the return of the people of Israel to the land of Israel.  And the prophet Zechariah says that all the gentiles will come here for Sukkot (the Feast of Tabernacles).  Zechariah said this 2,500 years ago, and here you go… it’s now coming to pass!”

And so a double reason for rejoicing today in Jerusalem: Gilad Shalit’s return to his parents, family, and people… and all the nations of the world celebrating together with them.

And it shall come to pass that everyone who is left of all the nations which came against Jerusalem shall go up from year to year to worship the King, the LORD of hosts, and to keep the Feast of Tabernacles. (Zec 14:16)