The Rev. George Mason, the former senior pastor of the Wilshire Baptist Church in Dallas, Texas, who had gone to Israel to observe peacebuilding work between Israelis and Palestinians, is now stuck in the country as war erupted Saturday after Hamas, a Sunni Islamist terrorist organization, launched an attack against Israel that has killed at least 900 Israelis and left has 687 Palestinians dead in retaliatory airstrikes.
Mason, senior pastor emeritus of Wilshire Baptist Church that left the Southern Baptist Convention in 2000 and was kicked out of the Baptist General Convention of Texas after it decided to be an LGBT-affirming congregation, told ABC News affiliate WFAA, "One of the strangest things about war is that life can feel eerily normal in parts of the country where just down the road a few miles people are dying, are terrorized, are being taken hostage. It's an extraordinary juxtaposition of life and death taking place."
In an audio clip quoted by The Associated Press Monday, Abu Obeida, the spokesman of the Qassam Brigades, said they will start executing hostages if any Israeli airstrike comes without a "pre-warning." This comes after Hamas' head of political and internal relations, Basem Naim, told Sky News that civilian hostages would be treated "humanely." The Biden administration confirmed today that Americans are among the hostages.
In an interview with CBS News, Mason said his Dallas-based interfaith organization, Faith Commons, was set to host a tour for about 30 people on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, but the group announced on Facebook Saturday that they canceled the trip because of the war.
“Just as our newsletter was about to go out to our subscribers this morning announcing the debut of our Holy Land trip, we received word that Hamas had launched an attack on Israel, initiating the kind of violence that made it necessary for us to cancel our ‘What Makes This Land Holy?’ tour,” the Faith Commons wrote.
“While we are heartbroken to see more violence and devastation unfold, we feel it is more important than ever to lift up the holiness that persists even now through the everyday insistence on human rights, civil discourse, and peaceful coexistence,” the group added, noting that “in the coming days we plan to share the experiences and insights of people who live in the Holy Land and strive every day to realize its promise.”
Mason, according to Faith Commons, had gone to Israel earlier to participate in the Land, People and Culture International Conference at Dar al Kalima University in Bethlehem. The conference focused on the “theme of land, people and culture,” with a particular focus on the Palestinian question on the 75th remembrance of the "Nakba."
According to the U.N., "The Nakba, which means 'catastrophe' in Arabic, refers to the mass displacement and dispossession of Palestinians during the 1948 Arab-Israeli war."
When the U.N. General Assembly passed a resolution dividing Palestine into two states, one Jewish and one Arab, with Jerusalem under a U.N. administration in November 1947, that plan was rejected by the Arab world. Muslims argued that the plan was unfair and violated the U.N. Charter.
Adrienne Watson, a spokeswoman for the U.S. National Security Council, said in a statement that the Biden administration “unequivocally condemns the unprovoked attacks by Hamas terrorists against Israeli civilians. We stand firmly with the government and people of Israel and extend our condolences for the Israeli lives lost in these attacks."
Mason argued that what the world is witnessing now is a "humanitarian crisis that has been brewing for 75 years."
"I think it's incredibly difficult because so much of American sympathy is with Israel, for us to recognize that there are Palestinians who are 'indigenous' peoples to the area, also claim this as a homeland and are seeking a way of peace," Mason argued. "Not all Palestinians are terrorists and not all Israelis are supportive of government policy."
U.S. airlines have halted flights in and out of Israel, The Associated Press and government officials reported.
Even though the Ben Gurion International Airport remains open, “some flights have been reduced or suspended. U.S. carriers have temporarily suspended flights to Israel,” the U.S. Embassy in Jerusalem noted in a statement.
“U.S. citizens are reminded to remain vigilant and take appropriate steps to increase their security awareness as security incidents, including mortar and rocket fire, often take place without warning,” the embassy added. “U.S. citizens should monitor news outlets and follow advice from local security and emergency response officials to increase their security awareness and remain safe.”