The Word:   “…All who devour you will be devoured; all your enemies will go into exile. Those who plunder you will be plundered; all who make spoil of you I will despoil. But I will restore you to health and heal your wounds,” declares the Lord, “because you are called an outcast, Zion for whom no one cares.”

‘This is what the Lord says: ‘“I will restore the fortunes of Jacob’s tents and have compassion on his dwellings; the city will be rebuilt on her ruins, and the palace will stand in its proper place. From them will come songs of thanksgiving and the sound of rejoicing.  I will add to their numbers, and they will not be decreased; I will bring them honour, and they will not be disdained. Their children will be as in days of old,     and their community will be established before me; I will punish all who oppress them. (Jeremiah 30:16-20)

*      Pointers for prayer: As we continue to look into events in and around Israel and the chaos and instability within the Middle East, please do continue to pray for discernment and spiritual guidance as to how we should be interceding over these events.

*      Do continue to pray for protection around the borders of Israel, and pray for the current leaders in Israel, including the Prime Minister Netanyahu. Pray too for all those who stand with Israel.  There is nothing more that the enemy – Satan - wants than to wipe out the nation of Israel, along with those who stand with her.  Please pray for all ministries standing with Israel – but especially Christian Friends of Israel (CFI) in the UK, and the International office of CFI in Jerusalem. And pray for the Arab/Muslim people throughout the Middle East and those within the nation of Israel.  “Cause them Lord to be blessed, and to be a blessing to their ancient cousin.  May they desire to dwell peacefully with the Jewish nation and in reconciliation.

Just two little boys    This week’s report was inspired by two little boys.  One of the boys is called Omran Daqneesh.  Omran is a Muslim Syrian.  The other child is a black American Christian called Zion Harvey.  Both have tough stories to tell, and both stories profoundly spoke to me, reflecting how two people groups need healing due to being battle weary.    

As my family and I watched the late news on ITV on Tuesday evening (August 23), there was a moving story about a little boy who was a true inspiration to me.  His name was Zion Harvey, the recipient of the first bilateral hand transplant in a child.  Surgeons at The Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia in America performed this ground-breaking work. Combining the expertise of the Penn Transplant Institute and the Hospital’s Division of Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery and Division of Orthopaedics, the program aims to improve quality of life for children who may benefit from this procedure.  Zion’s hands and feet were amputated when he was 2 years old as the result of sepsis, a life-threatening infection. He received new hands in July of 2015, during a 10-hour surgery. The surgical team was led by L. Scott Levin, MD, and Benjamin Chang, MD, who direct the Hand Transplantation Program at Children's Hospital.  There’s a saying: “A smile is worth a million words”... well, nine year old Zion Harvey has every reason to smile, and when he does, the young, bright, heart-warming boy from Baltimore certainly lights up the place.  However, his young life has seen many hardships; many troubles, and without doubt, Zion might not have survived in his first few years.

However, this story really filled me with hope.  In many ways, it reminded me of another Zion – the people and nation of Israel, whose life since 1948 has also seen many hardships; many troubles, and without doubt, would not have survived in their early years without the Lord for their protection and salvation.  But Zion Harvey’s story is also one of profound love and hope.  It proves that if we have faith, we can survive, and not just survive, but live life to the full – which considering what Israel, the nation, has had to put up with – is a hard statement to make.  But also, taking into account what many within CFI have been through, and are still going through, this is also a very hard statement to put into writing, and to put into practice.  Yet God has always been there for Israel, and He will never give up.  And so we too can take comfort in that God will always be there for those who trust in Him and believe. That love of the Lord is forever.  However, Zion Harvey’s life has also shown me that we shouldn't take anything for granted. We never know when the miracle we need will come, so we have to keep our faith, trusting in God. Zion Harvey's hands are small now but they will grow with him. Zion said on the video below that “When I fall down, I will always get back up.”  What a lesson that is!   This inspiring update shows Zion's progress in the year since the surgery:  

The second boy’s story is of Omran Daqneesh, which so far, hasn’t got a happy ending.  You know, our son Matthew is 21 years old now, but when he was aged 5 we used to go camping, play football, go hiking and fishing, go to football matches to watch Norwich City (in fact we still do), and I would walk him to school until he got too old for that. In fact, we did most things together. Admittedly, when he was 6 years old, he did sit in our car close to the Lebanese Border whilst I was watching Hezbollah Terrorists through my binoculars across the border whilst we were there in 2001- but he was in a safe place and I would never put him at risk. But generally, we did what every healthy Father and son relationship would do - we had great fun - and he was, and is, well loved.

Last week, another Father’s 5-year-old boy sat dazed and bloodied, looking very lonely, as this poor Syrian child sat alone in an ambulance after he was rescued from a destroyed building in Aleppo after yet another air strike from either Russian air-forces or Syrian forces led by Assad – no doubt you saw the story on the news channels.  In fact, images of the boy sitting alone have since been shared widely on social media. He was identified as five-year-old Omran Daqneesh, who was treated for head wounds and shock after yet another attack on Aleppo. This poor soul has known nothing in his short life but war. Has Omran had chance to kick a ball with his Dad? Has he played in tents, sat fishing, or sat on his Dad's knee whilst watching the stars in the night sky like my son used to? And how much longer will the world sit by and do absolutely nothing for the thousands of children like Omran and allow thousands more to be murdered?

Where is the UN? What use are they really?  Should they not be hanging their heads in shame? What of the other Politicians of the world? Have they no solution?  Even those of us who follow the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob - whether Jew or Christian - maybe we too should be asking some serious questions regarding this - for have we united together in powerful intercession? Or have we forgotten how to pray and expect change (and I include myself first and foremost here)?  Oh that the Lord would have mercy on the poor children of Syria. 470,000 Syrians killed, and the world still turns a blind eye! May we weep for these people; cry out in intercession for these people; demand action from our leaders and government for these people. Let us not just sit idly by watching.  In many ways, this little Arab kid – Omran – is like the Arab nations.  Year after year, month after month, week after week they cause, suffer and live with the chaos and instability within the Islamic Middle East, and yet with no hope, and no true God.  Surely here is a cause to seek the face of God, and to cry out for His intervention.

This is Zion, for whom no one cares     Like the hands of Zion Harvey, Zion (Israel) as a nation, is tiny as well – it’s the size of Wales – 0.1% of the Middle East with a host of Islamic nations surrounding it, wanting its destruction.  Terror attacks have hit the news within Israel again this week, but needless to say, I’ve yet to see any western media reporting on these news items.  In fact, the BBC and the World Media have ignored the recent rocket attacks on Israel, yet have reported on Israel’s army (IDF) responses.  Three days ago, Islamic terrorists based in Gaza fired missiles at the Western Negev and into the Israeli town of Sderot.  According to my sources, one rocket landed near homes in Sderot, and near a college. Residents in Sderot said it was ‘a miracle’ that nobody was injured.  Israeli jets carried out several rounds of fresh airstrikes in the Gaza Strip on Sunday night, hours after rocket fire at southern Israel drew an Israeli reprisal and as Hamas paraded missiles through the streets of Gaza and threatened renewed violence.   The relatively stiff response marks the most intense Israeli reprisal attack on Gaza since the sides fought a bloody war in 2014, and could signal a shift in policy by newly installed Defence Minister Avigdor Liberman. 

However, the BBC News (English-language) website did not provide any coverage of the missile attacks against Israeli civilians. The BBC Arabic website, however, produced two reports about the Israeli response to the missile fire. The second report and the website’s homepage both used a photograph of a water tower allegedly damaged during the Israeli response to the missile attack.  However, photographs showing the same damage to the same water tower were published by AFP nearly a year ago.  The latest missile attack from the Gaza Strip is the eighth such incident to have taken place so far in 2016.  The same pattern of reporting has been evident since the end of the conflict between Israel and terrorists in the Gaza Strip in 2014, meaning that English-speaking BBC audiences - including its funding public (that’s you and me if you live in the UK and pay the BBC licence) are not receiving the services pledged to them/us in the BBC’s public purposes. 

In Jerusalem, a 20-year old man was stabbed on Monday evening on Shivtei Israel Street, not far from where our (CFI) old office used to be.  Magen David Adom (MDA) paramedics who were called to the scene provided the victim with medical treatment and then took him to the Shaare Tzedek Hospital.  At present, the background to the stabbing is unclear.  The Jerusalem District of the Israel Police said that a man with a stab wound in his back arrived at a store on Shivtei Israel Street. Police are still investigating the incident.  Meanwhile, Israeli security forces raided seven illegal Palestinian weapons storage/factories in the Hebron and Bethlehem area on Monday night, in the largest crackdown of its kind over the last year.  The raids were carried out by five IDF battalions, the military’s Judea and Samaria Division, the Shin Bet security agency and the Judea and Samaria District Police in an effort to root out illegal weapons production and trading.  IDF and Border Police troops found 22 lathes in seven separate weapons factories. Dozens of firearms, weapons parts and cartridges were also uncovered in the operation. The lathes and weapons found were seized by security forces.

A view from the Golan Heights    I’ve lost count at how many times I’ve travelled around Israel; however I never get bored of the place or take it for granted, and always feel it’s a huge privilege to spend time in this awesome place.  Yes, I love Jerusalem, and yes, it’s always special to stop and contemplate life next to the Sea of Galilee.  In fact there are so many places I could write about.  However, two of my favourite places might sound a little extreme to some folks, for my most loved areas in Israel are the empty rugged areas of Samaria, where the air feels to pure, and secondly, the mind-blowing, exhilarating Golan Heights.

The Golan Heights is a mountainous region of volcanic origin in the north-east corner of the country. The northern Golan rises as it culminates into Mount Hermon, the highest point in Israel. The summit itself is in a UN Buffer Zone separating Israel from Syria. Mount Hermon is easily the most prominent peak of the region, visible from all across the Golan Heights. Moving south, the Golan is permeated by volcanic rocks, and the further south, the less hilly the terrain is, the more it forms a plateau. The region has wonderful views over the Upper Galilee and the Jordan River Valley on the west, and the Syrian plain on the east. However, strategically, the Golan Heights represents a crucial vantage point.    

Although Yom Kippur is still almost two months away, the Yom Kippur war of 1973 is often at the forefront of the minds of the Israeli people.  Of course, in Biblical times, the Golan Heights was referred to as ‘Bashan;’ the word ‘Golan’ apparently derives from the biblical city of ‘Golan in Bashan,’ (Deuteronomy 4:43, Joshua 21:27), and the area was assigned to the tribe of Manasseh (Joshua 13:29-31).  However, in researching some facts on this region, I discovered that in early First Temple times (953-586 BC), the area was contested between the northern Jewish kingdom of Israel and the Aramean kingdom based on Damascus. Of course modern day Syria has always contested this area, following their failure to defeat Israel in the 1973 Yom Kippur War.    Before this war, Syria used the Golan Heights, which tower 3,000 feet above the Galilee, to shell Israeli farms and villages. The Yom Kippur War of 1973, the most recent ‘full’ war in Middle East history, is so-called because it began on the Day of Atonement (Yom Kippur), the holiest day of prayer and fasting in the Jewish calendar.  But just think… had Israel lost that war, the whole of the Galilee would now be free to ISIS.  When one stands on the Syrian border side of the Golan, one can look through binoculars at quite a good section of Syria.  Indeed the signpost at Merom Golan on the Heights, that points out Aman, Jerusalem, Bagdad and other areas, states that Damascus is only 60 kilometres away (that is only 37 miles away from the Israeli Golan Heights!).  That’s a bit fearful when one considers that prophesy in Isaiah 17:1-3 about Damascus disappearing, and how it will become a heap of ruins.  How far off are we from seeing this prophesy fulfilled?

As I mentioned in last week’s report, Israel remains on high alert in the Golan region.  Problems generated by the Syrian civil war have exploded outward in every direction. To name a few: Refugees have spilled over into Jordan, Lebanon, Iraq, Turkey, and Europe. Terrorist groups inside Syria, especially ISIS, pose a strategic threat to Iraq, Jordan, and Egypt. Additionally, ISIS continues to carry out major terrorist attacks in the heart of Europe.  Yet Israel, on Syria’s western border, remains effectively out of the fray.  Although Syria was long an enemy of Israel, Syria’s collapse has posed a major strategic challenge for Israeli leaders. Before Syria spiralled out of control, Israel had hoped for (and repeatedly tried to attain) a peace agreement with Damascus. With the Syrian state in chaos, this was no longer even a remote possibility. And with ISIS taking the lead in the fight against Assad, it was clear that Israel couldn’t support either side. Plus, Israel had to deal with more immediate threats regarding the terrorist groups fighting Assad that had gained a foothold along Israel’s Golan Heights border with Syria. On top of that, Hezbollah and Iran have tried to take advantage of the chaos to open a new front against Israel in the Golan.  Even this week, after mortar fire landed in the Golan Heights, the Israeli Air Force (IAF) struck back.  The IAF hit a military target near Quneitra, Syria.  Yet through it all, Israel has stayed safe, and the Israeli Prime Minister, Netanyahu, has been quietly shaping the situation to protect his country’s interests.

Netanyahu still the right man?    This then leads to the question, “Is Netanyahu still the right man to lead Israel?”  Well, you will all have your own opinion, and I know Israeli’s have a much divided opinion on this.  Yet under Netanyahu, Israel has managed to stay out of wars that sucked others in; Israel has managed to improve its diplomatic position while isolating rivals; It has remained flexible on policies but firm on red lines, and keep the Israeli residents (both Jews, Christians and Arabs) safe. In the Middle East, this is no small accomplishment.  Since Netanyahu regained his role as Prime Minister in 2009, Israel has faced a multitude of challenges—from Iran’s nuclear program to Turkey’s hostile turn; From Hamas’s cross-border tunnels and rocket attacks on civilians, to the terrible knifings and other attacks from Arab Palestinians. What is more, Egypt and Syria both collapsed into turmoil during his time in office. The fall of Mubarak in Egypt meant that a Muslim Brotherhood government temporarily bordered the Gaza Strip and could give aid to its Palestinian faction, Hamas. And of course the Golan Heights have become vulnerable to various Islamic terrorists who pledge allegiance to ISIS.  Then there’s the United States. With the years of Obama’s leadership, America’s approach to the Middle East changed in drastic ways.  We wait with bated breath who the new American President will be.  And let’s face it, would you want either candidate as leader?  Obama has of course been determined to force a ‘Two-State’ solution which would radically tear Israel’s heart land – the Mountains of Israel – away from the Jewish state.  Obama has also been determined to build bridges to the Muslim world by claiming Israeli communities (or ‘settlements’ as the world calls them) as the central obstacle to peace with the Arab World – which is really strange and rather ridiculous when one poses the question, “Why was there no peace in 1966?”  Do pray for protection around the borders of Israel, and pray for Israel’s Prime Minister Netanyahu.

David Soakell  

(CFI Church Liaison Officer (UK) & WoZ News Report Correspondent)  Tweet me @David_CFI

Sources: Unless stated, personal sources throughout Israel, Christian Friends of Israel UK & Jerusalem, Israeli Embassy London, The Jerusalem Post, & Israel National Radio