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NEWS ANALYSIS

Evangelicals should be thankful to the Lord that 50 Israeli hostages will be released – but like all Israelis, I’m conflicted by the terms of the deal

“Be thankful in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you who belong to Christ Jesus” (I Thessalonians 5:18)

People walk next to pictures of civilians held hostage by Hamas terrorists in Gaza, in Jerusalem, Nov. 22, 2023. (Photo: Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

JERUSALEM, ISRAEL – The news broke around 3:15 a.m. that the Israeli government had just approved the deal brokered by the Biden administration in which Hamas says it will release some Israeli women and children hostages in return for Israel releasing some Palestinian prisoners.

Both sides also agreed to a temporary pause in the fighting that some are calling a “ceasefire.”

It took me awhile to read the various accounts in the Israeli media, process the details and understand their implications.

That’s when I sent out two messages on X, the social media platform previously known as Twitter.

The first was this.

“BREAKING: It’s 3:45 a.m. here in Israel. The Israeli government just approved in last half hour a deal to get 50 live Israeli hostages back from Hamas in return for a four day pause in fighting. For every 10 additional hostages Hamas gives back, Israel will pause an additional day.”

The second was this.

“BREAKING: In return for Hamas releasing 50 hostages, Israel has to release 140 Palestinian prisoners and stop attacking Hamas on the battlefield. Most Israelis are asleep. When they wake up they’re going to feel very conflicted. Everyone wants to #BringThemBack. Still, this gives Hamas the initiative.”

A FLAWED DEAL AND FITFUL NIGHT

I struggled to go back to sleep.

But it didn’t happen for several more hours.

Look, I am very thankful to the Lord our God that 50 Israeli hostages will be released.

All Evangelical Christians and Messianic Jews should be thanking the Lord for this.

We have been praying fervently for the Lord to move heaven and earth to “set the captives free” – to “let our people go” – and the Lord has heard our prayers and begun to answer positively.

This is good.

Very good.

And we should be grateful.

That said, like all Israelis, I’m personally conflicted by the terms of this flawed deal, negotiated through the U.S. Biden administration and Qatar.

I’m deeply concerned that Hamas isn’t going to keep its end of the bargain.

They are liars and murderers.

They are also getting beaten badly on the battlefield.

Humanly speaking, why would they give back all the hostages?

Aren’t the hostages their only bargaining chips to slow down Israel’s military offensive?

Unfortunately, yes.

DID ISRAELI LEADERS HAVE ANY OTHER CHOICE?

There are other disturbing terms in the deal, which I’ll lay out in a moment.

Still, what other choice do Israel’s leaders have?

The Israeli civilian and military leadership broke the social contract with the Israeli citizens on Oct. 7.

They left the Gaza border shockingly undefended.

There were almost no combat soldiers awake and on guard that 'Black Sabbath' morning.

That’s how some 3,000 Hamas terrorists were able to blow up sections of the border fence, storm into Israel, and then slaughter, rape, behead and burn some 1,200 innocent and unsuspecting Israelis at will.

For most Israelis, this is unforgivable.

The notion of almost 240 Israelis held hostage by Hamas and their bloodthirsty allies in Gaza turns our stomachs.

The government has the highest moral obligation to get them all back safely.

Yes, every Israeli wants Hamas and the other radical Islamist jihadists in the Gaza Strip and their terror infrastructure to be completely and forever destroyed.

We are 100% unified on this point.

But we also want our people back.

All of them.

Safe and alive. 

Literally no Israeli will forgive any Israeli official who was in power on Oct. 7 if they don’t do everything in their power to get every Israeli back to his or her family.

That’s why, as much as Israelis detest the terms our government agreed to, most believe it had to be done.

Even though we worry that this deal will embolden Hamas – and given them time to regroup, refuel, rearm, and start attacking us again – most of us believe our government did not have a choice.

Because at the moment, the safety of our hostages is more important to Israelis even than defeating Hamas quickly.

They are more important to us than even releasing some Palestinian prisoners.

HERE ARE THE TERMS OF THE DEAL

This is what we know about the terms of the deal at this hour. 

  1. A temporary pause in fighting – a brief ceasefire – will begin at 10 a.m. on Thursday morning

  2. The pause will last for four days

  3. Hamas will release 50 Israeli women and children hostages

  4. For every additional 10 hostages that Hamas releases, Israel will pause fighting in Gaza for one additional day

  5. The Red Cross will visit all of the remaining hostages in Gaza, assess their conditions, and provide medical care

  6. Hamas will also allow more Palestinians in the northern part of the Gaza Strip to move safely to the south

  7. In return, Israel will release 150 Palestinian women and young people who were convicted of crimes from prison

  8. Israel will facilitate the arrival into Gaza of more trucks filled with food, fuel, medical supplies and other humanitarian relief

  9. For six hours each day, Israel will stop using drones and other aircraft to provide surveillance of the northern section of the Gaza Strip

  10. Israel also apparently agreed to stop aerial surveillance and activity over all of the southern part of the Gaza Strip

These last two items are especially worrisome.

Obviously, Hamas wants the freedom to move its terrorist forces out of hiding in the north to regroup, refuel, and rearm – all without the IDF watching.

Certainly, Hamas wants to have time to lay more land mines and IEDs, and booby-trap more buildings in the north – all without the IDF watching.

They likely also want to set up more rocket launchers in the north and load them with more rockets to be able to start firing again at Israel – all without the IDF watching.

And Hamas wants full freedom of movement in the south so they can actively prepare for the next round of IDF operations.

This is especially true in and around Khan Younis, Hamas’ main base of terror operations in the South.

But this is the deal that the Biden administration negotiated, with the active help of Qatar, the Gulf state where Hamas’ top leadership lives in luxury.

In the end, Israeli leaders had little choice.

They could not pass up the opportunity to get at least 50 Israeli hostages home safely to their families and friends.

So, they said yes.

WHAT SHOULD EVANGELICALS BE PRAYING FOR NOW?

Should we thank the Lord for the release of these 50?

Absolutely.

But we should not stop there.

We need to redouble our efforts and pray harder for five things: 

  1. The full and immediate release of all of the hostages

  2. The total defeat and destruction of the Hamas terror empire, and

  3. The complete liberation of the Gaza Strip from the Hamas reign of terror

  4. The protection of all 1,000 Christians in Gaza

  5. The safety and salvation of every innocent Palestinian in Gaza, and of every Israeli, as well.

The Israeli government is not turning to the God of Israel to ask for these things.

The chief rabbis are not actively and consistently calling on the God of Israel to do these three things.

So, we as Evangelicals must do it ourselves.

And thank the Lord for every answer, every blessing, if it is not everything we want, exactly when we want it.

“You have not because you ask not, or because you ask with impure motives.” (James 4:3)

Joel C. Rosenberg is the editor-in-chief of ALL ISRAEL NEWS and ALL ARAB NEWS and the President and CEO of Near East Media. A New York Times best-selling author, Middle East analyst, and Evangelical leader, he lives in Jerusalem with his wife and sons.

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