KIBBUTZ KFAR AZA—A group of prominent American evangelical Christian leaders, led by former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee, visited the hard-hit Israeli communities along the border with Gaza on Wednesday and offered unflinching support for Israel’s war against Hamas.
The faith-based solidarity trip came amid growing international pressure for a ceasefire in Gaza, and as public opinion polls in the U.S. show that young Americans oppose Israel’s effort to eliminate the Islamist terrorist organization amid mounting civilian casualties in the coastal strip.
“This is not the ‘both sides’ nonsense that some have tried to portray,” Huckabee said in a meeting with several family members of the more than 100 Israeli hostages still being held in Gaza two and half months after being kidnapped. “This is an unspeakable atrocity and an evil that cannot be justified under any circumstance.”
The 68-year-old Southern Baptist pastor, television host and two-time Republican presidential candidate, who has been honored for his longtime support for Israel, has visited the Holy Land scores of times and led thousands of participants on solidarity tours over the half-century since his first trip to Israel right out of high school, just before the 1973 Yom Kippur war.
“After 50 years of coming here, nothing has prepared me for this visit,” Huckabee said after walking through the charred remains of this border kibbutz. About 10 percent of Kfar Aza‘s 900 residents were either killed or kidnapped during the Oct. 7 massacre, which left 1,200 persons in Israel, mostly civilians, dead, and saw 240 others taken hostage.
He told JNS that the ignorance so many people in the U.S. display about the war was a searing indictment of the educational system in America, where college students are being indoctrinated into a warped worldview.
“These programs are being funded by wealthy, antisemitic Muslim countries who are buying the minds of young people, including young evangelicals,” Huckabee said.
“What we faced here is pure evil in biblical terms of evil,” said Knesset member Danny Danon, a former ambassador to the U.N. who organized the 48-hour tour for the evangelical leaders together with Jerusalem-based Israeli Christian interfaith activist Joel Greenberg. “The last time we faced such an evil was the Holocaust, and we thought with our state and our army, it would never happen again.”
Danon added that the thousands of Palestinians from Gaza who looted the agricultural community after the initial Hamas onslaught on Oct. 7, when 3,000 terrorists burst into 22 Israeli communities and engaged in a murderous rampage, was the outcome of “a culture of hate and indoctrination of generations” of young people.
Time stands still
Israeli artillery rounds thundered in the air during the visit. It seemed, 75 days after the massacre, that time had stood still in this bucolic community.
The stench of the corpses is gone, but the signs of that nightmarish weekend remain. Huge signs outside the charred walls of what remain of the once neat row of stucco homes list the names of those slain in the attack.
As the delegation walked by, llan Buyum, 53, stopped in front of the gutted dwelling with the sign reading, “Yuval Buyum brutally murdered in this house.”
llan, in his own home half a mile away, lost contact with his 20-year-old son at lunchtime on that fatal autumn day two and half months ago. On Wednesday, he was visiting the deserted kibbutz for only the second time since the attack, his family now relocated to central Israel.
“My family is afraid to come back,” he said of his wife and two other children who survived. “Personally, I want to come back. I feel I have something unfinished here. I feel I left my son here.”
Good vs. evil
“We want the whole world to know that you either stand with Israel or you stand with hate and chaos,” Huckabee said in front of the destroyed homes. “This is not a geographical or political conflict. It is not horizontal—left vs. right—but vertical—heaven and hell or good and evil.”
“I’m stunned,” said Sam Brownback, a former Kansas governor and senator who also served as U.S. ambassador-at-large for international religious freedom, as he stood amid the remains of the kibbutz’s youth village. “I’ve been in Israel many times. I’m stunned at the demonstration of hatred, the depth of hatred, that you see here.”
“At this moment in the darkness, we will light candles and punch holes in the darkness,” said Ken Blackwell, a former mayor of Cincinnati and U.S. ambassador to the U.N. Commission on Human Rights who interned for Jerusalem Mayor Teddy Kollek in the 1970s. “We cannot cower at this existential moment of Israel’s history and must speak out against the false narrative.”
“It is a spiritual battle that we must win,” Huckabee said.