A Table Set Before Our Enemies

Today is world food Sunday. We are asked to think about how the whole global family of humanity is being fed. The good news is that the number of people who go to bed each night hungry has dramatically been reduced over the past fifty years. For a long time, about 15 million humans on this planet were experiencing famines at any given time[1]. You may remember when television broadcasts featured regular appeals for donations so that Western food could be sent to places in Africa and Asia which were suffering from starvation. Over the past 30 years, a deliberate effort to reduce world hunger has succeeded in many places. By 2015, hunger had been dramatically reduced.[2]

But since 2015, that success has been reversed. Hunger has been rising again. As Celia explained, the pandemic contributed to some of this, as supply chain problems affected food distribution. For a long time, the problem was environmental, and had to do with farming techniques, and distribution. But in 2023, the United Nations reported that most of the people who are hungry on Earth are hungry for one reason: violence. 70 percent of everyone who is hungry lives in a country that is being impacted by war. [3]

Wars are always happening of course, but today’s wars are using food as a weapon. The Russian war against Ukraine is partly to blame. Ukraine exports 10%  of the world’s wheat supply.[4] The Russians have blocked ships from leaving Ukraine to reach world markets, and even destroyed grain in ports. [5] This has driven up prices and increased hunger in nations as far away as Africa. But Russia is not alone. Armies all over the world seek to hurt their enemies by blocking food delivery, or deliberately attacking areas where food is grown. People lose access to imported food, and farmers lose the ability to grow crops and get them to market. This is happening all over the world, including in conflicts in Yemen and Ethiopia.[6]

It is also happening in Israel/Palestine. Last week, Hamas fighters murdered 1300 civilians in a horrific attack on people’s homes, villages and kibbutzes. Civilians of all ages were targeted in this evil attack. This week, the Israeli government announced that it would lay siege to Gaza, in retaliation.[7]  The government of Israel has stated its intention to destroy Hamas once and for all. Air attacks have pulverized entire neighbourhoods, and the army is poised to invade to hunt down Hamas members. But in the name to retaliation, the government of Israel has cut off all food from entering Gaza. To do so, it has cut off food, a move that affects all people in the Gaza Strip. That small area of land is home to two million people, half of whom are under the age of 18.

This week, T’ruah, a Rabbinic peace organization in North America, pointed out that Palestinian children cannot be considered guilty for the acts of their government. To deliberately cut off their food supply is to punish and endanger innocent Palestinians for the acts of Hamas.  [8]  Five years ago, the United Nations Security Council passed a resolution that forbidding the use of hunger as a weapon of war.

Slide: UN 1

It includes resolution 5 which “strongly condemns the use of starvation of civilians as a method of warfare.

Slide: UN 2:

And resolution 7 which “ Urges all parties to protect civilian infrastructure which is critical to the delivery of humanitarian aid and to ensure the proper functioning of food systems and markets in situations of armed conflict;” [9]

The truth is, hunger is nothing new in Gaza. It is chronically hungry. 68% of Palestinians in Gaza experience moderate or severe hunger on a regular basis.[10] Local wells have run dry, so people drink water that is trucked in, costing 20 times as much as it should. [11] Israel imposed an embargo on Gaza in 2008[12], restricting how much food can go in and out of the area. The Hamas government for its part has chosen to spend money on guns and rocket launchers, rather than feeding its people better.[13]  There is plenty of blame to go around.

In the 23rd pslam,  we hear of a table being set before one’s enemies. That God will feed us and keep us safe, and our cup will runneth over, even as our enemies watch. That is meant to be a comforting thought. Even when we are surrounded by the people who hate us, God will protect us. Give us peace. Lay out a banquet, despite all the hostile forces that surround us.

But this weekend, perhaps we should be thinking about what it is like for the enemies who watch that banquet. What if those enemies are hungry? What it does it feel like to watch someone else feasting while they live with hardship? How hard has it been for Palestinians to watch the wealth of Israel just a few miles away? Hunger is caused by war. But hunger can also lead to war.

The atrocities of the Hamas attack have been called Israel’s 9/11. That comparison is telling. After the 9/11 attack, a multinational force invaded Afghanistan to attack Al Queda and depose the Taliban. Taliban fighters were killed, wounded or sent into hiding. 20 years later, the Taliban are in charge of Afghanistan. They are just as cruel and sexist as they were in 2001. They have driven the country backwards, just as they promised they would.

Violence is a terrible teacher. Violence does not help people change their minds to become more democratic and peaceful. Instead, every father or brother who is killed becomes a potential inspiration for his replacement. People can be killed, but ideas cannot. They float, from generation to generation. The Israeli government may enter Gaza and capture or kill every member of Hamas, but they can’t kill the antisemitic ideals of Hamas through violence. They can create martyrs, innocent victims,  and more hatred to inspire a new generation of terrorists who will carry on Hamas’ evil plan to destroy Israel and all Jews. If peace is the goal, violence will not help. The Taliban did not learn their lesson, and it is unlikely Hamas will, either.


True peace does not come out of bitterness. Instead, peace is brokered by people who can remain calm in the face of  their enemies. For whom inner peace is possible, even in times of great fear and anguish.

In the 23rd Psalm, that peace is expressed in two very different ways. The first half of the psalm describes the Lord as our shepherd, implying that we are sheep, being led to green pastures and quiet water. Then, without warning, a table is being set for us, and we are human again. This sudden shift seems dream-like. In dreams, we accept that we can be talking to a loved one, who suddenly becomes a dog or another person, but we know it is still them. The implication seems to be that the kind of peace we seek must be dreamt before it can become real.

We are invited to be fed by this dream of calm, even if that means adopting it in the face of our enemies. For the truth is, those enemies are also capable of becoming peaceful. God offers this peace to them, too. And it is likely that this dream of peace will come in fits and starts, not all at once to everyone. But it needs to start somewhere. And, as it grows, one day, both sides may sit at the same table and eat together, with a cup that runneth over.

At times of war, non-violent suggestions are often silenced, or considered foolish or even treasonous. But as Christ says to his disciples, the way to know a tree is by its fruit. Bad trees bears bitter fruit. A good tree bears good fruit. Let us follow God’s lead and plan for a world where everyone is well fed, where children can go to school without worry, and people can dance and sing at night without fear. Let us keep the dream of peace alive, so it can become a reality, especially when that dream is surrounded by enemies. May we find our way to peace, following our shepherd.




[1] https://borgenproject.org/the-war-on-hunger-were-winning-it/

[2] https://education.nationalgeographic.org/resource/hunger-and-war/; https://borgenproject.org/the-war-on-hunger-were-winning-it/

[3] https://www.ohchr.org/en/news/2023/03/conflict-and-violence-are-primary-causes-hunger-and-famine-special-rapporteur-right#:~:text=Seventy%20per%20cent%20of%20the,entire%20populations%20around%20the%20world.

[4] https://www.dw.com/en/five-facts-on-grain-and-the-war-in-ukraine/a-62601467

[5] https://www.bbc.com/news/world-61759692

[6] https://www.wfp.org/stories/un-barred-using-hunger-and-starvation-weapons-war#:~:text=Ethiopia%20(left)%20and%20Yemen%20(,as%20a%20weapon%20of%20war.

[7] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=elTMFHBgQrs

[8] https://truah.org/press/rabbinic-human-rights-group-calls-for-israeli-military-to-adhere-to-international-law-in-gaza/

[9] https://education.nationalgeographic.org/resource/hunger-and-war/

[10] Food Security Information Network, 2019: Global Report on Food Crises, p. 117.

[11] Ibid, 119.

[12] https://www.britannica.com/place/Gaza-Strip/Blockade

[13] Thomas Friedman, “Israel’s Worst Day at War,” The New York Times, October 7, 2023.