Featured photo: On Tuesday evening, more than 30 people organized a pro-Palestinian protest on the sidewalk outside Agape Faith Church, where a pro-Israel event featuring former IDF leader Dany Tirza was being held. (Photo by Gale Melcher)

“Ceasefire now! Ceasefire now! Ceasefire now!”

On Tuesday outside Agape Faith Church in Clemmons, more than 30 people gathered on the sidewalk lining Lewisville-Clemmons Road to protest the church’s “Night to Honor Israel,” featuring Dany Tirza, a retired Israeli Defense Forces colonel and former head of its separation fence administration, also known as the “Iron Wall.” Rafia Kirmani, a concerned American-Muslim told TCB that she was “horrified that we are actively watching a genocide occurring.”

“I am horrified that we have invited a speaker from a country that is being held with war crimes,” Kirmani added.

Protester Sarra Alqahtani called Tirza “one of the architects of Israeli apartheid.” 

More than 30 people protested on the sidewalk outside Agape Faith Church on Tuesday. (Photo by Gale Melcher)

Who is Dany Tirza?

Dany Tirza is a 30-year veteran of the IDF who “orchestrated Israel’s barriers on the West Bank and Sinai Peninsula,” according to a Forbes report from 2017.

“As a colonel in the Israel Defense Forces, Tirza was in charge of strategic planning from 1994 to 2007,” the report noted.

Tirza is now the CEO of Yozmot Ltd., a geopolitical consulting company, and recently worked to produce body cameras for police that use facial recognition technology that can identify people in a crowd, even if they wear masks, make-up or camouflage.

“Hosting a person like that while Palestinians are getting murdered by our tax money and by celebrate [sic] starvation is just outrageous, disturbing, and dark,” Alqahtani said. “Seeing a local church celebrating what Israel is doing in Gaza is just unacceptable.”

In a December 2023 interview with the Washington Post, Tirza said that leaders made a mistake trusting that the fence was impermeable. “We really thought that we are building a very good infrastructure that will help to save the lives of the Israelis. Unfortunately, it didn’t work.”

Tirza repeated these sentiments at the event.

“We thought what we were preparing for was a terrorist group,” he said, adding, “Therefore we built a fence around Gaza and the West Bank.”

While the technology was “sophisticated,” they were not prepared.

“It was like a terrorist army,” he said. “We could not believe that that could come and therefore we were not prepared for it.”

Soldiers thought that the fence “would stop Hamas.”

Still, Tirza said, “I really, really believe that there is no way but peace.”

In 2019, Tirza said that he hopes for a day where there will be peace with the Palestinians. “I pray that the day will come that there will be peace, and there will be no need for the security fence,” he said, adding that he wants to be the person to remove the first piece of the fence in Jerusalem.

From left to right: Former IDF leader Dany Tirza, CUFI’s Senior Director of Engagement Randal Neal, and Pastors Murray Kartanson and JB Whitfield. (Photo by Gale Melcher).

Agape Faith Church invites pro-Israel group to event

Since the beginning of October, the Israeli government, at the direction of President Benjamin Netanyahu, has launched attacks at Gaza which have killed more than 30,000 civilians, many of them women and children. For most of the conflict, the Israeli government has stated that its mission is to “eradicate” Hamas, a military group which governs Gaza and launched an attack on Israel on Oct. 7, killing more than 1,000 people and taking hundreds hostage.

But this conflict is not new.

After the Second Intifada, a Palestinian uprising against Israel in the early 2000s, left approximately 3,000 Palestinians and 1,000 Israelis dead, the Israeli government decided to build a security fence between Gaza and Israel with sensors and cameras. Under Tirza’s supervision, a wall hundreds of miles long was constructed. On Oct. 7, Hamas broke through that fence.

A protester blocks vehicles from entering the event. (Photo by Gale Melcher)

Before the event on Tuesday, a Pro-Palestinian protester blocked vehicles from entering the church’s driveway and spat on them as they drove past. Multiple sheriff’s deputies patrolled the sidewalk and church grounds and told protesters that they could not park in the church’s parking lot even if they intended to attend the event. 

Agape Faith Church, where the event was held, is a multi-faith Christian church led by Pastors JB Whitfield and Murray Kartanson. Their beliefs mention adherence to the Bible and marriage as being between a man and a woman.

TCB reached out to church leadership ahead of the event for comment but could not speak to a spokesperson by the time of the event. 

The event inside the church began with prayer and worship music.

Congregants sing along to worship music at Agape Faith Church. (Photo by Gale Melcher)

Rabbi Mark Cohn of Temple Sholom, from New Milford, CT, led the congregation via video in Hatikvah, Israel’s national anthem, before Agape’s worship leader Megan Hoffman sang the “Star-Spangled Banner.”

Christians United for Israel’s Senior Director of Engagement Randal Neal also attended and asked congregants to donate to the organization, which describes itself as the “largest pro-Israel organization in the United States, with over 10 million members.” On its website, they state that they are “the foremost Christian organization educating and empowering millions of Americans to speak and act with one voice in defense of Israel and the Jewish people.” Supporters of the organization, as reported by the Associated Press, include Republican representatives like Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, former Vice President Mike Pence, former South Carolina governor and presidential candidate Nikki Haley and Sen. Tim Scott. The organization uses funding to lobby politicians to advocate for legislation that supports Israel, according to its financial documents.

In 2022, the latest tax filing publicly available for the organization showed that CUFI reported making $204,000 in revenue — much of that from donations — and having $1.49 million in assets. The prior year, the organization reported having $1.69 million in revenue.

Organizations like CUFI are part of a movement called Christian Zionism. The movement pushes the belief, as reported by one news outlet, that the Bible prophesied that during the “End Times,” Israel will be scattered and regathered. The unrest in the Middle East has many Christians believing that events described in the Bible are nearing. Christian Zionists “believe a tiny minority of living Jews will, in the End Times, convert to Christianity, and the rest will be damned to hell for their disbelief,” wrote Steven Gardiner, research director for Political Research Associates, in 2020.

CUFI’s Neal said during his remarks that he would “not get into the two-state solution discussion.”

“That’s a political discussion,” Neal said, adding that CUFI doesn’t “have a position” on that, because Israel is a “sovereign nation and our political influence ends at the Atlantic seaboard.” 

The US has given Israel about $300 billion in aid, making it the largest cumulative recipient of U.S. foreign aid since its founding, according to the Council of Foreign Affairs.  

The US has provisionally agreed to provide Israel with nearly $4 billion a year through 2028, and lawmakers are considering billions of dollars in supplementary funding for Israel amid its war with Hamas, according to the council.  

In December 2023, the US cast the sole veto vote on a ceasefire measure as a member of the 15-member UN Security Council. And despite President Joe Biden’s resistance to calling for a ceasefire, Vice President Kamala Harris called for one on March 3, stating, “Too many innocent Palestinians have been killed,” while reiterating that Israel has the right to defend itself.

Protesters Marianne Donadio and Maria Dawkins hold posters outside Agape Faith Church. (Photo by Gale Melcher)

Speakers condemn violence but maintain Israel’s right to defend itself

As Tirza began to speak, several pro-Palestinian protesters rose up and screamed that people are being “bombed, shot and starved to death” before they were dragged out of the room by security. As they were being removed, Neal, Whitfield, Kartanson and the roomful of congregants bellowed, “Israel lives! Israel lives! Israel lives!”

Rabbi Charlie Cytron-Walker from Winston-Salem’s Temple Emanuel stated that there are “too many balls to hold in the air at the same time; all of them of vital importance.”

“We have to continue to teach about the atrocities of Oct. 7, all of the details and the horror and the trauma,” Cytron-Walker said. “Because no matter how much evidence is presented, too many deny or diminish. We cannot ignore the devastation of Gaza, the hunger and desperation and suffering of millions of Palestinians.”

He noted how he was “appalled” by the settler attacks on Palestinians in the West Bank and how the IDF has failed to protect Palestinians in those instances.

“That path is not a path to peace,” he said. 

He also mentioned the hundreds of thousands of people displaced in Israel, how the hostages’ families have been treated and the increase of Islamophobia throughout the world. 

Still, he said he looks forward to a day when “both peoples can live in dignity and safety and peace.”

But many protesters, including co-chair of Green Party US Tony Ndege, said that what they want is a ceasefire. He and others have collected close to 200 signatures demanding that Winston-Salem’s city council pass a resolution calling for a ceasefire and an end to military aid to Israel.

“We’re gonna ask them to agendize it” at Monday’s city council meeting, Ndege said.

Protester Morah Caidin pushed back against claims that Israel needs to defend itself to achieve peace.

“It’s hard for me to believe that people are still like after all this, all these months of actual slaughter, and they’re still saying, ‘We’re in danger, Israel needs protecting,’” Caidin said. “It’s like, from what though?”

Hundreds of hostages were taken in Israel by Hamas on Oct. 7. (Photo by Gale Melcher).

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