"There were bullets flying over our heads," he said. "It was intense urban warfare."
He and fellow soldiers were pursuing the shooters from house to house as the wounded lay around him. A little boy got the first bullet. A little girl, fleeing into a tent set up for the Feast of Tabernacles, took one next and fell face forward into the tent.
"We had to clear all the houses and all the tents set up for the feast, just to make sure shooters weren't hiding in them," Jay recounted.
That was several years ago, but now every year when he sees the tents or builds them for his family, he remembers the day he walked through them with his gun drawn. And he thinks of the teens who did the shooting - 17- or 18-year-olds -- and he wonders one thing: "What kind of message did they get from those who invested in their lives? What kind of message of anger and hate in their lives made them willing to give themselves to kill and avenge?"
And he committed to do everything he could to teach a different message -- one of hope and unity in Jesus Christ.
Jay, a Messianic Jew, had for years already spent time reaching across the Jewish-Palestinian divide to train youth leaders in the Palestinian territories. He also had long been committed to building relationships with teens who live there and connecting them with Jewish youth leaders and teens.
"The shooting didn't change my heart to work with the Palestinian people. We had to pursue the shooters, but because of Christ, I can still turn around and say we are to love these people with the love of Jesus," Jay said. "Yes, as I carried the dead away that day, I was sad and hurt over the situation. But it gave me even more of a burden for Arab teens."
The deep strife between Jews and Palestinians has long been inflamed, but Jay is convinced that hearts changed by Christ can be the catalyst for peace.
"There are many cultural and theological differences, many years of pain and anger. But when we focus not on the conflict but on Christ, we see each other through Christ," he said.
Once at a moment of high tension between the two groups, Jay was with a group of Palestinian teens sharing prayer requests, and someone mentioned that he would be going to do reserve work for a month in the Israeli military.
The teens tentatively prayed for him, and afterward as they were getting on the bus to go home, one paused.
"Did you say that you are going to be with the military for a month starting in two weeks?" he asked.
"Yes," Jay said.
The teen paused. "I will stop throwing stones at soldiers when you go."
It was one sign of changing hearts, Jay said.
"It's typical for Palestinian teens to throw rocks at Israeli soldiers for fun," he said. "It was different once he knew one of the soldiers."
The depth of tension is great, Jay said.
Most recently on May 15, Palestinians gathered at Israeli borders to protest on the "Nakba" or "Catastrophe," their commemorating of the founding of the Israeli state in 1948. As protests escalated, 10 or more fatalities were reported, with each side blaming the other for the outbreak.
There's a lot for the two groups to overcome. But the Gospel of Jesus is even more powerful than any tension, Jay said.
"We are called to be salt and light -- change agents in the world," he said. "Unity in Christ is the sign to the world that God sent His Son. If we love God, and if we want to share the Gospel, there has to be unity. And if there is, then God will be shown to the world."
Jay asked for Christians to pray:
-- for unity, growth and boldness to be open about faith in Jesus Christ.
-- for Jewish and Palestinian believers to continue to be change agents among their people and express God's love to each other.
-- for spiritual growth among the young people of both people groups.
-- that both people groups would find peace in Jesus Christ.
*Name has been changed. Ava Thomas is an International Mission Board writer/editor based in Europe.
Copyright (c) 2011 Southern Baptist Convention, Baptist Press www.BPNews.net