I have written previously about the Arab-Israeli conflict twice now, but I’ve left out one aspect that none of us wants to talk about. It’s easy to criticise the failures of the West or endlessly discuss the history of the conflict, but there is one topic that truly plays a central role: religion.
Blood, dirt, and money — or a combination of the three — are responsible for virtually all conflicts. Of course, the Arab-Israeli conflict is no exception, but on a fundamental level, the radicals on both sides see this as a religious struggle. In the current generation, we tend to secularise everything so that we can pretend to scientifically map out a solution. But with conflict as complicated as the Arab-Israeli conflict, it’s easy to wrap ourselves with the blanket of self-pity and proclaim “Oh! It’s just so complicated. So many different perspectives and feelings. I’ll just never understand it!” It is true that we will never solve the conflict with the systematic precisions given to us by science because not every societal problem can be solved in such a manner. If we want to progress, we have to move beyond the fact no one will completely understand everything about the conflict. However, we must still strive to understand it. Even if religion seems strange or difficult to understand for some, it is essential for one to recognise the control it has over people.
Before going any further, I must highlight my shortcomings. One popular saying I encountered while travelling to Israel was “two Jews have five opinions.” By this, the saying means that there are a lot of internal disagreements within the Jewish community. So when I write “The Jews believe this…” or “Muslims have faith that…”, I implore you to take it with a grain of salt. Every religion is filled with people who dissent on virtually every aspect. There are very few dogmas or beliefs completely agreed upon by an entire religion. Even among radicals, the interpretations of those dogmas are bitterly disputed.
Ask any religious person, even those who have spent decades training and study, if they understand their own religion. I anxiously await to hear back from you. Until you find that person, the world will keep on rotating while the Israeli and Palestinian children die. We will never understand even just one perspective of this conflict, however, we can (and must) strive to at least understand where both sides are coming from. The Arab-Israel conflict is very much religious conflict. Not just between Jews and Muslims, but also between the different factions within those faiths, in addition to many other religions.
Although Israel and Palestine have religious sites sacred to Christians and Baha’i (and probably more religions), the local population is mostly made up of Jews in Israel and Muslims in Palestine. Although the minorities play a role in the history and international relations, the chief actors — Israel and Palestine — have undeniable ties to the religion of their majorities. Therefore, if one does not understand religion, they will never understand this conflict.
To my dear secular readers, religion may superficially seem like a way of life or a set of traditions, but if that is the extent of your view of religion, then allow me to correct your course. This may be true for a casual religious observer, but we are not solely dealing with casual observers, we are dealing with hardliners and fundamentalists. Now I consider myself to be a Christian fundamentalist, so allow me to explain what ‘fundamentalism’ means. Essentially when one is seeking to get to the fundamentals of one’s religion, they are a fundamentalist. For some, it means pursuing a message of peace and love, for others, their perception of the fundamentals of their religion is to rid themselves (and others) of impurity by any means necessary. Again, even within fundamentalists, you can see a wide range of thought.
Yes, a person may arrange their day-to-day schedule or diet around their religion. Perhaps take special holidays and be extra motivated to spend time with their family. But any serious or dedicated religious person will tell you, it is also a philosophy. It’s a framework for understanding how the world works and how you must act every day. Both Jews and Muslims may agree to pray often, not eat pork, celebrate certain holidays, or go to a special building for worship, but if you think that makes them essentially the same, you’re a fool.
Yes, they are both Abrahamic religions, they both admire similar people (such as Noah, Abraham, Moses, and Elijah to name a few), and they both love a good falafel. But these are all superficial things. Muslims believe the Jewish sacred law books (the Torah) have been corrupted, and their holy book (the Quran), which was completed over a thousand years later, is the true word of God. The fundamentalist Jewish zionists believe God has given them all of the land held by the Palestinians. These are two very different religions. To expect them to put aside years of bloodshed is one thing, but to expect them to live without resentment for the other’s disrespect for their texts is not an expectation to be taken lightly. Nevertheless, if there is to be peace between Jews and Muslims, what should be the extent of our hopes? And how do we get there? Do we ask them both to just put aside their history? Their faith? Or we ask both of them to search for the fundamentals of their religion. What is the most fundamental aspect of religion? To look after the widows and orphans. Be you a Jew, Muslim, Chrisitan, Buddist, or Scientologist, if this act is not being done, how can you be so sure your religion — or your interpretation of your religion — is being fundamentally carried out?
There are voices of wisdom and charity on both sides. But because this conflict is so frustrating, people are giving ear to the voices of violence and hatred. In order to preserve peace, we must seek to give a stronger platform to the radicals. Not the radicals for their own religion, but the radicals for peace, justice and love. The radicals for those fundamental virtues all humans strive to achieve.
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