- Palestinian-Israeli crossfire on
"God and the conflict”

November 18, 2002 Edition 42

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>< “Get God out of the conflict” - by Yossi Alpher
This religious extremist activism completely dwarfs the valiant efforts of religious moderates, and threatens to engulf us all.

>< “Mixed signals” - by Ghassan Khatib
Emphasizing international legality and its guidance for a negotiated solution offers more hope.

>< “Two proposals” - by Menachem Froman
It is impossible to achieve lasting peace between Jews and Muslims without ensuring the participation of men of religion, Muslims and Jews.

>< “Yearning for the promised land” - by Bishop Munib Younan
There certainly are passages in the Old Testament and other Holy Writings that will justify political atrocity if taken out of context.

Get God out of the conflict

by Yossi Alpher

Throughout recent years of expanded contacts between Israelis and Arabs, many constructive instances of interfaith dialogue between religious figures on both sides have been undertaken. In parallel, the blossoming of the peace process during the '90s produced enhanced contacts between Israel and the Vatican and additional Christian streams. In the diaspora, too, Jews, Muslims and Christians have been "dialoguing" as never before. While it is hard to point to any concrete political fruits of Jewish-Muslim and other contacts, this religious stream of the peace process can hardly be blamed for what the mainstream political dialogue has also failed to accomplish.

Yet these efforts appear negligible when viewed against the backdrop of extremist religious activity on all sides that seeks to exacerbate the conflict rather than alleviate it, and that advances mutually incompatible agendas. The overwhelming mass of religious energy currently being invested in the Israeli-Palestinian (and, at a more abstract level, Israel-Arab) conflict constitutes a very dangerous zero-sum game.

Regarding Islam and Judaism, the situation needs little elaboration. On the Palestinian and Arab side, Hamas, Islamic Jihad and Hizballah, with financing from Iran, Saudi Arabia, and elsewhere, pursue an agenda of liberating the entire holy land, deemed the property of the Islamic religious endowments, from Israeli control. The only compromise conceivable for the Islamist approach is a temporary, tactical one that could postpone but not cancel achievement of this goal. All Israelis, including women and children, are legitimate targets. There is plenty of evidence that Yasir Arafat, though leader of an ostensibly secular movement, subscribes to the Islamist notion that Jews are not a people and have no legitimate national roots in a land that is Islamic by divine determination.

On the Israeli side the conquest, occupation and settlement since 1967 of Judea and Samaria--lands that in many aspects constitute the "cradle of Hebrew civilization"--have generated a fundamentalist Jewish movement that invokes the darker side of Jewish law to justify denying Palestinians the right of self-determination in what is for them, too, an ancient homeland. At best, Arabs can remain on the land as tolerated guests enjoying some sort of limited autonomy and expatriate citizenship in Jordan--but only if they "behave themselves" and respect the Jews' right to settle in their midst. Here, too, there is little room for compromise. Over the years, the religious-ideological settler movement has achieved political influence, with Labor as well as Likud governments, far out of proportion to its numbers.

Somewhat less well known, particularly in the Middle East, is the involvement in the conflict of Christian Evangelicals in western countries, and particularly the United States, where they reputedly number 70 million. Alongside their assistance to Israel in absorbing immigrants and their general support for Zionism, the Evangelicals have a very specific, and indeed very sinister agenda in mind, and they seek to further it by aiding and abetting the most extreme Israeli factions and in some cases the "lunatic fringe." There is simply no other way to characterize active Evangelical support for the settlement movement and even for that tiny handful of Israelis that wishes to destroy the mosques on the Temple Mount and rebuild the Temple.

There is every reason to believe that the Evangelical leadership understands that the policies it supports will only encourage more hatred and strife in the region; destroying the mosques, in particular, is a formula for something akin to "world war" in the Middle East. Indeed, the Evangelicals' agenda for the end of days requires that the entire holy land go up in smoke ("Armagedon") and that two thirds of the Jews die (while the other third become Christian when Jesus Christ reappears). They are actively encouraging a program of death and destruction for the region, in the course of which Israel will have to become a kind of South African-type apartheid state and a major conflagration will take place.

Ultimately, the Evangelicals do not want a Jewish, democratic Israel. Unlike other allies and supporters of Israel, they intervene in its domestic politics by supporting and financing extremists. Nevertheless, some Israelis and American Jews feel comfortable accepting their support, allegedly because Israel's situation is so critical, because in any case the Evangelical agenda is deemed apocryphal and harmless, and because Evangelical influence extends deep into the Bush administration, which supports Israel enthusiastically. In fact, for Israel to cooperate actively with the Evangelicals is lunacy--it is writing a new chapter in the March of Folly.

It is perhaps noteworthy that Muslim and Christian religious extremists project a fate of death, destruction and conversion for the Jewish people, while Jewish religious extremists do not foster a similar attitude toward Muslims or Christians; Israeli Jewish extremists essentially just want to have the land and be left alone. This is a point in favor of relative Jewish moderation, but it is lost in a sea of hatred (or, in the Evangelical case, poisonous "love").

The scope of this religious extremist activism completely dwarfs the valiant dialogue efforts of religious moderates, and threatens to engulf us all. From this standpoint it would be best if we could simply get God out of the conflict.-Published 18/11/2000©

Yossi Alpher is an Israeli strategic analyst. He is former Director of the Jaffee Center for Strategic Studies, Tel Aviv University.

Mixed signals

by Ghassan Khatib

It has long been debated whether the main driving force behind Palestinian and Israeli hostilities is religious and sectarian or nationalist and secular. Emphatic slogans and enthusiastic religious maxims can at times be manipulated by politicians to achieve political purposes, and to incite--but sometimes these sentiments are also genuine. There is a wide and confusing gray area in between.

Certainly, some of the public and some leaders are motivated by religion. Other motives, however, include political considerations, nationalism and the economy. Sometimes all of these are mixed in a such way that it becomes difficult to distinguish the driving force behind statements or actions. There is no doubt that politicians sometimes use religious belief to increase support for certain political tendencies. Theoretically, this is equally true in both Israel and Palestine.

But while today’s conflict includes aspects of both the secular and religious, at its heart the Palestinian-Israeli dispute is political. Jewish religious aspirations in Palestine were suddenly (and for strategic reasons) exploited by superpowers with purely political motives. These superpowers backed the Zionist trends in Palestine and allowed them to militarily and politically immigrate and occupy and control what has now become Israel.

At that time, the Palestinians felt they faced a political and national sort of problem, which they had just cause to fight. To further that purpose, Palestinians used religious sentiment and ever since, whenever the two sides are in a heightened state of tension, the manipulation of religion and religious feeling has increased. Take, for example, the “Al Aqsa Intifada.” It was no coincidence that the spark for the last two years of confrontation was the visit of extreme right-wing opposition leader Ariel Sharon to one of the holiest Muslim places of worship. There is no doubt that Sharon’s visit was motivated by politics, and the strong Palestinian popular protests afterwards were also politically motivated. Still, the religious factor in these clashes was emphasized to the extent that we know now them through a reference to the Al Aqsa Mosque.

Similarly, in the Camp David negotiations that were the pinnacle of ten years of peace talks, religious sites and the Jerusalem issue were major obstacles to reaching a final settlement (they were not, however, the only impediments).

Historically and fundamentally, religion does not fully explain this conflict. Indeed, when the religious differences between us become dominant, then the conflict is not only increasingly complicated, but irresolvable. That is why both sides must exert efforts to reduce as much as possible the religious expressions of the conflict and use secular criteria in establishing what is right and wrong and consequently, in finding a solution. In this regard, emphasizing international legality and its guidance towards a negotiated solution offers more hope and more possibilities and neutralizes ideological factors of the kind that do not allow compromise.

According to international law, there should be an exchange of peace for an end to the Israeli occupation. Ending that occupation must be based on Security Council Resolution 242, which stipulates the inadmissibility of the acquisition of land by force. Whatever sites--religious or historical--that sit on the eastern side of the internationally-recognized border of 1967 must fall under Palestinian legal and political control. Whatever historical and religious sites that happen to fall on the western side of the 1967 border must fall under Israeli political and legal control. It is crucial, however, that religious control and jurisdiction is respected by both sides for the other side. In other words, religious rights and control should not become a pretext for establishing political control (any given religious area can be under the sovereignty of a state, while remaining under the religious jurisdiction of its believers).

There should be a clear separation between religious administration and political jurisdiction. There are stipulations in international law that regulate all kinds of rights, including religious rights, and these must be respected by both sides.-Published 18/11/02©

Ghassan Khatib is minister of labor in the Palestinian Authority cabinet. He has served for many years as a political analyst and media contact.

Two proposals

by Menachem Froman

I. In the name of Allah the merciful and most compassionate, one of whose holy names is "peace".

I would like to propose an idea whose essence is that peace between Islam and Judaism should be an event of great religious significance.

We Jews can find in the holy scriptures of our Torah and in the words of our prophets and sages two teachings; the first is that we should be loyal unto death to the Torah that was given to us by Allah, hallowed be his name, and to the community of the children of Israel. It is known that we do not work to spread our religion to other peoples; moreover, if a person who belongs to another congregation approaches and asks to join the Jewish community, then the laws of our religion instruct us first and foremost to address him and ask him not to do so and make the conversion to the Jewish religion as difficult as possible.

The second is that we have a great dream in which all mankind worships Allah the one and the eternal, worships and exalts him in our hearts and consciences. How can we reach the realization of this universal dream?

In practice, in our world today it is possible to project a solution in which Islam is the religion that spreads the message of belief in one G-d to the whole world. According to the perception of our sages throughout the years, the Muslims believe truthfully in one G-d. Therefore, we can project an act in which Jews all over the world support the spreading of the message of belief in one G-d by the Muslims.

From this point of view, how horrifying appears the Islamic-Jewish conflict! It appears as one of the works of Satan, who wants to stop the spread of the message of the belief in one G-d and prevent it from reaching mankind worldwide. The continuation of this conflict between the two religions, in particular the terrorist attacks against Jews that were perpetrated in our holy land in the name of Islam, strengthen the prejudices against Islam in the world. It is as if the scenes broadcast by television to the entire world showing the victims, women and children, and the spilled blood of innocents, are the images that represent the religion of Islam as a whole.

We have to "stone"--using modern measures that are permissible from religious and moral points of view--the cursed Satan that is threatening us all here in the holy land.

In addition, from the purely political point of view, it is impossible to avoid these scenes of hatred between people and to achieve lasting peace between Jews and Muslims without ensuring the participation of men of religion, Muslims and Jews, in reaching that goal, especially in light of the fact that Jewish and Muslim men of religion are ordered to do so not for political reasons alone, but for religious reasons, and they should exert every possible effort to strengthen the message of belief in one G-d and to enhance his holy and sacred message in the hearts of all mankind.

We have to accomplish a great deal in this field, and first and foremost to think what the sacred religious precepts could do in our world today. What is the modern significance of the message of the belief in one G-d? How can we spread the message of one G-d in today's spiritual and technological world? How can we translate the precepts of religion into modern language, for example the concept of "ahl a-d'imma" (non-Muslim residents of the Islamic state who enjoy its protection) in Islam, and the concept of "Jerusalem the source of the message of belief in one G-d" in Judaism.

II. In the name of Allah the merciful and most compassionate, one of whose holy names is "peace".

We who received from G-d, blessed be he, responsibility for the Muslim religious community and for the Jewish religious community that reside here in the holy land, hereby declare in Jerusalem the holy city that believers of the Israeli people and believers of the Palestinian people should be the vanguard working for peace in this land, the land of peace.

The bloody war between Israelis and Palestinians is the work of Satan, intended to humiliate the honor of believers worldwide. Hence we must stone Satan, disobey his word and act with all our influence to put an end to the bloodshed, which dishonors us and the holy land.

Hence we hereby declare our intention to establish a joint committee of sheikhs and rabbis whose permanent seat is in Jerusalem the holy city, capital of peace. The committee will make every effort on behalf of a just solution to all disputes between Israelis and Palestinians, and the creation of an atmosphere of peace among all believers. We call upon the religious leaders of Jordan and all neighboring countries and the world to join us in an effort to bring peace to the holy land, the land of peace.

And we pray with all our hearts that G-d, blessed and exalted be he, will soon fulfill his word and bring blessings to this city. -Published 18/11/2002©

Menachem Fruman is the rabbi of Tekoa, in Judea. He has engaged for many years in active dialogue with Yasir Arafat, Sheikh Yassin and additional Palestinian Muslim counterparts.

Yearning for the promised land

by Bishop Dr. Munib A. Younan

The Israeli-Palestinian conflict in the Middle East is purely political. Sadly, there is no other political conflict where the Torah, the Bible and the Koran have been so utterly abused to justify injustice.

Some say we must take God out of the Middle East conflict, but I believe God is the One to solve the conflict. The God I know is the source of love. As a Christian, I believe that God in Jesus Christ sacrificed himself to die on the cross and to rise again, bringing reconciliation and wholeness to the world. The God I know certainly does not cause tragedies, oppression or injustice but weeps with people in their pain and calls them to act with justice, compassion and love.

In the Israeli and Palestinian conflict, religious people are divided into two camps:

One group understands the Holy Writings in a literal fashion, using them to justify ownership of all the land, the Israeli military occupation and the building of Israeli settlements in the West Bank and Gaza Strip. There certainly are passages in the Old Testament and other Holy Writings that will justify political atrocity if they are taken out of their context and misinterpreted. The danger with this thinking is that people make God the fighter for partisan human causes, even turning God into a real estate broker. God then becomes part of the problem. Forgotten is the essence of God, which is equal love and care for every race and ethnicity, for people on both sides of the divide.

The other group sees the reality of politics but seeks from the Holy Writings the ways in which justice, peace and reconciliation can be accomplished, how religion can positively contribute to the solution of the Israeli/Palestinian conflict. I believe God calls us to find the positive values in Judaism, Christianity and Islam where there are more than enough teachings to build a culture of peace rather than a culture of war, violence, counter-violence and hatred.

I am sorry to see extremist mentalities and ideologies in all three religions only adding fuel to the fire of conflict. For us, as Palestinian Christians, the extremist Christian right ideologies are imported, not local. They are alien to us and harm us. It is the duty of religious and political people to combat every kind of religious extremism, rejecting the idea of God as a ruthless general without mercy. The God of Jews, Christians and Muslims is a God who wants justice and only justice for all people.

To resolve the conflict I believe we need to move in two directions:

First, the two-state solution for Israel and Palestine needs to be implemented. The current Israeli occupation of Palestinian people and land must end. Occupation is a sin against God and against humanity because it is destructive for both the occupier and the occupied. God wants people to live in dignity, with their full human, religious and political rights.

Secondly, God calls people in all three religions to be prophetic, not only condemning injustice, but caring for the humanity of all people. He calls on all of us not only to see God in ourselves, but in those considered the enemy. Only when the otherness of the other is recognized and people are given their God-given rights will the Holy Land become a promised land of milk and honey for both Israelis and Palestinians.-Published 18/11/02©

Bishop Dr. Munib A. Younan is the Lutheran Bishop in Jerusalem.

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