Deborah Porter, Foreign Policy Contributor
In my previous article, I outlined that the Israeli settlements were legal, and that Israel was well within its right, both in terms of human rights and legal rights, to be the sovereign nation over the West Bank and Golan Heights. However, approaching the Israel-Palestine conflict from a legal perspective leaves out the religious history of the land, especially of Jerusalem. While technically accurate, it is vastly misleading to only view the Israel-Palestine conflict as a territorial dispute. Therefore, this article outlines the religious history and underlying religious nature to the Israel-Palestine conflict. The coverage of religion will not contain a discussion of which religion is correct, but rather will examine religious motives in the conflict.
The religions of Christianity, Judaism, and Islam all have deep connections to the land of Israel, especially its capital Jerusalem. Christians view Israel as the land of Jesus, their Savior. Judaism waits for this Messiah, feeling led to occupy the land of Israel granted by G-d in ancient times, and the movement of religious Zionism was the movement of Jews back to their homeland. Islam claims Jerusalem as their third holiest site, housing the shrine of the Dome Rock. Of these three religions, Jews and Muslims make up a major portion of people in the Middle East, as well as the nation of Israel.
Israel and the Middle East in general are described as religiously divided. Statistically speaking, the Jews have poor opinions of the Arabs (in this case Arabs and Muslims can be used interchangeably), and the Arabs have equally poor opinions of the Jews. A massive study by Pew Research supports this idea, indicating that politics are heavily influenced by religion, even noting distinctions between religious factions. According to my Jewish friend Eliav, “[a] Jewish sovereign presence in [the Middle East] is an affront to Allah and can never be accepted.” On the other hand, Jews “see settling the Land of Israel as fulfilling G-d’s commandment.” One can easily see how these groups of people will reject one another.
Jerusalem is the center of this religious conflict. Here, Jews believe that their sacred Temple should be restored, even though the Temple Mount currently contains the Dome of the Rock, an Islamic site. Jews instead visit the land surrounding the mosque, called the Western Wall. Recently, the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) came under fire for passing a resolution that denied Jewish connection to the Temple Mount, including to the Western Wall. As I write this article, UNESCO further plans to reject Israeli sovereignty in Jerusalem. These resolutions not only deny history, but also reject Jews as a people and Judaism as a religion.
It is no secret that the most recent peace agreement offer made by Israel was rejected by the Palestinian Authority. The stated reason for this rejection was that even though Israel offered 93% of the West Bank, “[t]he Palestinian side [would] only accept a Palestinian state with territorial continuity, with holy Jerusalem as its capital, without settlements, and on the June 4, 1967 boundaries.” By specifically pointing out Jerusalem, it is shown that the city holds great importance to both Palestine and Israel. With the UN-brokered plan, Jerusalem was an international zone. Even today, Jerusalem can be separated into East and West Jerusalem, with East Jerusalem lying in the West Bank. Even in this case, the Jewish quarter in Jerusalem lies within the West Bank, and Israel and Palestine both lay claim to this land.
It should be noted that the religious background of this conflict also plays a huge part in the violence of the Israel-Palestine conflict. In 2016, the Washington Post claimed that Palestinian attacks on Israelis occurred on a near daily basis. A Pew research study found that each side thought the other religion encouraged the most violence. Many Americans perceive the Islamic faith as either moderate or extreme, with the more radical elements encouraging of terrorism. On the other side, Palestine claims Israel is too forceful in their anti-terror campaigns, infringing on Palestinians’ rights in the land. These claims not only create an intractable conflict but also escalate it by creating a circle in which Israelis and Palestinians continually blame each other for their conflict.
There is no simple solution to this religious conflict. Both sides want the exact same land in Jerusalem and are unwilling to give up their claim to the land. Israel and Palestine think the other side is capable of great violence, continually sacrificing whatever necessary to gain rights to their holy land. This leads some to say that Israel is an apartheid state, while others deny that claim. Simply speaking, the Israel conflict will never be solved on religious grounds. Instead, we must hope that the governments of the Middle East can first learn “separation of church and state.” It is only then that the Israel-Palestine conflict can be resolved in a fair manner.
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