religion in the conflict



During the cursed month of May 2021, a viral instagram post made the following claim:

Is this true?

Aside from the fact that (1) Samaritans are not Jews, which one would learn with a simple Google search, and (2) in the late 1980s, the entire Samaritan community had to escape to Israel because Palestinians were persecuting them…the answer is, no.

Among many other things, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is absolutely about religion.



Judaism is an ethnic, rather than universalizing, religion. Ethnic religions are religions that are specific to a particular ethnic group. Universalizing religions are religions that transcend ethnic, tribal, cultural, and national affiliation. Two examples of universalizing religions include Christianity and Islam. Universalizing religions spread via colonialism, imperialism, and proselytization.

Islam started in the Arabian Peninsula — not in Israel-Palestine. In Islam, the concept of Da‘wah — translating to "issuing a summons" or "making an invitation” — is encouraged, as it increases the size of the Muslim Ummah, or community. Muslims arrived to Israel-Palestine as conquerors. 

By contrast, Judaism, which is a belief system Indigenous to the region that is known as Israel-Palestine, meaning that it actually originated in Israel, does not seek converts and actually discourages conversion. The Hebrew term for conversion, “gyur,” actually translates more accurately to the process of naturalization into the Jewish tribe. Think: an ancient version of immigrating to a new country and going through the process to become a citizen.

The only reason you can find Jews in nearly every corner of the globe is that foreign empires displaced an Indigenous population. This displacement(s) is something that Jews have in common with other Indigenous Peoples. By contrast, you can find Christianity and Islam across the globe because the *faith* spread (primarily via colonialism and imperialism), rather than the *people.*



To understand the first layer of religious conflict in Israel-Palestine, you first have to understand Arab and Islamic colonialism. 

Universalizing religions such as Christianity and Islam have long been abused as a tool of colonization. The Indigenous-led United Nations Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues defines Indigenous Peoples using a guideline with a number of differentiating characteristics, including a “distinct language, culture, and beliefs.”

Indigenous tribes worldwide generally make no distinction between their religious, ethnic, and/or tribal identity. Some examples in the Middle East include Yazidis, Jews, Assyrians, and Copts.

Colonizers have long forced or coerced Indigenous nations into adopting their religions as a tool to dominate. 

The Arab Empire (also known as “Caliphate”) conquered the region of the Levant (modern-day Israel, Palestine, Lebanon, Syria, and parts of Turkey) in the seventh century, some 1,600+ years after the establishment of the Kingdom of Israel. In November 636, the Arab army conquered Jerusalem, the holiest Jewish city. 

Beginning in 688, the Arabs constructed the Dome of the Rock and later the al-Aqsa Mosque atop the ruins of the destroyed sacred Jewish Temple.

It was customary for conquering armies — including the Arab armies — to build religious monuments on top of the ruins of the sacred sites of those they conquered as a demonstration of power.



The beginnings of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, as well as what prompted the Palestinian Arab displacement, was the 1947-1949 Israeli-Arab war. 

Immediately upon the 1947 United Nations Partition Vote, which called for the partition of Mandatory Palestine into one Jewish and one Arab state, the Arabs declared a “holy war.”

In other words: they started a war on religious grounds, calling upon all Muslims to fight in the struggle against the Jews. 

To quote Azzam Pasha, the General Secretary of the Arab League: “Personally I hope the Jews do not force us into this war because it will be a dangerous massacre which history will record similarly to the Mongol massacre or the wars of the Crusades…We will sweep [the Jews] into the sea.” 

How in the world, then, could one claim that the conflict doesn’t have some serious religious elements?



The rise of modern Arab nationalism can be dated to 1911, when Arab intellectuals from across the Levant (Israel, Palestine, Jordan, Syria, Lebanon, and parts of Turkey) met to form an Arab nationalist club with the stated goal of “raising the level of the Arab nation to the level of modern nations.” In 1913, they met for the Arab Congress, where they asserted a growing desire for independence from Ottoman rule.

Early Arab nationalism was not particularly religious in nature. After all, Arab nationalism arose in opposition to the Ottoman Empire, which was an Islamic empire. Additionally, Palestine was not of specific importance to early Arab nationalists; while they believed all or most of the Middle East should be included in a unified pan-Arab state, the two most important cities to Muslims are in the Arabian Peninsula. 

Enter: Haj Amin Al-Husseini, Grand Mufti of Jerusalem and the father of Palestinian nationalism. Husseini was a pan-Arab nationalist until 1920, advocating for an Arab state in “Greater Syria,” but after falling out with other Arab nationalists, he switched his aspirations to that of a Palestinian Arab state. To recruit other Arabs and Muslims to his cause, he began emphasizing the importance of Jerusalem — and the Al Aqsa mosque, built atop the ruins of the Jewish temple — to Islam. 

Jerusalem is never once mentioned in the Quran. By the time of Muhammad’s death, not only had Al Aqsa mosque not yet been built, but the Arab Islamic Empire hadn’t yet conquered Jerusalem. Israel is mentioned in the Quran, in the context that it is the homeland of the Jewish People. 

Nevertheless, to recruit others to his cause, Husseini and other Palestinian religious leaders began disseminating the lie that the Jews intend to destroy Al Aqsa mosque. They also canonized Al Aqsa as the third holiest site in Islam. Time and time again, this libel resulted in massacres against Jews in Palestine. Today we see this libel come up time and time again. 



Given the account on the second slide has expressed support for Hamas because they were “democratically elected” (in 2007…), you’d think they’d know that Hamas sees the Israeli-Palestinian conflict primarily as a religious conflict. 

For example, Article 6 of the Hamas Covenant states: “The Islamic Resistance Movement [Hamas] is a distinguished Palestinian movement, whose allegiance is to Allah, and whose way of life is Islam. It strives to raise the banner of Allah over every inch of Palestine…”

Article 11 states: “The Islamic Resistance Movement [Hamas] believes that the land of Palestine is an Islamic Waqf consecrated for future Moslem generations until Judgement Day.”

Article 13 states: “Abusing any part of Palestine is abuse directed against part of religion. Nationalism of the Islamic Resistance Movement is part of its religion.”

Article 14 states: “The question of the liberation of Palestine is bound to three circles: the Palestinian circle, the Arab circle and the Islamic circle…Since this is the case, liberation of Palestine is then an individual duty for very Moslem wherever he may be.”

Article 15 states: “The day that enemies usurp part of Moslem land, Jihad becomes the individual duty of every Moslem. In face of the Jews' usurpation of Palestine, it is compulsory that the banner of Jihad be raised.”

Palestinian Islamic Jihad, as its name suggests, also explicitly considers the Israeli-Palestinian conflict a religious conflict. Islamic Jihad claims that “proper reading of the Quran, and an understanding of history, leads to the conclusion that Palestine is the focus of the religio-historical confrontation between the Muslims and their eternal enemies, the Jews.”



Beyond the issue of Palestinian refugees, the most difficult issue in Israel-Palestine peace negotiations has been the issue of the holy sites, particularly in Jerusalem, but also in the West Bank, where some of the holiest sites to Judaism (and subsequently, Islam) are located, including: the city of Hebron (which is the second holiest city in Judaism), the Cave of the Patriarchs, Rachel’s tomb, Joseph’s tomb, and more. 

Following the 1948 war, Jordan occupied and illegally annexed the city of Jerusalem and the rest of Judea and Samaria, which was then renamed the West Bank. As per the armistice agreement with Israel, Jordan was supposed to permit Jewish worshippers to pray at the Western Wall. In reality, Jordan never allowed a single Jew to pray at the Western Wall during this period. Christians were also banned from their holy sites. 

After Israel recaptured — or reunited, depending on who is talking — East Jerusalem from Jordan during the Six Day War, Israel agreed to hand over sovereignty over Temple Mount and the Al Aqsa compound over to the Jordanian Islamic Waqf. Jews are forbidden from praying on Temple Mount but can visit during limited hours. 

Yet despite abiding by the Status Quo, Israelis are accused of “threatening” Al Aqsa constantly. Some of the worst violence in the history of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict — such as the 1994 Cave of the Patriarchs massacre, when a Jewish extremist murdered 29 Muslim worshippers, or the 1929 Hebron massacre, when Muslim extremists murdered 67 Jews, took place in religious holy sites. 

How anyone can claim that the conflict does not have serious religious elements is absolutely beyond me, but it’s not surprising given the entire slideshow was filled with historical revisionism, inaccuracies, and propaganda. 

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