Thursday, September 21, 2006

Religion and Politics in Palestine/Israel conflict

Religion and politics in the Palestine/Israeli conflict

Ghassan Rubeiz, September12, 2006

Political Islam stands parallel to political Judaism and Christian fundamentalism. The three competitive religious forces are in some ways similar but they operate differently in relation to the state. Political Islam is the largest threat to domestic political regimes. In contrast, political Judaism supports it home state, Israel, and guides a global Diaspora around the home state. In its largest milieu, Christian fundamentalism supports the US government but attempts to passionately influence foreign policy in the direction of Israel. What is common among the” three” is the use of the Divine as a central actor in politics.

The United States follows a double standard on religion and politics in the Middle East. On one hand, it chastises Arabs for adopting political Islam, and on the other hand, it takes the Jewish state as a close ally.
The establishment of the State of Israel in 1948, as a home for the Jews, is a religious development. Religion guides two contrasting views of the Middle East conflict that pertain to Israel and Palestine. The first view is Arab and largely Islamic and Arab-Christian, and the second is Western and largely Judeo-Christian.

Many factors underlie the role of religion in the origin of the Middle East conflict. The Jewish state of Israel was established within a largely Muslim region. Israel’s claim to the land in Palestine was based on divine promise to the Jewish people. The formation of the state of Israel led to a displacement of substantial Arab and largely Muslim population by Jewish international communities. A political home for the Jews was authorized by the British in 1917, when the Arab world was just transiting from an era of Islamic rule under the Ottomans to a semi-secular national rule under the (Christian) European colonial mandate system. Right or wrong, Arabs felt that Israel was a Western Christian creation designed to relieve the guilt of Europeans who discriminated against the Jews for centuries and assaulted them with a Holocaust during the Second World War. The Jewish population in Palestine around the turn of the century was a small minority, within a majority of Arab Palestinian Muslims and Christians. Finally, fair or not, the Jewish-Arab minorities that migrated to Israel due to pull and push factors, heightened religious tension. The establishment of Israel was thus perceived as a sectarian, demographic and political threat to the majority Palestinian society and the surrounding Arab Muslim region.

Arabs believe that the Palestine crisis has worsened over decades through erosion of social justice. For Arabs, the challenge presented by Israel started with the conception of statehood for world Jewry in Zionism around the turn of the century. The next threat was a declaration of Jewish homeland in Palestine through Balfour declaration in 1917. In 1947, the UN partitioned land for Jews and Arabs with unequal proportions. In 1948 war with defeated Arabs created Israel as a state. Arabs believe that the erosion of justice in Palestine continued through successive wars: 1967, 1973, 1982, 1987, 2000 and 2006.

Although the origin of the Middle East conflict was essentially riddled with religious undertones, for a long time the level of religious tension had been controlled and restricted to the Middle East. Later, religion, globally, assumed a leading role in the dynamics of the conflict.
Since the 198O’s, organized religion has surfaced in the Arab world as a central mobilizing political force. Political religious resurgence has emerged over several decades of failure of secular party politics. Other factors included the neutralization of Egypt, the leading Arab country, and Jordan through a top-down US funded peace with Israel. The fratricidal politics of autocratic regimes and the growing gulf between the rich and the poor also gave organized religion political fuel.

At the same time in the West, religion took on an invigorated role in politics, especially after communism was defeated. Across religions and cultures, fundamentalists have adopted violence or hatred in different forms and levels of visibility. Fundamentalists have used different historical perspectives, cultural symbols, dogmas and mythologies to define the good and evil, the right and wrong, the just and unjust, the believer and the infidel, the saved and the doomed. American Neo Conservatives, Muslim radicals, Christian Zionists and some Jewish religious settlers have developed an implicit morbid liberation theology. This fundamentalist theology too often demonizes outsiders, exercises spiritual ethnocentrism, resorts rapidly to military solutions, engages in ethnic cleansing, prays for end of time, waits for spiritual rapture and expects self fulfillment through selective divine salvation. Today many Arabs link Israel as a religious state with the two-century occupation of European Crusaders in the Holy Land.

While politics often guide religion, the latter is often falsely assumed as a root cause. Arabs do not search deeply for domestic political reasons for their political failures in Palestine: neo colonial politics, increasing distance between rulers and ruled, regime fratricide in search for political legitimacy and a growing technological deficit. However, religious factors of Arab failure in Palestine are important. External religious factors that have contributed to the conflict include a growing clerical ideological war within global monotheism, increasing military support of the Christian West for the Jewish state and an unrelenting and powerful Jewish lobby in Washington. But sectarian politics is also domestic; religiously indoctrinated suicide bombers have harmed the Palestinian cause and distanced the peace camp in Israel after years of hard reconciliation work on both sides of the conflict.

It is clear that Muslims, Christians and Jews see the question of Palestine through widely different historical, political and cultural frameworks. The Middle East conflict will not change for the better until both the Arab as well as Jewish American communities realize that the future security of Israel is tied intimately to the viability and security of a democratic Palestinian state. So far, unfortunately, sincere Arab- Jewish communication has been rare. Such dialogue tends to be theoretical and elitist.

Here are some conclusive thoughts:
1. There is no single and absolutely correct Palestinian or Jewish history and each side has enough strength for their case of secure and viable statehood
The Arabs must change their perception of Israel as a historical misfortune and plan for a future partnership with this nation.
Israelis should reconfigure their strategy to forge strong and genuine partnerships within the region. Financing peace through annual US grants to Egypt and Jordan is short-term planning and provocative
Palestinians and Syrians have been left to beg for peace in exchange for land for too long; dialogue for a new deal of land for peace is urgent.
The US can not continue to promote and arbitrate peace as long as it remains so symbiotic in its relations with Israel.

18 Comments:

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Thank you

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