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Is Peace between Israel and the Palestinians Possible?

The myth that Islam is a religion of peace and tolerance must be exposed. The more this myth is repeated, the more the lines between truth and fiction are blurred.

The following letter is a response to the article, Islam: A Religion of Peace.

"I read with interest the article, "Islam: A religion of Peace." In response, please find below my recently written essay on the topic. Could you please publish it in your esteemed publication?" Ifrahim Mathew

Since Hamas, the political militant party, won its landslide victory in the national elections of the Palestinians, relations between the Israelis and the Palestinians took a new turn. Their relationship is posing a new challenge to world leaders as they struggle with a dream to achieve world peace by solving the issues in the Middle East. On the top of the list is the need for achieving peace between Israel and Palestinians. Whether peace between the two people groups is really possible, is a cause for wonder.

Questions centuries old still remain to be answered …

Soon after the Hamas land slide victory, a senior Hamas leader and former Imam of historical Al Quads mosque, sheikh Mohammad Sayyam, vowed, "Hamas will continue its struggle against the Jews and will never let them succeed in their intentions … We will continue our struggle and will wipe out Jews from the Holy Land" (The News international, March 27, 2006).

It is not the first time that these kinds of intentions were expressed by Palestinian leaders. During the 1972 Olympic Games the militant wing of the PLO, Al Fatah, assassinated four Israeli players in Greece. Mr. Yasar Arafat, the PLO chief at that time, expressed the same intentions. He was later considered a man of peace by world leaders.

On the other hand, Prime Minister Ehud Olmert's plan to impose a border in the West Bank by 2010 (The News International, April 10, 2006) reflects his steadfast position.

Questions centuries old still remain to be answered: Can there be peace between Israel and Palestinians? and Why so much of a fuss over a tiny piece of land? In order to determine the answers, we need to analyze the issue from a historical perspective.

A brief look at the historical background of the Jews indicates that God built the nation of Israel according to His promise to Hazrat Abraham (see Genesis 12:2, 3). King Saul was appointed as Israel's first king through divine guidance. During the times of King Hazrat Solomon, the nation of Israel became a great kingdom. However, due to Israel's disobedience to God, the kingdom fell and its land was conquered by the Babylonians. Later the Babylonian kingdom was vanquished by the Persians. At that time the influence of Zoroastrianism was very strong within the Perso-Babylonian culture. It was especially prevalent in Persian society before the rise of Alexander the Great. This influence became very evident even in the Qumran writings.

The Zoroastrian eschatological outlook was governed by the belief that the present evil age was fast drawing to close and that a new age would speedily be ushered in. The impact of this dualistic worldview colored Jewish beliefs concerning their messianic hope.

During 223-187 BC Jerusalem was governed by high priests. At that time there was no national Leader. Simon came to power as a high priest in 142 BC. He won immunity from Rome for taxes and proclaimed Israel's independence (see 1 Maccabees 13:41). During 141 BC Simon was their leader and high priest. People were happy with him until there arose a faithful prophet. Then the concept emerged of an independent Jewish state in which the civil head and/or military leader was also the high priest. Even in the time of Israel's Hasmonean dynasty, the high priest and king were one. In 1949 when the Jewish state came into existence under the name of Israel, the Jewish dream of recapturing the former glory Israel had experienced during the reign of King Hazrat Solomon began to be realized.

Geographical back ground on the issue

Possessing land is crucial to the existence of any nation. That is where its culture flourishes. The Book of Numbers clearly tells us that ever since the time of Joshua culture and politics were inextricably interwoven in the life of Israel. (Incidentally, the same holds true for the Palestinians, who are Muslims.) This pattern, based on the concept that the king is also the high priest, has continued to influence Jewish affairs throughout history. Today the fact that culture and politics are inter-related and one and the same, plays a major role in Israel's outlook and in the way it forms its policies as a nation.

From that time on the spirit of Jewish nationalism sprang aggressively into revolt …

In the time of the Romans who conquered the kingdom from the Greeks, Israel's independence achieved by the Maccabees, was again lost through defeat at the hands of Pompey in 63 BC. Once again the Jews came under the yoke of the heathen. From that time on the spirit of Jewish nationalism sprang aggressively into revolt that continued down to the time of Christ.

Just prior to the time of Christ Antipater of Idumaea, who was hated by Jews because he was an Edomite, was made a Governor of Judea. He relied upon Rome for support. Upon his death his son Herod was appointed king of Judea at 40 BC. Herod also being an Edomite could not be high priest. He therefore made it a policy as much as possible to denigrate the office. That further inflamed the Jews' spirit of rebellion against Rome.

Role of Messiah in the national life of Israel

In the Old Testament and during the inter-testament period much is said about the coming of a Golden Age for Israel—a Messianic kingdom in which the fortunes of Israel would be restored. In post-exilic times when the monarchy cease to exist in Israel and the high priest was anointed and virtually took the place of king, Messianic hope remained untouched.

During New Testament times (after the death of Christ) a small band of Jesus' devotees kept His name alive insisting on His Messianic identity by calling Him Christ even thought prevailing Jewish tradition did not suggest that God would restore the kingdom to Israel through a condemned man. Especially not through one who went meekly to his death.

The Jewish Messiah was to fight an earthly battle to rescue Israel from its foes. A group of devoted Jews within Israel is still looking forward to the coming of their Messiah. For this reason Jews bury their dead outside the Golden Gate of the Old City of Jerusalem. They believe this gate will be one day be opened to welcome the Messiah. In order for their hope of seeing the Messiah come to be realized, they need to have a land of their own.

The Torah and the Jews

The Torah, or Pentateuch, was given by God to Hazrat Moses at Mount Sinai. By 350-300 BC the Pentateuch was revered by the people. The place that the Torah held and still holds in the life of Judaism is summed up by D.H. Wheeler Robinson, " … through the reading to the Law, supplemented by that of prophets, in the scattered synagogues of dispersion, the knowledge of the one Holy God and His covenant with Israel was kept fresh in the hearts of all." Therefore, the Torah must be defended even if a heavy price has to be paid.

The Jewish culture

In the light of Old Testament teachings, the Jews considered themselves people of the superior culture. Throughout history the challenge to Judaism was not that of rival religions, but that of rival cultures. The syncretistic influence of Hellenism expressed in festivals and ceremonies left its imprint on the religious life and customs of the Jews. The Jews considered this culture anathema (see Ezra 9:1). History had proven that one way to keep one's existence was to attack others—offensive warfare. We see many examples of this type of warfare throughout the Old Testament. One example is found in 1 Samuel 14:47.

The aim of such aggressive warfare was to condemn idolatry chiefly by ridicule.

Offensive warfare was also the Jews' manner of self-preservation during inter-testament times. This type of warfare was recorded in Jewish-Hellenistic literature from the time of the Septuagint to Josephus at the end of the first century. The aim of such aggressive warfare was to condemn idolatry chiefly by ridicule. The same spirit continued to prevail upon the Jewish mind throughout history. As a result, a sect of Jews has always struggled against Hellenism.

Palestinians are mainly Muslims

Basically, Palestinians are Arabs and Muslims. Islam began in the seventh century. Its perspective was similar to that of the Jews. Dr.Y. Zaki, a leading British Muslim and a Scotsman who converted to Islam, explained the reason: "Islam is just not a religion. It's a state, and Islam does not distinguish between sacred and secular authority."

During the time of the prophet Muhammad, strong Jewish communities have lived as minorities in Muslim-majority contexts. Even the wife of the Muhammad had been a devoted Jew.

Dar al–Islam and Dar al-Herb

According to the Islamic worldview, the world is divided into two dominions: Dar al Islam and Dar al Harb. Dar al Islam is translated "House of Islam," and represents all domains under Muslim rule. The rest of the world is under the rule of infidels or non-Muslims. It is known as Dar al-Harb, or "House of War." Muslims are obliged to subdue Dar al–Harb and turn it into Dar al-Islam. This is often accomplished through physical warfare, particularly in the early era of Islam, though circumstances have varied at different times and places. But almost always Jews experience some degree of discrimination from the Muslims.

Teaching of Jihad in Islam

The term Jihad in its narrowest sense means "Holy War." Its general meaning is "striving" or "struggling." Traditionally jihad means physical aggression against infidels with the underlying objective of converting them to Islam and instituting rule by Shari'a law. Its purpose is to change Dar al-Harb into Dar al-Islam. An example of this is the country of Sudan. During the 21 years of its civil war which ended a year ago, the Sudanese government repeatedly declared that it was carrying out iihad against the non-Muslims of the South. The government's main desire was to impose Shari'a law in southern Sudan which had been predominantly Christian.

Jihad is commanded in the Qu'ran:

But when the forbidden months
Are past, then fight and slay
The pagan wherever ye find them …
Fight those who believe not
Neither in god nor the last day.

The subjugation of non-Muslims by Muslims is a phenomenon repeated around the world from the beginning of Islam. During the process of subjugation, there is a cycle in which reinforced discriminatory attitudes prevail. Islam has no teaching about loving your enemy or about all humankind being of equal worth. Nothing can break the cycle of subjugation unless Islam itself can be reformed according to modern concepts of human rights and religious liberty. Such reformation is unthinkable to Islamic radicals.


The oft-repeated myth of Islam being a religion of peace and tolerance must be exposed as wishful thinking. The more it is repeated, the more the lines between truth and fiction become blurred. Where Islam is a minority, as in the West, it preaches tolerance and peace, but where it is in majority, it moves towards domination, power and inequality.

There is a small but growing body of Muslims calling for reform. Reform would introduce to Islam the concept of genuine tolerance of non-Muslims. These reformers may pay with their lives, but without their initiative, it is unlikely that relationships between Jews and Muslims will ever improve. Similarly, reform is needed among Jews to accept non-Jews. Jews need to demonstrate a willingness to coexist with non-Jews without ridiculing them.

Without these reforms the dream of peace between Jews and Muslims cannot be achieved.

Ifrahim A Mathew, MA.Ed, is secretary of the Evangelical Alliance of Pakistan. He is a DMin candidate at Bangkok Bible College & Seminary.




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