7 Things to Keep in Mind when Looking at the Palestinian-Israeli conflict


Something that surprises me quite a bit is the fact that converts to Islam adopt the Palestinian cause as their own as soon as they say the shahadah. An issue that may have meant nothing to them before accepting Islam, all of the  sudden becomes a marker of their Muslim identity.

While I support the struggle myself, I think it is important to keep in mind the variety of dimensions in this conflict. I also think that knowledge and inquiry are basic in the process of advocating. These are some things that I think we should all be aware of:

1-  The Palestinian-Israeli conflict is not a religious conflict.

Of course religion and modernization become an excellent excuse to attack the other side. Religion mobilizes people and it is a marker of identity that can be quite volatile. The politicization of religion is nothing new, and it is actually quite common (i.e. U.S. candidates continue to align with religious rhetoric). However, it can be quite dangerous. This article in here shows a group of Al-Azhar students rejecting the politicization of religion.

The issue comes down to a land property problem: Who owns the land and who rules it. These are quite common among minorities; indigenous peoples in Mexico continue to fight the government for land, aboriginal groups in Canada have had hard times settling issues of land according to early treaties between indigenous groups and the colonizers, and other groups like the gypsies have had challenges settling down.

When it comes to the Palestinian-Israeli problem there are many dimensions that are often ignored.

First, the religious aspect. For some Jewish  Zionists,  it all goes back to Abraham and God through the covenant. This has caused a lot of contention in terms of scripture among Christians, Jewish and Muslims.

That’s why my dad used to jokingly say: “God promised the Holy Land to Abraham’s children. What none one ever imagined was the fact that Abraham would have Christian, Muslim and Jewish children.” In the strict sense of the word, Palestine was not only a Jewish land. It has been historically inhabited by many groups including Muslim, Jewish, Christian, Zoroastrian and other polytheistic groups.

The land problem would perhaps not be an issue today if things were done right. The decision was made top to bottom with money and politics being a primary part of this historical event. No one asked the people who inhabited Palestine in the 1940’s what they thought and no one ever considered that if Palestine was given to the Jewish Zionists, other groups should have given the right to claim historical territories. Can Mexico have Texas and California? Could aboriginal groups across the globe claim their historical territories?

If Jewish Zionist were given a piece of land in, let’s say, Brazil and they had been given resources and arms to “protect” it, we would have exactly the same problem and instead of a Palestinian holocaust we would have a Brazilian one.

2-     Supporting the Palestinian struggle is the Muslim thing to do.

This is a complicated statement because I think that if you support the Palestinian struggle you need to recognize that there are lots and lots of people who have been wronged in a similar fashion and deserve the same support. While I do think that part of our core values in Islam should be to advocate for the oppressed, I do not see the majority of Muslims looking around for oppression. Instead they complain about the issue in Palestine, and for some of them that is the end of any sense of fairness.

This is particularly interesting to me because, as a Latin American, I appreciate the different dimensions of land conflicts, of armed violence and occupation.  I feel that the support that the Palestinian cause has gained in Latin America is because land issues and minorities’ oppression is very close to our own reality. Many of us think “this has happened to us, and therefore we feel for you and we support you against your oppressor.”

I have rarely seen the same support coming from Muslims, or other groups for that matter, around the world when it comes to the massacre of aboriginals in Chile (the Mapuche struggle), Amazonian aboriginals  or the many communities across Latin America that have been prosecuted, killed and oppressed.

Be consistent! One struggle deserves all our support, but it should not be based on religious lines.  Ending the Palestinian oppression will require more than few Muslims complaining… so be smart! Recognize other people’s oppressions and join efforts.

3-  Jewish are the Terrorists not Muslims.

I find these claims particularly troubling not because what Israel is doing is not terrorism, but because through this conflict it seems that we are trying to get rid of the label and pass it to someone else.

Few days ago a friend of mine posted a picture in facebook that showed a German scholar saying that since Muslims did not start WWI, WWII, the Cold War, the slave trade, etc.,  so they should not be called terrorists… Therefore, they can only be victims.

This is a flawed reasoning that can be dismissed in few sentences. Muslims have been responsible for a number of atrocities themselves because tyranny is not a matter of religion or culture… it transcends identity. I do not need to mention the killing of Muslim leaders after the death of Prophet Muhammad, the of the early caliphates against other groups and Muslims themselves, the Arab involvement in the slave trade or the existence of groups like the Taliban…

We all want to disassociate from these things by saying this is not “true Islam,” and while that may be right we need to recognize that all groups are capable of tyranny, oppression and terrorism.

4-      All Jewish support Israel.

Well… that’s like saying that all Muslims support the Taliban or Islamic extremism isn’t it? Issues of “support” can be extremely difficult especially when conflicts are framed in religious terms. I have noticed among Jewish teachers and colleagues that the conflict brings along a lot of internal struggle. Sometimes recognizing right from wrong or breaking away from one’s own group is tough.

Jewish does not equal Israeli zionism. The same way that many Jewish people support Israel out of some religious loyalty, many others have been demonstrated to be against what Israel is doing (for example in here). You can see them protesting, writing letters of support and sometimes even apologizing to fellow Muslims for what they see as their fellow Jewish people’s fault.  It does take a lot though! It is not easy to break away from the power that claims to scripture and gets the West to support it and we, as Muslims, should appreciate it and return the gesture when necessary.

5-      It is a shame for the U.S. to support Israel.

This makes me laugh somehow. I do feel the pain of having a bunch of Western countries, mainly the U.S., making decisions, providing weapons and giving money to one side and then saying “they are defending themselves.”

However, I don’t understand why the surprise! History has shown that there has not been a single American president not taking sides in this way in some conflict. American governments have supported military dictatorships in Latin America, Africa, Asia and the Middle East. They have gone to war or launched military operations almost every 8 years (or every presidential period). They are very quick in pointing fingers at the “wrong“side.

What surprises us then? Obama was just re-elected… does he really want to get in trouble for not supporting Israel? Of course not!  So why do we expect him to “end” it. The U.S., along major Western countries, is responsible for the conflict to start with… why would they be righteous now?

What I find more shameful is other countries’ indifference  like the Middle Eastern and African ones. I also find it shameful for countries that pride themselves on peace keeping and human rights missions to follow American directives (i.e. Canada).

6-      The solution of the conflict is for Israel to return the territory.

Well that would be nice! But then where do we stick all Israelis in Israel? Besides, as mentioned before… the Holy Land is a hot spot for all religions, and I think to some degree, it was meant to be a “shelter” land for those in need.

Aside from the fact that “returning” the territory is practically unrealistic and that no Western country with money and weapons will support that, what is the legitimacy of that? Another partition? Who decides that? Another Western country?

We need to be creative in the alternatives. Now, there is no black and white answer. Some people have suggested power sharing like in Lebanon or a two-nation state solution.  However, whatever the solution it will require support and willingness to negotiate from both sides.

At this point in time, we need to make sure that we advocate for the cease in violence and call for a negotiation for the long run instead of a temporary truce.

7-      Complaining is enough.

I can count with the fingers in one hand how many fellow Muslims I know who actually do something to help Palestine. Going to a protest here and there is not enough. Complaining in facebook is not enough either. If we are going to complain we need to be willing to do more. Are we looking for ways to take food and emergency services to Gaza? Are we donating money to organizations that can help? Are we volunteering to actively advocate in our particular communities? Are taking the time to create inter-faith and inter-cultural understanding? Are we educating the population? If not, then we should not even be complaining.

Now, after all this rant, I hope that this added some dimension to what is happening now. It is time to do something to guarantee civilians’ safety and access to resources. Similarly, it is long due to advocate for a real and doable solution beyond the politicization of religion, or the comments made by people like Netanyahu or Obama.

Here are some things to start with:

http://www.freegaza.org/en/about-us/mission

http://www.bdsmovement.net/2012/five-ways-to-effectively-support-gaza-through-boycotts-divestment-and-sanctions-10051

http://www.facebook.com/pages/Welcome-to-Palestine-2012-English/310199145661990

http://childrenofgazafund.org/

http://www.savethechildren.org/site/c.8rKLIXMGIpI4E/b.6153151/

http://www.icrc.org/eng/where-we-work/middle-east/israel-occupied-territories/index.jsp

If you know any other organizations that legitimately help please add!

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