The Palestine-Israel Journal is a quarterly of MIDDLE EAST PUBLICATIONS, a registered non-profit organization (No. 58-023862-4).
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Editorial Board

Adnan Abdelrazek

Danny Rubinstein

Sam'an Khoury

Daniel Bar-Tal

Walid Salem

Galia Golan

Gershon Baskin

Hind Khoury

Edy Kaufman

Ata Qaymari

Benjamin Pogrund

Nafez Nazzal

Dan Jacobson

Jumana Jaouni

Moshe Maoz

Munther Dajani

Khuloud Khayyat Dajani

Izhak Schnell

Lucy Nusseibah

Meir Margalit

Menachem Klein

Ali Abu Shahla

Ilan Baruch

Hanna Siniora

Yehudit Oppenheimer

Mossi Raz

Susie Becher

Frances Raday




Vol.20 No.4 & Vol.21 No.1, 2015 / Religion and the Conflict

Focus

Unraveling Arab Regimes Pave the Way to a New ME with Islamic Prospects

The Middle East is going through a decades-long phase of painful labor that may result in a modern Islamic democratic state that lives in harmony and peace with racial and ethnic minorities.

     by Ziad AbuZayyad

We live in a dynamic world, and in this region the pace of change is only accelerating. Future analyses and predictions must take this expected change into account and must not be reduced to mere extrapolations from things as they are now. All possibilities must be examined, and plans should be drawn for all scenarios that might arise. Despite the changes on the ground, in the Occupied Palestinian Territories (OPT) and the broader Middle East, there are Palestinians, Israelis, Americans and Europeans still talking about the two-state solution, or the resumption of negotiations. It is as if they are isolated from reality and don’t know that Jewish settlement activities in the OPT have killed every opportunity for a political solution based upon the option of the two-state solution, and that the entire Middle East is going through a drastic process of change which has not yet matured. Israel’s continued disengagement from the political process is the outcome of the fact that Israeli society is undergoing an utterly unbalanced social and religious ideological change, in which all it sees is the fulfillment of the Zionist dream with complete denial and contempt for non-Jews in general and the Palestinians in particular.

Attacks by fanatic religious Jews against Palestinian have taken place not only in the context of the political conflict between Israelis and Palestinians, but also in the context of religious fanaticism against non-Jews and their holy places in general. Several mosques and churches have been subjected to sabotage and arson attacks, with hostile graphics being inscribed on their walls and gates. The most recent incident was the burning of the historic Church of Loaves and Fishes located next to the Sea of Galilee (June 18,2015). Contempt for and denial of the rights of other religions while molesting and attacking their holy shrines, is contributing to the transformation of the conflict into a religious one, as it creates a polarizing confrontation between Jews, Muslims and Christians, and an excuse for various regional Islamic movements to exploit the conflict for the interests of their own agendas.

The Challenges Facing the Palestinians

On the other side, the Palestinian leadership has entered a phase of mummification, lacking the democratic mechanisms that could have introduced into it a younger generation, creating a bridge for the leadership with its people. Many Palestinians feel isolated from what is being done by their leadership on their behalf to confront the Israeli occupation and the settlement policy.

The overwhelming majority of the Palestinians believe that violence will not achieve their national goals and, at the same time, feel that their leadership is not pursuing at full scale any of the other options it talks about: neither the internationalization campaign to mobilize the international community to isolate, boycott and exert pressure on Israel, as happened with the apartheid regime in South Africa, and force it to end its occupation of the OPT; nor the massive popular peaceful resistance against the occupation to achieve that goal.

Recent violent settler attacks against Palestinians reached a peak with the burning alive of a Palestinian family sleeping in their home in the Duma village near Nablus (July 31,2015), causing the death of an 18 month old baby and his father, and severe burns to other members of the family. Disappointment, anger and lack of hope for the future, combined with the increasing violence perpetrated by fanatic Jewish settlers against the Palestinians, their holiest mosque al-Haram al-Sharif, and their property in general — under the eyes and protection of the Israeli security forces and its double-standard policy, are driving many Palestinians to despair, which could translate into counter-violence or identification with extreme fanatic Muslim movements. This has not happened yet but is an inevitable development if this situation continues as is.

The opportunity for a political solution to the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, as indicated above, appears to be over, and the best that can be done by the Palestinian leadership at this stage is to strengthen the steadfastness of its people and enhance their capacity to maintain their lands, homes and mere existence to bear the harshness of the Israeli occupation and develop their own self-defense methods against settler violence until this labor, or transition, is over.

Labor Pains That Could Last for Decades

The region is going through a phase of painful labor that could last for decades, during which the Palestinian-Israeli conflict will be marginalized into “calm before the storm” — managing the conflict without resolving it. This traumatic process will ultimately give birth to a new Middle East, completely different from its current incarnation, and the Palestinians will have a share in it through a national identity, or, most probably a religious identity with a new outlook which adopts the principles of democracy, pluralism, tolerance and co-existence between religions and different ethnic and cultural groups.

The regimes that have governed the peoples of this region during the last two centuries have failed to establish democratic systems that incorporate the masses and to provide real solutions to their aspirations. Rulers have preferred to dominate their subjects through intelligence and security forces, through brutal interrogation methods against any and all critics; this has left a huge gap between regimes and citizens. Meanwhile, Western countries, including the United States, preferred to focus on their own political interests, forging alliances with the oppressive, corrupt regimes in the Arab world until very recently, when the so-called Arab Spring burst out, and compromised with these regimes when it came to values of human rights, democratization and good governance.

Even after emergence of the Arab Spring, instead of helping the democratization process, Western countries tried to use their influence to push developments in the direction of their own interests, creating an environment conducive to violence and radicalism.

Groups under the facade of Jihadism seized upon the opportunity created by the Arab Spring to awaken its sleeper cells, recruiting and mobilizing youth from all over the world, who had lost trust in their rulers and were attracted by illusions invented by false, make-believe, brainwashing, and intellectual sedations and an embarrassing variety of other temptations. The regional reverberations of these developments will have a major impact on the Palestinian-Israeli conflict.

When Islamic Principles Were Not Simply Words

When the principles of the Islamic religion where observed, Islam governed this region for several centuries and introduced a model that was capable of instituting the bases for equality among religions, races and ethnic groups, removing prejudice from the people: Ethnic groups and minorities found themselves part of the system and were not alienated from it. Islam implemented the Prophet Muhammad’s slogan that “[a]ll people are as equal as the teeth of a comb, there is no virtue (nothing better or superior) to an Arab over a non-Arab nor white over colored except by the fear and mindfulness of God” with deeds, not simply with words.

This attitude of equality toward non-Arabs led to the enrichment and spread of Islam. Non-Arab Muslims such as Salman Alfarisi, Tariq Bin Ziad, and Saladin Alayyoubi distinguished themselves as military leaders, while other non-Arab Muslims excelled in medicine, science, mathematics and Sharia studies, such as al- Razi, Bin Sienna, Khwarizmi: Alnisa’ei and Al-Albany, among many others.

Islam brought Arabs of various inclinations together with the Persians, Kurds, Assyrians and other ethnic minorities in the crucible of Islam and buried or neutralized their ethnic and racial differences, as they now saw themselves as Muslims in an Islamic state that did not grant weight to race or ethnicity.

The End of the Nationalities Era

This situation remained in various forms until the rise of the modern nationalist movements, when Turkish nationalism surfaced along with its unjust treatments of the Arabs under its rule on the wake of World War I, who as a result fought alongside the Allies against the Turks, hoping to gain their freedom and their own state after the war ended. In its aftermath the Allies betrayed the Arabs, dividing the territories of the defeated Ottoman Empire into areas of French and British leverage in accordance with the Sykes- Picot Agreement, and as a consequence fake entities were established that divided the Arab people into mini-states: Iraq, Syria, Lebanon, Transjordan and Palestine. These artificial new Arab entities delayed the development of a united Arab national identity and, at the same time, led to the failure to establish a democratic rule that would fulfill the will and aspiration of their peoples.

The Arab countries across the Middle East are approaching the end of the nationalities era, with new identities, or perhaps old-new identities, crystallizing. The fact that Egypt abandoned its role as the leader of Arab nationalism and became preoccupied with its internal domestic troubles and problems, especially after the death of Gamal Abdel Nasser, contributed much to enhance this process.

The Historical Playground for Conflicts and Wars

The Middle Eastern Arab countries, probably because of the area’s historical and religious status, remained for long centuries a playground for conflicts and wars, where identities were not a genuinely native product but were forced upon the peoples, in an attempt to make them accept false, artificial identities while abusing their religions. This policy did not succeed, and it has been proven recently that it has led to the awakening and inciting of ethnic identities and religious factions.

As such, in today’s bloody conflicts we are witnessing an unraveling and divisions across the Arab world, with the collapse of national identities, the appearance of schisms and the emergence of ethnic minorities, militant Islamic movements, and radical and fanatic groups whose practices completely contradict the principles of Islam.

Anger, resentment and revolt were already present when the people protested against their oppressive rulers, and external forces merely exploited these feelings for their own purposes to serve their own interests. Such manipulation of the current situation may be feasible in the short run but is not guaranteed to succeed in the long term. American support for Muslim revolutionaries against the Communists in Afghanistan (1978-89), to recall an infamous example, produced what is known as Al-Qaeda, which later became America’s primary enemy. Historical developments show that all the fake regimes are on their way to dissolution, because they have no real essence. And it would seem that all the Islamic movements fighting in the field are not the end of the road: They will most probably destroy one other and dissolve, and those who remain and learn from this experience will be more mature and aware of the needs of the century. These are usually the opportunists who collect the seeds of revolutions and draft plans for the next phase, which might take decades to crystallize.

The Palestinian-Israeli conflict remains a small part in this region’s landscape, and it may not be resolved until the region as a whole reaches safety, the final product a laboring phase marked by violent contractions, whose end result apparently will be a modern Islamic state that lives in harmony and peace with all ethnic minorities, one capable of bringing back to Islam its humane and civil form.

Islam is a concept with a set of values and principles that do not contradict the eternal human values of justice, freedom, equality, humanity and good governance. There is no special style or method whatsoever for Islamic rule.

The Khalefa Omar Ben al-Khattab addressed his people, saying, “[B]ring up your children to a time that is different from your time.” If Islam noticed the difference in lifestyle between fathers and children, what about the difference created by more than fourteen centuries?! Islam had established the principle that rules can evolve to adapt to changes over time. Only faith in God is unchangeable; all that relates to human life is subject to adjustment to the needs of daily life.

This is an example of the dynamic aspects of Islamic rule. Salafi fundamentalism has no roots in Islamic faith but is instead a product of recent stereotyping and misinterpretation of Islam. The concept of the modern civil state is deeply rooted in Islamic thought, and there is nothing that denies this concept.

The Challenges Facing Israel

To conclude, it should be emphasized that postponing the two-state solution and emptying it of its substance will work against Israel’s interest in the long run. Israel cannot defeat or confront more than 1.6 billion Muslims around the world — a population that is expected to reach 2.2 billion in 2030. It will not be able to continue to seek hegemony in the Middle East, and will find itself confronted with a new reality that will usher in a process to end the Zionist dream, accompanied by the evolution of a new democratic and humane system in which the people of this region will live without racial and ethnic discrimination.








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