What did the perpetrators of the massacres of Palestinians praying in Hebron's Cave of the Patriarchs and of Israeli passengers in Afula and Hadera have in common? A readiness to die for their cause? Undoubtedly.
But more than anything else they and those following this path acted out of the conviction that God was on their side. Their feelings of national righteousness were fired by strong and profound religious belief.
In the following pages we publish excerpts from the (Jewish) Gush Emunim and the (Islamic) Hamas Covenants. The texts reveal how each side denies the other any right whatsoever to this promised and disputed land - and all, of course, in the name of God.
In the roundtable on Fundamentalism and in other articles, a case is made by religious writers for a different, more tolerant and humanistic reading of the holy scriptures. What prospects of prevailing have these liberal and more open-minded interpretations? While it is hard to say, one development is nevertheless quite probable: if the Israel-PLO negotiations continue to progress, enabling a speedy withdrawal of Israel's military forces from occupied Palestinian territory and the eventual emergence of a Palestinian state alongside Israel - this may well weaken the various types of national-religious extremism. Thus the influence of those who invoke Bible or Koran to preach holy war against the other Godforsaken enemy, would dwindle.
Meanwhile, unless and until such a development occurs, the blend of uncompromising nationalism and burning religious faith will continue to brew a volatile mixture that bodes ill for the peoples of this region.
The Israeli government believes that in the wake of the murder by a religious settler in Hebron of innocent Palestinians at worship in the Cave of the Patriarchs, it can cope with its own nationalist-religious extremists. These elements have been losing ground recently in public opinion and the vociferous support for the killer by some settlers and rightist Rabbis provoked widespread indignation, further isolating the fanatics from the majority of the people.
However, many Israelis, including people from the peace camp, are concerned that moderate Palestinian leaders, for the most part Muslims, refrain from coming out against Hamas extremism for fear of being branded "anti-Islamic" (or even in an extreme case "of sharing Rushdie's fate", as one Palestinian confided to this writer). Many Israelis ask where are the Palestinian Muslim voices parallel to those of Rabbis like Amital and Halbertal or the outspoken religious philosopher Yeshayahu Leibowitz, not to speak of the Israeli peace camp as a whole.
One can of course understand Arafat's desire to unite the entire Palestinian people, or most of it, behind the new self-rule agreements through proposing to include Hamas and other Islamic representatives in the Palestinian authority first in Gaza and Jericho and then in the rest of the West Bank. Nevertheless, should such a worthy endeavor silence all discussion with uncompromising ideological Islamic extremism? After all, Hamas and the Islamic Jihad do not combat only Israeli occupation: their innocent victims include Jews and Arabs in Israel itself, which is not surprising since they reject Israel's very right to exist as a state (see their Covenant on page 54).
Hopefully, mutual recognition by Palestinians and Israelis of the national rights of both peoples may lead toward reconciliation between Israel and the Arab world. While this of course requires Israeli evacuation of the occupied Palestinian territories, it can legitimately be asked whether this in itself is enough. A climate of mutual tolerance must be fostered: this is bound to be extremely difficult unless both Israelis and Palestinians will stand up against religious fanaticism. For the avowed objective of these fanatics is to use all conceivable means, including violence, in order to sabotage peace and reconciliation between our two peoples.