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
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
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.