Faith and Reality: The religious influence on Israeli-Palestinian debates

The exegesis of the Qur'an is supposed to be done in Arabic, its original language and the only way to understand it in its entirety. However, it seems difficult to interpret a surah (chapter in the Qur’an) in many different ways, and this raises a key question. While no final ruling should be extracted from a surah out of its context, there exists other surahs whose meaning clearly goes in the same direction. The migration of the Jewish people to the ‘Holy Land’ would thus be a divine prophecy.

The Qur'an mentions the Jews, and projects into the future. What has been the influence of this projection on the Israeli- Palestinian dialogue?

Two key points to consider are: a possible misinterpretation of the Qur’an, and a basic need of land. There is ambiguity here. Is the Israeli- Palestinian conflict religious, pragmatic, or both? In the latter case, there is a contradiction in the anti-Zionist argument.

In today's world, the basic territorial claims, such as those of the Palestinians are understood by all. Moreover, the Israeli government does not deny their legitimacy; it struggles against it in order to not find itself in the same situation, in other words to see their own legitimacy questioned. But, the claim is admitted in this way, at the international level. When the Jews asserted their right to a state, it was certainly based on religious origins, but it is their status as nation that has earned them that right.

Possible Palestinians arguments are now articulated as such: either they claim to be a nation, a people with common values, or they act in the name of religion. However this could turn against them. For example, Yasser Arafat claimed, whether rightly or wrongly, that the Palestinians are descendants of the Jebusites and other Canaanite tribes from the land of Israel. The idea of a Palestinian identity is clearly admissible, although it was in reality born from the conflict it now finds itself in. Whether statehood is attributed to Palestine or not, the fact is simply that many claim to belong to the Palestinian nation.

Basing Palestinian rights on religion can be problematic

But from a religious point of view, the existence of Palestine is controversial. That is why this argument is dangerous for those who use it. “We made the children of Israel inheritors of the earth.” (Qur'an, Surah 26 – “The Poets Surah”, verse 59). If this is a holy war that is being conducted, then it is worth noting that some exegeses spoke of a prophecy made in the Qur'an that announced the gathering of the world's Jews in Israel. For starters, the Qur'an does not mention once the existence of a Palestinian people. In a constructive attempt at comparing the two peoples, it is better to speak of Jews and Arabs, there was already a clear distinction in the seventh century during the writing of the Qur’an. So if the conflict is addressed in a religious manner, Palestine can only be put in the background, behind other Arab states in general. Moreover, some of the Palestinians support the idea of a large Arab State.

Here Surah 17 verse 104 Surah al-Isra:

17.104. And We said after him to the Children of Israel, “Dwell in the land, then when the promise of the Hereafter comes, We will bring you as a mixed crowd.”

The case of Jerusalem

The case of Jerusalem is the most explicit. The city «thrice holy» is mainly coveted by the Jews and Arabs for religious reasons. It has been occupied by the State of Israel since 1967, following the Six Day War. Its importance in the three religions of the Book is known, but it is not equal for each, or more precisely, it is not verified. Indeed, the Qur'an does not mention the name of the city, but speaks of the «farthest Mosque» where Muhammad ascended to Heaven (al Mi’raj: Ascension) accompanied by the angel Gabriel. The name of Jerusalem as the place of the nocturnal journey, however, is very explicit in the narrative of Ibn Ishaq, transmitted according to the prophet. Islam has declared Jerusalem as its third holiest city for religious and political reasons: this is where Muslims gather on the Day of Judgment. But we can see, once again, the religious argument is lacking, and satisfies those who already believe in it. And if the legitimacy of the occupation of all of Jerusalem must be played on this slippery slope, the Jews will soon prefer their religious reasons and emphasize the approximate aspect of Qur’an about their fate. Again religious considerations do not allow for dialogue...

Alongside the Palestinians, the Jews have had to confront their own paradoxes. For the majority of Orthodox Jews of the nineteenth century, the Jewish state in antiquity had been destroyed by the will of God and could be recreated only by the direct action of God, namely sending his messiah. Thus, the creation of a state by human hands provoked strong criticism from the majority of Orthodox Jews of the time. But again, a favorable interpretation of Scripture was possible...

Religion should be removed from the debate

On both sides, when speaking of dialogue, it seems that the religious aspect should be removed. Religion merely serves to amplify it, as it causes hateful considerations and its interpretation can give absolute right to both sides. That is the weak point of the religious argument; in fact, the Talmud as well as the Qur'an are subject to personal interpretation (and the proof lies in the multiple divisions within these two religions).

Therefore, what remains is a pragmatic recognition of the circumstances and rights of both peoples. When two worlds, two systems without common values , clash, the common ground can only be the finding of material circumstances. The first is the recognition of the existence of a people to whom we can no longer deny a sustainable future.

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