By Gilad Atzmon
Two days ago I wrote that the Israeli Palestinian conflict has become a religious war and that our understanding of this battle must evolve to fit the new reality. My observation seemed reasonable to many. As soon as I published my paper, Press TV called and asked me to comment on the topic on air. Many Palestinians contacted me to thank me for saying what they also believed to be an accurate description of their situation on the ground.
However, some of my friends and supporters, including a few Diaspora Palestinians, were genuinely offended and disturbed by my reading of the situation. Their argument was that the Palestinians’ claim to their land doesn’t require a religious authority to legitimize it. Another argument was that viewing the conflict as a religious battle is ‘not good for the solidarity movement.’
Of course, I also believe that the Palestinians’ right to their land is ethically and universally grounded and doesn’t need any further justification, religious or secular. The transformation of the conflict into a religious war wasn’t caused by the Palestinians searching for an authority to approve their cause. While I do not much care about the ‘solidarity movement’ and its ‘interests,’ I do care deeply about the subject of Palestinian solidarity i.e., the Palestinians and their prospects for living on the land that belongs to them.
A religious conflict is one in which the actions and rhetoric of the conflict is dominated by religious ideologies, argumentation and symbolism. This doesn’t mean that all or even most of the people involved in the conflict are religious or religiously motivated. It is likely that the majority of Israelis oppose the relentless assaults by messianic settlers on Al Aqsa mosque that led to the recent escalation. Yet these assaults by hard-core religiously motivated Jewish activists have now shaped the conflict. And this does not apply only to the Israelis. It seems that Al Aqsa mosque has become the symbolic unifier for the Palestinians. And this unification has been a positive development for the Palestinians. While it appeared for a while that Israel had managed to break the Palestinians and their ability to struggle as one people, the current Jewish assault on Al Aqsa has united the Palestinians and Arabs and not just the Muslims.
But what about this development scares the solidarity activists? Why are our left solidarity merchants afraid of Islam and religion in general? Is it that hard to see that the Shaid who shouts Allah hu Akbar while committing martyrdom is religiously driven? One devoted activist wrote to me that defending Islam is totally impossible in Jewish America. “Tough,” was my answer to her -- those who support Palestine have to recognize Palestinians for what they are rather than trying to fit them into ADL or AIPAC’s guidelines. But I think that the problem is far wider and deeper.
If I am correct and the conflict has now transformed into a religious war (and I am always correct), then we can bin the entire futile terminology that was imposed on us by Jewish progressive activists. ‘Colonialism,’ ‘Settler colonialism,’ ‘Apartheid,’ ‘One State/Two States ’ ‘Zionism,’ etc.’ may as well be totally irrelevant to an understanding of the conflict. All this terminology conveys is the false image that the conflict is of a political nature and due a political resolution at an imaginary point in the future. But unlike political disputes, religious conflicts are never resolved by political means; at most, they are suppressed for a while.
If the Israeli Palestinian conflict is a religious war then scrutiny of the Old Testament, the Talmud and other Judaic texts may reveal to us what the Jewish State is in its current form and where it is aiming. Armageddon is clearly a valid answer. This is the answer offered by the Jewish settlers who assault Al Aqsa. A state of total war is their mission. Not exactly an ecumenical peaceful empathic world view craving for universal tolerance and reconciliation. For the fanatical Jews who raid the Temple Mount, coexistence is not an option. For them celebration of choseness is the true interpretation of the Judaic call. I wouldn’t argue that this is the only interpretation of Judaism, but this is certainly the Judaic interpretation that shapes the conflict at the moment.
And if the Israeli Palestinian conflict is indeed a religious war, we must consider changing our approach. Rather than engage in cosmetic and polite activism that makes some Jews feel comfortable, we must openly call for a peaceful dissolution of the Jewish State. This cancerous element has destabilized the entire Middle East and is the greatest single threat to world peace. This British imperial experiment must come to an end immediately.