By Dr. Belinda F. Espiritu, New Age Islam
06 May, 2015
The Holy Land is valued, revered, and loved by Jews, Christians, and Muslims alike because it is the place where their most treasured spiritual and historical sites and shrines are honoured and kept. The fact that the Holy Land, which is located in what is now the state of Israel and the Palestinian lands, is commonly treasured and revered by Jews, Christians, and Muslims alike points out to the common heritage and spiritual unity of these three religions. It is imperative to have peace in the Holy Land for two important reasons: 1) to allow constructive living to flourish between the Israelis and the Arabs; and 2) to make the Holy Land a zone of peace owing to the fact that it is considered sacred by followers of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam and is a site of annual pilgrimages by peoples from different parts of the world.
With the news of bitter conflict between the Israelis and the Palestinian Arabs, what are the prospects for peace in the Holy Land? Is peace achievable after more than 60 years of Arab-Israeli conflict, particularly between the Palestinian Arabs and the Israelis? This paper argues that the violent conflict between Arabs and Israelis can be avoided and stopped through their mutual remembrance and practice of shared ethical and spiritual values towards one another and by considering the common heritage of the three religions (Judaism, Islam, and Christianity), based as they all are in the Abrahamic faith tradition and the books of the Old Testament with the lives of the Hebrew patriarchs and other figures. This is similar to the argument of Dr. Omer Salem of the Ibn Rushd Institute for Dialogue that the Islamic moral values can establish peace and justice for the Arabs and Jews in the Arab-Israeli conflict.1
MaulanaWahiduddin Khan (2008), a well-known Islamic teacher and Sufi spiritual master in India who wrote books about the ideology of peace and Islam, wrote on how to establish peace in the Holy Land by arguing that war is costlier than any other course of action and unequivocally said that the Arabs must accept Israel as a legitimate state by totally abandoning violence against the latter, and that Israel must make territorial adjustment as is acceptable to the Arabs.2 He further said that the violent course of action adopted by the Arab leaders against Israel is a violation of Islamic principle, which is for reconciliation as the best option by having peaceful negotiations with the other party. This was shown in the life of Muhammad when he signed the treaty of Hudaybiyyah with his opponents to avoid war and by verses from the Qur’an which speaks of doing a good deed in return for a bad deed to make one’s enemy a potential friend.
Since Arabs, Jews, and Christians are really of one source in terms of patrilineal ancestry and share a common heritage in their faith traditions (Abrahamic faith and lineage), it is wrong for brothers to kill their fellow brothers. Muslims, the same with Christians, trace their spiritual roots to the Hebrew writings of the Old Testament, to Hebrew patriarchs, personalities and stories. The Jews who have been persecuted by their host countries in their diaspora and who opted to return to their ancient homeland need to be accepted by their Arab neighbours by virtue of their being the keepers of the source of the faith traditions of Christianity and Islam. However, in asserting their right for a homeland of their own where they will not be driven out, discriminated, persecuted and killed, they should not evict, harass, nor mistreat the Palestinian Arabs who have made their homes in the Holy Land lest they do what they don’t want done to them, or what the German Nazis did to their ancestors during World War II.
The Arab-Israeli conflict began with the disagreement over the British partition of the Holy land between the Arabs and the Jews in the Belfour Plan and Chamberlain Plan in 1917 and 1939, respectively. Zionist desire to take over the Holy Land area conflicted with militant groups like the Hamas of Palestine and Hezbollah of Lebanon, which were formed due to their belief that the Israelis have no right to form a state in the lands they have occupied during the long centuries of Jewish diaspora. Bitter wars were fought between the Israelis and the Arabs (1948 war for independence, 1967 6-day war, intervening wars, and recent exchange of bombings between Hamas and the Israeli Defence Forces). Both the Arabs and the Israelis need to realize that violent attacks and retaliations against each other are totally against the spiritual values taught by their own religion or by the three major religions such as love, magnanimity, compassion, forgiveness, respect for each other’s dignity, and peace.
Implications for Interfaith Dialogue
The awareness of the common spiritual heritage of Jews, Christians, and Muslims can be the subject of interfaith dialogues, since tapping on this common heritage can be a source of spiritual unity among these three religions though differences exist among them on important beliefs and doctrines. Jews and Christians are descended from Abraham’s son Isaac while Arabs who are mostly Muslims are descended from Abraham’s son Ishmael. The Holy Qur’an and the Holy Bible have common roots and sources in the Tanakh, the Holy Book of the Jews, with Abraham as the common patriarch of Jews, Christians, and Muslims alike. Adam is commonly referred to as the first man created by God.
Moreover, the awareness and application of shared ethical and spiritual values of love, mercy, compassion, tolerance, and magnanimity allows people having different religious expressions to live harmoniously with one another. The application of humane and spiritual values of understanding, love, compassion, tolerance, and sharing of land and resources is the better course of action rather than a colonialist stance, firing rockets, suicide bombings, and murderous hatred. Dr. Omer Salem of the Ibn Rushd Institute for Dialogue wrote that the Islamic value of Rahma, which is usually translated as “mercy, grace, or compassion”, is advocated in the Qur’an in no less than 400 places, and it is the attribute God chose to describe Himself similar to the God of never failing compassion in the books of the Old Testament. In the New Testament of the Christian Bible, love of God and love of neighbour are the two greatest commandments. The command to love God with one’s whole heart, mind, soul, and strength and to love one’s neighbours as one’s self sum up the teachings of Jesus Christ. Jews, Muslims, and Christians living in the Holy Land should be able to show love, mercy and compassion towards one another, following the spiritual and ethical values taught by their religions. A sharing of the Holy Land among Jews, Arabs, and Christians follows the law of nature since they have a common spiritual heritage and a common patrilineal ancestry.
Thus, the win/win solution is to let the humane and spiritual values of love, acceptance, understanding, respect, and generosity to rule between and among Jews and Arabs in and around the Holy Land. In this conflict, Israel should not apply a colonialist, aggressive stance but remember to exercise humaneness and justice to the Palestinians. It is definitely wrong and unjust for them to disregard the basic rights of the Palestinians to life and basic necessities, particularly those in the Gaza Strip. Israelis should respect the rights of the Palestinians to a place in the Holy Land by either giving them equal civil rights under the Israeli government or a full enjoyment of Palestinian statehood. On the side of the Palestinians and all other Arabs in the Middle East, they need to recognize the statehood of Israel and show magnanimity and compassion to a persecuted people by allowing them the right to the Holy Land which was their ancient homeland.
More Important Points to Solve the Arab-Israeli Conflict
Various peace initiatives had been undertaken since 1967 to the present to resolve the Arab-Israeli conflict but these were unsuccessful in bringing about a definitive peace in the Holy Land. The root causes for the failure of these peace initiatives are the failure to agree on the terms and conditions of peace and the existence of militant groups such as the Hamas of Palestine and the Hezbollah of Lebanon which resort to violence and trains suicide bombers to show their disapproval of the state of Israel and their hatred for them. A mutually agreeable pact on land territories or partition is imperative, which will entail making some concessions on both sides for the sake of peace. The Arabs should not make unreasonable demands and be sincere in making peace with the Israelis, and the Israelis should be able to make the necessary concessions while respecting the rights of the Palestinians in the Holy Land.
MaulanaWahiduddin Khan (2008) spoke and wrote that the Qur’an advocates seeking a common ground between the Arabs and Jews, and that this can be found in both the secular and religious fields. The common religious ground has been well-explained in the previous paragraphs. In the secular field, Arabs and Jews can work together in the fields of agriculture, horticulture, trade relations, education, etc. There is so much that can be achieved through good will and cooperation whereas hatred and war only leads to destruction, enmity, and death. Arabs and Jews can also adopt a system of power-sharing in this age of democracy by becoming political partners, rather than antagonists.
Dr. Omer Salem (2012) of the Ibn Rushd Institute for Dialogue laid down important points to solve the conflict which harmonize with the ideas in this paper. Jews, Muslims, and Christians must acknowledge their common heritage and unity; confirm that that the conflict is part nationalistic and part religious; resolve the religious dispute through the exercise of shared moral values and sense of respect for each other; and affect a new partition plan for Palestine – one for Arabs and one for the Jews – neither of whom will be called Palestine but Holy Land. The partition will be the Northern State of Holy Land with Jewish majority population and a minority of Arabs, while the Southern State of Holy Land will have Arab majority population with a Jewish minority. He advocated for the granting of citizenship to Palestinian refugees in the countries where they were born or currently reside to defuse the tension caused by the Palestinian refugee problem. For the small minority of Palestinians who refuse to be naturalized in their country of birth or residency, they would be offered citizenship in the Northern State of Holy Land or the Southern State of Holy Land.
For the prevailing animosity and hatred between Israelis and the Palestinians to be dispelled, Israelis and Palestinians must get rid of state and ideological violence through amicable mutual agreement and the practice of the shared ethical and spiritual values of love, magnanimity, mercy, compassion, tolerance, respect, forgiveness, and peace. Political policies and communal relations among Jews and Arabs ought to be governed by these shared values, which would require transformation of mindsets and attitudes towards one another. Such transformation of mindsets and attitudes is crucial to dispel hatred and animosity, to dismantle state and ideological violence toward one another, and to acknowledge the common heritage and spiritual unity of Jews, Muslims, and Christians. Cooperation from the neighbouring Arab countries is important to establish peace by offering their lands and citizenship to displaced Palestinians and by not evicting and persecuting the Jews who have lived for a long time in the Arab lands. The collective and mutual practice of shared ethical and spiritual values will usher in peace and enable constructive living to flourish among the Arabs and the Jews, realizing what was beautifully expressed in the words of MaulanaWahiduddin Khan, “to live, and let live”.
1. Paper entitled “The Struggle of Palestine between the Holy Bible and the Holy Qur’an” (2012), Ibn Rushd Institute for Dialogue.
2. Paper presented in a peace conference at the Peres Centre for Peace, Tel Aviv, on October 28, 2008. The title of the paper was “How to Establish Peace in the Holy Land: Ten Point Program”.
Dr. Belinda F. Espiritu is an associate professor of communication and is currently the Coordinator of the Mass Communication Program of the University of the Philippines Cebu. She has done research on Christian-Muslim relations in Manila, Philippines and is interested in the study of communication, religion, spirituality, development studies, peace studies, and democratic participation using new media.