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Religious Issues In The Israel Palestine Conflict Religion Essay

The state of Israel was formed on 14th May 1948.The period from 1947 to 1949 is known to Israelis as the War of Independence but to Palestinians as al-Nakba (‘the Disaster’) as approximately 700,000 Palestinians were displaced from their homes into refugee camps in neighbouring Arab states. The Palestinian leadership rejected the partition of Palestine proposed by the United Nations and passed on 29th November 1947.Zionists have tended to put this down to Arab intransigence, others have argued that it was rejected because it was unfair: it gave the majority of the land ( 56 per cent) to the Jews, who at that time legally owned only 7 per cent of it, and remained a minority of the population(Guyatt,2001,p.5).Israeli settlers in the following months came under increasing attack from Palestinian militia. The Jewish authorities therefore began a policy (‘Plan D’) of capturing and clearing Palestinian settlements within the territory allocated to the Jewish state by the United Nations in order to secure the security of Jewish settlements. The primary intention of this policy was no doubt military; it had the effect of displacing large numbers of Palestinian civilians, as well as the militia. This it is argued was the primary cause of the Palestinian exodus. It is also argued as to whether the intention was primarily military, or deliberately to depopulate Arab towns and villages. Yet another dispute concerns whether the bulk of Palestinian departures occurred before or after the outbreak of official hostilities with Israel’s Arab neighbours on 15th may 1948 (Shlaim, p.31).

On 15th May 1948 Egypt, Transjordan, Syria, Lebanon and Iraq declared war on Israel. The Arab armies were defeated and the Palestinian exodus continued. Israel signed separate ceasefires with each Arab state in 1949; the Palestinians were worse off than under the United Nations plan. They ended up with only 23 per cent, and that had to be administered by Egypt (Gaza) and Jordan (the West Bank).700, 000 Arabs fled the territory allocated to Israel. The numbers of Palestinians remaining varied at estimates from 92,000 to 150, 000, compared to 716,000 Jews: so between 12 and 20 per cent of the population (Shlaim, 2000, p.54; Shafir and Peled, 2002, p.110).Some 60,000 Palestinians were granted immediate Israeli citizenship; the rest had to apply under a system which made it difficult for them to qualify, but which was amended to include most in 1980 (ibid., p.111).The Palestinians who left ,some went into refugee camps, the rest around the world. The majority being Muslim believers.

Following the 1949 ceasefire tensions smouldered between Israel and her Arab neighbours for the next eighteen years, briefly igniting in 1956 when Israel supported Britain and France in the Suez crisis of 1956.In 1958 the Palestinian resistance movement Fatah was founded by Yasser Arafat. Soon branches were established across the Arab world, forming the basis of the Palestine Liberation Organisation (Cohn-Sherbok and al-Alami, 2001, pp.140-142). The ‘Six Day War’, fought between 5th and 10th June 1967 was as intense and decisive as it was brief. The Arab armies collapsed and by 10th June Israel had occupied the entire Sinai peninsula, the West Bank, and the Golan Heights. In taking control of East Jerusalem, the West Bank and Gaza, Israel took direct charge of a population of more than a million Palestinians. These Palestinians have been excluded from citizenship rights, but absorbed into the Israeli economy as workers, consumers and taxpayers.

The next major conflict was the’ October/Yom Kippur War’ in 1973.The Egyptians and Arab allies launched a surprise attack on Israel. Israel retreated from the Sinai, but not from the Palestinian Occupied Territories. The Palestinians were arguably worse off after the peace. Israel accelerated its expansion of development in the Occupied Territories, ever more firmly entrenching Jewish settlement in these areas in spite of another UN resolution, 338 ( Guyatt,2001,p.12).

In June 1982 Israel invaded Lebanon. This was in response to the Palestinian Liberation Organisation shelling Israeli settlements. Israeli forces besieged the mainly Muslim Lebanese and Palestinian West Beirut. The Palestinian Liberation Organisation fled on 30th August to Tunis. Israeli troops turned a blind eye to the Lebanese Christian Phalangist massacre of at least 2,000 Palestinian elderly, women and children in the refugee camps of Sabina and Sabra on 16-17th September 1982 (Shlaim,2000, pp.416-18).

In December 1987 the first intifada (‘uprising’) erupted by Palestinians. The main reasons were the Jewish settlements in Occupied Territories and continued lack of civil and political rights and economic opportunities. Through this a number of radical Islamic groups emerged, including Islamic Jihad and Hamas (the Islamic Resistance Movement; Mishal and Sela, 2000). The Oslo peace accords of 1993 led to limited Palestinian autonomy within parts of the West Bank and Gaza.

Hamas and Islamic Jihad however opposed any compromise with Israel, and a campaign of suicide bombings began. Oslo peace talks in 1995 lead to parts of Gaza and the West Bank returned to the Palestinians but the Palestinians towns were further isolated from each other by the continued expansion of Israeli-only highways ( Guyatt, 2001, p.34). Suicide bombings continued and in April 2002 a contemporary Amnesty International observer told the BBC that the Israeli army had massacred Palestinians in Jenin refugee camp (ibid. pp.151-70).

The sociologist Manuel Castells has distinguished two kinds of identity which are particularly relevant to understanding the role of religion in the Palestine-Israel conflict.Castells describes legitimizing identities as supporting the production and maintenance of organizations and institutions that support the dominant interests in a society (1997,p.8).In contrast, resistance identities construct ‘forms of collective identity against oppression’ ( p.9).

Ben Gurion shortly before 1948 made a series of proposals to the Israeli National Religious party, based on a continuation of religious influence in four areas of public life. These were: Sabbath observance ( Saturday as a national day of rest);Jewish dietary laws to be enforced in government kitchens; religious courts to control marriage and divorce; and existing religious education systems would remain autonomous and state supported ( Shafir and Peled,2002,pp.139-140). These traditions continue to the present time and are supported to varying degrees by religious Jews from many traditions including conservatives and liberals, not just the Orthodox.

Orthodox institutions can be seen as providing a core of continuity to a religious past for a civil religious framework that serves to legitimize the Israeli state’s broader use of religious symbols and discourse as an integrating factor in Israeli society (ibid., p.151; Liebman and Do-Yehiya, 1983).The traditions range from ancient religious festivals such as Passover and the Day of Atonement to places of important historical associations such as Masada and the Western Wall.

Gush Emunim was founded as a movement within the national Religious Party in 1974.it has been the most vociferous group to argue for the extension of the boundaries of the modern Israeli state to the maximum depicted in the Hebrew Bible, and hence for Jewish colonization or ‘resettlement’ of the Occupied Territories. The religious roots of the group are in the mystical Judaism of the kabbalah, a medieval offshoot of Rabbinic Judaism. In a quote from a text written by Rabbi Schneerson of the Lubovitch sect, published in Israel in Hebrew in 1965: The body of a Jewish person is of a totally different quality from the body of members of all nations of the world… the bodies of Jews and non Jews only seem similar in material substance… The difference of inner quality, however, is so great that the bodies should be considered of a completely different species (Shahak and Mezvinsky 1999, pp.59-60).

Rabbi Ariel, the Gush leader in the 1980’s stated that ‘A Jew who killed a non-Jew is exempt from human judgement and has not violated the religious prohibition of murder’ (ibid. p.71). In contrast Gush Emunim Aviner has argued that the Jewish law requires the death penalty for Arabs who throw stones at Jews, because of the possible threat to Jewish life (ibid.p.77).The Israeli state financially supports Gush activities (i.e. settlers in Occupied Territories, land and construction costs and military support)

And has been influenced by and uses Gush in its policy in the Territories, acting in their behaviour towards Palestinians. The National Religious Party has educational and military institutions funded by the state.

Israeli public opinion has tended to be strong once settlements are established, even through Gush’s hard line against Palestinians and messianic fervour are not widely shared ( Shahak and Mezvinsky,1999,p.78).

The subjection of Palestinians to constant restrictions and the literal fragmentation of Palestinian society are two of the major obstacles to peace negotiations.

The Militant Islamic group, Hamas grew out of the Palestinian branch of the Muslim Brotherhood in response to the outbreak of the intifada in 1987, and continues to identify with this movement (Mishal and Sela,20000,pp.16-26).Hamas has been identified with attempts to make Muslim societies more ‘Islamic’ and are engaged in a variety of social and education activities.

Hamas has reacted against the Palestine Liberation Organizations willingness to engage in negotiations with Israel, refusing territorial compromise.Hamas sees itself to ‘liberating’ the whole territory of British mandatory Palestine from the Jordan to the Mediterranean, and for the full return of refugees. Jews would be a tolerated minority in a Hamas Islamic state. Hamas members state that their argument is not with Jews but the Israeli state. Gush draws on sources in the Hebrew Bible concerning the original conquest of the land by the people of Israel to argue that the people of the land-the Arab population-should be driven from the land forever (e.g. Deuteronomy 19:1).Hamas mobilises anti-Jewish and Zionist rhetoric. For example a leaflet published in 1988 described Jews as ‘ brothers of the apes, assassins of the prophets, bloodsuckers, warmongers… only Islam can break the Jews and destroy their dream’ (in Mishal and Sela,2000,p.52).In 1996 Hamas decided to participate in elections by forming its own separate but related political party (Mishal and Sela,2000,p.140).

Since June 2007 Hamas who won the election in Gaza, governs that area.

The majority of Gush supporters are ashkenazi Jews whilst the majority of Shas supporters are from the underprivileged group in Israeli society, mizrachi Jews.

Mizrachi Jews are referred to in Israeli public discourse as ‘edot’, (roughly ‘ethnic groups’).a term never used to refer to ashkenazim (Shafir and Peled, 2002, p.90).

In 1984, Shas was formed as a political party and has established welfare institutions.

What is interesting is that Shas has sometimes joined force with Hamas in local politics in Israel, against a common opponent. For example, in Nazareth Shas co-operated with Islamist parties to break the dominance of Christian politicians in local government (Isreai, 2002).This kind of co-operation with non-Jews would have been unthinkable for Gush, given its ideological position.

From 1948 until the mid-1980’s relations between religions in Israel can be described as coexistence within a framework in which dominant Israeli and Palestinian political forces shared secular through competing national ideologies.

Since the 1980’s conflict between Palestinian and Israelis has escalated, and one of the major factors has been the rise of radical groups inspired by religious identities, which now represent the most intransigent elements on each. side.

The Hamas party has suicide bombers causing disruption in Israel/ and their occupied territories whilst the Israelis use their army to defend themselves. Therefore suicide bombings would seem to be a Hamas/Radical Islamist cause of identity.

However it is safe to say that not all Israelis and Palestinians belong to the political parties who are some/somewhat extreme in their beliefs and use of force.

Arab and Jews whilst their nationalist interests have tended to highlight cultural differences between their populations some have argued that they are both drawn on a common Levatine heritage (Alcalay, 1993).

The Israeli Interfaith Association and Interfaith Encounter Association have brought together settlers from the National Religious Party with Hamas supporters (Wilkes, 2000, p.130). Whilst inroads can be made towards peace, the past history and religious beliefs amongst extreme political parties are still a barrier and no doubt reinforce Religious and Identification issues amongst Jews and Palestinians. The Occupied Territories reinforce the Palestinians identity, whilst doing the same to the Jews.


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