Israeli-Palestine: The Conflict Tolerance: the capacity for or the practice of recognizing and respecting the beliefs or practices of others. People around the world continually violate this one word everyday. What does this word mean in relation to the Israeli-Palestine conflict? Throughout history, tolerance of other religious groups has not been good. There are many accounts of extreme violence because of intolerance of another group’s religious beliefs. Everyday we hear about bombings and innocent people being killed in Israel. Why is this happening and how can we make it stop? Tolerance is the solution, in specific, religious tolerance. Yet this suggestion is easier stated than executed. When groups of people fight for thousands of years, it is hard to break out of tradition and correct the unrest caused by history. Some have categorized this conflict as the worst the world has ever seen and the most unstable situation in the world today. This paper will discuss the history of the conflict, history and synopsis on both Islam and Judaism, ramifications of the conflict, problems with political leaders, and explore possible peace resolutions. It will also touch on historical issues that contributed to the heated situation today, as well as the current state of affairs in Israel and population analyses of Israel, the West Bank, and the Gaza strip from the late 1800’s until today. In order to give an accurate view from both sides of the conflict, both Judaism and Islam will receive a full historical account as well as how each religion functions and what their beliefs and practices are. Religious tolerance must be a first-rate priority for the future if this situation will ever be solved. Sacrifices and compromises must be made if people expect the Israeli-Palestine situation to be resolved soon.
Judaism is one of the world’s oldest religions. The fact that makes this religion intriguing is that it still strongly thrives today. We will look into the historical factors that have contributed to the survival of this ancient religion as well as what changes Judaism has gone through as a means of survival over centuries of societal, cultural, and political transformations.
Civilization started in the Fertile Crescent between the Tigris and Euphrates rivers in Mesopotamia around 5000 BCE. Abraham migrated from Mesopotamia to Egypt in about 1700 BCE ( Nigosian 236). The Jews believe that they are direct descendants of Abraham, so this is around when Judaism took its roots. The earliest records of Judaism are from a nomadic Semitic tribe that wandered around Arabia. Abraham was an avot (father/patriarchal-like) in one of these nomadic tribes (237). As biblical tradition goes, God promised Abraham and his people a permanent place in Canaan (modern day Israel). Abraham followed God’s promise and he settled in Canaan. His son and grandson, Isaac and Jacob, took over when he died. Abraham’s people lived in Canaan until 1700 BCE when there was a great famine. They immigrated to Egypt and things went well for about 3-4 centuries. The ruling under the pharaoh at that time was harsh, and they were soon enslaved into forced labor. Then something happened that is the foundation of Jewish faith. The story of Moses leading the Jews out of bondage is not only famous, but also very important in Jewish faith. During this hard time in Egypt, the Jewish population had become so large that the pharaoh ordered the killing of all male Jewish babies. Moses just happened to be one of these babies, but his mother wanted to save him so she put him in a basket in the river hoping he would find a better home. Consequently, the daughter of the pharaoh found him in the Nile and raised Moses as a royal. Before Moses lead the Jews out of Egypt, he had two experiences that changed his life. The first was the witnessing of an Egyptian beating a Jew. Something came over him and he killed the Egyptian promptly and fled to safety eastward. The second was when he witnessed a divine being in a burning bush when he was herding sheep. This divine being, or God, said that he would lead Jews out of Egypt and into the “promised land” and that he would have the power and leadership to lead them well (238).
When Moses went back to Egypt to try to persuade the pharaoh to let the Jews go, he was met with much resistance—the pharaoh repeatedly refused. Moses, with the help of God, struck Egypt with 10 plagues. The 10th plague killed all the Egyptian’s first-born children, including the pharaoh’s son. Miraculously, all of the Jewish babies were “passed over” and the pharaoh let Moses lead the Jews out of Egypt. This is why Passover is one of the most important holidays for the Jewish people, and one of the most significant events that shaped their history. Moses then led the Jews through the Red Sea and to Mount Sinai where he received the Ten Commandments, or the Covenant, from God (238). These are the same Ten Commandments that Christians use and are supposed to live their life by.
When the Jews finally reached the “promised land” of Canaan, they suddenly rebelled against Moses and God. God immediately punished them with wandering through the wilderness for 40 years. They finally crossed the Jordan River into Canaan under Moses’ successor, Joshua (240).
Living in Canaan was a very different lifestyle they had to convert from a nomadic lifestyle to an agrarian lifestyle. Eventually, they started to conquer other lands surrounding them. Under King David, they sacked Jerusalem and ruled over various parts of Palestine. King Solomon, David’s son, took over ruling and built a temple in Jerusalem—but this wonderful consolidation of the Jewish faith did not last long (240). About 100 years after it was established, it split in two—north and south.
The southern part of this split was Judah and the northern section was called Israel, the larger of the two. This split inevitably made the Jewish religion gain new influences and practices because the rulers of the split kingdoms accepted other forms of worship. Eventually, prophets
started to discourage and try to destroy the polytheistic practices of the people. Despite their efforts, the people continued to venerate multiple gods and practice idol worship until the multiple deportations of Jews to Babylonia (242). Along with the loss of the people, also came the loss of Solomon’s Temple, which had stood for 350 years. When these Jews returned to the holy land, they had to over come the polytheistic practices of the people that stayed behind. This marked a great change in Jewish religion. Synagogues started to emerge and the rebuilding of temples started (243).
Many different groups affected the Jews including the Persians, Romans, and Greeks. This contact with the Jews was mainly felt in their religious practices and beliefs. Persians influenced the Jews regarding different words for God. They tended to keep away from using the word Yahweh for God and started to substitute for the word Ado nay (Lord) (244). Alexander the Great and his Greek state was also a big influence on the Jews. Less from a religious standpoint, the Greeks influenced the Jews through their ways of education, recreation, and way of life. And finally, the Romans effect on the Jews was greatly felt in all areas of life. The Hellenistic way of life seemed to pervade Jewish thought and was extremely influential to the Jews, mainly because of the fact that the Romans were occupying most of the territory that Jews resided in (247-8). It was only natural for the Jews to pick up Roman customs and practices.
Judaism thrived in the eastern Mediterranean and proximity after the harsh Romans left, yet were still exposed to violence, intolerance, and threats of persecution. Although their checkered history posed considerable threat to Jews, they managed to survive with their hard work ethic and faith. All through from the eighth to the 20th century, Jews experienced persecution. The culminating result of all of this hardship was the Holocaust in the Second World War from 1941-1945. This event could have been the one of the many serious factors that pushed the Zionists’ to demand a homeland in Palestine. Incidentally, by 1948 with the help of determined Zionists and the UN Israel, it’s own independent state, was formed. This was the final stone in the building of a Jewish state, which many Jews believed to be their rightful homeland and birthright (250).
So, why do many Jews believe this particular piece of land is their rightful and legitimate home? For many reasons, all mentioned earlier. Some of these specific events include the Exodus from Egypt, the building of the Temple by King Solomon and its subsequent endless cycle of destruction and rebuilding in later centuries. The final event in 70 CE was when the Romans finally and totally destroyed the temple. Yet, even today Jews still go and visit the remaining western wall. They gather there to pray for the rebuilding and rededication of the temple—their center of worship—whose site right now is coincidently occupied by an Islamic mosque (250-1).
To sum up Jewish history, the basic facts show that they have had a long and difficult history, but still have managed to pull through and strongly survive until today. Many different groups have influenced them over time, which has help to shape and transform their religion and way of life, as well as contribute to their present day situation. The exploration of the Jewish religion and it’s history is necessary to properly assess the difficult situation today in Israel-Palestine as well as the issue of religious tolerance in this situation and around the world. To properly show both sides of this state of affairs, we will now discuss and explore the Islamic faith and history.
Unlike Judaism, Islam has a definite leader and founder of their religion and it has a definite starting location and time. In Arabia in the seventh century CE the Prophet Muhammad received several divine messages from the angel Gabriel. The angel told him to recite, but at first he did not know what to recite. Then the answer came to him:
“Recite—In the name of thy Lord who created! Created man form clots of blood! Recite—for thy Lord is most beneficent, who has taught the use of the pen; has taught man that which he knew not!” (Qur’an 96.14) (312).
At first, Muhammad was scared of these divine interactions, but his wife encouraged him to follow through with them and their message and he did. Just like any great leader, many people ridiculed and questioned his motives and actions. He was accused of being a sorcerer and even some modern day scholars argue that he suffered from epileptic seizures. Even though there are many critics, Islam is the world’s second largest religion, behind Christianity, and Muhammad’s behavior is not exactly out of the ordinary because it closely mirrors other prophet’s behaviors (313).
As Muhammad started to spread his faith, others started to call on him for guidance with their problems and tribal feuds. In 622, a group of people from Medina called on Muhammad to help them settle their tribal fighting. Muhammad and his followers secretly fled to Medina on September 24, 622 and settled the fighting. This event marks the beginning of the Muslim calendar. He soon convinced the people of Medina of his faith and the soon started to follow his lead. Yet this lead was not just religious, he also tended to moral, political, and societal issues. This powerful leadership soon led Muhammad to form this small society into a Muslim state. During this time of conversion and state building, Muhammad wanted the Christians and Jews living around his area to convert to Islam because he had borrowed many of their ideas when constructing his Islam. They did not convert and consequently, he got himself into many disputes with both Christians and Jews (314).
Once he had established enough authority in Medina and the surrounding areas, he and his followers invaded Mecca. Their initial strike was moderately successful and they gained a lot both militarily and economically. Finally, Muhammad and his followers successfully invaded the Mecca in 630, promptly went to the holy temple
or ka’ba, and ordered all of the idols destroyed and restored the boundary pillars which made it safe for all Muslims to travel safely to Mecca on their pilgrimage. He was very successful for two years following, then died suddenly in 632 (314).
The Muslims had numerous leaders after Muhammad. The first most important ruler was ‘Omar who ruled from 634 to 644 CE. He fought numerous battles and conquered people from the Byzantine Empire to the Persian Empire. Within all of this conquering, many Christianity centers became under jurisdiction of the new Muslim empire. The only things that were asked of the conquered people were that they lived in peace, accepted Omar’s protection, and pay taxes—they were allowed to keep their own faiths (315-6).
Omar ruled for a few more years, but then was stabbed by a slave and died. The years that followed Omar’s death was full of political backstabbing and maneuvering. Islam’s leadership went through many different rulers from both dynasties and empires. Just to name some of the different leaderships: Umayyad Dynasty (started in 661), ‘Abbasid Dynasty (750), then empires ruled until about 1800—The Mongol, Ottoman, and Mughal (318).
Islam in modern times if often misunderstood. Even Muslims themselves have a tough time distinguishing between traditional values and modernity. Many Muslims look down upon embracing Western ideas, practices, and customs, but the truth is that most Muslim leaders are educated and trained in a Western manner. This raises issues within the Muslim community as well as within the world. Because the old tradition still stands hoping a one-man leadership will bring justice to the world and try to unify the world, this is where the term jihad, or holy war, arises. Muslims believe that it is their mission to unite the world and wage a holy war against unbelievers if necessary. The Islamic faith has specific obligations, such as the five pillars that will be talked about later, and jihad is part of these obligations. The Jihad obligation is an active struggle against non-believers and pagans, using violence and force when necessary. The more modern version of this word refers to the resistance of being liberal, modern, or Western (323).
The five pillars of Islam are: Shahada, Prayer, Almsgiving, Fasting, and Pilgrimage, these are the doctrines that every Muslim must accept and perform. Shahada is a proclamation of faith and they must recite this confession of faith in Arabic:
“There is no other god but God, and Muhammad is the Prophet of God” (336). The next pillar is prayer. Prayer is very important in the life of a Muslim. Prayer is required five times a day and it does not matter where they pray, just as long as they fulfill the requirement. Pillar three is Almsgiving to the poor as a sign of their faithfulness and godliness. Fasting is the fourth pillar and this pillar consists of fasting in the month of Ramadan. What makes this fasting special from other types of fasting is that all Muslims that are able, must abstain from drink, food, and sexual practices until the end of the month when the fast is broken in a large celebration. The last and final duty is to make a Pilgrimage to Mecca at least once in their lifetime. This has been a sacred city for many years and Arabians used to go yearly to the cube-shaped shrine which holds the black stone placed there by Gabriel (337).
Obviously, there is much more to Islam as a religion, culture, and lifestyle, but this brief overview is enough to provide a deep enough contrast with the Jewish belief system and the way they practice their religion. Now that the basis is laid, the important issue of how this conflict started and why it started can be discussed and more easily understood.
There are many theories on how or why this conflict started. Many believe the deep-rooted conflict goes all the way back to a minute detail in the Bible, some believe it was just a build up of hundreds of years of conflict, and some even believe that it is a relatively recent development caused by superpowers of the world.
The Bible documents the first possible root of the conflict. The story goes that Abraham gave birth to two sons. The firstborn son, Ishmael, was an illegitimate child born from a servant maid named Hagar. The second son, Isaac, was a miracle birth born to Abraham’s actual wife, Sarah, who was about 100 years old at the time. Sarah, had originally presented Abraham with Hagar so that he could continue his lineage, but once Sarah became pregnant, she hated Hagar. Isaac was Sarah’s favorite and , and he Ishmael was Abraham’s favorite. Abraham had a dream from God that told him to send Ishmael away, so he did even though it troubled him. God sent him another dream which said that both sons would turn out to father great leaders in the future. As it turns out, they both did, Isaac fathered the 12 tribes of Israel, and Ishmael fathered Muhammad’s bloodline (Bible Gal. 4:21-31). This is one view of where the conflict could have possible started.
Other, more plausible and factual reasons have to do with extensive and complicated historical factors. The Jews lived in Judea until the Romans conquered it and renamed it Palestine. Palestine was then conquered by the Arabs, and they settled down and lived there for about one thousand years. In the early 20th century, there was a sudden Zionist movement which pushed to create a Jewish state in Palestine. Since the Muslims had been living in that territory for such a long time, they were not happy when the Zionists tried to take it over. This caused an Arab revolt. This is probably the modern start of the fighting in the conflict. After the World War II and the Holocaust happened, the UN decided to partion the Palestine and divide land between the Israeli’s and Arabs. The UN arbitrarily sectioned the land with greater land given to the Jews who only made up 33% of the population and only owned 7% of the land. This gave them a decided gain and they immediately took advantage of the situation as well as taking thousands of Palestinian refugees (Isseroff).
A series of wars inevitably broke out between the two groups in 1948, 56, 67, 73, and 82 as well as terror raids and smaller disputes in between the official fighting. The first war was a war for independence of Israel. The Jews proclaimed their war of independence in 1948 and the fighting ended in 1949. Israel ended up with boundaries way beyond what the UN had given them, yet the UN did not make any large moves to try and correct what the Jews had taken. The Arabs that were consequently driven out had to flee to neighboring Arab states as refugees. During all of this, the neighboring Arab states would not recognize the new Israel as an official state. In 1956, the next war that broke out—the Sinai Campaign—Israel had help from France and Britian. The three made of plan for the reversal of the nationalization of the suez canal and for Israel to invade Sinai. With the help of France and Britian, Israel quickly conquered Sinai and demanded that
the international waterway be open for Israeli trade (Isseroff).
The areas shown in bright green (Sinai, Golan Heights, Gaza, West Bank and East Jerusalem) were occupied by Israel during the 6-day war. Israel has since returned all of Sinai to Egypt in return for peace. Most of Gaza is currently under the jurisdiction of the autonomous Palestinian Authority (2002). Parts of the West Bank had been ceded to the Palestinian authority, but these areas are currently re-occupied by Israel. Following the 6 day war, Israel began building settlements in these areas.
The next war that broke out in 1967 was probably the war that had the most impact on the situation in the Middle East. It started out with tension between Israel and Arab countries over Israel’s national water carrier plan. This one issue set off a long chain of events: Nasser closed the straights of Tiran to Israeli trade, Jordan signed a defense pact with Egypt, and Iraq joined the military defense with Egypt. Israel declared war on Egypt on June 5th 1967. Israel clearly won with the new territorial gains of the Sinai desert, the Golan Heights, and the West Bank, but this also put one million Palestinian Arabs under Israeli control as well as greatly changed the power balance of the Middle East. According to analyst Fouad Ajami, this win by the Israelis may have lead to the rise of Islamic fundamentalism (Isseroff).
Religious Populations in Israel
There have definitely been some dramatic shifts in the numbers of the religious populations that inhabit the Israel/ Palestine area of the Middle East over the past two centuries. The Holy Land, the location of the origins of each of the three major monotheistic religions- Christianity, Judaism, and Islam- has seen these shifts with many years of stuggle and war. In 1881, before the Zionist movement desired a Jewish state in the Holy Land, the land was populated with 86.6% Muslims, 9.1% Christians, and 2.8-4.3% indigenous non-Zionist Jews (If Americans Knew). However, with the increasing anti-Semitism in early 20th Century Europe, the desires for a Jewish state caused many mass movements of Jews, known as Aliyahs, to the Holy Land. These mass immigrations occurring 1882-1903, 1904, 1919-23, 1924-32, and 1933-35, were not welcomed by the Muslims in the Holy Land, but through negotiations with Great Britain and the United Nations, thousands of Jews pulled up their stakes and moved to Israel (Cohn-Sherbok, xiii-xiv).
In 1947, the populations had changed so much that 58% of the population was Muslin, 7.9% were Christian, and 33% were Jewish. In this year the UN split Palestine into two states. The Jewish state was established with 55% of the land in the area, whereas before they only owned 5.8%. The Muslims were given the other 45% of the territory, and had not conceded to this decision. At this point in time, Indigenous Arabs were left with only about 22% of their historic homeland. In just two years, more than 800,000 Christians and Muslims had been driven out of Israel (If Americans Knew).
Today, in all of Israel, 80.1% of the population Jewish, and only 20.8% is Israeli born. The Muslims represent 14.6% of the population, 2.1% are Christian, and 3.2% claim to be other. This shows almost a complete reversal of the percentages of Muslims and Jews from 1947 to today. More specifically, in the West Bank, militarily occupied for 47 years, 75% are Muslim, 17% are Jewish, and 8% are Christian and other. In Gaza, the population is 98.7% Muslim, 0.7% Christian, and 0.6% Jewish. Even though the Jewish population in Israel is the definite majority, many Zionists are worried about the fact that the birth rates of the religious populations other than Judaism is higher. They are currently trying to come up with solutions to the demographic problem (If Americans Knew).
This dramatic shift in the demographics of the Holy Land has definitely caused one of the greatest conflicts of mankind. Two groups of people claim right to own the same portion of land, and through the leadership of outside forces, the UN, Great Britain, etc., have seen their land split up and divided, as an attempt to make peace. When in fact, this has only caused much of the tension to greatly increase.
Religious Populations in Israel/Palestine 1881
Religious Populations in Israel/Palestine 1947
Religious Populations in Israel/Palestine 2004
Religious Population in Israel/Palestine
Israel and Palestine Today
The conflict between Israel and Palestine is as heated as ever. There are daily suicide bombings and massive acts of violence between the Muslims and Jews in the Holy Land. The most recent problems stem from the ongoing Palestinian al-Aqsa Intifada. This Intifada began on September 29, 2000. The man who is now the prime minister of Israel, Ariel Sharon, who at the time was just a member of the Knesset, the Israeli Parliament, led a thousand man army into the Temple Mount, which consists of the Harem, a raised area with the two main Muslim mosques, the Dome of the Rock and al-Aqsa. Sharon claimed that he was entitled to visit the Temple Mount, also known as al-Haram al-Sharif, because he was exercising his right as a Jew. The Muslims took this as a haughty motion and the next day, held a huge demonstration. Fridays at noon tens of thousands of Muslims meet for a congregational prayer. At this prayer on September 29, the Muslims held a demonstration and from that point on, suicide bombings, snipers, stone-throwings, and other acts of violence have become a daily occurrence (Cohn-Sherbok, 189-196).
In response to the violence from the Palestinians, the Israelis have felt the pressure to build what has become known as the ‘Separation Barrier.’ Having been erected so that it is 8 meters in height, this wall was estimated to be over 450 miles in length. This is about four times the length and twice the height as the Berlin wall. The wall is said to protect the Israelis against the Palestinian violence, but is now being built so that it hurts the Palestinians in return. Prior to 1967, the borders of Israel, Gaza and the West Bank had been set so that there had not been any question. However, in some areas, this wall crosses that so-called ‘Green Line’ and separates many Muslim villages from the farmland they need to be able to make a living (Cohn-Sherbok, 219). The effects of this wall have seen the amount of suicide bombings decrease, but also the Muslim communities are beginning to suffer more from the fact that they cannot reach their old jobs that were in Israel on the other side of the wall (If American’s Knew). On March 11, 2004, Ariel Sharon, the Prime Minister of Israel met with three members of the Bush administration to discuss the ‘Separation Barrier.’ The final decision was made to decrease the length of the wall so that it should now be less than 300 miles upon completion (Harnden).
The Separation Barrier
Since the Intifada began on September 29, 2000, many people have died and suffered. From the Israeli side of the conflict, 6,231 have been injured and 931 have died. The opposition has more than four times that of the Israelis with 24,972 injured and 2,739 dead. Even worse, there have been 106 Israeli and 515 Palestinian children killed from this horrible situation (If Americans Knew).
Since the United States took a position in the Israeli/ Palestine conflict, they have been supportive to both sides of the war, but definitely provide more aid to the Jewish side. The Israeli government receives $15,139,178 a day from the United States government, whereas Palestinian NGO’s receive $568,744, a mere fraction of their opposition (If Americans Knew).
Since there are two sides to this story, many attempts have been made from outside parties to help pacify this perpetual war. Leaders from the UN, Great Britain, the United States, and the European Union have all made attempts to come up with a plan for peace. Every attempt has failed because the leaders of both sides refuse to accept the terms of the proposals or even negotiate.
Since the al-Aqsa Intifada began on September 29, 2000, the unemployment rates for the Israelis and Palestinians have reached 10.4% and 37-67% respectively. A big cause for the increase in the unemployed Palestinians is the fact that the Israelis have built the ‘Separation Barrier’ so that is has split Palestinian villages from their farmland, preventing many from being able to make a living. This tension between the Muslims and Jews has also hurt other groups living in the area. The Christian population, which has never been a substantial part of the Palestinian/Israeli population, has been driven out due to many reasons, mainly for fear of economic, religious, and political instability. Almost 35% of the Christian population has emigrated from the Holy Land since 1967 (CNEWA). Because Israel and the surrounding areas were the originating location of these three main monotheistic religions, tourism used to be a big source of income for the locals. Tourism used to employ almost 80% of the Christian population, and many of these Christians have moved elsewhere because this part of the economy is pretty much dead (CNEWA).
The birth of Jesus, the Christian Messiah, is estimated to have occurred about 1 AD. At this point in time, the Roman Empire dominated most of the eastern hemisphere. The majority of the population followed a pagan religion, which was based on random superstitions and gods. Judaism had made it’s showing after the people of Abraham were led away from the rule of Ramsis, the Egyptian Pharoe to settle in Israel. Christianity began to develop with Jesus and his teachings. It was originally seen as a sect of Judaism, which took its separate way around the end of the first century (Roman Empire).
The Roman rulers had appointed priests to reside over the lands of Palestine, in which Jesus lived and taught, and when he openly denounced their positions, the Roman rulers saw this as an act of disobedience. They grew increasingly more suspicious of Jesus and finally crucified him under the rule of Pontius Pilot (Roman Empire).
After Jesus’ death, many would have thought Christianity would have ended, but because of his followers, they kept spreading the word and the religion grew largely in numbers. Since Christianity is a monotheistic religion, the leaders of the empire saw the refusal of the worship of Caesar as an act of disloyalty. The Roman rulers, such as Marcus Aurelius in AD 165-180 and Diocletian in AD 303, severely persecuted the Christians, usually ending in bloody massacres. The religion was perceived as a way of worship for the slaves and those living in poverty, so it was seen as a menace to Roman society.
The Christians finally were granted religious toleration with the rule of Constantine. On the eve of a battle with a rival ruler, Maxentius, he had a vision of a cross. After making all his men inscribe the symbol on all their equipment and winning the battle, he attributed this to the God of the Christians. From then on he helped the Christians that had for so long been shunned and persecuted from Roman rule. Many leaders after Constantine tried to revert back to the old ways of persecution to the Christians, but because of the help he had given the religion and how large of a following that had amassed, it was pretty much impossible to make a dent in the number of followers (Roman Empire).
Because the Romans had been so unwilling to accept a new religion, they had resorted to violence and killed many people. This repression is similar to the situation in Israel right now. Because the main three monotheistic religions had originated in the Holy Land, there is a huge number of people in the world that pay their respects to the area. Like Constantine, if the leaders of Palestine and Israel were open to other religions and promoted peace, then there might not be this escalated level of brutal violence.
In the early 18th century Europe, religious tolerance was not a common occurrence. For example, in France at this time, Catholicism was being forced upon its citizens. The common thought across the board was that if common values were established in a society, peace could be kept, and to teach these common values, most leaders chose to use religion (McElroy). However, according to Wendy McElroy, who wrote of Francois Marie Arouet de Voltaire that in 1733 wrote Letters Concerning the English Nation that spoke of the religious tolerance achieved in England, said, “The society that resulted from [imposing homogenous values] was intellectually stagnant and morally corrupt, because no questions or dissent were permitted” (McElroy).
In his attempt to show France how England’s prosperity in the economy was also helping their society through promoting and accepting diversity, he wrote in his Letter 6: On the Presbyterians about the London Stock Exchange. People from all different nations, cultures, and religions would come to this for a chance to make a profit of some sort. Of those participating in the exchange, he says, “they dealt with each other as if they were of the same religion, and reserve the name of infidel for those who go bankrupt” (McElroy). Instead of fighting about which religion was more superior, those involved in commerce were more apt to arguing over prices and ostracizing those who were cheaters or had poor negotiating skills. This example completely changed the way that people viewed the ways in which a peaceful society could be maintained, because it clearly worked.
With the case of Israel/ Palestine, there are Jews and Muslims fighting, how could peace be made between two groups of people that have been fighting for centuries? Once again, in the case of England in the early 1700’s, Voltaire says, “If there were only one religion in England, there would be danger of tyranny; if there were 2, they would cut each other’s throats; but there are 30, and they live happily together in peace” (McElroy). Proving Voltaire correct, there are only two main religions in Israel, and they are ‘cutting each other’s throats’ and the economy has hit rock bottom. Thus, because of all the fighting going on in the Holy Land, the economy has suffered greatly. Many are without homes, and according to Father Guido Gockel, M.H.M., Regional Director for the Catholic Near East Welfare Association for Palestine, Israel and Cyprus, two-thirds of all Palestinians live on less than $2 a day (CNEWA). If there was a dramatic change with the economy in the Holy Land, that made Muslims, Jews, and the rest of the population work together to create competitive markets instead of fighting each other, chance might have it that peace is a possibility.
The economic situation in the Middle East is wrought with instability and bad policy making. Because the leaders of the region are more consumed with thinking about war than economy-sustaining, the economy is not doing well. Some of the factors that have contributed to the situation besides the bad policy making by political leaders are population growth, military costs, falling oil revenues due to Central Asia opening new oil reserves, foreign investors looking elsewhere to invest such as Central Asia and Latin America, and the fact that the region was already slightly underdeveloped. Aside from oil, this region does not have an exceptionally rich agricultural or industrial industry either. The climate is not conducive to growing various types of crops, thus severely limiting agricultural yield and potential. Another reason this region is so economically deprived is because the political leaders focus so much on war that they end up making bad economic policies. This has consequently isolated the region from competing in the world market (Ali 112).
It is possible for Muslims and Jews to live and function in a close-knit society. A small New York City neighborhood, ten square blocks, has Muslims and Orthodox Jews living and working right next to each other. In this neighborhood, called Midwood, a resident, Mr. Kahn, speaks of the situation between the residents and says, “See these hands? The Jews, the Christians, the Muslims here, they’re like these fingers; they work together because they have to. We’re all connected” (Marks). Especially with the events of September 11, 2001 and the conflict in Israel, these individuals have had some rough spots getting along, but have made a commitment to staying open and communicate to make sure tensions don’t become out of control and their community maintains harmony.
PROPOSAL FOR PEACE
If we could take the example of England in the early 1700’s, and see how it produced a society of tolerance and commerce, this type of development could be applied to the Holy Land. With all the past failed attempts at peace, the problem doesn’t stem from the religions of the Jews and the Palestinians. Political leaders that are using their religion as the backbone of their arguments lead the two battling sides. In order to lessen the powers of the political leaders of Palestine and Israel, people from other religions should be encouraged to move to move into the area. This would be a difficult task with all the fighting occurring on a daily basis in Israel. However, if the two states were once more made into one, the population made more diverse with people of all different religions, then the stronghold of the political leaders would be lessened. If the economy were also stimulated, by big companies around the world being funded to set up satellite programs in the Holy Land, it would create a stronger job market for everyone, would encourage working together, and in the long run would make Israel a stronger state economically as well as more unified.
The issue with Israel/ Palestine is not so much the fact that the religions are causing the fighting. The fighting has stemmed from the fact that two groups of people feel as though they have the only rights to the same piece of land. The political parties in the area have set the people against each other and have fed this conflict for centuries. Both Islam and Judaism speak of acceptance for other religions and most of the Israelis and Palestinians wish for peace. The way to solve this conflict is to find the original link between the religions Islam and Judaism and find a way to make this more powerful than the politics involved with the current sides to the conflict. The only solution that seems as though it would work is to level the playing field with many religions in the area and to really promote economic activity.
At this point in time, something needs to be done with this conflict. Too many people have died through the hopes of gaining control over an area of land in which both are equally entitled. The Holy Land was the start of the three main monotheistic religions, and everyone that follows these should have the right to see the place from which their beliefs come. Because politics are now residing over the teachings of the religions, there can hardly be any attempts made at peace because the leaders of each side continually refuse to negotiate any peace attempts. If the economy was built, the land made back into one state, and the population diversified, there might be a chance at making peace in the Holy Land. The political leaders would have their powers lessened and through that, the religious tolerance could finally surface. Both Judaism and Islam stem from the same origins, it is a shame that there is such hatred that the Israelis and Palestinians cannot see through the politics and realize how alike both groups are. This change in the society would make the area more industrial and economically minded, possibly taking away a part of the culture of Israel/ Palestine, but it would allow the Holy Land to be opened up to tourism, and there will less violence and death.
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