Holy War: a zero-sum game


Lynn B. deconstructs an article by Ari Shavit from Friday’s Ha’aretz. I suggest checking out her extensive commentary, but one thing in particular about the article struck me:

We visited Sheikh Raad Salah, leader of the Islamic Movement (he received us with eyes beaming and talked about the abandoned mosques in the ruined villages throughout the country and about the danger looming to the Al-Aqsa mosque, and about how the Jews had no right to Al-Aqsa. You know, he said, even according to the Israeli historians, even according to Ha’aretz Magazine, the Jews have no right to Al-Aqsa: The whole story of the Temple Mount never happened).

Upon reading this, I thought to myself, there it is! Right there, in black and white. The Palestinians believe their religious claims are valid and those of the Jews aren’t – why? Because there are more secular Israelis than secular Palestinians!

It seems so obvious. While there are many Christian Palestinians, and Muslim Palestinians are among the most secular Muslims in the mideast, they’re still overwhelmingly more religious and inclined to believe their holy texts than are Israelis. Israel is sharply divided between religious and secular, with religious communities battling for more control but with a huge secular population ready to throw out all claims attached to Jewish history or biblical ties.

As a secular Jew myself, I guess this affected me even more than it might affect someone religious. Do I believe in the bible as literal truth? No. Do I respect the right of others to believe in it? Absolutely! This is, after all, what freedom of religion is all about.

I support the right of religious Jews to believe in the Torah, of religious Christians to believe in the teachings of Jesus Christ, of religious Muslims to believe in the Koran and in the words of Mohammed, and of the Raelians to believe we all came from aliens if that’s what they friggin’ want!

But what the Shavit article exposes is what we’ve always known: that religious intolerance is behind much of what is being falsely portrayed as a secular movement for Palestinian rights. Salah’s rantings come from the perception that Islam is right and Judaism is wrong, and, as with most matters of faith, to him this is an unshakeable belief – as unshakeable as my belief that the sun will rise tomorrow.

It’s much easier to delegitimatize your enemies if you believe yours is the only true religion. And it’s easy to claim rights over land if you believe your holy text is right and theirs is wrong. To us, it seems like a double-standard but to them there’s no contradiction at work here; it’s simple truth.

That, right there, is what Israel is fighting. Not reason. Not a willingness to compromise. Not openness to logic or even centuries of hatred. Israel is fighting an enemy engaged in what it perceives to be a holy war. And people who beleive they are backed by the heavens aren’t going to compromise or see the other side anytime soon. It’s a zero-sum game to them.

{ 6 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Hanthala 01.07.03 at 9:54 PM

“Salah’s rantings come from the perception that Islam is right and Judaism is wrong…”

Salah’s beliefs are Salah’s beliefs. In terms of “extremism,” they are no different from the beliefs of some Jews and some Christians that only Jews (for now, in the case of fundamentalist Christians) have rights over religious places in Old Jerusalem.

As for believing that Islam is right and Judaism wrong, well yeah, if you’re a religious Muslim! And conversely if you’re a religious Jew! And neither if you’re not religious or if you’re an atheist. Then atheism is right and both the others are wrong! So what?


2 Yehudit 01.08.03 at 8:08 AM

You are both missing the point.

The existence of the 1st and 2nd Temples and the Hebrew nation of Judea is historical fact, corroborated by texts from other contemporary civilizations, like the Babylonians and the Romans. This has nothing to do with religion or faith. Judea – the Jewish nation – existed.

This Sheik is claiming – in a way unfortunatley typical for Arabs – that something that plainly happened, didn’t.

It is also historical fact that after the destruction of the Temple Jews continued to live in what was now called Palestine, and many in the diaspora continued to move back there – in spite of massacres and expulsions – throughout the entire 2000 years of diaspora.

Whether or not this behavior was motivated by “religion” (there is no Hebrew word which is the equivalent of “religion” – that’s more a Christian concept; Judaism is more a tribal peoplehood inextricably connected to a particular place, similar to Native American tribal spirituality), the behavior itself was historical fact, verifiable by documents and artifacts.

The Stalinist way these Palestinians (and Arafat has said the same things) brush off historical fact is the problem.


3 Yehudit 01.08.03 at 8:14 AM

I want to add that secular Israelis know Jewish history, because it’s the history of their country. Jews who have some connection to Judaism end up learning Jewish history because they read the Tanakh and Talmud and Maimonides and Spinoza and ibn Ezra and Nachman and they absorb where Jews lived and what they did and why. It’s only secular diaspora Jews who are so ignorant that they think an argument about the very existence of the Temple is a “religious” argument.


4 Hanthala 01.08.03 at 4:26 PM


“the point” is always subjective. I have absolutely no interest in debating the existence of any temple, anywhere. For me, that’s NOT the point. Whether the temples existed or not (and incidently, I have no reason to believe that they didn’t) has no bearing on my view of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict.

“This Sheik is claiming – in a way unfortunatley typical for Arabs – that something that plainly happened, didn’t.”

Now that’s offensive and this IS my point. There is no need to stereoptype Arabs as is commonly done on this site and by many pro-Israel activists. In addition, what “plainly happened” in, say, 1948, 1967, and even, what is plainly happening right now in Palestine-Israel is being denied by the Israeli government. Would it be fair then for me to say that this is unfortunately typical for Israelis, or worse, that this is unfortunately typical for Jews? This type of language is what I’m concerned about.


5 8opus 01.11.03 at 4:22 AM

Salah’s beliefs are hardly Salah’s alone. A better-known spokesman is Yasr Arafat.

(Which, amusingly, led to the CBC’s Neil Macdonald filing a report on how the Temple Mount was “holy to Jews, according to the Israeli government. But according to …”. Neil’s not a raving racist, as some have said. He just doesn’t understand that “balance” requires having two valid viewpoints to balance. Revisionism ain’t one of ’em.)

It’s not about stereotyping here. There is a specific tactic used by the PA which consists of trying to deny or obscure the Jews’ link to their homeland by all means. That tactic is derisive and is betraying Palestinians’ true interests for sure any way you look at it.


6 Elle 01.12.03 at 6:13 PM

“It’s not about stereotyping here. There is a specific tactic used by the PA…”

He didn’t use the word PA, he used the word Arab. This is about stereotyping.


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