Examining the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is an exercise in déjà vu. The deaths of an old man, a young child, and nine others in the recent West Bank flare-up are tragically unremarkable. So is the ensuing cascade of violence, punctuated by the brazen murder of two Jewish brothers and a retaliatory settler rampage of a nearby Palestinian village.
Meanwhile, the upstanding UN Special Coordinator for Middle East Peace pays the familiar lip service to de-escalation: “The parties must refrain from further steps that would lead us to more violence.” This threadbare call for calm reflects the international community’s valiant efforts for Israeli-Palestinian peace. With such rhetorical dedication, it must only be a matter of time!
If only that were true. Indeed, the essential horror of the conflict is the on and on-ness of tragedy: the cracked air split by another siren; the rubble pounded by fresh strikes; the streets awash with new blood. The fresh wreckage supplants the past devastation, and violence assumes a terrible normality.
In analyzing what precludes resolution of this sanguinary conflict, much ink has been spilled about asymmetric power relations, opportunistic terrorism, American aid for Israel, and so forth. But underlying these noxious elements is a more pernicious poison that dooms all hope for peace: religious dogmatism.
Let us briefly examine how God’s most pious deploy the sacred texts of Islam, Judaism, and Christianity to thwart peace.
Throughout its one hundred and fourteen chapters, the Quran repeatedly refers to Palestine as a Holy Land or Blessed Land for Muslims: “O my people, enter the Holy Land which Allah has destined for you, and do not turn back” (Quran 5:21). Based on this divine injunction and the historical spread of Islam, many Muslims view Palestine as their land.
The trouble with a holy promise—as we will also see with Judaism—is that it does not allow for the real-world nuance and compromise necessary to resolve conflicts of this kind. It is, by definition, absolute.
The militant Islamic extremist group Hamas—which controls Gaza and dominates the Palestinian Legislative Council—uses this holy promise to justify its violent opposition to any negotiation. It declares Palestine to be “an Arab Islamic land…[and that] resisting the [Israeli] occupation with all means and methods is a legitimate right guaranteed by divine laws.” How useful “divine laws” are for having your way in the real world! In proclaiming Palestine to be an “Arab Islamic land,” Hamas rejects the fundamental premise of a two-state solution: the right of a second state, Israel, to exist. And never mind the tens of thousands of Palestinian Christians who reside in the Palestinian territories and once constituted 20% of the population.
The United States and others label Hamas a terrorist group, and it claims responsibility for countless attacks on Israeli civilians. Its disturbing consolidation of power in the Palestinian territories portends greater violence and dimmer prospects for peace.
The Quran is not alone in treating the divine as a real estate agent. According to the Torah, God granted Palestine—The Promised Land—to the ancient Israelites: “Go in and take possession of the land the Lord swore He would give to your fathers—to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob—and to their descendants after them” (Deuteronomy 1:8). This holy promise forms the basis of the Zionist movement for the creation of Israel as a Jewish homeland.
Unhappily, hardline zealots appear to have read the text too closely. They routinely “go in and take possession” of Palestinian civilians’ land in the name of God, nationalism, and cheap housing. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s cabinet lays bare this exquisite blend of ultra-Orthodox and ultranationalist.
National Security Minister Itamar Ben Gvir and Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich are proud proponents of settlement expansion and annexation into Israel proper. Gvir was actively involved in Kach, an outlawed terrorist group dedicated to expelling all Arabs from Israeli territory. Last year, he endorsed the deportation of “disloyal” citizens. This month, Smotrich called for the Palestinian village of Huwara to be “wiped out.” Such people usefully say the quiet part out loud.
While these extremists are not representative of Israeli society at large—or current government policy as a whole—their ascendance in Israeli politics is deeply troubling. They personify how the country’s rightward lurch over the past two decades makes it infinitely harder for Israeli governments to make the concessions necessary for peace.
By asserting their inherently incompatible, though comparably untrue, religious claims, Muslim and Jewish extremists license the most extraordinary barbarism and stupidity. Fanaticism is simply not conducive to rational thought or compromise.
Into this delightful picture come American evangelicals, not to be outdone! Christian Zionism has become one of the most powerful forces behind America’s unwavering and unconditional support for Israel. Recent polling finds 67% of American evangelicals support Israel, and Christian groups have collectively invested hundreds of millions of dollars in pro-Israel projects.
Why? Concern for the plight of Palestinian Christians, perhaps? Not so fast.
A majority of evangelicals support Israel because they believe total Jewish control of Palestine will precipitate the End Times and the Second Coming of Jesus Christ. During Armageddon, two-thirds of Jews will be slaughtered, and the rest converted: “And it shall come to pass, that in all the land, saith the Lord, two parts therein shall be cut off and die; but the third shall be left therein…[and] shall call on my name, and I will hear them: I will say, It is my people: and they shall say, The Lord is my God” (Zechariah 13: 8-9).
American pastors regularly take their flocks on trips to Tel Megiddo in Israel, where the apocalyptic finale will supposedly unfold. Organizations like Christians United for Israel constitute the most influential pro-Israel lobbies in Washington.
How perverse that the ultimate destruction of the Jewish people underlies some of the most potent forces behind American support for the Jewish state. As has well been said, Evangelicals support Israel as the rope supports the hanging man.
Although closely partnering with Israel is central to America’s interests, unqualified American support harms the peace process and imperils Israel’s long-term security. While affirming our ironclad commitment, US aid to Israel should be subject to the same administrative conditions as our aid to other allies. The United States must not allow Mr. Netanyahu to drag his feet on the settlement issue as external Palestinian support weakens and Israeli-Arab ties strengthen through the Abraham Accords.
Moreover, criticism of the Israeli government should not be expediently slandered as antisemitic—or even necessarily anti-Israel—as it so often is in our inane political discourse.
However, calling Israel an apartheid or colonial state is fashionably neurotic, mistaking the failings of a democracy for a demonic tyranny. And one cannot help but notice how the most feverish accusers are not nearly as quixotic in the standards they apply to other countries. In 2022 alone, the United Nations General Assembly passed fifteen resolutions condemning Israel, compared to thirteen against all other countries combined. This is fifteen compared to just six condemning Russia for its brutal invasion of Ukraine. Such evident singling out of the Jewish state is sinister performance art that does nothing to resolve the conflict.
As the world braces for the next explosion of violence, the parties of God in the Palestinian territories, Israel, and the United States hold a veto over peace. Islamic terrorists continue to tighten their grip on Gaza and gain power in the West Bank. Messianic Jewish settlers push further east with the blessing of the Israeli government and the complicity of the United States. Meanwhile, American evangelicals giddily await the end of the world.
What an appalling state of affairs. The prospects for resolution are bleak for this most intractable of conflicts. Although the two-state solution is most sensible, the enfeebled Palestinian Authority and encroaching Israeli settlements render it all but dead. Any potential solution would likely involve the integration of Palestinian territories into Israel with some negotiated autonomy.
But the fanatics delight in their lethal irrationality, and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict appears set to grind on without end. Each day, another siren will wail. Each week, another mother will weep. Each month, another town will smolder. All in the name of God.
Featured Image Source: Elcano Royal Institute