We are never far from a reminder that the Israel-Palestinian conflict has a strong element of religious animosity.
Those who aspire to solve this with a simple agreement about lines on a map will be better off refereeing a football match (American or European). The Middle East is not for them.
The latest reminder occurred at an anniversary of the Palestinian political movement Fatah. It currently rules the West Bank, although tenuously, with help from Israel and other outsiders. Hamas and other extremists are nipping at its heels, and may enjoy the support of most residents.
Featured at the "moderate''s" celebration was a master of ceremonies who introduced the Mufti of Jerusalem by saying "His words are necessary because our war with the descendants of the apes and pigs is a war of religion and faith."
He then introduced the Mufti of Jerusalem, the family member of the Mufti who incited deadly riots in the 1920s and 1930s, and later collaborated with the Nazis.
The present Mufti said, "In both collections of the Hadith . . . Judgment Day will not come before you fight the Jews, and the Jew will hide behind a stone or a tree, and the stone or the tree will say: Oh Muslim, oh servant of Allah, there is a Jew behind me, come and kill him, with the exception of the gharqad tree, and this is why it is common to see gharqad trees around the (Jewish) settlements."
The comments received condemnations from Britain''s Foreign Office, and calls from Israel''s President Shimon Peres and Prime Minister Benyamin Netanyahu for judicial authorities to open an investigation about incitement. Even the Jewish peace group that typically condemns Israeli actions, Americans for Peace Now, condemned the comments as
"belligerent anti-Jewish . . . We are appalled by these comments, coming from the most senior Muslim cleric on the Palestinian Authority''s payroll . . . What we find particularly disturbing is that these vile comments were broadcast on the Palestinian Authority''s official television channel, amplifying their "inciting" effect . . . People in positions of religious authority, on all sides, bear a heavy responsibility of avoiding incendiary rhetoric. The Israeli-Palestinian conflict is a dispute between two national movements with conflicting claims to the land between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean. Clerics on both sides must prevent this conflict from being perceived as a religious conflict and from becoming one."
The Mufti, for his part, described the Hadith as an end-of-times prophesy, not a political precept. ""There is nothing in my speech that calls for killing. . . I was speaking about my people, its steadfastness and its existence in this land until the hour (of resurrection)".
According to the PA religious affairs minister, "Our political position remains unchanged. We believe in peace. He (Hussein) was simply quoting a Hadith that talks about destiny, about what could happen in the future."
For the sake of candor and balance, I should note that the Palestinian News Agency Maan is as good a source as any for the details on this issue. http://www.maannews.net/eng/
The Mufti of Jerusalem is not alone among those who play on the borders of fanatacism and the endorsement of peace. Also indicative of Muslim extremism are school books that show maps of Palestine from the Jordan to the Mediterranean, and Turkey''s fanatic insistence that Armenian genocide is a reason to break diplomatic relations with France. Those who look at www.memri.org see no end of mad Mullahs who preach the most hateful of doctrines about Jews, as well as indications that large segments of Muslim populations and politicians view The Protocols of the Elders of Zion as a legitimate description of history and current reality.
Initial feelings at all these indications can be intense rage, a wondering if we can co-exist with them, or should employ our military might before it is too late.
Then come thoughts about Jewish equivalents, and the problems of the democratic and rational Jewish state to deal with them. Recent incidents include rabbis who endorsed a text that justifies the killing of Gentiles, including children, and the rabbis of Safed who called on people of the city to avoid renting apartments to Arabs. In both cases, judicial authorities dither about pursuing actions against incitement. (See http://www.irac.org/NewsDetailes.aspx?D=1128;
No less troubling then religious extremism hereabouts is the naivite heard from American and European officials and commentators. Simplistic actions, such as don''t build here or there, may be appropriate for local disputes in Omaha, Oxford, or Leiden, but not in the Middle East. Buidling restrictions against Jews would not longer be acceptable in any of those places overseas. Here the explosive material is in the air, capable of being exploded by a traffic accident or a comment.
Beyond cursing their house and our own, there may be no alternative beyond hoping that the religious devil remains well capped in its bottle, and that there is enough sanity in both communities to pursue the paths of politics, compromise, and accommodation.
For our friends elsewhere, best to watch football until someone wiser than the present crowd comes up with a bright idea.