After being at this year’s 2023 Parliament of the World’s Religions in Chicago and realizing that there are 200 religions other than the monotheistic ones, I started to wonder about my conflict with my religion.
There was a session about human rights and interfaith dialogue with a Muslim woman, a priest, a rabbi, and a Buddhist. The panel was about human rights and how they were being supported by interfaith dialogue. It was all well and good until I raised my hand and asked a question about the elephant in the room.
“I’m from east Jerusalem, I have lived for the last 25 years of my life in east Jerusalem,” I said. “I have friends, some of them are radicals. While I’m here, some of them are calling me and cursing such an event. Some have stated that such an event is not religious but satanic.”
I asked the Muslim representative, a woman wearing a veil, “Are the Taliban Muslims?” “Yes,” she answered. “So what they do in the name of Islam, depriving women of human rights, is that part of Islam?” I asked.
I asked the rabbi, “What the radicals in Israel are doing to the Palestinians, going to Palestinian houses, burning homes and cars, and continuing the policies of slavery, is that part of protecting the Jewish faith?”
I asked the priest, “Is radicalism part of Christianity?” I asked the Buddhist, “Is what happened in Myanmar part of your faith?”
What was the elephant in the room? In my view, it was and is radicalism. Many conflicts, peace initiatives and agreements, as well as democracies, have been hijacked by radicals. Radicals attack the ethical code of human rights and the ethical code of democracy, stripping the rights of other parties and upholding the privilege of one party above all others. It occurs between Fatah and Hamas in the Palestinian territories and between the right and the left in Israel. Radicals took over in Egypt when the Muslim Brotherhood ruled Iraq, Myanmar, and many different conflicts in different places.
Radicalism creates a culture of hatred and animosity for others; it strips the code of ethical conduct among humans that upholds human rights, equality, freedom, and the pursuit of happiness. In the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, both sides have elected radicals to rule. Israelis and Palestinians thought radicals would secure their rights to the land by denying the other group’s rights. Both sides would protect their own identity and give themselves security, protecting the rule of law for themselves and denying it to others.
What kind of democracy is it where rulers deny rights to others based on their affiliation with a political party or race? What is the meaning of human rights or rule of law, where one group lives under military rule and the other lives under civil law? What kind of freedom is there when a freedom fighter must kill an innocent soul to be called a hero and a martyr—a sniper who shoots people in the head in the name of democracy? Radicalism has defined heroism as part of denying and dehumanizing the other; these are the heroes of radicals.
A hero must be a person who upholds human rights, equality, freedom, and an ethical code of conduct, whether Israeli or Palestinian. Unfortunately, both sides elected radicals and are waiting for these radicals to uphold human rights, democracy, freedom, equality, the pursuit of happiness and peace.
Radicalism is an ideology that spreads like cancer in society, a kind of sickness; it moves within the social and political paradigm, enslaving the cultures and demonizing the other. It is a belief system. It has become a fundamental approach within political parties to hijack democracies and religions. It rejects civil rights, women’s rights, or the rule of law, but never security, justice, or peace.
I was invited to the Academic Council on the United Nations System at the United States Institute of Peace in Washington DC, to present the Academic Alliance for Reconciliation in the Middle East and North Africa’s Reconciliation, Conflict Transformation and Peace Studies initiative, which aims to create a transdisciplinary scientific discourse in academia. The conference was boycotted by radicals, not just from Israel and the Palestinian territories, but also by many others who support radicalism.
A professor from the Hebrew University of Jerusalem invited me to speak on a panel about a confederation between Israel and Palestine as the way to resolve the conflict. After an hour of hearing both the Israeli and the Palestinian sides, I was asked to comment on the confederation initiative. As with many other attempted peace agreements between Israelis and Palestinians, the 1993 Oslo Accords resulted in an environment in which radicals thrived in their own culture, societies, and politics, leading to further failures in Israeli-Palestinian peace initiatives and agreements.
In the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, radicalism prevails but peace never does. The main reason is that there is no mechanism for a reconciliation process in the middle of the conflict, which would be the antidote for radicalism. It could transform the conflict, and have heroes protect human rights, civil rights, the rule of law, equality, freedom, and the pursuit of happiness, and uphold the ethical code of democracy.
Seventy years of developing radicalism could be defeated with 20 years of the reconciliation process in the middle of the conflict. Federation, confederation, two states, one state—it must be a process that we can leave to our children and our loved ones, to heal from the past of radicalism, which thrives on the bloodshed of others.
Both Israelis and Palestinians have a history of suffering. The reconciliation process could build trust, empathy, and understanding of the suffering of the enemy, which would try to transform the conflict from radicalism to peace. The missing link in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is a mechanism for a reconciliation process that could achieve conflict transformation and that ultimately would be directed towards a peace process between Israelis and Palestinians that will take many years to achieve.
Dr. Iyad Muhsen AlDajani is the research director for reconciliation and peacebuilding studies in the Academic Alliance for Reconciliation in the Middle East and North Africa (AARMEMA) at Friedrich Schiller University.