The conflict between Israelis and Palestinians is regarded by many as being no more than a territorial dispute, and one which should therefore be open to a territorial solution.
This underlies efforts to bring about a two-state solution and much of left-wing antagonism to Israel as an oppressor of Palestinian aspirations and rights.
Although it is undoubtedly true that this struggle has strong territorial dimensions, its religious aspect should not be ignored. It is suggested that it is this component in particular that accounts for much of Muslim hatred and violence toward Israelis and Jews.
Where does Islamic hatred come from?
The Koran has mixed sentiments regarding Jews, and one finds there both complementary and anti-Jewish statements, although significantly more of the latter. However, it is particularly in relation to Islamic eschatology (the End of Days) that much hatred toward Jews may emanate.
Islamic eschatological literature was not particularly anti-Jewish in its early days, in that it was the Byzantines who were regarded as the enemies of Islam and not Jews. An exception is a particularly odious hadith (a part of the Islamic oral tradition). This hadith even made its way into the 1988 Hamas Covenant before it was judiciously removed:
“The Day of Judgment will not come about until Muslims fight the Jews when the Jews will hide behind stones and trees. The stones and trees will say ‘O Muslims, O Abdullah [servant of Allah], there is a Jew behind me, come and kill him.’”
Since the Six-Day War, there has been a profusion of Islamic eschatological literature. Whereas in the past this material was composed by Muslim scholars, this older literature has been brought up to date by non-scholastic writers. These books are widely read, even to the extent of becoming bestsellers. All are virulently antisemitic and may incorporate ideas from the infamous Protocols of the Elders of Zion, as well as this early hadith about killing Jews.
The precise details depend on the author, but a common scenario is that there will be a Muslim caliphate prior to the Day of Judgment. This caliphate will be led by either a messianic-type figure called the Mahdi, or by Jesus who has become a Muslim, and he will battle a Jewish anti-Christ.
However, none of this can proceed as long as there is a Jewish state in the middle of the Ummah (the Islamic world). From this perspective, the Jewish state can even be considered to be delaying the final Islamic eschatological vision. This literature has been extensively reviewed by the scholar David Cook in his excellent book, Contemporary Muslim Apocalyptic Literature.
The notion that the State of Israel has to be eliminated is held by Sunni movements, such as Hamas and the Islamic Brotherhood, of which Hamas is a part. It is also held by messianic Shi’ite movements, such as Hezbollah and the Islamic Republic of Iran.
Where do West Bank Palestinians stand in relation to this?
To my knowledge, no survey of Palestinian eschatological beliefs has been carried out. Nevertheless, there is much circumstantial evidence that the Palestinians view their conflict with Israel with a considerable religious overlay.
Mahmoud Abbas, president of the Palestinian Authority, has given voice to the religious dimension of this struggle. He is quoted as saying to Palestinian students: “Allah, the Supreme, spoke the truth. We will continue to stand firm and carry out ribat [religious war for Muslim control] in Jerusalem and its surroundings until Judgment Day. Then the believers will rejoice in the victory of Allah.”
The religious aspects of this conflict would explain why a political solution has eluded negotiators since the onset of the state.
Moreover, the Palestinian terror we are currently witnessing fits into the category of jihad, which is a religious concept and not just a military one. Killing Jews through jihad earns Muslims a privileged place in the World to Come. This glorification of death for a religious purpose is mentioned in the Koran and is elaborated on in hadiths.
The PA’s “pay for slay” program also fits into the religious dimensions of this conflict. In effect, this is an underhanded way for the PA to continue its religious struggle against Israel without blatantly promoting violence against Israelis, which would not go well with its European supporters. This is also why the PA will do its utmost to continue this program even in the face of a huge budget shortfall.
Young Palestinians are particularly susceptible to religious messages advocating hatred and violence since they pervade their school textbooks and likely sermons from mosques. It is not surprising, therefore, that a Palestinian teenager as young as 13 recently perpetrated murder against an Israeli civilian.
A poll by the Palestinian Center for Policy and Survey Research (PCPSR) from December 2022 found that 72% of Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza Strip supported the creation of armed groups in the West Bank akin to the Lion’s Den terror group that operates against Israel. Seventy-nine percent of respondents said they opposed members of these armed groups surrendering to the PA; 87% said the PA has no right to arrest them.
Only 32% supported a two-state solution. This poll suggests wide support for the unabashedly messianic aims of Hamas, although this was not specifically one of the questions asked.
The leaders of some Islamic states are prepared to ditch this eschatology for the benefit of their populace through the Abraham Accords, but this does not mean that all their citizens are in accord with this. Many of them may care little about the fate of the Palestine people, but they may well care that Muslim land is occupied by Jews.
A DEEPER study of the current religious aspects of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is long overdue and there are many reasons for conducting this. Europeans, for example, may be less enthusiastic about supporting a religious struggle than a nationalistic one, especially as a similar struggle may one day wash onto their own shores with their increasing Muslim populations. It may also lead them to be more appreciative of Israel’s efforts to hold Islamic messianic forces at bay.
Probably the only answer to all this is to appreciate that the problem is currently insoluble. The best any Israeli leader can do is contain it. The question then becomes whether it is best, from a military perspective, to withdraw from much of Area C behind security barriers or to split this area up into multiple Jewish and Arab cantons.
In the final analysis, it will be the Iranian people who will need to eliminate the messianic activities of their state, just as it will be the Lebanese people who will eventually suppress the messianic activities of Hezbollah and permit their country to flourish.
The hope is that over the long term, the Palestinians in Judea, Samaria and Gaza will also realize that there is more to be gained by accepting the existence of Israel than by making religious war against it.
The writer is the author of the book The Struggle for Utopia. A History of Jewish, Christian and Islamic Messianism and the director of a forum for Jewish, Christian and Islamic Messianism scholarship.