Leading PostsNovember December 2004

The Palestinian Problem: If Truth be Told

Rashid Shaz

For a long time the land of Palestine has been waiting for a just resolution of its problem. Whatever efforts have been undertaken so far on both sides have not produced any encouraging results. If anything, the results are positively discouraging. The loss of human lives is mounting by the day. On the one side we have the state of Israel armed with the most sophisticated weaponry; and on the other side we have motley group of helpless resistant organisations who do not have any other weapon except their lives. For the last fifty years the hatred against one another has grown more intense; in the charged atmosphere the voice of sanity and wisdom is bound to drown in the cacophony of jingoistic slogans. The current situation is such that human corpses are being piled up on both sides; the only difference is that the pile may be bigger on one side and smaller on the other. The surprising thing is that this battle is being fought between the two communities that consider themselves to be the most devoted followers of God, and both the sides seek the legitimacy of their struggle in their obedience to the God of Abraham and the sacred relics of their prophets. The religious and political leaders of both the contending parties have given it the aspect of a fight between good and evil. For both, there cannot be any negotiation on even one inch of the land of Palestine, nor can there be any compromise. Under the circumstances, the only logical conclusion one can draw is that the mightier side will win the battle. However, the problem is that in today’s world if the states have become extraordinarily powerful because of their technological dominance, on the other side, the guerrilla tactics of the extremist and terrorist organisations have become such a weapon in the hands of the weak and the helpless which no state power can ignore or totally do away with.

The Israelites know it very well that despite the absolute power of their state; it is just not possible to wipe out all the Palestinians from the face of the earth. The Palestinians, too, know that their suicide attacks cannot inflict a deadly blow to the state of Israel, but both the groups are trapped in their self-conceived notion of sacred history in such a way that there seems to be no way out of that impasse. Both the sides have become exhausted after this long war of attrition, but neither side is ready to accept it because of a false sense of national pride.

At this juncture of history when the adherents of Torah and the followers of the Qur’an are locked in a deadly combat and either side claims that it is the rightful inheritor of the holy land, it is necessary that the pious people on both sides whose hearts are filled with the fear of god, who can rise above the considerations of narrow, sectarian advantages and think only of God’s pleasure, should come forward and do something in the light of their own religious education and training and create opportunities for dialogue to put an end to this endless cycle of violence and loss of human lives.

Right from the time the state of Israel came into being, a large number of Jewish scholars have considered its establishment to be against the Torah. According them, there is no justification for a state for the Israelites before the advent of the messiah. There is also no dearth of courageous thinkers among them who declare the state of Israel to be anti-Semitic in its orientation, where the teachings of the Torah are openly flouted. The criticism of and opposition to the Israeli government mounted by the Jewish scholars themselves on the issue of oppression against the Palestinians has, perhaps, been more intense than any external criticism or opposition. If you read the writings of these God-fearing Jewish scholars and take a look at the movements within Israel against Israeli oppression of the Palestinians, it will become clear that even today there is no dearth of pious souls among them for whom we find words of appreciation in the Qur’an. What is needed is that from the side of Muslims, too, rather than taking extreme nationalistic postures, there should be a strong initiative based on Quranic teachings that can probably lead to a Quranic solution.

There is no doubt about the fact that from a nationalistic point of view, our case is a fairly strong one. We are the people on whose land a state has been foisted merely on the strength of brute power, and thus an unending war has been waged on us. Now, if we believe that there can be no other peaceful solution of the Palestinian problem excepting the fact that the Israeli occupying power should leave and the sate of Israel should be wiped out, then no one can accuse us of partiality for taking such a stance. However, if we take it as the last word on the issue it will block all possibilities of dialogue with the rival party. And then, for ending the problem, we will only have those threatening statements that we have been hearing for the last fifty years, and despite abiding by them we have not been able to come anywhere near resolving the problem. In the process, though, we have probably become accustomed to deal with this extremely critical human problem poetically. One sometimes hear such statements as – “if all the Muslims of the world pour one bucket of water each on Israel, then the state of Israel will be washed away” or “if all the Muslims of the world spit on Israel, the entire state will be drowned in it.” Emotive utterances like these can make our blood race through our veins temporarily, but their practical feasibility is not clear even to those who make such utterances.

On the one side we have the government of the ruthless autocrat Ariel Sharon that has crossed all records of barbarity and human oppression. The whole machinery of the government is steeped in corruption. The record of Ariel Sharon and the members of his family is not spotless as far as the state coffers are concerned. On the other side we have Arafat and his cronies who have played ducks and drakes with the money received as aid from different countries in the name of the hapless Palestinian people. Neither the rulers of Israel have any concern for the Jewish Faith, nor the objective of the Palestinian authority is to establish a Qur’anic order in Palestine. But the people who are laying down their lives on both sides are doing so because they are imbued with a sense of religious devotion and who believe, in all sincerity, that their martyrdom is a religious duty. Is there any justification to make the sacrifice of so many lives to sustain the rule of Sharon and Arafat or two future states that would be anti-Torah and anti-Qur’an?

If the Israeli government and the Palestinian Authority, despite their use of non-religious, even anti-religious idiom, are both able to enlist the support of the extremist religious sections, it is due to the reason that the religious leadership on both sides is trapped, by and large, in history in the name of religion. A concept of history which, because of our attitude of reverence towards the past, has given it a halo of sacredness, and that had no relationship with the real objectives of the Faith. The need of the hour is that, rather than looking at the issue merely from the perspective of the Muslim community, we should try to look at it, with an open mind, from the perspective of the other party as well, and then try to find some practical solution to this immensely complex issue in the light Quranic insights. The Jews say that merely walking the distance of 4 square feet in the sacred land Palestine can ensure their entry into paradise. They cannot offer any evidence from the Torah in support of such a superstitious belief. Of course, there is no dearth of such good tidings in the Talmudic literature. They say that their religious life is incomplete without their house of worship. Apart from the sacrificial alter at the Solomon’s Temple, they do not have the concept of sacrifice anywhere else. The religious-minded among the Jews who are exploited by the political leadership, who have been praying for ages for the return of the land of Kanan, now feel that after some two thousand years they have now been armed with the power to restore the religious life of the Solomon’s Temple once again. So, they do not want to miss this historic opportunity. On the other side, the oppression and brutality perpetrated against the Palestinians, their displacement from their own land are facts of contemporary history that no one can ignore. Moreover, the seminal position of Masjid Aqsa and Dome of the Rock as the first qibla among Muslims has made that part of the Palestinian land as sacred to Muslims as it is to the Jews. That is why any compromise on this holy place is regarded by both the side as a sell out. The assassination of Anwar Sadat and Issac Rabin in the hands of their own compatriots highlight the intensity of this feeling on both sides. This is just one aspect of the problem that has played a central role in making the encounters so bloody and ruthless.

At a juncture when the intensity of emotion is running high on the both sides and there seems no possibility of a just and proper solution of the problem and the followers of Abraham and the racial and spiritual offspring of Isaac and Ishmael are locked in a heinous and deadly battle for the same house of worship and when the claimants of the unity of God (tauheed) have forgotten that God demands their unconditional surrender rather than their prayers in a particular mosque or a special kind of prayer house, what is necessary is that we Muslims should come forward as the followers of the Qur’an and remind people of the forgotten fact that what Allah demands is not Judaism, Christianity or conventional Islam, nor any particular kind of structure, nor the sectarian worship performed therein. He considers كونواهودااونصارا to be reprehensible and intends people to become part of the pious community of Abraham (ملة ابراهيم حنيفا). The need of the hour is that that the pious souls among the Abraham’s community should come forward and try to take the land of Palestine out of its present morass, for the sake of God. They should not care whether their initiatives will earn them the wrath of their own community and will harm their national interest. Sometime ago, when Avraham Burg, a member of the Knesset, the Israeli Parliament, advised the Israeli state to behave realistically, the Zionist world called him an enemy of the Jews. There is no dearth of people like Avraham Burg among the Israelis. However, the problem is that for our understanding of the community of the Israelites, rather than depending on the insights available in the Qur’an, we depend more on Syed Qutb’s famous booklet – معركتنا مع اليهود where all the Jews, without any distinction, appear to be the mysterious characters of a devilish gang. For a long time we have been prisoners of the commentaries where the statement –غيرالمغضرب عليهم ولاالضالين – has been taken, without any distinction, to imply the communities of the Israelites and the Christians. In our extreme antagonism we do not reflect on the fact that the Qur’an which contains the statements by the Most Just Authority cannot exhort people to curse all the future generations of Jews merely because some of the individuals or tribes of this community were nasty to the Prophet and the Muslim community of that time. In the Qur’an, some of the individual belonging to the Quraish tribe have also been condemned, and warned of terrible consequences in this world and the world hereafter. Despite this, we cannot think it in our wildest imagination that their offspring should be punished and cursed till the Day of Judgement. Thus, there is no reason why all future generations of a community should be cursed and condemned for the mischief of some members of one generation. A similar situation obtains with the religious thinking of the Israelites. They have decided, under the influence of Talmudic interpretations, that other communities of the world stand nowhere in comparison with the earlier community of Jews. Their blood is cheap and their cultures worthless. The need of the hour is that we should abandon all these stereotypes and conventional thinking on the problem of Palestine and look at it anew in the light of the deeper insights from the Qur’an. Only then will we be able to save the lives being lost on a daily basis, and the historical land of Palestine will be a place where people of the Book from different Faiths can render their prayers, as in the past. Where have those steadfast and pious souls of the people of the Book have about whom the Qur’an says that they would wake up at night and keep praying to God, and for whom the Qur’an promises that their good actions would not go un-rewarded? (اومايفعلوا من خير فلن يكفره) Along with it, we also must search for the God-fearing souls amongst us who can display extraordinary courage in rising above narrow national interest and can assert: ‘O People of the Book come to common terms between as between us and you that we worship none but God’ (Qur’an, 3:64).

(Note: This article was written before the sad demise of Yasser Arafat)

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