We all know there is mutual resentment and antagonism in the Middle East. Rhetoric on both sides of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is incredibly heated. All involved in the region have been subject to the horror of dreadful actions.
Feelings of protest, anger and fear have often got out of hand. When shouting doesn’t work, then people are tempted to resort to violence. And so, awful behaviour becomes the focus of the conflict. This instead of just the original area of disagreement.
One wonders whether there will ever be any progress towards a constructive way forward. Resolving conflict is a political process. But is there any religious or ethical understanding that can help inform this activity?
Palestinian political violence, as part of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, includes stone throwing, hostage taking, plane hijackings, stabbings, shootings, and bombings. For their part the Israeli Jews feel the threat of further Arab violence. It is seen as a risk to the continued existence and security of the state of Israel.
Many believe this continuing Arab violence is in response to the illegal taking over of Palestinian land. There has been reports of physical violence against Palestinians by settlers.
“In many cases, settlers abuse Palestinians in front of Israeli soldiers or police with little interference from the authorities.” (Human Rights Watch)
There has been live fire on unarmed protesters. Arguably, all this has amounted to military occupation. Also denial of human rights and oppression.
Western attitudes towards the Israeli-Palestinian conflict
Despite these grave criticisms, Israel remains a top recipient of U.S. foreign aid. And Western nations have not acted to oppose Israel policy.
Only the Quakers amongst Christian groups in Britain have done anything. They will stop investing in companies that derive profit from Israeli activity in Palestinian territories over the pre-1967 lines. This refers to the illegal exploitation of natural resources such as water in occupied Palestine. In addition it applies to the construction and servicing of the separation barrier and Israeli settlements.
The lack of Western action seems to be due to political expediency. Part of this may be due to fear of upsetting the Jewish vote. Current British Labour party leader Jeremy Corbyn is a critic of Israel’s policy. He maintains there is a difference between being anti-Zionist and being anti-Semitic.
Some writers have suggested that anybody in any Western country who is opposed to Zionism is branded anti-Semitic. It is not hard to see why, given the world history of anti-Semitism.
For centuries the Jews have been dispersed among many nations. As a minority group, wherever they have lived, they have been easy to scapegoat and blame for social ills. They have often been discriminated against and persecuted. For example, Jews were expelled from England in 1290. They were massacred in Spain in 1391. Genocide also happened in the Ukraine from 1648 to 1657. There was the Holocaust in the 20th century.
Given this history of killing & persecution, it is perhaps not surprising that today Jews are oversensitive. They have a hard time seeing any difference between antisemitism and condemnation of the Israeli government’s policy.
In relation to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict some Jews may feel justified in their persecution of Palestinians. This is because of the huge amount of persecution they themselves have suffered. We know that child abusers often were once themselves abused. It seems, generally speaking, that evil begets evil. But do two wrongs make a right?
The promised land & the Israeli-Palestinian conflict
Local Arabs have hated Zionism as a threat to their homeland. When the Jews later announced the state of Israel, it caused a war with Arab countries in 1948. This resulted in 700,000 Palestinians being forced to flee from their homeland. They have subsequently been denied any right to return to their property now in Jewish hands.
Zionists justify their occupation of Palestinian territory by the idea of their ‘promised land’. They point to the Bible. For example, Abraham said:
“The Lord, the God of heaven … who spoke to me and promised me on oath, saying, ‘To your offspring I will give this land.’” (Gen 24:7)
In spiritual philosophy there is a notion that sacred text, dreams and mythologies are full of symbols. We could see events and characters as representations of spiritual processes and realities. In other words, although containing profound meaning, not all the Bible stories are historically and literally true. For example the creation taking just seven days.
Consequently, there is an alternative religious interpretation of the biblical text concerning Abraham’s offspring. One that does not take it to be literally true.
According to the biblical scholar Emanuel Swedenborg, the deeper meaning is about the ‘offspring’ of a person’s religious faith. The resulting life of trust and hope is the offspring of keeping faith with one’s principles. God promises to give to this kind of life something which isn’t a piece of earthly territory to dominate. Swedenborg says the ‘promised land’ refers to the spiritual territory of God’s kingdom. This would be joyful living within a community of people in peace and contentment.
Ethical suggestions about resolving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict
- The Israelis would benefit from a wake-up call from other Western nations implementing international law to oppose the settler policy.
- All sides need to recognise there can be no way forward without goodwill. Love of dominating others is a road to nowhere.
- Each side probably needs a lot of support to set aside grievances arising from the past. Then they could move on and tackle current issues.
- Each group could give themselves a chance to reach compromise. But they should first stop focusing exclusively on their sense of entitlement. This would enable them to start to recognise the needs of their opponents.
- The Zionists should recognise that the ‘promised land’ for Abraham’s ‘offspring’ should not be taken literally. The reason is these represent something deeper in divine revelation. No progress is likely in any peace talks until the Israeli government puts a stop to further settlement.
- Both sides must stop engaging in dis-proportionate retaliation. It is worse than an eye for an eye.
“Religion is all about how we live, and the religious way to live is to do good.” (Emanuel Swedenborg, spiritual philosopher)
Copyright 2018 Stephen Russell-Lacy
Author of Heart, Head & Hands Swedenborg’s perspective on emotional problems