The Religious Reasons Of The Israeli-Palestian Conflict

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The Religious Reasons Of The Israeli-Palestian Conflict

The Palestinian-Israeli conflict is a military confrontation, which is still continuing between the State of Israel and Palestine. This is a dispute between two groups of people that claim the rights and sovereignty over the same territory of the former British mandate. The world leaders, politicians, and governments tried to create peace between the countries many times, namely the independent Palestinian state and Israel. However, it is a part of the wider Arab-Israeli conflict that begun in the early 20th century due to different types of opposition, including the religious one (Tessler 2009, p. 12). Accordingly, the religious conflict started with small fights and then transformed into a global confrontation, implementing the idea of religious leaders and sacred texts into the political strategies of both countries. This essay proves that the Israeli-Palestian conflict represents the old confrontation between two religious beliefs, namely the Judaic idea of the Promised Land (Eretz Yisrael) by God and the Islamic principle of the Muslim Empire (jihad).

The Historical Roots of the Israeli-Palestian Conflict

The Palestinian-Israeli conflict has formally existed since the 1948 proclamation of Israel, though this animosity has deeper roots. It started during the British Mandate era when the Zionist movement has received the rights to create a Jewish homeland from the UK (Tessler 2009, p. 28). The Jewish-Arab conflict has its own logic and dynamics, just as the clash between Palestinians and Israel in the late 1940s and the early 1960s. At that time, Jewish demonstrations were organized in Arab neighborhoods near the Western Wall and were held under anti-Arab slogans. In response, the Executive Committee of the Arab Palestinian Congress gave a demonstration, which took place at the same Western Wall. (Tessler 2009, p. 44).

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The holistic structure of the conflict prevailed in the 60s of the last century when the most critical clashes happened, including the 1967 Six-Day War (Benny 2011, p. 148). In 1964, the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) was established, and the Palestinians, maintaining political dependence on the Arab world, tried to take the fight for the liberation of Palestine in their hands yet again. On the night of June 5 in 1967, the Israeli army launched a preemptive strike against the armed forces of three Arab countries: Egypt, Jordan, and Syria (Benny 2011, p. 152). During the Six-Day War, Israeli forces occupied East Jerusalem. It had not only a strategic but also a religious significance. One of the two main Israeli rabbis Isser Yehuda Unterman said about the War of that time: “This war is unusual. This chapter will be added to the Bible” (Frisch and Sandler 2004, p. 82). At the same time, the chief rabbi of the Israeli army General Shalom Goren said that the Jews lived in the era of Mashiach (Shavit 2015, p. 142). In fact, it was a political call that had religious roots, since General Shalom Goren had in mind not only the restoration of the Temple of Solomon in Jerusalem, but also the expansion of Israel at the expense of the neighboring Arab states.

A new situation in the Middle East meant that the Palestinian problem was associated with the Israeli expansion rate in the Palestinian territories. In this case, million of Palestinians with land were under Israeli control. The responsibility for the fate of these people after the Six-Day War was on the Israeli governments that decided to build new structures on the assimilated lands (Benny 2011, p. 158). It means that the Israeli strategy in the West Bank and Gaza was controversial from the very beginning. Therefore, Israel’s security could not be combined with the need to maintain control of the huge mass of the Palestinian population. Finally, it could result in a demographic catastrophe for Israel and, more importantly, was contrary to the values of democratic development. However, the most significant thing is that the strategy of occupation was reinforced by religious Zionist slogans, invisibly integrated into the Israeli political and ideological program. Accordingly, the Palestinians also reacted to these slogans with radical methods, using the idea of jihad and the Will of Allah.

The Judaic Belief in the Promised Land

The Zionist movement, on the basis of which the State of Israel was created, interprets Palestine as the historic homeland of the Jewish people, convincing that this nation has a right to their own sovereign state. The Zionist movement began as a secular movement, intricately uniting socialists, Marxists, liberals, and conservatives (Benny 2011, p. 27). Judaism defines the Jewish identity to the ethnic origin, and Cohen suggests: “The Jewish people is defined by its religion. There is no other definition that I know, and there was no other when the Zionist movement was established” (Salem et al. 2015, p. 129). Although the first Israeli Prime Minister David Ben-Gurion convinced people that the state was based on law and not on Halakha (normative part of Judaism that regulates religious, family, and civic life), religious institutions are not separate from the state (Frisch and Sandler 2004, p. 82). Zionists represent the majority of the religious camp in Palestine, actively populating the land within the Zionist project. However, not all religious groups became allies of the Zionist movement. For example, the ultra-Orthodox individuals (Haredi), who had pre-state numerical and intellectual superiority, did not support the Zionist idea of a Jewish state in Palestine, linking the revival of the Jewish people with the coming of the Messiah.

The claim of Israel on the Palestinian land is based on several principles, including national and religious arguments. First, the principle of equality explains that other people have their sovereign state, and, therefore, Jews also have the right to live in their country. Moreover, this argument is based on the biblical argument, since God promised Jews to provide them a land for living (Salem et al. 2015, p. 134). Second, the principle of the need to protect the Jews from anti-Semitism requires building an independent state. The phenomenon of anti-Semitism culminated in the purposeful genocide against the Jews (the Holocaust) and was carried out by Nazi Germany in the first half of the 1940s (Shavit 2015, p. 12). It forced Jews to organize in self-defense and find the territory that would have served as a refuge in case of the recurrence of the disaster. These two political arguments have a religious subtext, culminating in the idea that Jews that were chosen by God and the necessity to consolidate in a single territory.

However, the main religious principle is the idea of historical homeland (Eretz Yisrael) as the territory that was promised by God. Numerous anthropological and archaeological searches prove that Jewish tribes lived in Palestine since the 13th century BC, and there existed an independent Jewish state from the 6th to the 7th century (Shavit 2015, p. 54). The overwhelming presence of Jews in the area persisted after the conquest by the Babylonian king Nebuchadnezzar II over the next centuries. Judaism uses this fact in order to prove that there is additional evidence about the Promised Land. According to religious beliefs, this area is called the Eretz Yisrael that means “Land of Israel.” Hence, God promised to give this territory to Jacob (Israel) and the Jews, but not other nations (Shavit 2015, p. 117). The religious leaders also prove that one of the fundamental ideas of Judaism is the relationship of these people to the land of Israel from the inception of the Jewish people. In this regard, Jerusalem is one of the most significant questions in the Israeli-Palestian conflict, since it represents the whole idea of Israel.

Jerusalem takes a central place in Judaism where the first and second temples were built and the Western Wall is situated as the main sacred place. The laws of Israel and the Knesset consider Jerusalem the indivisible and eternal Jewish capital. Hence, no Israeli leader can make the decision to give this place to the Arabs. In Arabic, the city is called Al-Quds (the noble place). It is the third most important city after Mecca and Medina for all Muslims (Khader 2016, p. 87). Accordingly, Arab leaders also consider Jerusalem their own city. However, the Israeli Minister Ehud Barak offered an unprecedented compromise in 2001: he almost agreed to the division of Jerusalem, proposing most of the old town and even a part of the Temple Mount to the Palestinian people. It was assumed that the capital of the Arab states would be in the suburbs. However, the Arabs refused such an agreement.

The Islamic Religious Mission

The Arab States and the local Arabs were initially strongly opposed to the establishment of Israel in Palestine. The Radical political and terrorist movements, as well as some of the governments, fundamentally deny Israel’s right to exist there. With the trend of fundamentalist sentiment in the second half of the 20th century, the Arab position is complemented by religious convictions, insisting that the territory is a part of the native Muslim lands (Khader 2016, p. 83). Many critics and opponents of Israeli policies believe that Palestinians are deprived of their rights and their interests are violated. Some consider the actions of Israel to be racist and genocidal. In this case, more than 3 million Arabs were expelled from the territory of Palestine since the beginning of the Arab-Israeli conflict (Malek and Hoke 2014, p. 8).

One of the most significant Arab religious reasons for the occupation is the idea of jihad that proposes the war against all non-Muslims, namely the Jews as the main enemies. In fact, the sequence of provocations on this land have led to the rise of radical Islamic views, which are aimed at the destruction of Jews as representatives of Judaism. In addition, Hamas is another reason for jihad, since it shares the overall strategy of the gradual Islamization of society as a way to create an Islamic state. In fact, the idea of a Muslim State is much wider than the Jewish idea of the Promised Land since it involves the absolute construction of world as the Kingdom of Allah (Filiu 2012, p. 56). In this sense, the Muslim Empire is the collective belief that was used for the global mobilization of all Arabs against Jews. Accordingly, God promised the Eternal Kingdom to those Muslims who will spread His ideas, namely in the context of attracting other religions to Islam. While the Jews represent the most hostile force (the Muslims call them the infidel Jews), they also became the object of religious attacks, removing all the previous attempts at a peace regime. Thus, the belief in one Muslim Nation (Islamic Ummah) should unite all Muslims in the Kingdom of Allah (Filiu 2012, p. 58). It proves that the link between religion and nationalism is strong (Khader 2016, p. 84).

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Therefore, Muslims also claim that the Koran provided them with a right to the land, and they must rule there according to the Sacred Promise. In this case, Khader (2016) explains the situation in religious terms: “Palestine is a waqf (religious endowment) land. It is a sharia (Islamic judicial system) ruling that any land acquired by the Muslims by force is proclaimed Islamic endowment for the Muslims. It is an eternal Islamic heritage” (p. 84). Unlike the Jews, they believe that this land was promised to the eldest son Ishmael, from whom Arabs claim succession (Filiu 2012, p. 56). It explains that Muslims respect the central sacred places in Israel since Mohammed also was there. Moreover, the Prophet was in Jerusalem before his last trip to heaven, and, therefore, it is a special city for Muslims too. It is not surprising that most of the fights in the early stages of the conflict took place there. Nevertheless, this did not prevent the Muslims from building a number of important objects, such as the Dome of the Rock and Al-Aqsa Mosque on the Temple Mount. Therefore, Hamas argues that the Israeli territory is not for Jews, but for Muslims and their task to restore the Islamic vaqf as a great Arab kingdom.


In conclusion, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict was a confrontation between religious paradigms at the very beginning, but acquired various political and ideological expressions over time. The main religious reason is that both Jews and Muslims see their right to this land due to their sacred texts, namely the Torah and the Koran. In the first case, Israel and the radical Zionist movement regarded the idea of the Promised Land and, accordingly, the Jewish kingdom. Hence, their task is to recapture the territory that was promised by God, realizing themselves as a nation and a state. Moreover, the attempts to expel Arabs from the territories were based on the fact that only the Jews live as a chosen nation. In contrast, Arabs also see the land as a territory of spreading the ideals of Allah. The idea of building the Islamic Empire as the ground for a single Muslim community influenced the fact (Islamic Ummah). The present territory of Palestine and Israel are significant because Muhammad spent his final years there. Accordingly, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict can also be solved on a religious basis, where both sides will find a compromise in view of the disputed territory.