Palestinian Muslims’ perception of Zionism is often conflated with their perception of Judaism. Zionism, the support of a Jewish state usually in Israel, is disconnected from the religion of Judaism; though some individuals believe the Land of Israel was promised to the ancient Israelites by God. Confusion between the two can be seen as understandable considering that ninety-five percent of American-Jews support Israel and assumingly so do most Israelis (America and Israel hold over eighty percent of the worlds Jewish population).1 With that in mind, it seems complex to separate Zionism and Judaism but it can be observed through analyzing how these ideas are used in politics.
It should first be noted that not all Palestinians are necessarily Muslim; ninety-eight percent of the West Bank is Muslim, not including settlers. However, their large makeup of the Palestinians population in the West Bank should allow opinions Palestinians to be extrapolated to some regard to the Muslim population in showing the disconnect between Judaism and Zionism in their views. The Palestinian Liberation Organization [PLO] is the main united front of all Palestinians (not just the West Bank) in fighting against Zionism and standing up for Palestinian rights. In its founding charter, there is a distinction made that “Judaism, being a religion, is not an independent nationality” such defining a separation between the two. Additionally, it shows its acknowledgement of separation in stating that Jews that resided in the land before the “Zionist invasion will be considered Palestinians”.2 This is an attempt to prove that their intentions are not religiously motivated. having religion untied to their motivations makes them appear more secular. Western countries are mostly also secular and would likely have more sympathy to individuals who are not religiously motivated since it would be opposing their views to have a religiously motivated conflict.3
While Palestinian Muslims in general hold no aggression towards Jews specifically, there is rampant Antisemitism that can be found by Palestinian Muslims that causes greater confusion. Antisemitism can be seen in the PLO across its top leadership. Muhammad Abbas, the current leader of the PLO, wrote a dissertation during his time in university called “The Secret Relationship Between Nazism and Zionism”. This book is in many ways a denial of the Holocaust. It claims that the amount of deaths in the Holocaust were fabricated with the object of using these claims to create a Jewish state. While he regrets those remarks today, the damage is done in showing that there is specific anger against the entire Jewish people.5 The anger is found because of the use of the Holocaust in justification for the Zionist actions but in attacking the Holocaust he is not discriminate towards Zionists alone but all Jews effected. The anger that Abbas holds is specific towards Zionists as evident in his talk of the Holocaust denial being directed towards its use as justification for a Jewish state alone. Intention, especially when combined with anger, is hard to perceive and is no excuse for the effect Antisemitism has on all Jews. However, intention does show how individuals actually perceive something and the intention of attacking the notion of Zionism shows the perception is against Zionism not Judaism. Elites play a large role in influencing populations and the effects rhetoric from individuals such as Abbas can be seen throughout the populace. While polls on individuals in the West Bank are rare, a poll on Israeli Arabs found that over forty percent denied that millions of Jews died in the Holocaust. Due to the Holocaust not even being taught in schools in the West Bank compared to Israeli schools, it is likely that the percentage there is even higher.6
Remember that Jews and Muslims hold a mutual history. Despite small examples of hostilities, Muslims and Jews lived in the land west of the Jordan river from the time of the Umayyad Empire to the Ottomans. They have struggled together in events such as the Inquisition and Crusades.7 I say this to conclude on the fact that there is no religious reason for Jews and Muslims to be at odds. The Israeli-Palestinian conflict is not part of an ongoing struggle between religions; just religion is falsely weaponized into a conflict. Narratives are built by Israel in an attempt to garner support. Talking about Israel as a homeland for all Jews, the promotion of religious Zionism, makes this is a conflict that effect all members of the religion instead of only the citizens of the Israel. Palestinians create their own narratives such as Muhammad Abbas did with the Holocaust. These narratives are bought by the general populace since it provides a simple explanation to the conflict, what could be simpler than a battle between two religions, instead of the truth that it is a complex political fight. The truth that the PLO has always said they accept Jews and has only been angered by Zionism. Ignoring this reality only prolongs the conflict. It is impossible to make peace if you believe that your opponent is against your own identity with your religion instead of for political reasons. This being the case, it is no wonder that this conflict sees no end in sight.
- Newport, Frank. “American Jews, Politics and Israel.” Gallup. Gallup, Inc, August 27, 2019. https://news.gallup.com/opinion/polling-matters/265898/american-jews-politics-israel.aspx
- Harkabi, Y. The Palestinian Covenant and Its Meaning. London: Vallentine, Mitchel & CO. LTD, 1979.
- Aydin, Cemil. “Conclusion: Recovering History and Revitalizing the Pursuit of Justice.” In The Idea of the Muslim World, 2017.
- Gribetz, Jonathan Marc. “The PLO’s Rabbi: Palestinian Nationalism and Reform Judaism.” Jewish Quarterly Review 107, no. 1 (2017): 90–112. https://muse.jhu.edu/article/649553
- Medoff, Rafael. “A Holocaust-Denier as Prime Minister of ‘Palestine’?” Wyman Institute. The David S. Wyman Institute for Holocaust Studies. Accessed November 2, 2019. http://new.wymaninstitute.org/2003/03/a-holocaust-denier-as-prime-minister-of-palestine/
- Smooha, Sammy. “The 2008 Index of Arab-Jewish Relations in Israel: Main Findings and Trends of Change.” The 2008 Index of Arab-Jewish Relations in Israel: Main Findings and Trends of Change. Haifa, 2008. https://web.archive.org/web/20140806134653/http://soc.haifa.ac.il/~s.smooha/uploads/editor_uploads/files/Index2008MainFindings_TrendsChangeEng.pdf
- Aydin, Cemil. “Chapter 6: Resurrecting Muslim Internationalism.” In The Idea of the Muslim World, 2017.
- The Jews of Damascus Find a Large Jug Inscribed with the Muslim Profession of Faith (Shahâdah) and Try to Destroy It, but They Are Unsuccessful. The New York Public Library Digital Collections. The New York Public Library, 2017. https://digitalcollections.nypl.org/items/510d47da-6185-a3d9-e040-e00a18064a99