Zionism has been a secular movement, led and directed by national political parties of the Right and the Left. The basic narrative of Zionism has been a consistent adherence to state sovereignty and national self-determination — in other words, the secular liberation of the Jewish people in the context of a state-supported national self-defense. Political nationalism and not religion has, from the beginning, been at the core of the Zionist enterprise. The defense of the Jewish people was a job for generals, not rabbis. This political narrative has had zero resonance in the Muslim Middle East.
In the Muslim world, politics and religion have always been interlinked. This was true even at the height of so-called Arab nationalism, when secular minority political parties reigned across the Levant. Even in Egypt under Nasser, the appeal to religion as a trumpet call against secular Zionism was heard in tens of thousands of mosques up and down the Nile River. Among the Muslims of the ancient Holy Land, Palestinian nationalism didn’t take root until the 1950’s, well after the Nakba, and foremost as a reaction on the West Bank against the Jordanian monarchy. In fact the religious Muslim call in Palestine to eliminate the Zionist “experiment” preceded the creation of Israel itself. The early leftist Jewish ideas for either a bi-national state or a mandatory partition were always completely rejected by the Muslim religious authority. The Muslim rejection of anything other than a Dhimmmi Jewish community (a community without any political power in a permanent state of religious humiliation) has always been the basis of understanding for Egyptian, Palestinian, Jordanian and Syrian political Islam.
While Arab political power has been been wielded by strict military authoritarianism, religion has always played a dual role. Both as a spiritual and political bastion for an opposition in wait to ascend the corridors of power, and as a vital prop for the dictators and absolute monarchs in charge, religion in politics has been crucial. This early state history was preceded by the League of Nation’s Mandate period, when religion was both a catalyst for political power (the Mufti of Jerusalem) and also a vassal of the status quo (Syria). Later, in the non-aligned movement phase, (culminating in the Arab defeat in the June 1967 War), political Islam again attempted to ascend. Whether in Jordan, Gaza and the West Bank, or Syria, the forces of political Islam and the narrative of Islam itself have always held sway among the Arab masses.
The secular Zionist narrative — freedom and progress through individual self-interest (liberal capitalism) and its antecedent of a flexible state intervention (democratic socialism) — never held sway in the Arab mind. For fourteen hundred years, Jews had been a third-class, humiliated minority throughout the Muslim world. The very idea of the Zionist state (Western in orientation and devoid of a religious context, yet empowering Jews to be at least equal with Muslims) was an anathema to the religious sensibilities of the Arab and Muslim world. The essence of the struggle over Israel-Palestine has been an aggressive Islamic Holy War (Jihad) against the very presence of a secular Jewish state in the Muslim Middle East. One hundred years may be a long time in America or Europe, but from an Islamic religious point of view, time is secondary to revelation.
So what is Israel to do? Why not change narratives, and give religious peace a chance? Jews are not devoid of religion. But for the most part, they have simply not incorporated their religion into their national enterprise in a way that (perhaps) could speak to the Muslim peoples of the region. Religious Zionism in the face of Islamic Holy War and fourteen hundred years of humiliation has been clearly triumphalist. This is only natural. Religious Jews feel it is their G-d-given right to live in Judea and all the territories of the Holy Land. However, while Jews feel liberated from centuries of religious oppression, Muslims feel shamed. The perception of Zionism as a European secular movement, with a Western political sense of superiority, makes Muslims feel as if they’ve been conquered by atheists — or worse, Jewish atheists. Add to this a growing minority of religious Zionists whose theological perception is complete victory over an Islamic Holy War (as a test of Divine intention), and you have a recipe for total political chaos. While Israel of course must defend itself, the problem doesn’t seem amenable to a military solution. But for both Jews and Muslims alike, the war persists. It appears as if the verdict of Heaven (for religious reconciliation) has fallen on deaf ears. What else can be deduced? After one hundred years and the constant drumbeat of war, the Holy War has been stalemated. But as mentioned earlier, a hundred years could stretch into another few decades or even longer. Everything depends on the proper religious narrative and the correct choices of the various religious actors.
From my point of view, Israel must find a narrative that interposes its national existence within Muslim and Jewish revelation, Koran and Torah. The problem is that while Islam came after Judaism, and the Koran has reference to both the Jewish nation and its G-d-given right to the Holy Land (Koran 5-21), a similar specific reference with regard to Muslims is, of course, never mentioned in the Torah. However, this Koranic revelation has not prevented Islamic aggression against the Jewish state. The last one hundred years of Islamic resistance represents a purposeful disobedience to the will of the Almighty and therefore the true shame of all those who claim “submission” to His Will. But for the Jews the revelation of possession is not straightforward. Unlike Moses, David and Solomon, Mohammad is never mentioned in Torah. He is neither a prophet of Judaism nor does he hold any standing whatsoever. Unlike Muslims, who believe that the Torah is an authentic revelation of G-d, the Jews do not accept Koran. So, Koran 5-21 means nothing to a Jewish believer. As the first of the three Abrahamic religions, Judaism never had to account for a monotheism preceding it. However, Islam did.
When believers asked of Mohammad why they couldn’t just follow the religion of the Jews, his answer hearkened all the way back to the father of monotheism, Abraham. It is specifically through this man and his family that the Jewish search for a theological understanding must begin and end. It will not be enough to merely point out to the Muslims that their own Koran specifies a Jewish title to the Land of Israel. For whatever reason, the Muslim world has forsaken Koran 5-21. This has brought them defeat and shame in the sight of G-d. But because the Muslims haven’t been defeated, they still believe that victory remains possible. They must either be totally defeated, or shown that through their Jewish brethrens’ own revelation, G-d has a reason to withhold Israel’s complete victory. Because total victory remains elusive for the Jews and the Muslims, an alternative Divine narrative must be in play. This proof can only be found in Torah, and specifically through Abraham and his two sons, Ishmael and Issac.
The place in the Hebrew Bible where these two brothers first come together is in Genesis 17 — in the aftermath of the Covenant of Abraham. The Covenant specifies that Abraham was to be the father of a multitude of nations and that his heirs would hold title over the Holy Land. This first section does not designate a specific mother to delineate the line of possession. But in the last third of Genesis 17 (the chapter is divided into thirds) a clear matriarchal line is designated for some purpose. This purpose is not specified, and title to the land is not mentioned. But the line of Sarah, and not Hagar, holds specific delineation to a covenant.
I submit that Genesis 17, sections one and three are in complete contradiction to each other. While in section one, G-d gives title to a specific land to an unspecified number of people, in section three He does exactly the opposite. Could there be, in fact, two covenants in Genesis chapter 17 — a Covenant of Abraham separate from a Covenant of Sarah? If not, then why would the distinctions be so contradictory? G-d specifies the Abrahamic line through Sarah for a destiny that is alternative to the line which runs through Hagar. Nothing could be more clear. But is that destiny the sole possession of the land itself? G-d never specifies the destiny. Nothing could be more unclear. So what is the great destiny of Sarah’s line, if not possession of land? This is the question that religious Zionists must ask themselves. Is it the land alone which is to become the birthright of the Jewish people, or some much greater destiny?
The Muslims through Ishmael and through his circumcision (and their own) are the heirs to the Covenant of Abraham. There are no other people on earth who hold such a demonstrative claim, except the Jews themselves. As for the Jews’ other destiny — the great Jewish sages spelled it out clearly in each and every generation. The events at Mt. Sinai are a living testimony that the messages concealed at one point in time can be revealed in another, and that our precious and Divine inheritance can speak of His glory to an entire world.
It is time for Hamas to come to the table. Face-to-face negotiations have become the Divine imperative. Are you Muslims, or are you infidels? The moment of truth is at hand. G-d’s will demands the end to your physical jihad. True Muslims don’t kill each other, and all the children of Abraham are equal in the standing of the L-rd! Our mutual destruction will be because of our failure to heed His Divine word. The land promised to both of us (from the desert to the sea) must, by His intent, become holy once again. If you renounce the Koran, and its specific title to the land, you will be lost. The same is true for us Jews. The Torah is our destiny. And the land is our shared inheritance. We also must come to the table. We also must decide whether or not we believe and trust in the L-rd. Our mutual decision will be our answer to Him. Politics and religion, Jews and Muslims, Palestinians and Israelis, the story can only end with a religious peace treaty. For the story is His story. And He is the G-d of history.
(to be continued)