Yoel Oz
Co-Founder of the Abrahamic Movement

It’s Time to Talk

This is a message for our Palestinian Arab neighbors. It’s time to talk.

Perhaps one of the benefits of Dona Trump’s declaration recognizing that Jerusalem is Israel’s capital is that the United States has removed itself from the position of a peace broker in the Middle East. He has lost the trust and goodwill of the Arab and Muslim worlds.

But let us be honest, without Trump’s declaration, Jerusalem would still be the capital of Israel simply as a matter of fact. It is the home of the Knesset (parliament), the President, the Prime Minister and the Supreme Court. Jerusalem is mentioned over 600 times in the Hebrew Bible. Jews sing “if I forget thee O Jerusalem, let my right hand lose its cunning” at every wedding. It was the home of the two Holy Temples. It is another name for Zion, from which the term Zionism comes from.

These are simple facts. What they don’t do is negate the deep Muslim and Arab attachment to al-Quds, the Holy City. Jerusalem was the first qibla (direction of prayer). In the Qur’an, it is the destination of Muhammad’s night dream flight to heaven. It was the Muslims who restored Jerusalem to the Abrahamic faith after the Romans renamed it Aelia Capitolina. The Caliph Omar’s mosque, known as the Dome of the Rock, was meant to venerate the location of the Bayt al-Maqdis, the Jewish Beit Hamikdash, the Holy Temple. It was the Muslims who allowed the return of the Jews to the Holy City after being banished by the Romans and the Christians. Nevertheless, it is also holy to Christians as the location of the death of Jesus of Nazareth.

So instead of killing each other over this holy ground, let us begin a conversation about what it means to be Abrahamic faiths. For, as we have seen, religious symbols, such as Jerusalem, matter. Instead of claiming unique ownership over a piece of land, let us think about what it means to be heirs to the message of Abraham, our common Father.

The beauty of Abraham as the “Father of Many Nations” is that it allows for each group to authentically express itself as a unique path to God, without disqualifying other paths. “Truth”  is still “objective”, but how we approach that Great Truth is subjective. The Jewish people may have a unique Covenant through Isaac and Jacob with God, but that doesn’t mean that Gentiles can’t develop their own relationship with Him. Christianity and Islam, as universal religions, also see Abraham as their ancestor because he preached the word of God before he even had any children. They understand their own revelation experiences differently, but we all agree on our common spiritual ancestor.

This isn’t meant to deny that there are very significant differences between the three great religions. There are, and they are profound. But perhaps the Biblical models of family relationships and tribes are the models we are looking for: Isaac and his older brother Ishmael; Jacob and his twin Esau; the twelve tribes of Israel. We are, and can be, very different. But there is no question that we are related.

What do we do about this familial kinship? It would seem that one of the messages of the book of Genesis is what happens when brothers fight amongst each other, rather than appreciating each other’s “Otherness”. In this battle over Jerusalem we are each losing sight of the Other.

Jerusalem is holy to each group. But perhaps instead of focusing on who “owns” Jerusalem, we can move to a place where we belong to the city, rather than the city belonging to us.

We are each the heirs of great traditions, starting with our common spiritual ancestor Abraham. Let us look to him as a way of uniting us at a time when we are divided from each other.

So I say to my Palestinian Arab, Christian and Muslim neighbors, let us find common symbols that we can unite around. Maybe that is Abraham/Avraham/Ibrahim. He seems to be the one figure that we agree inspires us all. Let us form tribes that can maintain their own independence in spirit and form, but that are also capable of entering into mutually beneficial agreements with one another.

We are destined to be neighbors in this Holy Land. Let us begin talking TO each other and figuring out how to make all of this work.

About the Author
Yoel Oz served as an Orthodox rabbi and educator in the Washington, DC metro area for five years. He studied at Cornell and Yeshiva universities and Yeshivat Hamivtar and Yeshivat Rabbenu Yitzchak Elchanan. He currently resides with his wife and daughter in a suburb of Tel Aviv and is the co-founder of the Abrahamic Movement.