In the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, there is probably no greater tension point than the city that is alternatively called Hevron and al-Khalil. The irony is that both names come from the root of the word “friend”. It is accepted by Jews, Christians and Muslims as the dwelling place and burial place of the Patriarch Abraham, who is also known as Avraham Avinu and the Prophet Ibrahim. But it has been fraught with discord and hatred for the last hundred years.
There are two major events that Jews and Muslims relate to in their hatred of one another: the 1929 massacre of the Jewish community that resulted in its exile, and the 1994 mass shooting by Baruch Goldstein on worshipers at the Cave of Machpelah, the Ibrahimi mosque. The memories of those two events stand out in each community in its disdain of the Other.
This is a very difficult article to write. Every word has to be weighed extremely carefully, due to the sensitivities of each side. The peoples of Hevron, both Jews and Muslims are among the most devout in their faiths. They believe passionately in the God of their forefathers and in their respective Revelations.
Hence, for most Westerners and secularists, this is a religious/political minefield. They believe that religion is the source of conflict and should be avoided at all costs. We will argue the opposite. It is only through appreciating the religious power of the place and the role of our spiritual ancestor, Abraham/Avraham/Ibrahim that we will achieve a lasting peace in the city and in the entire Holy Land.
Religious Jews and devout Muslims actually have quite a bit in common. They both pray to the One God, the God of Abraham, several times a day. Both have dietary laws. Both are governed by ritual and civil laws that derive from their respective Holy Scriptures. The word Maimonides used in his Arabic writings for “Halachah” (Jewish law) is “Sharia”, the word Muslims use for their religious laws. In theory, both groups should get along with one another well.
And this actually happens online in Facebook groups such as “Abraham’s Tent“, where the politics of Israel, Palestine and Zionism are not allowed to be discussed. Muslims and Jews are very tolerant of each other and constantly bless each other with greetings of peace.
So why can’t we transfer this type of good will to the heart of the Middle East, where it is so desperately needed?
I believe that we can. We must say: “1929 and 1994” — Sulha!, the Arabic word for reconciliation. We refuse to go back to our old hatreds. We can commemorate our tragedies, but it is time to stop blaming each other for the actions of others.
Second, we must overcome our fears of one another. We have to stop dehumanizing each other. This is hard. It means pushing ourselves out of our comfort zones.
And third, we must recognize that every human being is created in the image of God. Our religious traditions teach us of the sanctity of all life. Yes, each tradition has religious laws for self-defense. But we must stop triggering these laws.
There are texts in each of our traditions that lead to the ostracization of the Other and there are texts that teach us to model loving-kindness to the stranger. It all depends on what we choose to emphasize. The paradigmatic figure in both the Torah and the Qur’an who represents these values is none other than our Father Abraham and what leads him to be called a “friend of God”.
Religion must be a part of the solution. There is a slogan used by the Muslim Brotherhood that says “Islam is the Solution.” Let us be ecumenical and proclaim “Abraham is the Solution”.
Abraham’s name opens up people’s hearts. He is a reminder to us all of the kind of people God wants us to be. It may seem unachievable at first because of all of the bad blood, but that is what we are called upon to do. We must be relentless in our pursuit of Chessed/Loving-kindness.
Peace will come from Hevron because both sides believe that “God is Great”. He is the One who will ultimately bring us together. Abraham, the “father of many nations” will be the sign post to guide us along the way.
God is begging us to leave our hatreds aside and to open our hearts. Once we do, the power of that spirit will spread throughout the Holy Land.
We must rise to the challenge.