What is the Israel-Arab Conflict About and Why has it Lasted So Long?

In the Muslim view, Israel is a constant reminder of the perplexing
success of non-believers and the equally perplexing
failure of Muslim societies.

Israelis have a word to describe the 100-year conflict between Israel and its Arab neighbors: hamatzav. In Hebrew this means “the situation.”

Hamatzav. Israelis deliver this phrase with a shrug of the shoulders and a sense of resignation, as if to say, “There is nothing to be done. We’ll manage.”

I admire the persistence of Israelis in the face of their enemies’ efforts to destroy the world’s only Jewish state. But it is worth asking, “What is this conflict all about?” and “Why is it intractable?”

The Heart of the Conflict    

Any observer who relies on the media or the much-vaunted international community will never get good answers to these questions. The media and western governments present the conflict as if it were about territory. It is not. If it were, it would have been resolved decades ago.

And the conflict is not an Israeli-Palestinian one. After all, although the conflict dates back 100 years, the Palestinian national identity only goes back half that time.

At its heart, this is a Jewish-Muslim conflict.

The conflict could never be sustained by the Palestinian Arabs only. They don’t generate enough wealth, nor do they have the military capabilities to sustain the war against the Jews. For that, they have relied on other Muslim resources, notably, money, arms, foot soldiers and propaganda supplied by the Muslim world. That includes neighboring Arab countries, as well as Turkey, the Sunni Arab states, and Iran after its 1979 Islamic revolution.¹

It is true that hundreds of thousands of Arabs were displaced when Israel repelled the Arab invasions of 1948-1949. These displaced Arab refugees have fed a perpetual sense of injustice and resentment that has translated into money and arms against Israel. But population displacement is not a satisfactory explanation for the hundred-year war. After all, many more Jews than Arabs were forcefully displaced from their homes in the Arab countries surrounding Israel, and yet there is no Jewish war seeking the annihilation or expulsion of Arabs.

And recent history has seen larger population displacements, none of which has led to an armed conflict as persistent and destructive as the one faced by Israel today. Since the Second World War, this has included over one million Poles who were ethnically cleansed by the Soviet Union² and more than fifteen million Muslims and Hindus forced from their homes after the creation of India and Pakistan.³ More recently, hundreds of thousands of Rohingya Muslims have been expelled from their homes in Myanmar. In China’s Xinjiang Province, as many as a million Uighurs have been forced into concentration camps as ethnic Chinese have moved into the province.

Despite occasional flare-ups of violence, in contrast to the Palestinian situation, none of these displacements has turned into a sustained war to destroy the “enemy.”

Why Muslims Reject Jewish Sovereignty

The Muslim faith has been around for a millennium and a half. In that time, Muslim ideas have become ingrained in the minds of hundreds of millions of its adherents. These ideas, and the attitudes that follow from them, form the source of the inability—-or unwillingness—-of Muslims to accept Jewish sovereignty.

The most important tenet underlying Islam’s rigid refusal to accept Israel is supersessionism. Although this term was first used to describe Christianity, it applies as well to Islam. Supersessionism is the belief that Jews have been displaced by Muslims as God’s chosen people. The Jews’ stubborn refusal to accept Islam as the one true faith, and Allah as the true God, is a sign of the Jews’ evil.

A closely related idea is that all of humanity under Allah is divided into two groups: Muslims, who are true believers, and all others, the non-believers. In Islamic theology this is described as the division between the House of Islam and the House of War. The implication is clear. As long as there are non-believers, faithful Muslims must wage war against them in order to subjugate them. Because Allah’s word is final and infallible, it is merely a matter of time before all the non-believers are defeated and Islam rules the entire world.

This process of conquest and subjugation may only advance. Thus, any territory that is once subject to Islamic rule must forever remain Muslim land. This is why millions of Arab Muslims believe that Israel is a temporary affair. In the Muslim view, Jewish rule over Muslim lands is against God and nature. To Muslim believers, there is no doubt that Allah will right this wrong in the course of time. Today, Muslim belief, patience and persistence account for the intractability of the Jewish-Muslim conflict.4

Arab Defeat and Humiliation

Added to this mix of religious ideas is a deep humiliation experienced by millions of Arab Muslims. In the traditional Muslim view, non-believers are inferior to Muslims. Thus, Muslims are confronted with a conundrum:  If Muslims are Allah’s chosen people, and if Islam is true and unchangeable for all time, how could it be that Islam has suffered one military defeat after another to the non-believers in the west?

To Muslims, colonial rule by western non-believers has been the most bitter pill of all. Although western colonial powers have withdrawn from Muslim lands with the end of the Second World War, in the Muslim view, Israel remains a colonialist outpost in the Muslim world.5 This is a source of bitter resentment to millions of Muslims.

Israel’s stunning successes in achieving military superiority has added to Muslim bitterness.

For many centuries, Jews lived across the Muslim world. Although at times they achieved a modicum of stability and economic success, Muslims always looked down at the lowly Jew. In Muslim eyes, the Jew was a pitiable figure, weak, unclean, and easily subdued. Most of all, as non-believers, they stood outside of Allah’s favor, so they could never rise above their meager circumstances and inferior status.

Israel’s success as a nation has given the lie to this view. And that is a reality the Muslim world has never been willing to swallow. This is all the more true in the face of the contrast between Israel’s advancements in economic strength, standard of living, democratic institutions, literacy, military and technological prowess, medicine, agriculture, and on and on.

In the Muslim view, Israel is a constant reminder of the perplexing success of non-believers and the equally perplexing failure of Muslim societies.

The Muslim Arab solution has been to blame Israel for its own failures and to make war against the Jewish state in order to remove the offending anomaly from Muslim lands.

Israeli Survival

How could the Israel-Muslim conflict be solved?  The enemies of Israel could extinguish the Jewish state by military conquest or genocide. Alternatively, the Muslim world could moderate its rigid belief systems and learn to co-exist with a successful Jewish nation. Neither scenario is likely. In the absence of a resolution to the conflict, Israel will continue to thrive as it fends off the aggression of its neighbors abetted by the larger Muslim world.

Israel will continue to survive “the situation”: hamatsav.

Footnotes

  1. It is true that Europe and North America have provided political cover, money, and, at times, arms, to Israel’s Arab enemies. But the Arab war against the Jews has been financed mostly by the Muslim world.

 

  1. Polish Population Transfers (1944-1946). Wikipedia. Retrieved March 25, 2019 from:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Polish_population_transfers_(1944%E2%80%931946)

 

  1. Dalrymple, W. The Great Divide: The Violent Legacy of Indian Partition. New Yorker Magazine, June 29, 2015. Retrieved March 25, 2019 from:

https://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2015/06/29/the-great-divide-books-dalrymple

 

“By 1948, as the great migration drew to a close, more than fifteen million people had been uprooted, and between one and two million were dead.”

 

  1. Arab Christians make up 2% of Israel’s population, 1 to 2.5% of the West Bank and less than 1% of Gaza. The overwhelming majority of Arab Palestinians are Muslim. Therefore, it is the Muslim faith that has determined the Arab reaction to, and behavior toward, Israel.

 

  1. The narrative that paints Israel as a colonial power is false. Ample historical, archeological and genetic evidence supports the claim that Jews are indigenous to the region.

 

 

About the Author
The author is a life-long Zionist and advocate for Israel. He believes that a strong Jewish state is invaluable, not only to Jews, but to the world-wide cause of democracy and human rights. Dr. Berger earned a PhD in Social Welfare from the University of Wisconsin-Madison and has twenty-seven years of teaching experience. He has authored and co-authored three books as well as over 45 professional journal articles and book chapters. His parents were Holocaust survivors. Dr. Berger also blogs at: https://realbulletpoints.wordpress.com/
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