COULD AN INVOLVEMENT OF ISLAMIC UMMA AND THE WORLDWIDE JEWISH COMMUNITY EASE A PEACE PROCESS IN PALESTINE?

By Glauco D’Agostino

This article was born as a comment to Gottfried Hutter’s proposed contribution, published also by Islamic World Analyzes under the title “Why Palestinian Politicians are not entitled to make peace – and why the negotiation process needs the Muslim Umma, the community of all Muslims”. The goal is to stress the need for dialogue among different cultural environments, in order to deepen topical issues that are sensitive to a political-religious level, such as the ones concerning the Middle East.

There are many things regarding the analyzes and proposals advanced by Dr. Hutter I agree with, e.g.:

a)      “Israel must express appreciation for the privilege of protection extended to Jews for so many centuries within the territory of the Muslim Umma”;

b)       “the “Jewish” State needs to be defined, because it is necessary to provide built-in guarantees that non-Jewish minorities will be in no danger of any form of persecution”;

c)       “In the eyes of the Umma the subsequent struggle of the Palestinians is not only regarded as a struggle for national liberation, but also as a religious duty”;

d)     “no one in the Muslim world dared speak and act on behalf of the Muslim Umma”.

The following historical acknowledgments are also relevant:

e)      “until the advent of Zionism the Jews could live in peace among Muslims by accepting the status which Islamic law, Sharia, provided for them as Dhimmis, protégés of the Muslim Umma”;

f)       “an alien, non-Islamic entity – Israel – was implanted without their consent on Umma territory”;

g)       “the offense the implantation of the State of Israel meant for the Muslim Umma” (from his article Peace in the Holy Land and throughout the Middle East of July 2nd, 2015 (http://www.tempel-projekt.de/Peace%20in%20the%20Holy%20Land%20and%20in%20the%20Middle%20East%2015_07_02.htm);

h)      in 1948 “Israeli victors went well beyond utilizing their undreamed-of gains of territory purely for purposes of military security and ended up creating and perpetuating a state of chronic injustice for the Palestinians and chronic insecurity for all concerned”;

i)        “In times of crisis, Jews were scapegoated especially in European countries”.

Such a sharing of analysis also leads to a few questions we cannot but ask ourselves. Does the nature of conflict concern Muslims and Jews (as a religious expression), or Arabs and Jews (as an ethnic expression) or even a Palestinian State and a Jewish State (or Zionist Entity, as some call it)? It’s precisely the ethnic character of the Jewish religion that seems to complicate the picture of the situation. In other words, and frankly made clear, what does have to do anti-Semitism (which is hatred for the race), often invoked when dealing with the State of Israel, with anti-Zionism (which is a recent political matter, consequent to the Jewish will to re-establish a Eretz Israel)? Yet often, some Western political bodies (fully aware of the differences) and their respective legislations tend to equate them, considering a crime of anti-Semitism the opinion of those who are anti-Zionist (just a political view), confusing the relative public opinions.

Daniel Boyarin, Professor of Talmudic Culture at the Departments of Near Eastern Studies and Rhetoric, University of California, Berkeley, has argued that “Jewishness disrupts the very categories of identity, because it is not national, not genealogical, not religious, but all of these, in dialectical tension”.

Daniel J. Elazar, founder and President of the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs, made clear in a publication the forms of identity the Jewish communities share:

  • “For the Jews of Eretz Israel the key concept is that the Jews are a nation. There are variations on this concept. Most Jews in Israel probably consider the Jews to be a nation which includes certain religious dimensions. For religious Zionists, Jews are a nation in which the religious dimension is critical. For the haredim, Jews are a nation by virtue of their religion or, more accurately, by virtue of the Torah in which they include the written and oral law, the definition which very much approximates that provided by Saadia Gaon [a rabbi of the Talmudic Academies era in Babylonia, under the ‘Abbāsid Caliphate, Author’s Entry] over a thousand years ago. Finally, for a growing number of Israeli Jews, Israel is the focal point of their national identity, but the vast majority of those “Israelis” are of Jewish descent. Hence the two identities are intertwined.
  • “For the Jews of the United States, Jews are principally Jews by religion”.
  • “In the rest of the English-speaking world, Jews are an ethnic group sustained by their religion”.
  • “In Latin America, Jews are an ethnic group sustained by family, language, or other aspects of culture, and concern for the Jewish state. Religion is an almost non-existent factor for most Latin American Jews”.
  • “In Western Europe Jews are an ethnic group perhaps most sustained by anti-Semitism, real or perceived, manifest or latent, whereby Jews perceive themselves as different from French or Germans or Norwegians, even though they may be very much integrated into their country’s civic life and culture. Jewish religion is residual and its institutions are more overtly ethnic anchors than they are in other parts of the contemporary diaspora”.

Stephanie Mireku, Aspire Institute Project Specialist at Wheelock College of Boston, Mass., point out in her book ‘Jew’: Ethnicity, Religion, or Both? that “the Jewish culture has been preserved even after the Diaspora by way of ethnic, racial and religious characteristics”. And she keeps on “the Jewish faith is monotheistic and ritualistic and reflects a common interest in the Hebrew heritage and language; this factor connects ethnicity with religion”. Then admits: “The term Jewish can certainly be used to refer to ethnicity”.

All this has to do with our discussion because, when making proposals to solve the conflict in Palestine, it’s one thing if we are looking for solutions on the religious level (which implies an involvement of religious authorities and public opinion), but it’s different if we seek solutions on the political (by involving institutional and diplomatic representatives). Hutter’s proposal seems to be directed towards an involvement of the entire Muslim Umma and once more I agree with that (while recognizing the commitment in the peace process by President Maḥmud ‘Abbās and the current Palestinian political representation). And I’ll tell why. This proposal seems to favor the first option mentioned above (i.e. the religious option). However, the Umma contains within it also a political imperative, something the Western world fails to or pretends not to acknowledge. Hutter himself quoted the book Alternative Paradigms by Turkish Prime Minister, Ahmet Davutoğlu, “in which he describes the fundamental difference between the Western and the Muslim view of the world”. And Hutter himself inquired “the purely secular world view is thoroughly alien to the people of the region?” in his article Peace in the Holy Land…, cit.

Now, religious and political differentiations inside Umma are well known, as the serious consequences stemming from the 1924 Caliphate removal are, even though it symbolized a principle of unity, at least as to the Sunnite bulk of the Islamic world. This represented a stability element and a reliable and credible interlocutor even for the outside world, so that its overthrow has been the biggest historic mistake of shortsighted WWI winners’ diplomacies (real inspirers of it), error which should inevitably continue to impact on the Middle Eastern and North African political situations, as the current events largely prove.

Conversely, on the Jewish side, not only representatives of the State of Israel should be involved, but the entire worldwide Jewish community (in this case hardly distinguishable in an ethnic or religious level, for the foregoing considerations). Generally, it’s assumed the latter unconditionally agrees with Tel Aviv views. And many observers want to ignore several Jewish movements are anti-Zionist, and (just for religious reasons) don’t recognize the legitimacy of the State of Israel. However, even the Austro-Hungarian Theodor Herzl, a father of modern political Zionism, envisioned a Jewish homeland under Ottoman protection, therefore with no recourse to the establishment of a fully independent State! Elazar put it this way: “the reestablishment of a Jewish national home in Eretz Israel […] was intended by the Zionists to fully restore the Jewish polity and which it has done, albeit in a way quite different from that which the Zionist theoreticians of those days then envisaged, however they envisaged it”.

The need for an independent state of the Jewish people is an interpretation of a political nature, embraced by Western pragmatic interests during the WWI (see the 1917 Balfour Declaration) in order to prevent the unity of the Arab peoples of the region once the Ottoman Sultanate would have collapsed. In this regard, the frustrated hopes of King Sharīf Ḥuseyn of Ḥijāz (who had led the anti-Ottoman Arab Revolt) to achieve a Middle Eastern one single Arab-led State are meaningful, when, in fact, the 1916 Sykes-Picot secret agreement had already determined French and British spheres of influence in the Middle East, actually preventing a unified Arab management of the area.

The current political problem remains, and mainly the evidence of an illegal and prevaricating attitude of the State of Israel, which we can’t certainly charge to the Jews as such, and that in any case is not to be endorsed just because the Europeans (not the Arabs or Muslims) dogged the Jews to the point of reaching the Holocaust horrors. Can multi-secular European anti-Jewish massacres be charged to peoples who, instead, welcomed them with “Islamic compassion”? It would seem to me a distortion of historical narrative. Implicitly endorsing this storyline avails just Israel aggressions against Palestinians to be justified by the need of Jewish homeland safety. In fact, the same argument on the need for safety could be applied to security of Gaza, of the entire State of Palestine (that Israel continues anti-historically not to recognize), to Syria (which actually has de facto lost sovereignty over Golan Heights since decades), to Jordan (with the appropriate West Bank annexation in 1950). And yet, I think we can agree that boosting the safety concept leads always to the break of international legality (principle hardly unanimously interpreted and still useful for maintaining regional balances) and leads to war, of course deemed always by each other conflicting parties as a defensive conflict. Meaningful, in this regard, is the euphemistic name given by Israel to 1982 Lebanon invasion, Peace for Galilee.

Just to remember the most pressing difficulties Palestinian people are experiencing, a desirable agreement cannot pass but through the resolution of the following problems:

  • presence of the intolerable “security barrier” in the West Bank, which Palestinians suffer as a “barrier of racial segregation”;
  • persistence and increase of Jewish illegal colonial settlements unilaterally decided and not adequately compensated in terms of size and quality;
  • the fragmented area assigned to the Rāmallāh government;
  • isolation of Gaza, due to the oppressive mobility control of its border crossing points (beyond the reasons and regardless of the Ḥamās danger perceived by Israel, doing scorched earth and making life impossible in Gaza seems to meet less a need for security, and more a call for showing military power and national superiority over the entire area; anyway, apart from the “right to security” considerations mentioned above and apart from the confusion often given rise about who attacks and who is assaulted, we must share the argument of a proportionality tenet in the reactions, even the military ones, anyone reply to an alleged threat);
  • viability of East Jerusalem, under military occupation since 1967, unilaterally annexed in 1980 and illegally proclaimed capital of Israel by the Knesset, despite the 1947 UN General Assembly Resolution 181 had entrusted al-Quds (the Holy City) to a special international regime under UN administration.

Personally, I tend to be a bit more pessimistic about the peace process steps Hutter outlined; nor I do wish to advance the “two peoples-one State” proposals (which would appear more in line with the democratic and multi-ethnic premises which the international community says … says to be inspired), because they are unrealistic and do not meet the UN resolutions on the matter. But I think the Arab-Israeli problem (or rather, the Islamic-Jewish one, if you think) cannot be solved without dominant Western powers (with Israel in tow) cease their incentive policy of the Islamic divisions in the region (for example, by stimulating contrasts of historical origin between Sunnis and Shiites, and, hence, the equally historical rivalry between Iran and Saudis).

The weak response Israel meets to its pretentious claims is rooted in the divisions of the Islamic world (here I refer not so much to the canonical religious one between Sunnis and Shiites, as mainly to the political one in the Sunni field). And these, in turn, are rooted in the impossibility of speaking with a single, authoritative voice, being guiltily ousted by Western secularism and wildly put off the course of history.

The reference to King ‘Abdullāh II of Jordan and the plea to “the Majesties of the world of Islam, King Abdullah of Jordan, King Mohammed of Morocco, and King Salman of Saudi Arabia” (see Peace in the Holy Land…, cit.) are commendable (and I fully agree with them), because these Monarchs seem to be a few legitimate expression (not the only ones, in fact) of the authority coming from Muḥammad. However, their supranational religious and political role must be recognized by the so-called Western (and international) community, failing which the alleged claims and calls for an Authority interpreting the entire Umma will unavoidably multiply.

Outside this logic, only the winner’s brutal force exists, the one Israel (with the West cynical backing) still reminds from the top of its military supremacy!

 

A REPLY TO DR. D’AGOSTINO’S POST

By Gottfried Hutter, the author of “Why Palestinian politicians cannot agree to peace”

Dear Readers of islamicworld.it,

Social networks brought us together. After reading about Dr. D’Agostino’s work I sent a link to my inter-religious peace initiative for Israel, Palestine and the Middle East. He liked the strictly inter-religious nature of my approach and suggested to publish one of my articles at https://www.islamicworld.it/. I am very grateful for this idea and I feel honored.

D’Agostino commented on my suggestions and he invited me to make a few remarks to his reply. I selected a few topics.

But first I must say that there is much agreement between us – no wonder, since he is essentially also following a strictly inter-religious view.

Now, some of our differences:

I disagree when D’Agostino talks about the Balfour Declaration (which recommends the establishment in Palestine of a national home for the Jewish people), as if its main purpose would have been “to prevent the unity of the Arab peoples”. While this may have been a second intention, it certainly was not its main purpose.

I also disagree when D’Agostino speaks about the termination of the Caliphate as an action taken by the Western powers – because the Caliphate was constitutionally abolished by Mustafa Kemal “Atatürk” and all attempts by Arab nations to preserve it failed.

Then, D’Agostino stated that Theodor Herzl had “envisioned a Jewish homeland under Ottoman protection”. This is true, but Herzl would have certainly voted for an independent (non-dhimmi) Jewish State, had he lived to see the events leading to the founding of the State of Israel.

D’Agostino believes that Israel will need to be pressured into a peace agreement by the Western powers. I am afraid, an inter-religious settlement is beyond the scope of the Western concept of secularism. It will need the Muslim Kings to introduce this concept and to pave the way for it. Israel with its religious background will be open for such proceedings, but they cannot be expected to start them.

The Muslim world will have to take the first step.

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