Muslims and Jews have always fought and always will, right? As with so much other "common knowledge," this is simply not true. Jews, along with Christians, are considered members of the Abrahamic faith by the Quran and Muslims are instructed to treat them with respect. Muslims, of course, consider their faith the final installment on succeeding revelations from God. And prior to the revival of Zionism in the late nineteenth century there was little animosity between Jews and Muslims.
By the fifteenth-century Muslim forces had conquered the Middle East, much of North Africa and the entire Iberian Peninsula. But they usually permitted the people already living there to continue to practice their trades, professions and religions, including the Jews in Spain. The Quran advises against forcing infidels to convert to Islam. They should accept it on their own by attraction, not coercion.
When the Spanish finally expelled the last Muslims from Spain toward the end of the fifteenth century there remained a sizable number of Jews who had been living there under Islamic rule. They had generally been permitted to practice their trades, professions and religion with complete freedom. But after 1492 the victorious Spanish gave the Jews the choice of either conversion to Christianity, expulsion or even death. Some converted but continued to practice Judaism covertly in their homes. But most Jews left and settled in the Middle East and North Africa, areas under Muslim rule. Here they were usually tolerated and even welcomed. They became the Sephardic branch of Judaism, as opposed to the Ashkenazi, or eastern European Jews. In addition to being of a kindred (Semitic) ethnicity and religion, Jews brought with them their traditions of hard work, thrift and universal education for all (male) children. They were usually considered an asset to the communities where they settled.
With the revival of Zionism in the late nineteenth century many Jews favored Palestine as the logical choice for a Jewish homeland. But in their proposals and discussions the disposition of the Muslim Arab majority already living there was never considered. This disturbed Muslims throughout the Middle East and the embers of smoldering Islamic anti-Semitism were rekindled. Jewish historical rights there? Prior to 1948 the last Jewish sovereignty in the Holy Land was in 62 BCE, over two thousand years ago, under Judas Maccabeus and the Hasmonean Dynasty.
The 1917 Balfour Declaration stated the British Government would "look with favor" on the establishment of a Jewish homeland in Palestine, then a British mandate. But a Jewish sovereign state was never mentioned. It further specified that the rights of the people already living there would not be prejudiced.
Today’s seemingly unsolvable Israeli-Palestinian impasse stems from two conflicting realities: the Middle Eastern Muslims’ refusal to recognize Israel’s right to exist and Israel’s refusal to return the Arab territory taken during the 1967 War and to allow Arab refugees (730,000) to return. An additional roadblock is the fact that both Palestinians and Jews harbor deep and abiding narratives of victimhood, and somewhat justified. Victims feel little obligation to negotiate with those whom they believe have wronged them. And a military victory against ISIS will do little toward ending this problem since Muslims see their struggle against Israel as divinely ordained. A negotiated settlement based on compromise and cooperation is simply not in the cards.
It is clear that any settlement must include a two-state solution. But Israeli PM Benyamin Netanyahu, who once embraced this possibility, now refuses to consider it. Israel is by far our largest recipient of U. S. foreign aid and could probably be pressured to negotiate. But AIPAC, the little known but powerful Washington Israeli lobby, prevents that from happening through well-financed covert political pressure. I invite those interested in this impossibly complex struggle to Google up "AIPAC" and see for themselves what is going on in our nation’s capital. And scan all the web sites, not just the Israeli-sponsored ones.
George B. Reed Jr., who lives in Rossville, can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.