However, prior to the creation of Israel the numbers were much higher (currently approximately 300,000 Palestinian Christians live in the U.S. alone (2004). Interestingly, the Israeli Army does not differentiate between Arab Christians and Arab Muslims in their occupation activities. In fact, in many areas Palestinian Christians are particularly hit by civilian casualty occurrences (Halter, 2001). In fact, Palestinian Christians identify so strongly with the Palestinian cause that statements like, "The Arab Palestinian Christians are part and parcel of the Arab Palestinian nation. We have the same history, the same culture, the same habits and the same hopes..." coming from the Anglican Bishop of Jerusalem, the Reverend Riad Abu al-Assal, is typical of the community as a whole.
It is for this reason that Palestinian Christians are particularly baffled by the pro-Israeli stance taken by many Western, non-Arab Christians (including, most notably, Jerry Fallwell, Ralph Reed, and Pat Robertson to name a few). They see these groups unquestioning support of Israel (as a representation of the impending fulfillment and expectation of the second coming of Jesus) as strangely lacking in terms of justice and adherence to Christian morals (especially in that they are willing to support the persecution of fellow Christians, Arab or no).
Instead, according to Christian Palestinians, they are allowed freedom from oppression (the right to not be driven from their homes to make room for the Jewish Promised Land). Further, they also believe that through their acceptance of Jesus they have a right to stay in the Holy Land and guard Christian places. Furthermore, many believe that the Jewish rejection of Christ makes the "era of Nations" (and thus, God's promise) void (Halter, 2004).
Indeed, unlike non-Arab Christians, most Palestinian Christians echo the sentiment of one man answering the question, "Is the State of Israel not in fact the fulfillment of God's promise and a necessary step in the second coming of Christ?" Who answered, "...You're kidding, right? You know what they do to our people and our land. If I thought that was part of God's plan, I'd be an atheist in a second (2004)."
Islam is the third of the three religions chronologically, and is also based upon the scriptures of Judaism and Christianity. However, Muslims believe that the true message from God (the same God worshipped by Jews and Christians) was corrupted at some point in the transmission (most specifically that the Torah and the New Testament have been "corrupted" by men. Thus, in response to this problem, Muslims believe that the Prophet Muhammad was dictated the word of God directly, which was then recorded word for word in the Qur'an. Not only do Muslims believe that Muhammad was the last prophet ever to be sent to earth, but that the Qur'an is also the final and complete revelation (Wikipedia, 2005).
Islam shares some key beliefs with the other two faiths, for example, Muslims believe in the total "unity" of God much like in the Jewish faith. Further, Muslims also share the same Prophets with Judaism and Christianity. These include Adam, Noah, Moses, Isaac, Jacob, and Jesus (whom they regard as a prophet, and not divine). Further, they also believe that Jesus was born of a virgin birth just as in Christianity. Even in areas of practice, Islam shares some striking similarities with the other faiths. For example, Muslims do not eat pork (like observant Jews), and they also share many of the same moral rules (no sex outside of marriage, the prohibition of killing and stealing, etc.). However, Islam differs radically from Judaism and Christianity in that it does not allow the drinking of Alcohol, does not observe the Sabbath, and also considers Jewish and Christian believers to be in grave error due to their rejection of Jesus and Muhammad as legitimate prophets.
Much like Christianity and even Judaism, there are several "sects" or groups of Muslims. The most famous is the division between Shia' Muslims and Sunni Muslims (which is based on a battle to determine whom should be the prophet's successor after his death) (Nasr, 2003). However, in Palestine, the dominant form of Islam is Sunni Islam, and is practiced in various degrees of observance throughout Arab communities both inside Israel, as well as in the Occupied Territories.
Of course, most people think of suicide bombings, Hamas and Islamic Jihad (two Islamic political and social groups) when they think of Muslim Palestinians. Although it is true that both groups (in addition to the more secular PLO), enjoy tremendous popularity with the Arab population, many assert this is more of a reaction to the poverty, violence, and economic depression that has plagued them since the beginning of the Israeli occupation than one based on faith alone.
Unlike the nationalistic religious Israelis, or even the outside Zionist Christian camp, the Islamic faith allows for the Holy Land to be shared by different faiths (2003). However, as a condition to this, it is first required that non-Muslim groups do not "oppress" Muslims, (this includes violence and specifically "driving them out of their lands" (2003). However, according to the Qur'an, if the oppression stops, Muslims are ordered to live in peace. Interestingly, it is under the Muslim rule of Jerusalem prior to their routing in the Crusades that all three groups lived in Jerusalem in relative peace (Armstrong, 1997). However, under the traditionally considered "gentle Christians" during the Crusades, religious oppression became the norm for Jews, Muslims and even some Christian sects. (ej9ioej).
Although most mainstream Muslims believe that killing civilians (or even plants and animals) is forbidden in battle, many Muslim groups in Palestine react to the occupation with suicide bombings aimed at civilian casualties. These Muslims seem to justify this by asserting that there "are no civilians" in Israel due to the fact that military service is compulsory. However, Muslims do not share this view, but consider the phenomena to be a reflection of the desperation of the Palestinian people.
Conclusions: Is Peace Possible?
When one considers the tremendous strife in the Middle East today, it is clear that much of it is due to the continued conflict between Israel and the Palestinians. The fact that religion plays a major and unchanging role in the perpetuation of the discord indicates that it is highly doubtful that a peaceful reconciliation can come from the differing faiths when their interests are combined. Thomas Hobbes pointed out that without a kind of "Leviathan" power over individuals life will become "brutish and short..." Further, he asserted that each party will only act in his or her self-interest. Clearly this is the current condition today. Thus, it is imperative to remove the resolution of the conflict from those religiously involved, and placed in the hands of an international body (the UN, the International Court of Justice), to subject it to international law. Without this, it is likely that the problem will only get worse.
Armstrong, Karen. (1997). "Jerusalem: One City, Three Faiths." Ballentine: New York.
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Halter, Kristel. (2004). "Arab-Christian Suffering in the Holy Land. (Waging Peace)." Washington Report on Middle East Affairs. 1 December.
Nasr, Seyyed Hossein. (2003). "Islam: Religion, History, and Civilization." Harper, San Francisco.
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