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How has islamic teaching influenced the intifadas in palestine?

| January 23, 2017


Throughout history, religion has been a major a factor contributing to wars. Religion has in many ways contributed to hatred, bloodshed and war. Religion and politics are particularly linked in the Arab world. There is no strict separation between the two and in fact, a strong link exists between the Islamic religion and politics in the Arab world (Svensson 2007).  This is particularly evident in Palestine where followers of other religions have generally been disregarded and are rarely viewed as equals. Unlike the western societies, religion and state in both the Jewish and Arab cultures remains inextricably intertwined. Religion remains a major factor affecting politics through the Middle East. The religious dimension is also evident in Israeli politics despite being more westernized than the Arab cultures (Shapira 2002).

A particular religious war which has been fought for many decades is that between Israel and Palestine.  For many years Palestine has witnessed several uprisings. The first intifada occurred in between 1987-1993 and is speculated to have resulted due to tensions between the Palestinians and the Israelis over control of resources such as land and sacred sites (Rempel 2006). This Palestinian uprising began in Jabalia refugee camp and quickly spread to various parts of western Palestine including the Gaza strip, West bank and East Jerusalem (Rempel 2006). The first intifada led to the death of more than 1000 Palestinians and 100 Israeli civilians. The second intifada occurred between 2000 and 2005 (Pressman 2003). This second uprising resulted in the death toll of about 3,000 Palestinians and 1000 Israelis. While there is no definitive ending date to this second uprising, some consider it to have ended in 2006.

 Islamic teachings influence on Palestine intifada

Many factors have been suggested as having contributed to the intifada in Palestine including the fight for resources, political factors and territorial conflicts. While the Arab-Israeli war has been linked to these factors, religious aspects have been the driving force behind most of these political uprisings (Landau 2012). Religious   traditions are used to justify conflicts and hatred.

According to the Islamic teaching, Jews are enemies of Allah and the killing of Jews is Allah’s will (Knocha & Heyn 2013). As such, Islamists believe that Allah prohibits their existence and would do anything to destroy them. In fact, Palestinian religious leaders who have been appointed to the leadership position publicly preach about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict as part of the eternal religious war against the Jews (PMW 2012).

Islamic religion teaches Muslims that the Jews are Allah’s enemies and that their killing is a religious obligation. This can be seen with some of the statements made by one moderator at a Fatah event:

‘Our war with the descendants of the apes and pigs (i.e., Jews) is a war of religion and faith. Long Live Fatah!” (PMW 2012).

This statement which demonizes the Jews as descendants of the ‘Apes’ highlights a dangerous trend towards an uncompromising religious war between the Muslims and the Jews. Islamic teachings are affecting the lives of the many Palestinians. According to a survey conducted by Ramalla center for Human Rights Studies (RCHRS), 98% of the Palestinians indicated their devotion to the Islamic religion (PMW 2012). The same survey revealed that 80% of the Palestinians approved of hand amputation as form of punishment for theft while 50% wanted this punishment to be implemented immediately. A recent 2011 poll by Israeli project revealed that more than 70% of the Palestinians still believe in the Islamic Hadith that preaches for murder of the Jews (PMW 2012).

While the conflict that we’ve seen for decades between the Palestinians and the Israelis has many territorial symptoms, it is essential a religious war, one that involves a clash of religious ideologies. On numerous occasions, the Arab religious leaders have reiterated the idea of killing of the Jews as a necessary for fulfillment of the Islamic ideal (Landau 2012).  The influence of religion in Israeli-Palestinian war is clearly evident in the second intifada. On the side of the Palestine, their victory over the Gaza strip in 2006 is a victory over the Jews (Pressman 2003).

Islamic teachings seem to promote martyrdom and sacrifices which have to a large extent contributed to the uprising witnessed between the Israelis and the Palestinians (PMW 2001). The religious ideology that Islam believes in can be summarized as follows:

  • Jews are Allah’s enemies
  • The war against the Jews is a religious war
  • The murder of the Jewish people is Allah’s will
  • All the Islamic nations have a religious obligation to defend and liberate Islamic holyland (Reiter 2007).

The land of Israel which is under dispute is considered by the Palestinian as an Islamic religious trust. Islamic teachings stresses the need for  suicide to defend this holyland and advocates for the killing of any Muslim who relinquishes any of this part to Israel (Reiter 2007). The sanctity of this land between the Mediterranean Sea and Jordan River has been the main factor contributing to intifada in Palestine.

Further, this religious ideology is often preached in sermons by Palestinian religious leaders and broadcast on national TV and radio stations in Palestine. For example, in 2001, Dr. Muhammed Ibrahi Madi, a Palestinian religious leader, criticized their Arab leaders for not attacking Israel with missiles and tanks and even made threats that they will be replaced by Allah (Marcus 2007). This preacher who was aired on Palestinian national television argued that Allah would punish these Arab leaders for failing to liberate the lands from Jewish defilement.

The ideology is further spread through religious lessons appearing in Palestinian newspapers and children’s textbooks. The impact of such Islamic teaching on the younger generation can be seen in some of the television programmes in Palestine which feature young girls’ portraying the Jews as being inferior, cowardly and despised (Marcus & Zilberdick 2012). There is indeed compelling evidence that point out to Islamic teachings as contributing to the Palestinian intifada.

This raises several key questions: do Islamic religious teachings really express a real sense of faith? Why is Islam raging wars with several other religions including the Hindus, Buddhists, Christians, the Animists and the Jews? Islam has in the past been related to the Arabic word ‘Salaam’ which means peace, but does it really live up to its claim of bringing peace to mankind? Isn’t the opposite true (Schirrmacher 2006)?

 Muslim liberals perspective of Islam

However, many of the Muslim liberals argue that Islam is a religion of peace. They argue that Islamic teachings does not advocate for evil. They even point out that war and suicide is condemned in Islam. That suicide remains strictly forbidden in Islam and that taking one’s life is prohibited (Schirrmacher 2006). The Muslim liberals have even relied on some of the verses in Quaran. They point out that the Quaran emphasis the importance of peace and condemns cruelty, injustice and bloodshed (Sachedina 2005). One particular verse that they have highlighted in the Quaran is this one:

, “..If anyone kills a person for any reason other than for (the killing of) a person or for sowing corruption in the land, it will be as if he had killed the whole of mankind.” (Marcus 2013).

According to the Muslim liberals, Aggression against human life is considered as the second greatest sin by Allah, second to denial of Allah. In fact, several verses in the Quran affirm that anyone who joins or accepts Islam goes ‘the way of peace’ (Schirrmacher 2006). The Quran associates peace with salvation and paradise. That is, those that live peaceful lives will obtain God’s favour and enter Paradise. Further, according to the Muslim liberals, it commends efforts to make peace with infidels. If a dispute exists between a Muslim and non-Muslim party, the Quaran commends peaceful resolutions if the non-Muslim party is ‘inclined to peace’ (Malka 2007).

They argue that Islam, however, provides its people an absolute right to self-defense if attacked by its enemies (Malka 2007). The Quran affirms that the Muslims should not transgress unless under attack from the enemies. They can only fight back and kill their enemies when under attack. But if the enemies desist, then they are forgiven as Allah is merciful (Schirrmacher 2006). Whether this religious ideology is true or not remains a matter of investigation? The true intent of the Islamic religion remains unclear.

However, there exists some controversy with regard to the doctrines to be followed in Islam.  It should be noted that there are two main doctrines that Muslims tend to rely on: the ‘Hadith’ and the ‘Quran Alone doctrine’. Since the death of Muhammad, there has been a major controversy over his alleged oral traditions, the ‘Hadith’. Since the death of Muhammad, thousands of the ‘Hadithi’ have been fabricated to support various causes (Gopin 1997). Critics within Islam claim that strict adherence to the Hadith has resulted in many Arab people straying from the original intent of God’s revelation to the prophet, the adherence to Quaran Alone doctrine (Fox & Sandler 2007).

Today many of the Palestinian religious leaders believe following ‘the Hadith’ as God’s original revelation to prophet Mohammed. As critics point out, ‘the Hadith’ has indeed led many of the Muslims to stray away from the original purpose of God’s revelation to the prophet. For example, Quaran forbids invoking of other names apart from God in worship and prayers (Fox & Sandler 2007). . On the other hand, ‘the Hadith’ has taught Muslims to praise and worship Muhammad. While the ‘Quaran’ punishes adultery by whipping, ‘the Hadith’ advocates for stoning of adulterers to death (Knocha & Heyn 2013). There are several other alleged contradictions in Hadith which appears to have strayed people from their true allegiance to God.

Religious extremist who rely on the ‘Hadith’ are argued to be the ones contributing to the intifada. Muslims who are born today are bombarded with these ideologies which make them inclined to view the Jews as enemies of Allah and murder of the Jewish people as their religious obligation. They preach to young generation that the Jewish people are Allah’s enemies and that their destruction is Allah’s will (Knocha & Heyn 2013).

The ‘Hadith’ itself states that:

“The Day of Resurrection will not arrive until the Moslems make war against the Jews and kill them, and until a Jew hiding behind a rock and tree, and the rock and tree will say: ‘Oh Moslem, oh servant of Allah, there is a Jew behind me, come and kill him!'” (Marcus 2013 )

However, Invoking God’s name in such a manner to justify political violence, massacre and civil disobedience perverts everything that is sacred (Marcus 2013). The varying degree of interpretation is what has led to these religious wars. For example, while the ‘Quaran’ preaches some tolerance towards the Jews, some of its other versus and versus in the ‘Hadith’ have made some hostile remarks about the Jews (Landau 2012). The varying degree of interpretation has led to many religious extremists portraying the Jewish people as Allah’s enemies and their destruction as Allah’s will. Such form of Islamic teachings has contributed to the Palestine intifada. In fact, the failure of the OSLO process can be attributed to these ideologies.

OSLO Accord

After the 1991 Gulf-War, the United States tried to broker a peace deal between Israel and Arabs in 1993 with Palestine, Jordan and Syria being the principal participants on the Arab side (Fawcett 2005). Fourteen sessions of talk were held with the discussions focusing on economic cooperation between the two sides (Roy 2002). The OSLO Accord laid down that Israel will withdraw its military from Jericho and Gaza within the two months of signing (Roy 2002).

In West Bank, Israel undertook to transfer power to Palestinians in five main spheres: health, education, tourism, direct taxation and social welfare (Fawcett 20050. The OSLO accord laid down principles that would end Israeli rule over Palestinians in Gaza and West Bank. This would have marked a major breakthrough of many years of war between the two sides. Not only had Israel recognized the political rights of the Palestinians, but it had formally recognized the Palestinian officials as its representatives (Roy 2002). However, the OSLO process failed and The Palestinians declined this offer and instead resorted to more violence which grew even worse (Rynhold 2008).

With the collapse of the OSLO process, liberals argue that this resulted from failure in implementation (Rynhold 2008). Contrary to this view, it can be argued that the failure of the OSLO process was not due to poor implementation but rather due to existing religious difference between the Jews and Muslims. The OSLO accord was doomed to fail in the first place since it did not address the core issue of the conflict between the two countries. It should be recognized that the problem between Israel and Palestine does not involve territory but rather is one that is driven by extremist Islamist teachings. Among the Islamists, the very existence of a Jewish state in itself is    a contradiction to the ‘Hadith’ (Reiter 2008). As such, they believe to have a global responsibility to destroy Israel.

Moreover, the doctrine of jihad holds that the war against the Jews is ongoing and cannot be put to a stop, meaning that it may only be suspended temporarily (Reiter 2008). A pact not to engage is just temporary and happens only when the Arabs do not have enough strength to attack the enemy camp. Where a victory over the enemy may not be easily achieved, then the Arab rulers would, for the purpose of gathering strength and reinforcement, agree to an agreement with the enemy as seen with the OSLO peace agreement process (Marcus & Zilberdik 2012). It follows that a permanent peace treaty between Palestine and Israel is almost impossible.

More recently, Fathi Hammad, Hamas leader, publicly announced their plans for a third intifada (an armed revolution) which will see more Jews being killed (Admin 2013). Fathi said that the West Bank and Gaza will join together with brothers within the 1948 borders for a third intifada (Admin 2013). Unlike several other religions that integrate their spiritual tradition and peacemaking, Islam seems to be engaging in the most destabilizing violence across the entire globe (Gopin 1997).

Given these evidences, can we really argue Islam as a religion of peace (Schirrmacher 2006). Do Islamic teachings really express a real sense of faith? Whether or not the Islamic religion expresses a real sense of faith, it is clear that their very existence frustrates the efforts to resolve such conflicts and makes it almost impossible to achieve peace in the Middle East (Reiter 2008).


To this point, there is no doubt that the Islamic teachings have largely contributed to the intifada. While western liberal scholars may argue that the Islamic religion promotes love and peace, the vengeful and perverted teachings are clearly evident from Islamic writings and in public statements made by religious leaders.

To resolve the conflict between Palestine and Israel, there must be interreligious peace-making first before other factors such as land and resources are resolved. While this is might be a rare combination especially given that the two cultures contradict each other, it bears serious analysis in terms of how such psychological and ideological position could be fostered among the different religions.


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