What Motivates Arabs & Muslims in the Struggle against Israel?
On the other hand, Jews were coming to Israel in the same period from many parts of the Jewish Diaspora, from Ukraine, Belarus and Rumania [an Ottoman possession up to 1878] as well as from Yemen, Morocco, Georgia, Bukhara, Iraq and so forth. Indeed, the Arab-Muslims were not so much opposed to Jews immigrating into the country in the 19th century, as they were to Jews having power, Jews not acting like inferior, oppressed and humiliated dhimmis. As long as Jewish immigrants knew their place --their inferior place-- as Jews, and paid the Islamically ordained head tax on non-Muslims, the jizya, they were treated with the usual contempt but not prevented from immigrating. However, the jizya and some of the other disabilities on dhimmis in Muslim law were abolished in the late 19th century due to European pressure on the Ottoman Empire. The local Muslim resentment of Jews increased years after abolition of the jizya and of the full dhimma [parts of the dhimma remained in effect] in the last decade of the century. Abolition of the dhimma was part of the reason for the resentment.
When the Arab League secretary general, Abdul-Rahman Azzam Pasha, threatened Jews with war if a Jewish state were set up [October 1947], he spoke in terms of a jihad lasting scores of years, like the crusader wars and the Mongol invasions. He spoke in terms of Muslim volunteers --not only Arabs-- coming from far flung zones of the domain of Islam in order to fight the Jews. Why was this so?
Robert Reilly has explained the core motives for Muslim opposition to a Jewish state within any borders. Reilly attempts to:
elucidate the source of Arab intransigence in refusing to reach an accommodation with Israel short of the restoration of all that was lost in the repeated attempts to destroy it. In fact, even that restoration may not be enough. Anyone familiar with Al Manar (. . .) TV and the general propaganda against Israel throughout the Middle East might reasonably ask if there are any conditions under which the Arab world would allow Israel to continue to exist, other than by the strength of its own arms. And if not, why not? Organizations such as Hamas, quoted above, and Hezbollah repeatedly make clear that the real problem is the very existence of Israel. But why is this a problem, and is its nature political or religious and theological? If it is the former, a negotiated settlement may be possible. If it is the latter, this is highly unlikely, if not impossible. Which is it? The answers to these questions must be sought in the heart of Islamic revelation – in the Qur’an.Reilly contradicts the usual hokum about the Arab struggle against Israel being motivated by nationalist causes, hatred of "European colonialists" or "European intruders" [as if the Jews living in Europe were simply considered "Europeans" by the majority of Europeans], and so on. As I noted at the beginning, the Arab Muslims in the country welcomed the settlement of Europeans in the country provided that they were Muslims. The Ottoman Empire sometimes sent natives of Europe to govern parts of the country [not a distinct entity in Ottoman times]. One of these was Ahmad al-Jazzar Pasha. He was not liked but not because he was a native of Europe. So the colonialism charge against the Jews/Israelis is a red herring. Moreover, for many years about half of the Israeli Jewish population has been Oriental Jews, usually defined as Jews from Muslim countries. That didn't make a difference to Arab enemies of Israel. The Oriental Jews were fleeing Muslim lands where they had been oppressed as dhimmis for centuries. The charge of being "Europeans" is another red herring. Likewise, the charge of having a different skin color, of being "white" compared to the "non-white" Arabs made against the Jews. Indeed there is a broad range of skin colors among both Jews and Arabs, and that includes the Ashkenazi Jews who also show a range of skin colors. Reilly has explained the Muslim religious motives which keep Arabs from recognizing and making peace with Israel [here]. That said, some Arabs of Muslim background have supported Israel on Quranic or other grounds. More on one of those Arabs in another post.
Islam says nothing about states, only peoples, and these it defines through religion. How does Islam regard Judaism? In Surah 5, Allah says that He established a Covenant with the Jews and gave them His revelation. The Jews possessed the Holy Land by virtue of this Covenant. But then the Qur’an cites the offence for which the Jews are forever cursed: “they changed my words.” The Jews changed God’s words; they changed His revelation. One can only appreciate how great and unforgivable this offence is by grasping the orthodox Muslim understanding that the Qur’an has co-existed eternally with God, in heaven, in Arabic, exactly as it exists today. Within this understanding of the Qur’an, the enormity of the Jewish offence becomes clear as a blasphemous act of colossal pride, for which they lost their right to the Holy Land.
Therefore, the Jewish claim to, and exercise of, sovereignty over the Holy Land and, indeed, sovereignty over some Muslims there, on the basis of Surah 5, is an incalculable offense and, for many Muslims, simply unacceptable. This is what drives the animus against Israel’s very existence. Until someone comes up with a new interpretation of Surah 5 that is widely accepted in the Muslim world, it is hard to have a great deal of hope for the sort of peace in the Middle East that we see in Europe.
If Jewish sovereignty in Israel is incompatible with the Qur’an, the rest becomes clear. Then one sees why, when Gaza was given the chance for self-rule, it was not used to display Palestinian capacity and desire for the rule of law and democratic constitutional government, but was turned into a weapons platform against Israel. It is why, at the 2000 Camp David summit, Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat turned down Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak’s offer of more than 95% of the West Bank and all of Gaza, with a capital in East Jerusalem, without even bothering to make a counter offer. By proffering a Palestinian state and substantial reparations, Israel was interested in ending the conflict. Arafat was interested in using the conflict to end Israel. Little has changed since then, including the recent Palestinian attempt to declare a state unilaterally.