In Fighting Words: The Origins Of Religious Violence, Hector Avalos writes:
By most counts, tens of thousands of people have died violently since Israel became a nation. Figures published by Israel’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs indicate that some 1,895 Israelis have died as a result of hostile action between 1948 and 1999. Numbers for Palestinian deaths are more difficult to gauge, but most place them in the tens of thousands since 1948. Whatever one thinks of who owns what specific piece of land in Israel, it is fair to say that this conflict would not exist if it were not for the belief that God had given the land to Israel. The conflict would not exist if Jews did not see themselves as different from Muslims, and vice versa.
In sum, it is untenable to see the conflict between Palestinians and Jews as simply a secular or political fight for land. The main argument for Palestine as a Jewish homeland is inspired by religious claims from the Bible. Muslims counter with their own scriptural and religious arguments. Theodor Herzl, a secular Jew, did not propose in his Zionist manifesto of 1895 that Palestine was the only acceptable homeland for Jews. As late as 1906, Herzl still did not seem to believe that Palestine was the only acceptable homeland for the Jews.
Early Zionists were not generally religious in their orientation — there might be many reasons to criticize them, but they can’t be attacked for focusing only on the Palestine area because of ancient religious texts. Indeed, very religious Jews objected to the Zionist project in Palestine because they believed that the Jews shouldn’t and couldn’t return until the time of the Messiah.
Once Israel was established, however, and achieved military victories over the Arabs, religious objections to Israel diminished. In their place there developed a new religious messianism for Israel, an aggressive religious Zionism which made the establishment and defense of Israel a religious duty, not simply a political goal. Military successes taught both religious and secular Zionists that they could achieve what they wanted through force rather than negotiation. As a consequence, compromise and negotiation with Arab Muslims stopped being seriously considered.
Arab Muslims changed as well. They, too, brought significant religious baggage into the equation, making the fight against Israel a religious mission with religious rewards for those willing to martyr themselves. As a consequence, they are no longer interested in compromise or negotiation, either. Both sides are making absolute, exclusivist claims on the same pieces of land. Both have demonized their opponents. If it weren’t for religion, we wouldn’t be experiencing these problems.
Quick Poll: Which of the available options should Israel go with?
- Dismantle the Jewish settlements in the territories, return to the 1967 state borders, and remain both a Jewish state and a democracy.
- Continue to occupy 'Samaria' and 'Judea,' return to Gaza. Arab populations will become a demographic majority and Israel will be either a Jewish state or a democracy (but not both).
- Keep control of the Occupied Territories but get rid of the overwhelming majority of the Arab population: either by forcible expulsion or else by starving them of land and livelihood.
- None of the above - there are other options.
- I don't know.
- I don't care.