Holy Wars, Holy Solutions ; Religion's Two-Edged Role in Palesitinian-Israeli Conflict

Article excerpt

What's remarkable about the recent violence between Israelis and Palestinians are all the attacks in the name of religion - and against another religion.

Previous conflicts were focused more on Israel's security and Palestinian nationalism. In that kind of secular struggle, little empathy could be expected for the other side's suffering. The task of reaching a peace would be just a matter of dealmaking between selfish interests. That was the basis for the 1993 Oslo accords.

But over the past year, as the peace talks have finally reached the issue of who controls Jerusalem's holy sites, religious feelings have erupted in this cradle of three faiths.

Those feelings have been made all the stronger because fundamentalist Islam has been gaining ground among Palestinians, as well as in many other Muslim societies, such as Egypt, Indonesia, and Morocco.

Now, the goal of an independent Palestine with East Jerusalem as its capital has become a global Islamic cause, and not just an ethnic battle between Jews and Palestinians over a few parcels of land.

Diplomacy's limits

Fortunately, much of that new-found faith is nonmilitant. And the secular politicians running the peace process have overlooked this peaceful Islamic revival.

They've especially ignored the opportunity to appeal to the principled teachings of Islam to help overcome the outrage, frustration, fear, and hopelessness among Palestinians.

Jews and Muslims alike can look deeper into their respective faiths to see that every human being is equal before God, and should be treated equally.

The path to peace may now lie in the faithful on both sides reaching for such common ground, and expressing it in small ways - in homes and on the streets. Violence and self-destructiveness, even in the name of religion, is not what's needed.

Diplomacy has reached its limit unless it now attends to the religious needs of individuals on both sides.

The recent violence can serve not just as a reminder of a need for peace, but as a call for more faith and understanding.

Even if a peace deal ends up totally separating Jews and Palestinians with more fences and checkpoints, there's still a need for reconciliation between peoples and their joint claims to land under their holiest sites. …