The Palestine Tragedy is being played out in gory details in the full glare of television cameras. Bloody visuals of the dead, the injured, unburied corpses, mutilated bodies, charred neighbourhoods, burned out homes and collapsing buildings are being beamed live around the world. The age of information has made the horror of war a personal experience for anyone with access to a TV or internet. For the first time in their history, Israelis have faced some of what Palestinians have experienced for so long. Everyone in the world gets emotionally involved with the antagonists and their causes.
The precursor of Palestine-Israel feud is the well documented history of settlement of European Jews in the land of Palestine since the late 19th century. The collective European guilt over holocaust of German and East European Jews, eviction of Palestinian Muslims from their homes during and since the Nakba of 1948, isolation of the Gaza strip and the ghettoisation of the West Bank of the River Jordan are major events of this tragedy. This article, however, is not about the current events in that troubled land but an attempt at tracing the religious background that is the root cause of this irresolvable issue.
Moses is one of the most revered prophets in Islam and belief in the Torah, the Book that he received from Allah, is a prerequisite to be a Muslim (Quran. 2:4). Muslims firmly believe in all the miracles that he performed. His escape with his nation from the clutches of the Egyptian Pharaoh, followed by forty-years-long wandering through the desert, carries as many lessons for followers of Islam as they do for the followers of Judaism. Moses carried the Jews, his nation, from Egypt, where they had lived for a few centuries since the arrival of Joseph son of Jacob, to the promised land – now contested between the Palestinians and the Israelis. Muslims believe that the forcible slaughter and uprooting of the then occupants of this land by the Jews was ordained by Allah, the common Deity of both these Abrahamic religions. However, the story of forcible eviction of Jews, around middle of the 2nd millennium BC, was a lot more savage affair during the prophetic reign of Joshua – Usha in Arabic – the successor of Moses. It was Joshua who actually conquered the land for the Jews, under the active guidance of Allah. The Book of Joshua, spread over many chapters, gives vivid narrative of interaction between him and YHWH, the Judaic name for the Creator, at the culmination of Jewish journey from Egypt to the Promised Land.
The instructions to Joshua by YHWH were unambiguous,
"When the LORD your God brings you into the land you are entering to possess and drives out before you many nations—the Hittites, Girgashites, Amorites, Canaanites, Perizzites, Hivites and Jebusites; seven nations larger and stronger than you—and when the YHWH has delivered them over to you and you have defeated them, then you must destroy them totally. Make no treaty with them, and show them no mercy. Do not intermarry with them. Do not give your daughters to their sons or take their daughters for your sons." (Deut.7:1-3)
Coming from the east across the River Jordan, the first city that Joshua took was Jericho, which was reduced to ashes. Later, the unsuspecting people of another large town by the name of Ai were target of special wrath of the Lord through Joshua. The city was burnt, the entire population of 12,000 was put to the sword and their king left to die impaled on a lance; all on the commands of YHWH (Joshua, Book 8). As for the five remaining kings in the land, they were placed on ground and Joshua commanded his men to place their feet on their necks till they were dead. Thereafter, their bodies were impaled.
Then Lord gave Joshua the cities of Makkedah, Libnah, Lachish, Eglon, Hebron, Debir and Negev. Joshua took whole of the land from Kadesh in the south to Gaza in the north, and from Goshen in the east to Gibeon in the west. Their inhabitants were slaughtered and their cities burnt because “the Lord fought on the side of the Israel” (Joshua, 10:42). Against another group of nations, “The LORD said to Joshua, ‘Do not be afraid of them, because by this time tomorrow I will hand all of them, slain, over to Israel. You are to hamstring their horses and burn their chariots (Joshua 11:6).’”
The people living south of Beersheba in the desert east of the Sinai are called Amalekites in the Bible. They resisted the advance of the Israelis to safeguard their people and pastures, and were, therefore, marked for special punishment. Later, when Israelis had conquered the promised lands, the Lord commanded their then King Saul to, “blot out the remembrance of Amalek from under heaven.”
Such is the fury of the Lord for resisting the will of the Chosen people. No wonder, the current leadership of Israel equates the Palestinians, who have the nerve to resist them, with the Amalekites, who were reserved for special barbarity for this same crime of standing up to Israel in the millennia gone by.
God was so favourable to the Israelis that, according to Joshua 24:13, He tells His chosen people, “So I gave you a land on which you did not toil and cities you did not build; and you live in them and eat from vineyards and olive groves that you did not plant.” That should amount to theft for the Gentiles, but the Lord of Moses and Joshua is above such judgments.
As for God, there is little doubt, according to a certain reading of the Jewish scriptures, that He has abandoned rest of the mankind in favour of Israelites. The adversaries have no chance when the Lord fights for Israel. When atrocities are committed in the name of YHWH, Israelis are free of guilt on their transgressions. In a way, the Lord dehumanised the enemies of Israel before ordering their elimination from the face of the earth. This author urges all readers to google Books of Joshua and Samuel and read them. If Muslims want to understand the geostrategic thinking of Israel, these two books of the Old Testament are the literature to read.
The Quran, too, reaffirms the role of Joshua in carrying out Allah’s commands. In Sura al-Ma’ida 5:22-23 Prophets Joshua and Caleb are referenced, but not named, as two "Allah-fearing men," on whom Allah "had bestowed His grace." When the Israelites said, "Moses, there is a fearsome people in this land. We will not go there until they leave. If they leave, then we will enter. Yet the two men (Joshua and Caleb) whom God had blessed among those who were afraid said, Go in to them through the gate and when you go in, you will overcome them. If you are true believers, put your trust in God.”
On the religious ground, therefore, Muslims face a dilemma. The Quran (2:47) says, “Children of Israel! Recall My favour which I bestowed upon you, exalting you above all nations,” and the verse 2:122 says, “O Children of Israel! Remember My favours upon you and how I honoured you above the others.” There is no doubt that the children of Israel are closer to the heart of God than everyone else. Muslims may believe that being the nation of the last Prophet (PBUH), they now occupy that place of honour – but who will tell that to the followers of Moses, Aaron, Joshua, Juda, Samuel, Saul, Ehud, Barak, David, Solomon, Ilyas and others? The history of Israel in the holy land is under a millennium-and-a-half long, and is woven around the Lord’s guidance, blessings and punishments.
Unfortunately for the Palestinians, there are many arrogant and furious Joshuas amongst the current leadership of Israel who invoke the wrath of the Lord and use Biblical language of destruction and slaughter with respect to other people inhabiting the land. Palestinians can only strive and pray that Allah, the Muslim version of YHWH, stands up to help them against the followers of Joshua. Moses and Muhammad (PBUH) are two of the most revered prophets in the world and, hopefully, humans can come to see them on the same side; unlike the members of the Greek pantheon of Homer’s Iliad, who constantly fight on opposite sides!
Israel as a nation is born of violence. Moses’ revolt against the Pharaoh, Joshua’s occupation of the Holy land, the period of the Judges, the careers of Samuel, Saul and David are stories of mass murders of their enemies without any compassion. David is a worthy prophet, but the Old Testament paints him in a particular way. In Samuel 1, 29:5, the Philistines ask, "Isn’t this the David they sang about in their dances: ‘Saul has slain his thousands, and David his tens of thousands’?” In Samuel-1, 18:27, he is stated to have killed two hundred Philistine men, cut their foreskins and presented them to King Saul as a pre-condition to marry a daughter of the King. The books of Samuel are inundated with events where David is shown to have no hesitation in killing the people around his fiefdom.
Israeli history is replete with leaders who speak the Biblical language of murder, pillage, expulsions and eradication in respect of Palestinians. Now, some of them even speak about employing nuclear weapons in Gaza. From the mild-mannered Ben Gurion to the firebrand Ariel Sharon, from terrorist Menachem Begin to extremist Netanyahu; they all follow the lead provided by Joshua, Saul and David. They use their language, employ their stratagems and have their visions.
The Oslo Accords, Camp David agreements and Abraham Accords’ declarations are nothing but intermediary steps towards the final elimination of the Palestinian people. Israel has already killed the two-state solution by construction of new settlements on Palestinian lands. No one should be misled by any meaningless agreements. The Israelis will ultimately deport the Palestinians out of Gaza and West Bank.
Both of these Abrahamic religions are unique; in that they believe in the same unitary Deity who demands his followers to carry arms and fight against their perceived enemies. Both Muslims and Jews battle against their adversaries by invoking help of the same God, the god of Ibrahim/Abraham, Ishaque/Isaac and Yaqoob/Jacob. Even the words used and supplications are similar.
It is difficult for a stronger nation to eliminate a weaker nation. There are ethical questions that prevent this. However, it is easier to annihilate a people if they have first been dehumanised. The Nazis first dehumanised the Jews by labelling them as vermin and, of course, there are no moral compunctions in killing vermin. Western nations dehumanised the black Africans by labelling them as primates and displaying some in cages along with other African animals. They, thus, bore no moral weight when they sold hundreds of thousands of Africans in to slavery for farm work, as if they were cattle. A similar treatment was meted out by the Western settlers with a clear conscience to the dehumanised ‘Red Indians’ in the Americas and the Aboriginals in Australia. The Hebrew people believed that their Lord dehumanised the previous occupants of the Holy Land to allow Joshua and his people to slaughter them en-masse. In trying to justify their killings, imprisonments and ejections in our age, the Zionists have successfully dehumanised the Palestinians, labelling them as terrorists, rapists, child killers and by other such epitaphs.
In unleashing the mighty arsenal of US and Israel, the Zionist project is trying what it has attempted several times in the tiny strip of Gaza since about 2010, through Operations ‘Cast Lead’ in 2008-9, ‘Pillar of Defense’ in 2012 and ‘Protective Edge’ in 2014, as well as through smaller raids in 2019, 2021, 2022, and 2023 – of which the most recent had been Operation ‘Shield and Arrow’ in May 2023. Earlier occupations of the Gaza strip were a far more extensive undertaking with tens of thousands of troops and unlimited hardware augmented by US arsenals.
Having launched a series of savage operations against the people interned in the Gaza strip, there must now be a realisation in the non-Zionist and pragmatic quarters of the US – if not in the swaggering public opinion in Israel itself – that force alone cannot win against a determined and fatalistic enemy. There are plausible indications that the Western media, dominated by pro-Zionist narratives, is also losing the war of information. This is the case especially as it becomes clear, from the released hostages, that the Jewish captives are being treated well by Hamas, as against the inhuman treatment of Palestinians in Israeli prisons. In the face of relentless Israeli air and artillery bombing, the Jewish hostages face greater danger from their own government rather than from the Palestinians. As Western leaders continue to pay court to the Israelis, the ignominious defeats of combined US and NATO power against the poorly armed but unrelenting determination of informal bands of freedom fighters of Iraq and Afghanistan should point a way for the endgame.
Jews are, as a group, are educated, rich and powerful people in the current world. The media reports nothing that upsets their sensibilities. A Jewish child killed at the hands of Palestinians is propagated as a crime against humanity and the perpetrators are labelled as sub-human. On the other hand, a Palestinian child killed at the hands Israelis hardly makes news and the killing is, at best, described as if it were some unfortunate accident. Ministers are fired, governments face problems and media channels are targeted if they stand against the State of Israel or its policies. The unfortunate Palestinians cannot even air their grievances.
Another pointer to the future, perhaps more important and unfailing for the historically-minded Israelis, must be the warnings given by God to the Jewish people themselves, against transgressions. Towards the end of Chapter 24 of the Book by his name, Joshua told his people,
“You are not able to serve the Lord. He is a holy God; he is a jealous God. He will not forgive your rebellion and your sins. If you forsake the Lord and serve foreign gods, he will turn and bring disaster on you and make an end of you, after he has been good to you.”