Victimhood, Martyrdom, and the Sword
Recent events in the Middle East have clearly demonstrated that as all eyes are on Iraq, ISIS and Iran’s nuclear aspirations, the festering problems between Palestinians and Israel are very much real. The flash point for the recent violence is the kidnapping and murder of three Jewish hikers in the West Bank. But even before this act, Hamas had been firing rockets into Israel- a fact largely overlooked by the mainstream press.
Perhaps the reactions by Palestinians to the murder of these hikers and the Israeli reactions to retaliatory actions by their citizens is indicative of the mindset of the two warring parties. This is a complicated, deep-rooted problem with inevitable religious overtones. The Holy Land is just that- sacred territory to three of the world’s greatest religions. Each was born of a different mindset that even today permeates through the politics and emotions of the adherents.
Judaism’s history is one of victimhood. Because of that victimhood, God made them His Chosen People. Whether it is their enslavement by the Egyptians, their capture and resulting exile by the Babylonians, the Great Diaspora of the Roman Empire, or more recently, the Holocaust at the hands of Nazi Germany, their status as victims is well-documented throughout the whole of history. That is not even counting the many anti-Semitic pogroms so evident throughout European history.
As a result, their role of victim serves to dictate their politics. The creation of the state of Israel as a home for Jews after World War II was probably one of the most consequential geopolitical acts of all time. Carved out of territory occupied by Palestinians, it was immediately and violently rejected by the Arab and Muslim world. Essentially, the modern state of Israel vowed never to fall victim again to hatred, prejudice and persecution against Jews. We can talk vehemently on both sides about the legality and ethics of Israel’s expansion of their borders beyond those established in 1948. However, the land conquests of 1967 were clearly the result of military actions of a defensive nature. It was, after all, Arab troops amassing that prompted Israel to act and ultimately win. The captured territories of Sinai, Gaza, the Golan Heights and the West Bank (including Jersusalem) created a defensive buffer zone against further attack much like the Soviet Union’s swallowing of Eastern Europe after World War II created a buffer zone.
With the Soviet Union, the lesson was learned over a longer period of time. Whether it was Napoleon or the German armies in World War I or the Nazis in World War II, the Soviet Union learned a hard lesson in lives lost. It does not make it right, but it does make it understandable. Now compress that centuries-old lesson into a shorter time period (1948-1967) and you have the same thing with Israel. Their capture, occupation and development (and annexation in some areas) of territory may not be “right,” but is also understandable. It becomes even more understandable when entities around you openly state their hostility and dedication to your obliteration. And that understanding is confirmed by terrorist attacks against you and rockets raining down on your citizens.
Christianity is the religion founded on martyrdom. While it certainly has a military history, one cannot get away from the plain fact that its founder and inspiration willingly gave His life on the cross. Its earlier followers were not great military leaders, but apostles trying to spread their faith through words and deeds. Christianity is replete with martyrs for the cause of Christianity- people willing standing in front of stones, of accepting their fate on crosses, of beheading and other means of torture and death along the way.
There has certainly been ruthlessness by Christians at times in their history, but that was when they became a political force in Europe. Despite these historical aberrations, overall Christianity is the religion of peace founded on martyrdom. Perhaps no other dictate from Christ better explains Christianity than the admonition that if struck, offer the other cheek. If asked for sandals, offer your cloak. Hence, Christianity would likely offer the best chance for world peace today.
While Christianity spread the Good News through thought and deed eventually winning the whole of the Roman Empire, Islam was born in the visions of the prophet Mohammed. Initially rejected by the Arab tribes of the Saudi peninsula, Mohammed’s military actions at Medina and subsequent take over of the powers in Mecca solidified Islam on the Saudi peninsula. It then extended outwards not so much from words and deeds, but more at the end of a sword.
Conversely, not a single Christian took up a sword against Roman leaders. Instead, their conquest was one of the mind, not the body. After Mohammed’s death and establishment of the caliphate, the next great event is the “wars of ridda,” or apostasy. It was Muslim armies that spread Islam into Egypt, Syria, Palestine, Mesopotamia, northern Africa, parts of the Byzantine Empire and parts of Persia- not future saints and martyrs armed with the words of Jesus Christ. And it was Muslim armies that invaded Spain in the 700s. The bottom line: Islam spread by ruthless military conquest by armies. In essence, it was coerced conversion of the conquered peoples.
And these histories are still on display today. While there are certainly radical Jews and radical Christians who will use violence to spread their message, the prevalence of violence is certainly greater in Islam. Whether gussied up in the language of “holy war” or not, it is war nevertheless. Do either Judaism or Christianity have notions akin to “jihad?”
Look at the reaction in the occupied West Bank and Gaza in relation to the kidnapping and murder of three innocent hikers. While their bodies were being removed by ambulance, Palestinians threw rocks and bottles and chanted religious obscenities at the passing motorcade. There are some reports of spontaneous “celebrations” in reaction to the deaths of these hikers.
Like all religions, Judaism is not immune from having some nut case radicals. But as a whole, look at the reaction of the vast majority of Israelis in response to an admittedly horrible incident. A Palestinian boy was beaten by a group of Israelis and set on fire while alive. When arrested, the youths said the reason was retaliation for the death of the three Jewish hikers and because “he was Arab.” The Israeli authorities arrested and denounced the act as one of “blatant racism that will not stand.” They will most likely spend the rest of their lives in an Israeli prison and rightfully so.
The incident also brought on a plethora of public hand-wringing in Israel and dismay at the actions of this ruthless gang. Israeli society as a whole is distancing themselves from this heinous act and the government is acting accordingly.
Move a few miles west and the reaction to atrocities is decidedly different. There was cheering in the streets at times (not all Palestinians, but enough to get notice) when the bodies of the hikers were discovered. While the parents of the Israelis are either silent or remorseful for the death and immolation of an Arab boy, the mother of the suspected mastermind of the kidnapping and murder of three Jews views her son as a hero. His neighborhood and his city view the perpetrators as heroes.
That is the difference between Palestinians and Israelis. If nothing else, Israel’s decision to relinquish Gaza to the Palestinians has proven that they cannot be trusted to govern themselves and reign in terrorist actions. How long must a nation allow its citizens- whether in occupied lands legally or not- to come under daily rocket attacks before they are forced to act? It is clear that the more radical elements within the Palestinian movement- notably Hamas- has no desire to cease terrorist actions against Israel. Even if Israel relinquished all captured lands, pull up all settlements, and withdraw to their pre-1967 borders tomorrow, one can rest assured it would not be enough to appease the likes of Hamas. At this juncture, it would be suicidal for the state of Israel to take such action. It is not Israel or Judaism that was born of the sword, but it is Israel that would become the ultimate victim here.