Israel-Palestine – a religious war


The month of June brings San Francisco the annual ‘Israel in the Gardens’ event, the Bay Area’s official Israeli Independence Day celebration that takes place at the Yerba Buena gardens. As is customary in the Bay Area, the event drew the usual type of anti Israeli protest, which in turn drew the customary counter-protest (the confusing double negative of ‘counter-protest’ can be better understood as the pro-Israeli protest countering the anti-Israeli protest). In a somewhat poetic twist of events, the designated spot for this protest Vs counter-protest extravaganza (a noisy and belligerent sign toting, flag waving, shouting match) is literally on the doorstep of the beautiful St. Patrick Catholic Church, on the Mission street side of the Yerba Buena gardens.
It is not very often that we get such an unimpeded view of the three Abrahamic religions duking it out, so to speak, and in our fair city no less. Granted, not all the anti-Israelis are Muslim, and no one really represents the Christian cause (except, of course, for the “Jesus Christ loves you” guy who holds up a yellow sign displaying those words at every single San Francisco event), but the religious sources of this conflict can, nevertheless, still be observed.
Many people, it must be mentioned, are under the impression that the Arab-Israeli conflict in general, and the Palestinian-Israeli conflict in particular, have long ago transcended the boundaries of a religious war and have entered the territory of a political conflict over self determination, land ownership, culture, and socio-economics. On the face of it, this would seem to make sense, but for the fact that the baseline definitions of the warring factions are wholly and completely religious. In other words, there would be no way to even distinguish between the sides if not for their respective religions. This point can be easily illustrated with a few examples: My own paternal grandmother was born in ottoman ruled Palestine in the beginning of the 20th century, and various other aunts and uncles of mine were born During the British mandate of Palestine (before the establishment of the state of Israel). All were given birth certificates and other documentation to identify them as Palestinian. One might also take into account the centuries-old Jewish communities that used to exist (and in some cases still do) in various other Arab countries. And yet, very few people seem to ever address these Jews as Arab or Palestinian Jews. Conversely, many people do not realize that 20% of the Israeli population is comprised of Arabs (Palestinian Arabs, in fact). The majority of these fully fledged, fully documented Israeli citizens, who have democratically elected representatives in the Israeli parliament, are Muslim Arabs, with a smaller number of Christian Arabs. In many cases, entire Muslim families, not to mention Christian ones, Bedouin ones, Druze ones, and yes, even Jewish ones, find themselves on opposite sides of two or more borders.
Considering the fact that, for centuries, the entire Middle East was completely open to free travel and relocation until, by the courtesy of the British and the French, the entire region was carved out into independent states, it is no wonder that such a mess has ensued for so long. It is like half the players in a massive ‘musical chairs’ game suddenly found themselves with nowhere to sit and have been fighting each other over chairs ever since.
Not unlike the case of former Yugoslavia, Iraq, Or Northern Ireland, there would be no way of even telling the differences between peoples if not for religion – the ultimate long lasting divider between literally identical members of the human race. Once again, religion is not the only factor in, or cause of, this conflict, but it is, and has always been, the only real way to tell the difference between Israelis and Palestinians to begin with.

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