Understanding Both Sides of the Israeli/Palestinian Conflict

The Israeli Side Presented First

Adapted from Educational Solutions
International University Dialogue Project (2007)
The Israeli/Palestinian Conflict: Understanding Both Sides
Judith Jensen and Susan Luxton

Social Justice

What is social justice?

Please research what social justice is in your tradition, Jewish, Christian, Muslim, or secular (non-religious)?

Why do you think it is so difficult for one group to consider what social justice is for another group?

The Religious Stakeholders in Israel/Palestine

Three religions consider Israel/Palestine central to their history: Jews (14 million); Christians (2.2 billion); and Muslims (1.6 billion).

The people of these three monotheistic religions have strong attachment to the land and the sacred places where their prophets and, in the case of Christians, the divine Jesus Christ lived and taught.

Over the centuries, followers of these three faiths have worshipped at their sacred sites. Pilgrims from around the world have journeyed to these places to pray and to feel closer to God.

Although almost half the population of the world has a strong attachment to Israel/Palestine, many fail to recognize the claims of other religions.

These religious attachments affect the political conflict. The international communities of the three religions often seek to influence the outcome.

Israeli and Palestinian Claims to the Land

Both Israeli Jews and Palestinian Muslims/Christians believe they have strong claims to the land. These claims are both religious and secular (non-religious).

This unit addresses the following:

  • The Israeli/Jewish religious and secular claims
  • The Palestinian/Muslim religious and secular claims
  • The special claim of Arab Christian Palestinians
  • Different Christian Perspectives on Israel and Palestine



Jewish Religious Claims

Jewish, Christian, and Islamic sacred scriptures all recognize Abraham as the patriarch of monotheism, the belief in one God. Jews and Christians trace their lineage through Abraham’s son Isaac (by Sarah), and Muslims trace their lineage through Abraham’s son Ishmael (by Hagar). Most followers of each religion believe theirs is superior.

The Covenant
In the Jewish Tanakh (also known as the Christian Old Testament), God repeatedly makes a covenant with Abraham, as well as with Isaac and Jacob. For example, God says to Abraham: “I assign the land you sojourn in, to you and your offspring to come, all the land of Canaan, as an everlasting holding. I will be their God.” Bereishit/Genesis 17:7-8. (The first three books of the Tanakh contain numerous references to the covenant.)

Jewish Prayer and Ritual Directed toward Jerusalem

Jewish religion has centered on Jerusalem for about three thousand years, beginning with King Solomon’s construction of the First Temple (900s bce).

Prayer For centuries, Jews in living in other lands (diaspora) have directed their prayers toward Jerusalem three times a day.

Holiday Cycle Jews based their yearly cycle of holidays on their history in Canaan/Palestine/Israel and their hope to return to Israel. For example:
– The Sabbath is the weekly Jewish holy day. Each Sabbath, Jews have expressed hope and prayed for return to Israel.

– Passover celebrates the Jewish escape, led by Moses, from Egyptian domination to the Promised Land (Canaan/Palestine/Israel). The Passover toast is “Next Year Jerusalem.”

– Yom Kippur and Rosh Hashanah are major holidays. Jews again express hope and pray for return to Israel. Yom Kippur also ends with the toast “Next Year Jerusalem.”

Jewish Historical Claims

Jews especially recall the times their ancestors independently ruled the land that which became Israel/Palestine.

DAVIDIC DYNASTY In ~1020 bce, King Saul united the tribes of Israel, and his successor King David brought into the kingdom the enemy territories of Edom, Moab, and Ammon. David’s son, King Solomon, built the first Jewish Temple on the Temple Mount in Jerusalem. However, after Solomon’s death, the kingdom split in ~923 bce into the Northern Kingdom of Israel and the Southern Kingdom of Judah.

The Northern Kingdom of Israel was ruled by various dynasties until the Assyrian conquest of 720 bce, which scattered the Jews of Israel. They became known as the “10 Lost Tribes of Israel.”

The Davidic dynasty continued in Judah until the destruction of the First Temple by the Babylonians in 586 bce. Jews returned from Babylon in 538 bce to build the Second Temple on the Temple Mount.

(The Temple Mount is known to Muslims as the Haram al Sharif, the place of the Dome of the Rock and Al Aksa Mosque.)

HASMONEAN DYNASTY In 168 bce, the Maccabees rebelled against the Greeks and established an independent Hasmonean Dynasty, which lasted until 37 bce when the Romans established control.

Jewish Secular Claims: The Right to National Self Determination

Nationalism Inspired by European ideas of nationalism, which arose in the 1800s, Jews believed they had a right to self-determination as a nation, not only as a religious/ethnic community. Jewish nationalism is known as Zionism. “Zion” recalls King David’s establishment of the first Jewish kingdom. Its seat of power was Mt. Zion in Jerusalem.

Presence Jews also point to the fact that they have had a long, albeit sometimes small, presence in Israel/Palestine from the times of Abraham, Moses and the Jewish Prophets, and through the times of Greek, Roman, Persian, Christian, and Muslim domination of Israel/Palestine.

Jewish Secular Claims: The State of Israel is Necessary for Survival

After experiencing centuries of European/Russian persecution and the Holocaust, Jews believed that only a state of their own would protect them. Their sacred literature and holiday cycle led them to focus on Israel/Palestine as their place of refuge.

After six million Jews (1/3 of their world population) were murdered during the Holocaust of World War II, many Jews felt that establishment of the State of Israel was necessary for their survival. Britain and the U.S., winners of World War II, were slow to help the Jewish survivors. Jews would not trust their fate to other countries. Jews vowed that “Never Again” would they be victims.

The State of Israel brought hope for the future to the Jews who had experienced a tragedy of unbelievable dimensions. The Holocaust showed Jews that the worst threats against them could be realized.


Muslim Religious Claims

Third Holiest Site
Muslim Palestinians and Muslims around the world honor Al Quds (Jerusalem) as the third holiest site in Islam. Al Quds and the land of Israel/Palestine are holy to Muslims because the Quran tells of their prophets in Palestine. Prophets of Islam include those found in the Jewish and Christian scriptures, for example, Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Moses, David and Solomon. Islam also honors Jesus Christ, whom Christians consider Divine, and Muhammad (BPUH) as prophets connected with Jerusalem. (A widespread convention in Islam is to write the abbreviation for “blessings and peace be upon him” after Muhammad’s name.)

For over 1300 years, Muslims have worshipped at the Haram al Sharif. Umar, the second successor to Muhammad, built a simple mosque on this site of the destroyed Second Temple in 638 ce. The Dome of the Rock was built in 685 ce and the Al Aksa Mosque was built in about 710 ce. (The Haram al Sharif is also known as the Temple Mount.)

The pilgrimage to Mecca is one of the five pillars of Islam, required once in the life of every Muslim. Historically, Islamic pilgrims journeyed to Jerusalem on their way to Mecca and Medinah.

During Abd al Malik’s reign of the Umayyad Islamic Dynasty (685-705 ce), there was a brief time when Mecca and Medinah were held by a usurper (Ibn Zubair). During this time, many Muslims made the required Haj to Jerusalem instead of Mecca (Glassé, 2001: 208; Gibb and Kramers, 1961: 270).

Early Muslim Prayer towards Jerusalem
The First Qiblah (direction of prayer) (~622 ce)

From the beginning of Muhammad’s revelations, later compiled in the Quran, his mission was to complete the religion of the Jews and the Christians. The early Muslims prayed in the direction of Jerusalem as did the Jews. This practice illustrated the sanctity of Jerusalem in the eyes of Muslims.

After it was clear that the Jews did not accept Muhammad as a prophet, Quranic revelation changed the Muslim direction of prayer to Mecca and it remains so today.

Muhammad’s Night Journey to Jerusalem

The Dome of the Rock commemorates Muhammad’s Night Journey (~620 ce)
During the early days of Islam in Mecca, Muhammad and the small band of Muslims were persecuted by the polytheistic Quraysh tribe that ruled Mecca. Muhammad’s Night Journey was a powerful enlightenment experience referred to in the Quran (17:1, 17:60) and detailed many times in Hadith. Quran and Hadith are the two sacred scriptures of Islam.

Muhammad journeyed to Jerusalem’s Temple Mount, met the prophets and Jesus Christ, ascended into heaven and became totally absorbed in God. Some Muslims see this as a visionary mystical experience while others believe it literally happened. Empowered by this experience, Muhammad went on to establish the first Islamic community in Medinah, about 280 miles north of Mecca.

Romans destroyed the 2nd Jewish temple in 70 ce and exiled the Jews from Jerusalem in 135 ce. Umar took Jerusalem from the Christians in 638 ce. Muslims renamed the platform at the top of the Mount the Haram al Sharif, the noble sanctuary. Umayyads built the golden Dome of the Rock in 684 ce to commemorate Muhammad’s Night Journey.

1,300 Years of Islamic Civilization and the Development of Jerusalem as an Islamic Trust

The Jerusalem Waqf (Islamic Trust)

Umar’s peaceful conquest of Jerusalem in 638 ce marks the beginning of 1,300 years of almost continuous Islamic Civilization in Palestine, interrupted for some 200 years by the Christian Crusades.

Over time, thousands of gifts of property were endowed to the Jerusalem Waqf for administration. Once a property is dedicated to God and endowed, it is considered by Islamic Law irrevocably part of the Waqf. Income from such property is used for religious or charitable purposes (Friedland and Hecht, 1996: 350).

Palestinian Secular Claims: Historic and Nationalistic

During over 1,300 years of Islamic civilization, Palestinian Arab families have lived for many generations on the same land.

According to the Ottoman Turkish census of 1878, there were “403,795 Muslims (including Druze), 43,659 Christians, and 15,011 Jews. In addition there were at least 10,000 Jews with foreign citizenship (recent immigrants to the country) and several thousand Muslim Arab nomads (Bedouin) who were not counted as Ottoman subjects” (Beinin and Hajjar, 2006: para. 2).

Palestinian Refugees About 750,000 Palestinians who were expelled or fled from their homes during the 1948 War were not allowed to return to the new State of Israel. Approximately 200,000 refugees left the West Bank during the 1967 War, many of them had been refugees of the 1948 War (Tessler, 1994: 402-403).

Arab Nationalism By the mid 1900s, Iraq, Lebanon, Jordan, and Syria all became states. By the 1970s, all Arab nations were independent. Palestinians believe that they were unable to fulfill their nationalistic aspirations because of the establishment of the State of Israel.


The Special Claim of Arab Christian Palestinians

All Palestinians feel their existence as a people is unseen by the West, especially the U.S. Perhaps the Arab Christian Palestinians are the least known. However, their claim to the Holy Land and its Christian religious sites is strong because their ancestors have lived there for centuries and because their divine Jesus lived, died and rose again in Israel/Palestine.

About 55,000 of the 750,000 Palestinian refugees (7%) from 1948 were Christian (Sabella, 2006).

Materials at the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs estimate that, as of 2001, approximately 50,000 Palestinian Christians live in Gaza, the West Bank and East Jerusalem (Raab, 2003: para. 1). In the State of Israel, approximately 2% of the population (almost 108,000) are Arab Christians (“Israel: People,” 2006).

Christian Palestinians often feel caught between Israeli and Muslim hardliners. They suffer from the occupation and may ally themselves politically with Muslim Palestinians.

Well-known Christian Palestinians include human rights activist Hanan Ashrawi, the late author and scholar Edward Said, Sabeel leader Naim Ateek, Jerusalem Latin Patriarch Michel Sabah, and Marxist George Habash.

Christians and the Spectrum of Belief about the Last Judgment

Christians worldwide love the Holy Land because it is the site of Jesus’ mission. In the Christian religion, Jesus Christ is God made man. He was a Jew born in Bethlehem. He preached in many cities of the Holy Land, including Jerusalem, Capernaum, Cana, Jericho, Nazareth, Sidon, and Tyre. He taught the message of love and charity, giving special recognition to the poor and unfortunate. (Loving one’s neighbor as oneself is a basic idea in Judaism, Christianity and Islam.)

In about 30 ce, Jesus was crucified in Jerusalem. Each day Christians from all over the world retrace the Stations of the Cross, walking the Via Dolorosa, the path Jesus took to His death through Jerusalem.

Christians believe that the death of Jesus, God’s only son, redeems Christ’s followers from sin and brings them everlasting salvation. Christians believe Jesus will return again to Jerusalem for the Last Judgment. The good will go to heaven and the unrepentant will go to hell.

Christians are divided into a number of different groups, each with different perspectives and beliefs about the Holy Land and the Last Judgment.

Different Christian Perspectives

It is important to distinguish the following three groups:

Arab Christian Palestinians, usually Greek Orthodox or Roman Catholic Christians, support Arab Palestine and do not tie the Last Judgment to Jewish control of Jerusalem.

The majority of Western Christians, including the Roman Catholics, do not tie the Last Judgment to Jewish control of Jerusalem.

American Evangelicals Christians number about 76 million out of 296 million Americans. Many Evangelicals favor Israel because they believe that Jewish control of the Holy Land is necessary for the Second Coming of Jesus Christ and the Last Judgment.

This last group is important because they are a major political force in American politics and strongly support Jewish claims to Israel.

Political and Religious?

Some say the Israeli/Palestinian conflict is just a political conflict involving two peoples claiming the same land.

Jews, Muslims and Christians care about the land of Israel/Palestine and the places sacred to their religion. Religious identification fuels the conflict and religious groups use sacred scripture to justify their positions at the expense of others.

Many ultra-orthodox Jews have supported expanding settlements and claimed the “Greater Israel,” the land between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean.

Hamas, the militant Palestinian Islamic group that was elected in 2006 and took over Gaza in 2007, has used sacred scripture to justify suicide bombing.

Some American Evangelical Christians, based on their interpretations of Biblical prophecy, support Israel so as to hasten the second coming of Jesus Christ.


What Do You Think?

How do the religious claims of the three monotheistic religions affect today’s politics?

Do you think Israelis and Palestinians both have legitimate claims to the land of Israel/Palestine? Why or why not?

What does social justice mean?

Can the idea of social justice help one side understand the viewpoint of another side? Whether the two sides are Israelis and Palestinians, Jewish settlers and the Jewish peace camp, or Hamas and Fatah? Neither side is monolithic.

Class Discussion

In-class exercise (50 minutes)
Students divide into groups of 4-5 and choose a recorder. Each group will consider two topics:
1) Which Palestinian claims will some Israelis understand?
2) Which Israeli claims will some Palestinians understand?

(5 minutes) The instructor and students read together the list (not explanation) of Palestinian claims.

(10 minutes) Students in all groups pretend they are Palestinians planning to present five of their claims to a group of Israelis. They must choose the five claims they think the Israelis will best understand and why. The recorder writes down the top five claims and why some Israelis may understand them.

(10 minutes) The instructor writes down the Palestinian claims listed by all the groups and the reasons given that some Israelis may understand these claims.

(5 minutes) The instructor and students read together the list (not explanation) of Israeli claims.

(10 minutes) Students in all groups pretend they are Israelis planning to make a list of their claims to a group of Palestinians. They must choose the five claims they think some Palestinians will best understand and why. The recorder writes down the top five claims and why some Palestinians may understand them.

(10 minutes) The instructor writes down the Israeli claims listed by all the groups and the reasons given that some Palestinians may understand these claims.
ES Internet Forums

What are your thoughts/feelings about the classroom exercise discussing the Jewish/Israeli, Muslim/Palestinian, and Christian/Palestinian claims to the land of Israel/Palestine?

If your group should try this exercise, we would like to hear about your results.



Beinin, Joel, and Lisa Hajjar. N.d. “Palestine, Israel, and the Arab-Israeli Conflict: A Primer.” Middle East Research and Information Project. Retrieved June 29, 2007, from http://www.merip.org/palestine-israel_primer/intro-pal-isr-primer.html

Friedland, Roger, and Richard Hecht. 1996. To Rule Jerusalem. Berkeley, CA: University of California Press.

Gibb, H.A.R. & Kramers, J.H, Editors. 1961. “Al Kuds [sic].” In The Shorter Encyclopædia of Islam. Leiden, Netherlands: E.J. Brill.

Glassé, Cyril, Editor. 2001. “Jerusalem.” In The Concise Encyclopædia of Islam. London, UK: Stacey International.

“Israel: People”. 2007. Central Intelligence Agency: The World Factbook, June 19. Retrieved June 29, 2007 from https://www.cia.gov/library/publications/the-world-factbook/geos.is.html#People

Raab, David. 2003. “The Beleaguered Christians of the Palestinian-Controlled Areas.” Jerusalem letter/ Viewpoints 490, January 1-15. Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs. Retrieved June 29, 2007 from http://www.jcpa.org/jl/vp490.htm

Sabella, Bernard. 2006. Personal communication, March 7. Middle East Council of Churches, Department of Services to Palestinian Refugees.

Tessler, Mark. 1994. A History of the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict. Bloomington, IN: Indiana University Press.
“Welcome to the United Nations Cartographic Section.” 2007. United Nations. Retrieved June 29, 2007 from http://www.un.org/Depts/Cartographic/english/htmain.htm. (Map at http://www.un.org/Depts/Cartographic/map/profile/israel.pdf)