Israel–Palestine Conflict: Religion, The Third Rail

By Tim Mathew


For many individuals, the practice of and faith in a religion gives meaning to life. The majority of people worldwide do identify with a religion, evidenced by a 2010 study conducted by the Pew Research Center’s Forum on Religion & Public Life, which found that approximately 84% of the world identifies with a religious group. 1 Religion helps its followers interpret events that occur in their daily lives, and is the lens through which they see the world. Yet, this very essential factor of religious belief that leads to an individual’s perspective is sometimes overlooked and can be seen as something that should be kept private – something that is untouchable, unspeakable, controversial – the third rail.

Diplomatic attempts at resolving a conflict should not ignore the influences of religious views, beliefs, and values of the individuals involved within a conflict. Separation of church and state does not mean that those involved in a conflict leave their religious views at home. While announcing the creation of the Office of Faith-Based Community Initiatives within the State Department in 2013, Secretary of State, John Kerry, said, “So we need to recognize that in a world where people of all faiths are migrating and mingling like never before, where we are this global community, which we always talk about, we ignore the global impact of religion, in my judgment, at our peril.” During the same announcement, Melissa Rogers, Director of the White House Office of Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships, said that religion helps “create more peaceful and secure communities” but “as we know all too well, there are also times when religion is abused to promote violence and destabilize communities.”2 This vast range of influence that religion can have is reason not to ignore it but to engage with religious communities as part of the peace process to ensure that the voices of religious leaders are being heard.

The Israeli-Palestinian conflict, specifically, is primarily among individuals within the Abrahamic religions (Judaism, Christianity, and Islam). Religion is just one of the many aspects of this conflict, but it is important that it is not forgotten as one, as it could play a vital role in helping to resolve this intractable conflict. Here we will look into some of the historical religious aspects that have helped fuel the conflict, the role that religion currently plays in the conflict, and how religion can be utilized going forward to help resolve the conflict.


Biblical Story of Abraham
The history of this conflict goes back to the story of Abraham (formerly known as Abram), who is seen as the father of these religions. According to The Bible, Terah was living in Ur in Southern Babylonia, which would be considered southern Iraq today. Terah decided to take his son, Abram, Sarai (Abram’s wife), and his grandson, Lot, to go from Ur to Canaan. Canaan would be considered Lebanon, Israel, Palestinian territories, and parts of Jordan and Syria today. However, they ended up settling in Harran (believed to be in modern day Turkey), where Terah died. While in Harran, Abram received a message from God, telling him to leave from Harran to the land that he will be shown. Abram, Sarai, and Lot set out for Canaan. Here, God promised Abram that he would give this land to Abram’s offspring, and Abram built an altar in this land.
Abram and Sarai migrated to Egypt due to a famine and then eventually migrated again to Hebron. In Hebron, Abram built another altar to God.

Abram was very old at this time, and him and his wife Sarai, had yet to conceive a child. Abram questioned God’s promise to give the land to his descendants as he had no heir. As Sarai could not conceive a child with Abram, she told Abram to sleep with her Egyptian slave, Hagar. Abram agreed and Hagar became pregnant. Due to mistreatment by Sarai, Hagar fled from Abram and Sarai. An angel appeared to Hagar and told her to go back to Sarai and submit to her. The angel also promised her that her descendants will be increased so much that they will be too numerous to count. The angel told her to name her son Ishmael. So Hagar went back to Abram and bore his son, Ishmael (Abram was 86 years old at the time).

When Abram was 99 years old, God spoke to him again and reassured him of his promise to him, and told him that he will be called Abraham and his wife will be called Sarah. Abraham laughed at this as he was almost 100 years old and Sarah was 90 years old. After Sarah gave birth to Isaac, she again began to have problems with Ishmael and Hagar, and told Abraham to get rid of her and her son, for Ishmael will never share Abraham’s inheritance. Abraham was distressed about the situation but listened to Sarah and sent off Hagar and Ishmael. Isaac is believed to be the father of the Jewish people, while Ishmael is believed to be the father of Muslims.3

Historical Importance of Region to Abrahamic Religions
King David eventually unified the tribes of Israel and established the center of his kingdom in Jerusalem. There, his son, Solomon, built the First Temple around the 10th century BCE, where it stood until around 586 BCE when the Babylonians conquered Israel, destroyed the Temple, and exiled the Jews. Approximately 79 years later, the Temple was rebuilt. This Temple was later destroyed by the Romans in 70 CE, leaving only the Western Wall of the Temple, which is now considered the holiest place for Jews to pray. Jerusalem, specifically the Temple Mount, is considered the holiest place in the Jewish religion, and is considered the land that God promised to Abraham’s descendants, which the Jews believe is inherited to them through Isaac.

The significance of Israel for Christians is primarily associated with the life and teachings of Jesus. Jesus was born in Bethlehem. Jesus prayed in the Garden of Gethsemane in Jerusalem the night before he was arrested there. It is believed that Jesus was crucified, entombed, and resurrected in Jerusalem. It is also believed that Jesus ascended to heaven from the Mount of Olives in Jerusalem. While the region is important to Christians from a historical perspective, The Bible speaks of a heavenly Jerusalem rather than an earthly city, which doesn’t put the temple at the center, but Jesus Christ.4

As Islam respects the prophets in Judaism and Christianity, Israel and Jerusalem have importance to Islam as well for the reasons listed above. In addition, the rock believed to have been the altar or foundation stone of the First and Second Temples is also believed to have been the point from which the Prophet Mohammed ascended to glimpse heaven, which is described in the 17th Sura of the Quran. For 16 months, Mohammed led prayers towards the Temple Mount, but then later led prayers towards Mecca, where Muslims still pray towards today. Jerusalem is considered the third holiest city in Islam, after Mecca and Medina.

Creation of a Jewish State
The British held a colonial mandate for Palestine until May of 1948. The United States, under the leadership of President Truman, began supporting the creation of a Jewish state in Palestine. Britain, unable to find a practical solution, referred the problem to the United Nations. 5 In November of 1947 the United Nations voted to partition Palestine under Resolution 181.6 Under the resolution, the following was proscribed for the Holy Places:

1. Existing rights in respect of Holy Places and religious buildings or sites shall not be denied or impaired.
2. In so far as Holy Places are concerned, the liberty of access, visit and transit shall be guaranteed, in conformity with existing rights, to all residents and citizens of the other State and of the City of Jerusalem, as well as to aliens, without distinction as to nationality, subject to requirements of national security, public order and decorum. Similarly, freedom of worship shall be guaranteed in conformity with existing rights, subject to the maintenance of public order and decorum.
3. Holy Places and religious buildings or sites shall be preserved. No act shall be permitted which may in any way impair their sacred character. If at any time it appears to the Government that any particular Holy Place, religious building or site is in need of urgent repair, the Government may call upon the community or communities concerned to carry out such repair. The Government may carry it out itself at the expense of the community or communities concerned if no action is taken within a reasonable time.
4. No taxation shall be levied in respect of any Holy Place, religious building or site which was exempt from taxation on the date of the creation of the State. No change in the incidence of such taxation shall be made which would either discriminate between the owners or occupiers of Holy Places, religious buildings or sites, or would place such owners or occupiers in a position less favourable in relation to the general incidence of taxation than existed at the time of the adoption of the Assembly's recommendations.
5. The Governor of the City of Jerusalem shall have the right to determine whether the provisions of the Constitution of the State in relation to Holy Places, religious buildings and sites within the borders of the State and the religious rights appertaining thereto, are being properly applied and respected, and to make decisions on the basis of existing rights in cases of disputes which may arise between the different religious communities or the rites of a religious community with respect to such places, buildings and sites. He shall receive full co-operation and such privileges and immunities as are necessary for the exercise of his functions in the State.

Further, the resolution proscribed that the city of Jerusalem shall be established as a corpus separatum under a special international regime and shall be administered by the United Nations.

From a religious standpoint, the political decisions over boundaries has led to contention over many holy sites within the region.

Holy Sites

The Temple Mount
The Temple Mount in Jerusalem is the former location of the First Temple (the Temple of Solomon) which is believed to have stood from 10th century BCE until 586 BCE, when it was destroyed by the Babylonians. The Second Temple was then constructed on the same site in 515 BCE until 70 CE, when it was demolished by the Romans.7

The Temple Mount is currently managed by an Islamic Waqf, or religious committee, and Israel provides security at the Temple Mount and upholds decisions made by the Waqf about access to the site. Non-Muslim prayer at the Temple Mount is prohibited. Many Jews believe that they are forbidden from entering the Temple Mount area as it represents the Holy of Holies from the Jewish Temple. 8

The Western Wall
The Western Wall is the most visible structure remaining from the Second Temple that was destroyed by the Romans in 70 CE. The Western Wall is a place where Jews conduct their prayers. 8

Al Aqsa Mosque
This mosque is the largest in Jerusalem and is on the southernmost side of the Temple Mount. This mosque is the third-most-important Muslim place of prayer after Mecca and Medina. Muslims also built the Al-Aqsa Mosque where the previous Jewish Temples stood. This mosque was last rebuilt in 1035. 8

Dome of the Rock
This Islamic shrine, built in A.D. 691, covers the rock believed to have been the altar or foundation stone of the First and Second Temples. According to Jewish tradition, the rock was the altar upon which Abraham prepared to sacrifice Isaac, but Islamic tradition holds that it was Abraham's first son, Ishmael, whom Abraham prepared to sacrifice. The rock is also believed to have been the point from which the Prophet Mohammed ascended to glimpse heaven as described in the 17th Sura of the Koran. 7, 8

Church of the Holy Sepulchre
Considered by some to be Christianity's holiest place, this church covers the traditional sites of the crucifixion, entombment, and resurrection of Jesus. Built around A.D. 330, the complex is carefully divided among the Greek Orthodox, Roman Catholic, Armenian Orthodox, Coptic, Syrian, and Ethiopian churches. 8

Mount of Olives
The Mount of Olives overlooks the Old City of Jerusalem from the east. Here, Jesus wept at a prophetic vision of Jerusalem lying in ruins. Jesus was arrested in the Garden of Gethsemane, on the lower slope of the mount. According to tradition, Jesus ascended to heaven at the ridge of the Mount of Olives. The Mount of Olives also contains Judaism’s most important graveyard. 8

The Tomb of the Patriarchs
Located in Hebron, this is the burial place of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob (son of Isaac), as well as their wives, Sarah, Rebecca, and Leah (Rachel, the second wife of Jacob, is buried in Bethlehem). It is surrounded by massive walls built by King Herod. Under Muslim rule, the
structure was declared a mosque and entry to Jews was forbidden. Hebron was liberated in 1967 by Israel, but the site is still run by the Muslim Waqf, and there are still many restrictions imposed on Jews and Muslims at this site. Rights to this place are a point of bitter contention between the Islamic and Jewish worlds and there have been several attacks at or near this site.9

This site is considered the second holiest site in Judaism after the Temple Mount.

Rachel’s Tomb/Bilal bin Rabah mosque
Rachel, Jacob’s wife, was the mother of Joseph and Benjamin. Rachel died during the birth of Benjamin, and was buried just outside of Bethlehem, in the West Bank region. For Muslims, the site is a mosque and a cemetery. A resolution was passed at UNESCO in 2010 that acknowledged both the Jewish and Islamic significance of the site, describing the site as both Bilal bin Rabah Mosque and as Rachel's Tomb.10
This site is considered the third holiest site in Judaism after the Temple Mount and the Tomb of the Patriarchs.

Joseph’s Tomb
Joseph, son of Isaac and Rachel, was buried just outside of the West Bank city of Nablus. After the 1967 war in which Israel captured Nablus, Israel settlers began visiting the tomb and eventually took it over and prohibited Muslims from visiting the site. A Jewish seminary was also built near the site. Under the Oslo Accords in 1995, Nablus was handed over to the Palestinian National Authority, however, Joseph’s Tomb remained under Israeli control. During the Second Intifada, Nablus was a conflict zone, and Joseph’s Tomb became a target site. Eventually, Israel evacuated the site and it was burned down by Palestinians. Since then, there have been requests and attempts to renovate the site, but not much progress has been made in this regards.11

King David’s Tomb
King David’s Tomb is believed to be the burial place of David, located on Mount Zion in Jerusalem. After the 1948 Arab-Israeli war, the Tomb was on Israel’s side of the green line, although it was still under the occupation of Jordan until 1967, and Jews were barred from entering the site until then.8

The Church of the Nativity
This church is located in Bethlehem and marks the site of Jesus' birthplace. It is the oldest surviving church in the Holy Land and was spared by the Persians during their invasion in A.D. 614.

Mount of Beatitudes
Located on the northwest shore of the Sea of Galilee between Capernaum and Ginosar, this is believed to be the location where Jesus gave the Sermon on the Mount, one of the most historical sermons in Christian tradition.

The Basilica of the Annunciation
Also known as the Church of the Annunciation, this site in Nazareth is believed to be the location that the angel Gabriel spoke to Mary and told her that she would conceive and become the mother of Jesus.

Present Religious Situations

Approximately 75%12 of the population of Israel are Jews and 12%-14%13 of the population of the West Bank are Jews (no14 Jewish population in the Gaza Strip). The largest religious Jewish subgroups today are Orthodox Judaism, Conservative Judaism, and Reform Judaism. Orthodox Judaism includes Modern Orthodox Judaism and Haredi Judaism, also known as ultra-orthodox. Haredi Judaism is characterized by rejection of modern secular culture and they regard themselves as the most authentic group of Jews. Modern Orthodox Judaism seeks to integrate Jewish law with the modern world. Conservative Judaism seeks to maintain a positive attitude toward modern culture and accepts critical secular scholarship regarding Judaism's sacred texts and commitment to Jewish observance. Reform Jews believe that religious change is legitimate and that Judaism has changed over the centuries as society has changed. The Reform movement attempts to adapt Jewish religious beliefs and practices to the needs of the Jewish people from generation to generation.36

From a religious standpoint, the region is the land Jewish people believe was promised to them by God, and thus, religion can be used to justify occupying the region and taking the land that they believe is rightfully theirs. While the majority of Israelis are Jewish, Israel is a democratic state with equal legal rights to all citizens, although many argue that favoritism is given to Jewish people in practice.

Recently, there has been much debate over the Jewish nation-state bill, which was passed by the Israeli Cabinet and is headed to Parliament.15 This bill would make Israel the nation-state of the Jewish people. There are many, including Israel’s President Reuven Rivlin, who have critiqued this bill as it would discriminate against non-Jews.16 There have also been protests opposing this bill.17

There has also been a recent escalation of conflict related to the Temple Mount. Some Jewish activists have been advocating for the rights of Jews to pray on top of the Temple Mount, which is not allowed under the current circumstances. Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas warned18 Israel against a religious war and called19 on Palestinians to stop Jews from visiting the Temple Mount using all means necessary. Rabbi Yehuda Glick, who was at the forefront of the movement to allow Jews to the Temple Mount, was the victim of an assassination attempt for this reason.20 The perceived attempt to change the status quo of the holy site has led to increased tensions and has given a religious justification to violence by both sides, including the burning21 of a mosque in the West Bank as well as an attack22 in a Jerusalem synagogue.
Although the Jewish population in the United States is less than 2%, there are many organizations that seek to impact circumstances within Israel by influencing U.S. policy.23 As the U.S. is the strongest and most supportive ally of Israel, these Jewish organizations can have a significant impact on U.S. relations with Israel.

Sometimes forgotten in the Israel-Palestine conflict is Christians in the region, that make up a minority of the population in this area. Christians make up 2%12 of the population in Israel, 1%-2.5%13 of the population in the West Bank, and less than 1%14 of the population in the Gaza Strip. The majority of these Christians are Arab and are ethnically linked to Palestinian Muslims rather than Israeli Jews and live in areas under the control of the Palestinian Authority. Palestinian Christians face similar restrictions as Palestinian Muslims. Palestinian Christians have had complaints about their access to Holy Sites, particularly during Easter week, which was no different in the most recent year, 2014.24 There are Arab Christians in the area that believe that their best chance of survival is with the Israeli Jews, rather than living in a Muslim-dominated country (as there is a fear that extremist Muslim groups oppose the existence of Christians), which causes them to support Israel. Father Gabriel Nadaf, a priest from Nazareth, was quoted in the Jerusalem Post as saying, “Together with our Jewish brothers we have a joint fate in this land because whatever happens to the Jews here will happen to us.”25 Christian Arabs have been allowed to voluntarily enlist in the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) on their own, but this is now being taken a step further as Christian Arabs are now being sent voluntary enlistment notices, which was not done in the past. This will likely lead to increased enlistment in the IDF by Christian Arabs, which already saw increases in 2013.25 While there are Christian Arabs that seek to throw their lot in with Israeli Jews, there are some who oppose it and see Israel’s attempts to enlist them into the IDF simply as a ploy to divide the country’s Arab population and weaken the Palestinian Muslims. These Palestinian Christians refuse to participate in subjugating their own ethnic people.26 The identity of Arabs and Palestinians binds them together with Arab and Palestinian Muslims.

Since its inception, the U.S. has been the strongest and most supportive ally of Israel. The support for Israel in the U.S. goes beyond governmental support, as the majority of the public also supports Israel compared to Palestine. The majority of individuals within the U.S. identify as Christians, as identified in a Pew survey.23 Further, support for Israel in the U.S. is stronger amongst Christians and those that attend church regularly compared to those that are not Christians or those that do not attend church, as identified in a Gallup survey.27 Based on these surveys, it is evident that support amongst Christian Americans is strong for Israel.

Many Christians support Israel as Christians do believe in the Old Testament of the Bible, which is the story of the Israelites and includes God’s promise to Jews to give them the land. Christianity does not deny the authenticity of the Jewish religion. The main difference in the two religions is the belief in Christianity that Jesus was the Messiah. While Christian’s believe that Jesus is the Messiah, Jesus was also a Jew and practiced Jewish traditions. Christians see Jews as God’s chosen people. Further, some Christian Zionists believe that the return of Jewish people to its homeland is prophetic and necessary for Jesus’ second coming to Earth; therefore, the return of Jewish people to Israel means that the Jesus’ second coming is closer.

On the other hand, there are many U.S. Christians that do not unconditionally support Israel and their actions. For example, the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) divested from 3 U.S. companies whose products were believed to be used to support the Israeli occupation.28 The narrative and livelihood of Arabs living in the region has also caused many Christians to support Arabs or
criticize Israel, which can be seen as imitating Jesus’ stand with the oppressed and downtrodden from a Christian perspective. A Pew survey conducted in 2010 of Evangelical Protestant leaders found that the leaders worldwide sympathized with Israelis (34%) more than Palestinians (11%), while 39% sympathized with both sides equally. Perhaps surprisingly, the sympathy from U.S. leaders for Israel was less than global leaders (30% sympathized more with Israelis, 13% sympathized more with Palestinians, and 49% sympathized with both sides equally).29 There are many who believe that outside Christian support for Israel is waning as the conflict and occupation continues.

Muslims make up approximately 80%-85%13 of the population residing in the West Bank, 17%12 of the population residing in Israel, and 98%-99%14 of the population residing in the Gaza Strip. The Muslim population in these regions are predominately Sunni Muslims.
Hamas is a Palestinian Islamic organization that was founded in 1987 to liberate Palestine from Israeli occupation and to establish an Islamic State in the area that is now Israel, the West Bank, and the Gaza Strip. Hamas claims rights to the region based on Islamic texts and believes that fighting for the land is required by Islam, according to their charter.30 The charter states that peaceful solutions to resolve the Palestinian problem “are all contrary to the beliefs of the Islamic Resistance Movement. For renouncing any part of Palestine means renouncing part of the religion.” Hamas is considered a terrorist organization by Israel, the U.S., Egypt, as well as other countries. The European Union has recently taken Hamas off of their terrorist organization list.31

Although the charter written during its formation states that the organization will not seek peaceful solutions, Hamas leadership has since stated that it would promote a peaceful resolution if certain conditions were met related to Israeli settlements, borders, and refugees. Hamas candidates won Palestinian elections in 2006, but their government was dismissed in 2007, and the group was left in charge of the Gaza Strip only, with Fatah (the secular Palestinian rival of Hamas) in charge of the West Bank. Hamas is both a religious and political organization.
Hamas is seen by many to be an impediment to a peaceful solution and has condoned and praised violent actions committed against Israelis and Jews, which is believed to escalate the conflict and move Israel and Palestine further away from a peaceful solution. Recent examples include Hamas’ praise of the attack32 of a synagogue in Jerusalem in which four people were killed, an attack33 of a crowd of pedestrians waiting for a light rail train with a vehicle, as well as others.

The Palestinian Islamic Jihad (PIJ), formed in 1979, is committed to the creation of an Islamic Palestinian state and the destruction of Israel through a holy war, or jihad. There has been some cooperation between PIJ and Hamas, although the PIJ is considered to be more extreme and violent in its strategies compared to Hamas. PIJ is a much smaller organization than Hamas and does not have as much support from the Palestinian population, but has claimed responsibility for multiple attacks on Israel, which has helped the conflict to continue.

Religion’s Potential Role in Peace: Looking Forward

Below are some suggestions for the role that religion can have on helping to resolve the conflict:

  • One of the most dangerous aspects of human nature is the belief that one’s own group is superior and others are inferior. This tends to be more overt in regards to religious groups. It is embedded into the Abrahamic religions. These religions teach that there is only one true God, that this religion is the only way to God, and that those who do not believe in the specific religion are wrong and will go to hell. This paradigm can create a superiority complex. There are fundamental differences between the religions that will never be resolved. However, rather than focusing on these fundamental differences, a theory of resolving the conflict could be to focus on similarities rather than on differences in order to eliminate negative views of the “other”. By focusing on similarities, members from different groups can begin to humanize the “other”. They can realize that the “other” are humans as well. Rather than just infidels, idolaters, or sinners, they can be viewed as father, mother, brother, sister, husband, wife, son, or daughter. As Marc Gopin states, “The most important goal of conflict resolution and peacemaking should be the humanization of the Other, the treatment of the Other with absolute dignity, even love”.37 There are shared core values that one group may have with another and once these are explored, different groups can learn to coexist, even though there may be differences of opinion on certain topics. Religious communities and those involved in peacebuilding efforts should seek to do this. One example of this is a letter written by a group of 128 Muslim scholars in 2007 titled “A Common Word between Us and You”.34 This letter seeks to find a “common word” between Muslims and Christians based on a verse from the Qur’an (3:64). This letter asserts that these two religions share the same fundamental values: love of the one God and love for one’s neighbor. It draws upon both Christian and Muslim texts to demonstrate these values within the religions. This letter is a great example of how religious communities can begin focusing on similarities that bind different religions together, rather than on what makes them different. Understanding and respecting the other does not necessitate agreeing on everything. The hope is that the differences will no longer cause hatred and strife between the groups.
  • While seeking similarities, as described above, is helpful in relations between religious communities, these communities will also need to learn to accept differences and coexist with one another. Love for one’s enemy and coexistence with enemies is taught in each of the Abrahamic religions. Exodus 23:5 states “If you see the donkey of someone who hates you fallen down under its load, do not leave it there; be sure you help them with it.” In Matthew 5:44, Jesus said, “But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.” Jesus also had a discussion with a Samaritan women and told a parable about a Good Samaritan, even though the Jews did not associate with the Samaritans at the time. The Qur’an states, “Had Allah willed, He would have made you one nation [united in religion], but [He intended] to test you in what He has given you; so race to [all that is] good. To Allah is your return all together, and He will [then] inform you concerning that over which you used to differ” (5:48). Further, the Qur’an states, “There shall be no compulsion in [acceptance of] the religion” (2:256). There are principles within each of the Abrahamic religions that teach love for one’s enemy and coexistence with others that must be promoted within the religious communities to compete with the use of violence based on religious differences.
  • Religion has proven to be a powerful tool in promoting violence. Religion gives people the feeling that they are not just fighting for themselves but are fighting for a greater cause. This greater cause will cause them to act irrational at times as they believe that they will be rewarded in the afterlife for their actions. In order to deter these violent behaviors committed in the name of religion, paradigmatic shifts of views are needed. These changes must come from inside the religion rather than from the outside. Religious scholars must engage in hermeneutic and interpretive exercises to provide a coherent re-evaluation of classical formulations and to reassert the vision of peace.38 Hermeneutic is the key word here. Hermeneutics is the interpretation of words and language. Hermeneutics gives the believer the freedom and opportunity to redefine aspects of the religion. It can take past constructs and frame them in a new light.35 Religious texts, stories, and past practices can be framed to promote a peaceful future. It can be framed to coexist with others. The challenge is that the framing can also be used to promote violence, as has been evident in recent history. Rather than allowing the religion to be used for violence, religious scholars who believe that the religion promotes peace should take more action in providing and publishing these interpretations. As Marc Gopin states, “Whatever is not static, whatever changes for the worse, can also change for the better.” 35
  • Religious leaders should be involved in or consulted in diplomatic discussions that are held, as the discussion involves the treatment of certain holy sites or land. Without hearing the voices of the religious population, any diplomatic agreement may not be accepted by a certain population of the people which could lead to the failure of an agreement. Not allowing the religious population to provide input into solutions may lead them to believe that there is no alternative to violence to get what they seek. Therefore, the opinions and input of religious leaders from different sects of religions should be heard and considered.
  • Diplomats and those in government must be aware of religious traditions as well as the importance of certain sites or symbols within religions. They should be aware of how policy decisions will be perceived by religious communities, and in order to do this, they must have a good understanding of the religious perceptions. Religion cannot simply be an afterthought.
  • Those that are using religion to justify violence are typically much more passionate and dedicated to their cause than those that are peaceful. While those practicing the religions and living peaceful lives may be the majority, stronger voices are needed that are devoted to promoting peace rather than standing by quietly. Standing by quietly is not promoting violence, but it is not promoting peace either. In order to deter violence, peace must be promoted as strongly as violence is being promoted. The passion and dedication of those promoting peace must exceed those promoting violence. If religious leaders believe that others within their own religion are misinterpreting certain texts that are being used to justify violence, they should speak out against it and provide a counterargument and a counter hermeneutic.
  • Foreign religious communities must reflect on their role in perpetuating the conflict. They should be aware of the impacts that their support for any particular group has on the conflict. Is their goal to promote peace or violence and are their actions contributing to the goal that they seek? Providing support to one side of the conflict may appear to be helpful to the overall situation but it may actually be contributing to the conflict and hurting the situation in the long-run. More awareness from foreign religious communities regarding the impacts of their support is needed.

These are just a few general examples of how religion can be used for peace rather than for the promotion of violence. There are many more potential ways that religion and religious communities can help to resolve this conflict that should be further examined. While there are religious aspects to this conflict, it should be made clear that it is not the only (or major) aspect of this conflict. Religious solutions alone will not resolve this conflict. However, ignoring religion in solutions will likely lead to a solution’s failure as well. Religion has the ability to bring out the best but also the worst in people; the suggestions above will help to ensure the former rather than the latter.


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