This guest post comes from one of the blogs founders, Nancy Welsh(Texas A&M).
Dr. Moshe Ma’oz is Professor Emeritus of Islamic and Middle Eastern Studies at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem and was Director of the University’s Harry S. Truman Research Institute for the Advancement of Peace. His presentation explored the complexity of Israel’s relationship with its neighbors and the current influence of religion. In particular, Professor Ma’oz discussed the growing influence of radical Jews, Muslims and evangelical Christians who actively embrace the notion of an irreconcilable clash between their cultures/religions and eagerly anticipate an Armageddon that will be followed by the arrival of the Messiah. Professor Ma’oz contrasted the radicalism of this world view with historical interactions between Jews and Muslims and the pragmatism that Israeli and Muslim leaders have shown at various points.
Professor Ma’oz pointed out that there has long been a close relationship and mutual influence between Jews and Muslims. For example, the Muslim conquerors of Jerusalem allowed Jews to live in Jerusalem; in contrast, the Christian Crusaders had barred Jews from the city. And despite the increasing radicalization of their populations, Muslim leaders in Egypt, Jordan and even Syria and Saudi Arabia have demonstrated a pragmatic willingness to negotiate with Israel. Within Israel, Jordan’s Hashemite leaders have achieved a particularly strong reputation for pragmatism. There is even some discussion of a potential future confederation of Israel, Palestine and Jordan. This favorable view of Jordan is a little confusing because Jordan has gone to war with Israel on more than one occasion. But consistent with the overwhelming theme of complex, almost familial relations between these nations, Professor Ma’oz jokingly remarked, “This is the Middle East. What do you expect?”
Professor Ma’oz explained that Jerusalem’s importance to both Jews and Muslims is a relatively recent phenomenon. The United Nations’ 1947 Partition Plan for Palestine proposed a Special International Regime for Jerusalem. Israel’s 1948 Declaration of Independence did not even mention Jerusalem. Professor Ma’oz identified the Six-Day War in 1967 as the point at which Jews’ views regarding Jerusalem and Temple Rock began to change. Recently, the leader of Israel’s Labor Party even proclaimed that a united Jerusalem is more important than the peace process. Militant Islamic denominations—i.e., Iran, Hezbollah and Hamas—also claim Jerusalem as important to them.
Professor Ma’oz observed that Jerusalem is a beautiful city that could be shared and pointed to the Church of the Holy Sepulchre as an example of another sacred site that is claimed by various religious sects. In that case, there are six Christian denominations that claim the church; each now controls a certain part. No denomination, however, holds the keys to the church. That responsibility has been borne for generations by a neutral third party—a Muslim family. Interesting.
Radical Muslims and Jews are unlikely to view such a pragmatic solution as satisfactory, particularly given their anticipation of the coming Armageddon. Late in his presentation, Professor Ma’oz noted that he has seen four wars during his years in Israel. He added (sadly, it seemed to me) that he didn’t recognize his country any more.
Professor Ma’oz ended his presentation with a story of a Jew shipwrecked on an island. When the castaway was finally discovered, he took the search party on a tour of the island. He showed them the synagogue he had built. And then he showed them the “other synagogue” he had built—“the one he wouldn’t be caught dead in.” We all laughed at the ridiculousness of building a second synagogue, but the story also illustrates an almost reflexive (again, almost familial) acceptance of complexity and paradox. Would the story be the same if it was about a radical Jew?