It is a common belief that the “Arab-Israeli conflict” is a conflict of two peoples fighting over the same piece of land and is therefore one of nationalism. Rarely, if ever, do we hear or read of the religious component to this conflict.
However, if anything, the conflict is more of a “Muslim-Jewish” one than an “Arab-Israeli” one. In other words, the conflict is based on religion — Islam vs. Judaism — cloaked in Arab nationalism vs. Zionism. The fact of the matter is that in every Arab-Israeli war, from 1948 to the present, cries of “jihad,” “Allahu Akbar,” and the bloodcurdling scream of “Idbah al- Yahud” (slaughter the Jews) have resonated amongst even the most secular of Arab leaders, be it Nasser in the 1950s and 1960s or the supposedly “secular” PLO of the 1960s to the present. Indeed, the question must be asked: If this is really a conflict of different nationalisms and not Islamic supremacism, then why is it that virtually no non-Arab Muslim states have full (if any) relations with Israel?
There is a common Arabic slogan that is chanted in the Middle East: “Khaybar, Khaybar! Oh Jews, remember. The armies of Muhammad are returning!” It would be most interesting to know how many people have ever heard what — or more precisely, where — Khaybar is, and what the Arabs mean by such a slogan. A short history of the Jews of Arabia is needed in order to explain this, and why Islam remains so inflexible in its hostile attitude towards Jews and Israel.
Until the founder of Islam, Muhammad ibn Abdallah, proclaimed himself “Messenger of Allah” in the 7th century, Jews and Arabs lived together peacefully in the Arabian Peninsula. Indeed, the Jews — and Judaism — were respected to such an extent that an Arab king converted to Judaism in the 5th century. His name was Dhu Nuwas, and he ruled over the Himyar (present day Yemen) area of the Arabian Peninsula. In fact, it is most likely that the city of Medina (the second-holiest city in Islam) — then called Yathrib — was originally founded by Jews. In any event, at the time of Muhammad’s “calling,” three important Jewish tribes existed in Arabia: Banu Qurayza, Banu Nadir, and Banu Qaynuqa.
Muhammad was very keen on having the Jews accept him as a prophet to the extent that he charged his followers not to eat pig and to pray in the direction of Jerusalem. However, the Jews apparently were not very keen on Muhammad, his proclamation of himself as a prophet, or his poor knowledge of the Torah (Hebrew Bible). Numerous verbal altercations are recorded in the Qur’an and various Hadiths about these conflicts between the Jewish tribes and Muhammad.
Eventually, the verbal conflicts turned into physical conflicts, and when the Jews outwardly rejected Muhammad as the “final seal of the prophets,” he turned on them with a vengeance. The atrocities that were committed against these tribes are too numerous to cite in a single article, but two tribes, the Qaynuqa and Nadir, were expelled from their villages by Muhammad. It appears that the Qaynuqa left Arabia around 624 A.D. The refugees of the Nadir settled in the village of Khaybar.
In 628 A.D., Muhammad turned on the last Jewish tribe, the Qurayza, claiming that they were in league with Muhammad’s Arab pagan enemies and had “betrayed” him. Muhammad and his army besieged the Qurayza, and after a siege of over three weeks, the Qurayza surrendered. While many Arabs pleaded with Muhammad to let the Qurayza leave unmolested, Muhammad had other plans. Unlike expelling the Qaynuqa and Nadir, Muhammad exterminated the Qurayza, with an estimated 600 to 900 Jewish men being beheaded in one day. The women and children were sold into slavery, and Muhammad took one of the widows, Rayhana, as a “concubine.”
In 629 A.D., Muhammad led a campaign against the surviving Jews of Nadir, now living in Khaybar. The battle was again bloody and barbaric, and the survivors of the massacre were either expelled or allowed to remain as “second-class citizens.” Eventually, upon the ascension of Omar as caliph, most Jews were expelled from Arabia around the year 640 A.D.
This brings us, then, to the question of why modern-day Muslims still boast of the slaughter of the Jewish tribes and the Battle of Khaybar. The answer lies in what the Qur’an — and later on, the various Hadiths — says about the Jews. The Qur’an is replete with verses that can be described only as virulently anti-Semitic. The amount of Surahs is too numerous to cite, but a few will suffice: Surah 2:75 (Jews distorted the Torah); 2:91 (Jews are prophet-killers), 4:47 (Jews have distorted the Bible and have incurred condemnation from Allah for breaking the Sabbath), 5:60 (Jews are cursed, and turned into monkeys and pigs), and 5:82 (Jews and pagans are the strongest in enmity to the Muslims and Allah). And of course, there is the genocidal Hadith from Sahih Bukhari, 4:52:177, which would make Adolph Hitler proud. “The Day of Judgment will not have come until you fight with the Jews, and the stones and the trees behind which a Jew will be hiding will say: ‘O Muslim! There is a Jew hiding behind me, come and kill him!”‘ Thus, the Arab Muslims had their own “final solution” in store for the Jews already in the 7th century.
The fact that Muslims still point to these (and many other) hateful verses in the Qur’an and Hadith should give Jews — not just Israelis — pause to consider if there can ever be true peace between Muslims and Jews, let alone between Muslims and Israel. When the armies of Islam occupied the area of Byzantine “Palestine” in the 7th century, the land became part of “Dar al-Islam” (House of Islam). Until that area is returned to Islam, (i.e., Israel’s extermination), she remains part of “Dar al harb” (House of War). It now becomes clear that this is a conflict of religious ideology and not a conflict over a piece of “real estate.”
Finally, one must ask the question: Aside from non-Arab Turkey, whose relations with Israel are presently teetering on the verge of collapse, why is it that no other non-Arab Muslim country in the Middle East has ever had full relations (if any at all) with Israel, such as faraway countries like Iran, Afghanistan, and Pakistan? Indeed, why would Persian Iran — conquered by the Arabs — have such a deep hatred for Jews and Israel, whereas a non-Muslim country such as India does not feel such enmity? The answer is painfully clear: The contempt in which the Qur’an and other Islamic writings hold Jews does not exist in the scriptures of the Hindus, Sikhs, Buddhists, and other Eastern religions. Therefore, people that come from non-Muslim states do not have this inherent hatred towards Jews, and by extension, towards Israel. But when a people — or peoples — is raised with a scripture that regards another people and religion as immoral and less than human, then it is axiomatic why such hatred and disdain exists on the part of Muslims for Jews and Israel.
Islam — as currently interpreted and practiced — cannot accept a Jewish state of any size in its midst. Unless Muslims come to terms with their holy writings vis-à-vis Jews, Judaism, and Israel and go through some sort of “reformation,” it will be unlikely that true peace will ever come to the Middle East. In the meantime, unless Islam reforms, Israel should accept the fact that the Muslims will never accept Israel as a permanent fact in the Middle East.