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This area of the world is sizzling. And, there appears to be no end in sight. While religious-based conflict may not be the core reason for the conflicts there in every instance, it surely is, at the very least, a basic influence and a major underpinning.
The Middle East region of the world is a good example of why religious tolerance alone cannot and will not reduce religious-based conflict. To the contrary, it gives the paramount support for the Center’s approach, going beyond tolerance to attack this problem. So, the world must go forward by, among other things, emphasizing education in the direction of teaching the value of finding and emphasizing those common threads of similarity of religions rather than emphasizing the differences – though they certainly exist.
Judaism versus Islam
Conflict, in which the Jews as a religious group were involved, in this part of the world, goes back more than 3,000 years, and is historically documented in the Jewish and Christian Old Testaments, among other records.
History reveals that this conflict among these Semite neighbors in the Middle East has had at its heart the overemphasis of religious differences between Islam and Judaism. Even though, until the advent of the modern country of Israel as a de jure Jewish nation in 1948, the Jews, as many other religions, had not escaped conflict and violence throughout the world from other sources as well. The establishment of Israel, however, focused back – for the first time in centuries – their conflict almost exclusively in the Middle East.
And, the cost was high for both sides. After the 1948 War, more than 700,000 Jews in 8 Arab countries were forced flee for their lives, their property ransacked, and their schools, hospitals, synagogues and cemeteries expropriated or destroyed. On the other hand, hundreds of thousands of Palestinians were either forced from their lands after the UN founding of the state of Israel, or tragically, have remained quarantined in squalid camps sustained by UN and Arab countries’ aid. Of all those countries, only one country, Jordan, has extended citizenship to the Palestinians.
While many might argue that the Arab-Israeli Wars of the latter part of the 20th century, and the subsequent unstable and violent situation have not been religious-based in nature, it appears the genesis of these conflicts was. Not seldom do initially religious-based conflicts subsequently take on a separate life of their own. Though no major Arab-Israeli wars have erupted in the last decade, there remains in the Middle East a tinder-box tension. This is particularly true since the renewal of the Israel/Palestine fighting in 2000. Lives are lost almost daily – on one side, or both – and billions of dollars are spent in support of military establishments and their adventures which could otherwise have been focused on the immediate and humanitarian needs of those peoples. For instance, on the Jewish side, the Israeli newspaper, Ha’aretz reported that the Moslem Intifada begun in 2000 had cost Israel more than $2.4 billion in lost revenue between the period October 2000 and December 2001. Besides lost tourism, a substantial amount of this money was lost because of the number of Palestinian workers in Israel dropped from an average of 124,000 in the 3rd quarter of 2000 to only 4,000 in the final 2 quarters of 2001, likewise increasing the burden of lost income on the Moslem side.
However, the Jewish/Islamic conflict is not limited to the Middle East. In late December, 2000, two Islamic men stopped a school bus carrying 50 Jewish children between the ages of 8 and 10 at gunpoint near Paris, France, and residents of the mainly Arab suburb stoned the vehicle. It was believed that the incident was related to some 200 attacks against Jews or Jewish property by Moslems in France earlier that year in October. In fact, according to a French government report issued in early 2002, acts of violence against the Jews increased from one in 1998 to nine in 1999 to 116 in 2000. If one includes other anti-Semitic incidents, ranging from threats to arson, the numbers went from 74 in 1998 to 603 in 2000.
In early 2002 the conflict between the Jews and Moslems outside of the Middle East took a new turn for the worst. On March 30th 15 young masked Moslem immigrants in Lyons, France rammed stolen cars through a Jewish synagogue’s front gate, crashing into the temple’s front doors. The security guard was punched in the face and kicked in the ribs. It was one of more than 300 anti-Jewish incidents in France, home of 6 million Moslems, in a 3 week period, compared with 200 in all of 2001. Sharp increases in attacks on Jews were reported in Britain, Russia and Belgium as well. Some called this a new wave of anti-Semitism in Europe.
Later in 2002 and into 2003 the violence in the Middle East escalated sharply. There were attacks and counter attacks between the Palestinians and Israelis. Innocent men, women and children died by the hundreds on both sides. In June, 2003 at the urging of the U.S. President George W. Bush, the two sides again sat together to attempt to bring peace to the area. While this attempt showed initial short-term success, it quickly diminished again into violence.
In late 2003, suicide car bombers attacked two synagogues in downtown Istanbul, Turkey killing 23 people and injuring more than 80. One explosion went off outside the Neve Shalom Synagogue, the city’s largest. The other severely damaged the Beth Israel Synagogue in the affluent district of Sisli, three miles away. This was not the first time the Neve Shalom Synagogue had been attacked. In 1986 gunmen had killed 22 worshippers and wounded 6 others during a Sabbath service there.
2012 and early 2013 have not been substantially different. Continuing pressure against (not only) Israel from Iran via its surrogates Hamas and Hezbollah shows no end. The conflict Israel and the world have over the constructing new Israeli settlements on land both Israel and Palestine claim as their own remains complex and dangerous. The now more than two-year internal conflict in Syria poses potential danger to the entire Middle East area should it explode across Syrian borders. The change in governments in Egypt, Libya, Tunisia and well as the ongoing conflict in Bahrain between the Sunni-led government and the majority Shiite citizens sees no immediate solution. These and more not only threaten general stability in the area but the existence of the state of Israel as well.
These trends, both within and without the Middle East, have not changed in recent years.
Center For Reduction of Religious-Based Conflict
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