The Root of the Arab-Israeli Conflict: The Classic Islamic View of Jews

Summary ... For a devout Muslim, Muhammad was the ideal Muslim. All Muslims should act as he acted. Therefore, the way in which Muhammad acted towards the Jews is how all Muslims should act towards them. Despite most people wanting to believe otherwise, this is true source of the Arab-Israeli conflict.

From the day Israel was established, the Muslim world has been hostile towards the State of Israel. This has been increasing over the years, despite the efforts of so many to settle the conflict. Although Israel signed Peace Agreements with Egypt and Jordan, nevertheless, many leaders in the Arab world, including Egyptian and Jordanian officials, make anti-Zionist and even anti-Semitic statements, and oppose normalization with Israel. When asked why, they answer that this peace is between governments, and not between the people of their countries.

Trying to find solutions to the Arab-Israeli conflict, politicians and statesmen have spent endless hours with experts on Islam to understand the roots of the conflict. They have usually heard two answers: "The root of the problem is territorial," and "The root of the problem is religious; it stems from the classic Islamic view of Jews as evil."

Muslims often accuse Jews of harassing and plotting against Muhammad, Islam's founder and prophet, a charge [made] abundantly clear since the start of classic Islamic writings, which are filled with anti-Jewish imagery.

In our "post-modern" age, most Western scholars who are secular find it difficult to accept the idea that medieval texts can dictate the lives of, or even inspire, people today. They criticize those who see the conflict as religious, arguing that scholars who see the conflict as religious place too much emphasis on these ancient texts as both the times and circumstances have changed. For them, these texts are outdated. In short, secular scholars find it difficult to believe that people even still regard religious ideas as relevant.

In talking with the common people in the Arab and Muslim world, however, it becomes clear that for them these classical texts are as relevant today as when they were written. For the overwhelmingly majority of Muslims, these texts indicate that the conflict is indeed religious not territorial.

As Muslims view the world, Muhammad was the ideal Muslim. How he acted is how all Muslims should act. So how Muhammad acted towards the Jews in Medina and Khaybar is how Muslims should act towards Jews.

How, then, did Muhammad act?

In 622 CE, Muhammad asked the Jews to recognize him as a prophet and join Islam. When they refused, he turned against them. After Muhammad became stronger in Medina he instructed the Muslims to terrorize the Jews. Muhammad's first victim was Ka'ab bin al-Ashraf, the leader of one of the three Jewish tribes in Medina. After the Muslims decapitated him they brought his head to Muhammad who took it and said, "Praise G-d for the death of Ka'ab." (Source: Kitab al-Maghazi [The Book of Muslim Raids Against the non-Muslims], Vol. 1, pages 184-190).

Immediately thereafter, Muslim tradition talks about the murder of the Jewish trader ibn Sunayna by the Muslim, Muhaysa bin Mas'ud. When Muhaysa's brother Huwaysa, heard about the murder, Huwaysa beat his brother mercilessly and said to him: "Much of the fat in your stomach is due the man (i.e., the Jew) you just murdered." Muhaysa responded, "If the one who commanded me (i.e., Muhammad) to slaughter ibn Sunayna would ask me to kill you — my own brother — I would do so." His brother responded, "a religion that can make a brother kill his own brother is a wonderful/amazing religion." Huwaysa immediately converted to Islam. (Source: Kitab al-Maghazi, Vol. 1, pages 190-192). Simultaneously, the Muslims murdered many more Jews in the back alleys of Medina.

In 624, when the Muslims besieged another Jewish tribe in Medina, the Jews gave up. Muhammad wanted to execute them, but one of the powerful non-Muslim allies of the Jews prevented Muhammad from doing so. Muhammad gave in, but exiled the Jews and expropriated their property and agricultural lands. A year later, Muhammad did the same thing to another Medinan Jewish tribe. (Source: Kitab al-Maghazi, Vol. 1, pages 176-180 & pages 363-380).

In 627, Muhammad besieged the last Jewish tribe in Medina. Their powerful non-Muslim ally had by that time died; the Jews had no one to protect them. The Jews then sent a messenger to Muhammad and expressed their willingness to surrender and leave the city. Muhammad said no and told them that if they agreed to surrender he would appoint a negotiator who would settle the issue. When the Jews agreed the negotiator Muhammad appointed was the man who had organized the murder of the above-mentioned Ka'ab, and who passionately hated the Jews. He decided that the Jewish men would be executed, and that their women and children would be distributed among the Muslims. About 750 Jews were then murdered in the marketplace in Medina, and heaped into a common grave. Muslim tradition teaches that Jewish blood flowed like a river through the market. (Source: Kitab al-Maghazi, Vol. 2, pages 496-520).

Interestingly, this image has been used over and over again throughout Muslim history. In 2004, for example, when Nick Berg, an American Jew working in Iraq, was kidnapped and then murdered by the Iraqi al-Qaida leader al-Zarqawi, as Zarqawi was about to behead Berg, he said: "I will do to you what Muhammad did to the Jews in Medina."

In 628, Muhammad besieged the Jewish city Khaybar. Before doing so, he sent in assassins to murder the Jewish leaders of the city, thereby terrifying the rest of the people. A bloody battle ensued; the Jews surrendered. Muhammad imposed on them the Jizya tax [for non-Muslims], and they thus became dhimmis [officially second-class citizens]. Muhammed also demanded that the Jews turn over to the Muslims half of their crops (note: the Muslims did not know how to raise crops). On the day that the Jews of Khaybar surrendered, Muhammad married the Jewish wife of the leader of the city, whose father Muhammad had previously killed. At the same time, her husband was tortured to death so he would tell the Muslims where he had hidden his treasure. (Source: Kitab al-Maghazi, Vol. 2, pages 440-479).

The victory against the Jews in Khaybar is deeply etched in the Muslim historical memory; it has become a source for mockery of the Jews so much so that it is constantly invoked at every opportunity when discussing the Arab-Israeli conflict. It is very common to hear Palestinians [sic], when demonstrating against Israel, shout "Khaybar Khaybar Ya Yahud Jaish Muhammad sa-Ya'ud (Khaybar Khaybar, Oh Jews, Muhammad's army shall return!"), as the Turkish terrorists on board the Flotilla headed towards Gaza shouted just a few months ago.

There is also another version of this slogan: "Khaybar Khaybar Ya Yahud, ila Falastin na'ud" (Khaybar Khaybar, Oh Jews, We Shall Return to Palestine). In this context, the message is to return to "all of Palestine", including Israel's pre-1967 borders, as can been seen on virtually every Palestinian and Arab map.

The Muslim victory at Khaybar also serves as an inspiration for Hizb'Allah, the Shi'ite terrorist organization. Its spokesmen constantly invoke the imagery of Khaybar regarding their struggle against Israel, for example, calling the Fajar 5 rockets they fired at Israel during the 2006 Lebanon War Khaybar Rockets, and in 2002 the Iranians developed a rifle they named Khaybar 2002.

Among the Palestinians, it is now an essential and integral part of the education system throughout most of the Muslim world, most notably in the West Bank [sic], the Gaza Strip, and among Israel's Arabs as well.

Throughout the centuries, these stories have been passed down from father to son, and have become deeply rooted in the Muslim psyche. These images are constantly also used in Friday sermons in mosques, and are a deep source of inspiration for the Islamic terrorist organizations.

This, in short, is the source of the Muslim-Jewish and, therefore, the Arab-Israeli conflict.

[ Hagai Mazuz | Published: August 5, 2010 ]