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When it comes to the question of Israel/Palestine, we often encounter sophistry, whether from politicians, journalists or even on social media, namely carefully constructed word games intended to whitewash grotesque violations of human rights.

Against this, how do we argue for justice, fairness, and wisdom?

How can we offer a humanitarian response that supports short-term and long-term peace?

The Short Answer

If asked about Israel’s right to exist, it would be reasonable to respond, “Yes, according to the UN, both Israel and Palestine have a right to exist – wouldn’t you agree?”

According to the United Nations Resolutions 181, 242 and 338, Israel has a right to exist as a sovereign state. However, there are still some countries that do not recognise Israel’s sovereignty, including 28 of the 193 UN member states.

Unfortunately, this question is often brought out at the beginning of discussions, as if it were a litmus test to expose people with terrorist sympathies. In fact, denying Israel’s right to exist can even lead to accusations of antisemitism.

The Long View

Any objective study of the 55,000 years of the human habitation of Palestine will reveal that people have come and gone from the land. In fact, before modern humans, the area was inhabited for hundreds of thousands of years by Neanderthals. Would they have the greatest right to the land today? Palestinians have been the majority people on the land for perhaps the last 2000 years, and Jews for the 1000 years before that. Prior to them were the Canaanites, from whom both Jews and Palestinians derive.

The Biblical Argument

Some people argue that Israel’s right to exist is based on it being promised to the Israelites by God, in the Bible. However, anyone who does not accept the validity of the Bible would not accept this argument, including Muslim Palestinians and atheist Israeli Jews. Furthermore, for the 2000 years before the creation of Israel, Christians did not interpret their scripture this way. 

Creating new nation states on the basis of subjective interpretations of holy books, that are not universally accepted under international law, cannot be taken seriously. For instance, by the original logic, jihadist claims to a global caliphate would then also be justified as they come from specific interpretations of religious texts.

Legitimacy from the UN

So, Israel can only claim a legitimate right to exist from a universally accepted body that has conferred this right – and the only such body would be the UN. However, Israel can only use the UN for its legitimacy if it accepts the UN’s legitimacy in making internationally applicable resolutions.

Resolution 181 (II), issued in November 1947, proposed the partition of Palestine into a Jewish and Arab state. To accept the UN’s pronouncement on a Jewish state’s right to exist, you would then also have to confer the same legitimacy to the ‘Arab’ Palestinian state.

Israel established its borders through immense, deliberate violence (see Ilan Pappe’s ‘The Ethnic Cleansing of Palestine’) but this violence does not deprive Israel of its right to exist. By the same token, any violence committed by Palestinians could not delegitimise their right to a state.

So, if asked about Israel’s right to exist, it would be reasonable to respond, “Yes, according to the UN, both Israel and Palestine have a right to exist – wouldn’t you agree?”

All those who agree on Israel’s right to exist will also have to accept the validity of other UN resolutions. UN General Assembly Resolution 194 passed on 11 December 1948 (Article 11) offers Palestinians the right to return to their lands or to be granted compensation for their losses – stating,

“The refugees wishing to return to their homes and live at peace with their neighbours should be permitted to do so at the earliest practicable date, and that compensation should be paid for the property of those choosing not to return and for loss of or damage to property which, under principles of international law or in equity, should be made good by the Governments or authorities responsible.”

UN GA Resolution 194

Furthermore, UN General Assembly Resolution 3236, passed on 22 November 1974, declared the right of return to be an “inalienable right”.

Israelis have lived on the land for decades

Some people could argue Jews do not have an inherent right to a land that involved them dispossessing the natives of the same land. How can theft ever be deemed legitimate and “right”?  The counter to this would be that the question is really asking, “Do we accept the existence of Israel as a state?”

There are two aspects to this question. Firstly, however much some people may dislike it, Israel is really not going anywhere and most Palestinians, including the Palestinian authorities, have already accepted this and are willing to negotiate peace, based on the existence of the State of Israel.

Furthermore, many Jewish families have been living in Israel now for generations. For their Jewish children, Israel is the only home they’ve known. We must also recognise the intense emotional connection many Jews have to the state of Israel. For 2000 years they have been living as dispersed minorities, under threat and even when tolerated, they have largely been treated as second class citizens, or viewed as a fifth column with divided loyalties.

For many Jews, Israel is therefore their emotional and spiritual home – where they can feel safe as a people, speak their language, be themselves and not feel a need to adapt or compromise their identity. National identities are inevitably a tangle of ideas and selected narratives, but hold an immense power. And it is therefore hard to deny the intense connection that many Jewish people now feel towards Israel.

There is certainly a form of democracy operating in Israel and at least all citizens have voting rights and there is a lot to say for Israel’s system of proportional representation. 

Jordan is a democracy too, but could be considered ‘incomplete’ as the King has executive powers and can veto laws, suspend parliament and declare wars. And the public cannot vote in the next king. Iran is also a democracy, although the Rahbar, or supreme leader, has powers much like those of the Jordanian king and is also not electable. Turkey is a first past the post democracy. It is true that there are major issues with the electoral systems of many Arab countries that purport to be democracies. 

Supporters of Israel will sometimes therefore use the argument that Israel is the only true democracy in the Middle East, as if to suggest that it is therefore the exclusive bastion of civilisation and Western, liberal values. The key criticism to this runs as follows: how can a state be considered truly democratic when it occupies territories and denies a captive ethnicity the same democratic rights and privileges as the rest of its citizens? This is why many are arguing that Israel is an apartheid state and as such, democracy is a mere facade. 

“Even within Israel ‘proper’, Israel’s democracy is undermined by the discrimination and emphasis on being a Jewish state rather than a state of all its citizens.
Adalah, the Legal Center for Arab and Minority Rights in Israel, has compiled a database of over 50 laws that, in intention and in effect, discriminate against non-Jews, including barring state funding from institutions that talk about the Nakba, the violence against and displacement of Palestinians that began in 1948 with the creation of the state, and the law of return which grants special privileges of citizenship to Jews living around the world and excludes Palestinians from returning to their homes.
The far-right government in Israel is becoming increasingly anti-democratic, for example: passing laws that require loyalty litmus tests, undermining judicial authority, approving indefinite detention of migrants, and stripping social security benefits from families of people who commit violent attacks against Jews.”

(Jewish Voice for Peace)

Since the 1990s, there has been a trend towards increasingly right wing governments who are less tolerant of both a one-state and two-state solution. 

The Occupied Territories

Firstly, the most obvious expression of Apartheid is in the separate treatment of Arabs and Jews in the Occupied Territories. Here, though Israel has held Palestinians under occupation for over 50 years, they continue to have minimal rights, and rights that are starkly different to Jewish citizens:

  • Walled-off settlements in the occupied territories are populated almost exclusively by Jews with full Israeli citizenship rights, whilst Palestinians on the other side of the wall, on whose lands these settlements are built, are afforded no such privilege.

  • Although the occupied territories are technically governed by Palestinian authorities, because they are being occupied and controlled by Israel from the outside, they are only able to administer the things which Israel permits them to – essentially, on behalf of the occupier.

  • In fact, the PA (Palestinian Authority) only technically governs Area A of the West Bank, which is only 18% of it. Area C comprises 60% of the West Bank and is wholly governed by Israel.
  • Strictly Jewish-only roads have been constructed, which criss-cross the West Bank, connecting the illegal Israeli settlements to each other. This has been crucial in leading to the division of the West Bank into scattered territories. Palestinians in Israel/the West Bank even have to have different coloured license plates from Israelis.

  • Palestinians in the West Bank are judicially subject to Israeli military courts, whereas Israeli settlers are governed by the Israeli judiciary. This means differences in due process, not to mention that Palestinians can be imprisoned indefinitely through ‘administrative detention’, without charge or trial (B’Tselem).

  • In Gaza, we see how Palestinians are besieged under blockade from land, air and sea, and have had their rights taken away from them – even the elementary rights to clean water, right to life and to accommodation.

  • Before the 2023 assault on Gaza, leaving and entering the ‘Gaza reservation’, required the permission of Israel, which was mostly denied. Most young men from the Occupied Territories are not permitted to visit the holy sites in Jerusalem.

  • Palestinians in different territories are given different coloured identity cards, each permitting differing freedom of movement. Gazan identity cards give the least freedom of movement. This creates a “hierarchy in which Jewish Israelis have the most rights, and Palestinians are granted (or denied) rights depending on which “population group” they belong to” (See Visualizing Palestine).

  • Palestinians who are exiled outside Israel as refugees are entirely excluded, and are denied the right to live anywhere in historic Palestine.
© REUTERS/Ammar Awad

The Israeli settlement of Maale Adumim, February 2017

Source: Labour Palestine, CC License, Wikimedia Commons

Jerusalem, Road 60 Viaduct & Separation Barrier

Source: Justin McIntosh, CC BY 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons

A Palestinian boy and Israeli soldier in front of the West Bank Barrier, 2004.

Map of West Bank & East Jerusalem, B’Tselem, 2018

Brown areas (A & B) are the only areas Palestinians are allowed to live. The blue triangles are illegal Israeli settlements.

Apartheid of Israeli Arabs

Even Palestinians who were able to remain in Israel during the Nakba (‘Israeli Arabs’), and thus have full Israeli citizenship, are subject to legal discrimination, despite their citizenship. There are a number of laws which privilege Jewish citizens and disadvantage non-Jewish, and particularly Arab, citizens. These include:

  • The Law of Return
  • The 2003 Citizenship and Entry into Israel Law
  • Many laws regarding security, land and planning, citizenship, political representation in the Knesset (legislature), education and culture. 
  • The Nation-State Law, enacted in 2018, which was widely condemned in both Israel and internationally as discriminatory. 

The Nation-State Law includes the clause: “The state sees developing Jewish settlement as a national interest and will take steps to encourage, advance, and implement this interest.”

The counterclaim, by those denying Israeli apartheid, is that Palestinians are separated for security reasons. However, this argument neatly illustrates the fact that ‘there are always excuses for an atrocity – but there can be no excuse for an atrocity.’ There are extremist settlers and some extremist Palestinians. However, this does not legitimise collective punishment of either Arabs or Jews. 

Even if a population votes in a very unpleasant government, guilty of crimes against humanity, in no way does that entitle that population to collective punishment or annihilation or loss of their fundamental rights. After all, the Israeli public have voted Likud in, and the Likud government is has been ruled as “plausibly guilty of genocide” by the highest court in the world, the ICJ. We would rightfully recoil at any suggestion that Israelis therefore deserve collective punishment.

No child should be punished for the actions of their government. Regarding Hamas, the last election was in 2006, i.e. 17 years ago. So anyone who is currently under the age of 35 could not have voted them in. As half of Gaza’s population is below 18, the vast majority of the population never participated in the election of Hamas.

Gaza is a securely-enclosed ‘reservation’ for the land’s original natives. It is one of the most densely populated places in the world. 70% of the occupants were squeezed into the camp after being chased out of their homeland (i.e. refugees who aren’t originally from Gaza). Before the 2023 assault on Gaza, there was already tight Israeli control of everything – including anything coming in and out of the territory, the rights of the natives, as well as heavy surveillance and monitoring by satellite and agents of the occupying force. That is why the Israeli government has argued that they had intelligence of the possible presence of a Hamas terrorist in every apartment block that was bombed to the ground. 

With such a heavy 17-year blockade on the territory, including control of goods and people entering and exiting from land or sea (illegal under international law), Gaza has:

(a) not truly been “ruled” by Palestinians, and

(b) been prevented in economic development.

And it is therefore no surprise that youth unemployment, prior to Gaza’s recent obliteration, already ran at nearly 80%. The youth of Gaza were choked by the military occupation, into perpetual hopelessness (Unicef, 2022).

Despite such high unemployment, life was continuing in Gaza – partly due to the efforts of the civilian administration – but in the absence of an effective economy, Gaza was heavily dependent on aid from many countries and particularly the UN agency, UNRWA. 

Furthermore, Israel’s routine bombardment and invasion of the Gaza strip has led to the traumatisation of generation after generation of Palestinian children in the Gaza strip. 

Hamas has either taken advantage of this hopelessness, or reflected it themselves, by their frequent firing of rockets into Israel. Although these rockets have inflicted minimal physical damage, they have caused fear and been disruptive to the lives and economy of areas bordering Gaza, and these acts of indiscriminate bombing have to be condemned.

The Short Answer

  • Enemies have to have dialogue to end fighting and have a peaceful future – e.g. Northern Ireland and South Africa.

  • Hamas offered several times (2006, 2008, 2012, and 2017) to negotiate for peace with Israel on the basis of a two-state solution, and were rebuffed every single time.

  • Over the decades, Israel has always claimed it does not have partners for peace, while rebuffing actual attempts at peace talks, e.g. in the aftermath of the 1948 and the 1967 wars.

  • Peace has always been on Israel’s terms, which were unreasonable (see later) and have thus been unsuccessful.
  • So really the question is, do the Palestinians have any genuine partners for peace?

  • As of February 2024, Netanyahu is explicitly against a two-state solution, rejecting the formation of an independent Palestinian state. He has essentially rejected the only way towards viable peace – freedom, independence, an end to the occupation, etc.

The Long Answer

Peace negotiations are usually between sides who are bitter enemies. And it is not uncommon for each side to see the other as unjust or an oppressor or abuser of human rights, committer of atrocities or even terrorists. When there is a genuine will to end fighting and look towards a peaceful and prosperous future together, the past has to be put aside. We see examples of this in Northern Ireland and South Africa.

In the case of Israel-Palestine, both Hamas and the IDF stand accused of atrocities, but does that mean they must fight on till the Day of Judgement, or until one side is completely wiped out? Surely, at some point, laying the past to rest and engaging in dialogue has got to be the humane and rational way forward.

The First Minister of Northern Ireland, Michelle O’Neill, expressed these ideas in an LBC interview with Andrew Marr. When asked, “Do you think that Hamas, although regarded as a terrorist organisation by many people around the world, are going to be eventually a partner for peace, have to be a partner for peace?” She replied:

“Yes, I think you only have to look to our own example, to know how important dialogue is, and it is the only way you’re going to ever bring an end to conflict. If the British government didn’t talk to republicans or republicans didn’t talk to the British government in the past, in Ireland, we would not be in the scenario that we are in today enjoying a peaceful and far more equal society.”

(Belfast Telegraph)

Perhaps the real question to be asked right now is, “Do the Palestinians have any genuine partners for peace?”

No. As of February 2024, Netanyahu is explicitly against a two-state solution. He has said that “Israel will continue to oppose unilateral recognition of a Palestinian state” and that it “categorically rejects international dictates regarding a permanent settlement with the Palestinians,” seeing statehood as an “existential threat” to Israel and “huge reward” to Hamas (Reuters, 2024). Instead Netanyahu wants to, after Hamas is “destroyed”, have Israel “retain security control over Gaza to ensure that Gaza will no longer pose a threat to Israel” (Al Jazeera, 2024). 

Hamas itself offered several times (2006, 2008, 2012, and 2017) to negotiate for peace with Israel on the basis of a two-state solution, and were rebuffed every single time.

This also mirrors a historical trend where Israel has always claimed it does not have partners for peace while rebuffing actual attempts at peace talks, e.g. in the aftermath of the 1948 and the 1967 wars.* 

“For decades, Israel has delayed or obstructed constructive peace talks, while continuing to expand settlement building, by claiming it had no partner for peace. Supporters often claim that Palestinians have repeatedly rejected opportunities to have their own state, but to frame those moments as ‘opportunities’ is disingenuous. At every point, Palestinians have been asked to give up their rights to freedom and equality in the land they were born in order for Israel to maintain an exclusivist ethno-nationalist state on their homeland.

The truth is, as even Palestinian Authority senior officials have noted, that Palestinians have no partner for peace. Despite the fact that Prime Minister Netanyahu occasionally pays lip-service to the two-state solution, more settlements have been built under his leadership than any other Israeli leader. Since Netanyahu returned to power in 2009, the number of settlers in the West Bank has grown by approximately 120,000, a number not even including a sharp rise in settlements in East Jerusalem.

Israel has no interest in peace. In reality, it has demonstrated that its interest is in maintaining its control over the most amount of land with the fewest number of Palestinians.”

Jewish Voice for Peace

*Former traditional zionist historiography asserted that Israel wanted peace with its Arab neighbours in the aftermath of the war, but that none were willing to engage in peace talks. Scholarship from the New Historians has disproven that decisively and has, by contrast, highlighted Israeli intransigence (stubbornness/rejection) as the key obstacle toward peace in the immediate aftermath of 1948 (see Avi Shlaim 1988, 2000, 2009; and Benny Morris 2008).

The Palestinians have been offered statehood and independence on numerous occasions, including in 1937, 1948, 1967, 2000-2001 and 2008. In all the instances when statehood was offered, Israel supported the plan while the Palestinians rejected them.

What these facts belie, is that the offers would have been rejected by Palestinians on the basis of not being fair or reasonable. Negotiations involve a conversation; the Palestinians were given a ready made deal and only offered the choice to either accept or reject the offer. And when they reject an unreasonable offer, they are castigated as “refusing peace”.

The Palestinian people were expelled from their land and yet all peace proposals have been drafted with the prior approval of Israel – the very country that displaced the Palestinians in the first place! We all accept that compromises are required for peace but the expectation has primarily been for Palestinians to compromise and just be grateful for what they are offered.

Right of Return

Looming large in these compromises has been the insistence that Palestinians should give up any hope of returning to the 80% of Palestine (now Israel), to the towns and villages that they were driven out from, at gunpoint, i.e. accept themselves as forever remaining refugees squeezed into the parts of the 20% of Palestine marked by the Green Line (pre-1967 borders) or to remain as permanent refugees in neighbouring countries, like Lebanon, where they continue to live in squalid refugee camps, deprived of citizenship, land owndership rights, healthcare and education and the right to enter professions like medicine, law and engineering. 

Relinquishing Land

A further demand from Israel has been that Palestinians give up significant parts of the pre-1967 Palestinian land that Israelis now illegally occupy within walled-off settlements. 


Another requirement is that Palestine be demilitarised, even though this would leave Palestinians unable to defend themselves against repeated Israeli incursions and bombardments that have been their consistent experience of the Israeli military.

Western governments have been quick to insist that “Israel has a right to defend herself”, even if that has meant bombardment and brutal military occupation of Palestinian land. However, when the onslaught has drifted into serial atrocities, the killing of thousands of innocents and plausible genocide, as ruled by the ICJ, Palestinians are not expected any right to defend themselves against the aggressor. Once they are a state, how can it be fair that they should still not have a right to defend themselves, knowing they could be flattened by an aggressive neighbour at any moment?


All peace proposals have been offers which were first checked with Israel and only proposed once Israel was happy with them. You would not expect an “honest broker for peace,” which is how the US has protrayed itself, to behave with such brazen partiality towards one side.


Here are examples of why previous peace proposals fell through:

Oslo Accords

The Oslo Accords were the beginnings of a peace process and were meant to proceed to talks on statehood (which never happened and in fact was never actually, explicitly promised). They were halted because of bad faith on multiple counts, particularly the ongoing Israeli control of all the borders of the Palestinian areas, the prohibition of free movement for most Palestinians and ongoing building of Jewish Settlements by Israel, on occupied Palestinian land.

The Oslo Accords had stipulated that “neither side shall initiate or take any step that will change the status of the West Bank and the Gaza Strip pending the outcome of the permanent status negotiations”, yet due to the illegal ongoing Settlement construction, the Jewish population in the West Bank and Gaza Strip (excluding East Jerusalem) grew from 115,700 to 203,000 between 1993 and 2000.

Olmert’s Realignment Plan

The 2006 Olmert Realignment Plan, although offering an Israeli withdrawal from the majority of the West Bank, did not offer Palestinians military control of their borders and was rejected because it was again, a proposal formulated priorly on Israeli terms.


The latest situation however, puts an end to any such talks. Prime Minister Netanyahu, on 21st January 2024, explicitly rejected the possibility of an independent Palestinian state. This would mean that Palestinians, although occupied by Israel, would never be allowed either a state of their own or equal rights to the Jewish citizens of Israel (BBC News).

No. Attempts to imagine this conflict as some historical fight between two religious groups completely ignore the causal role that Zionism (a secular ethno-nationalist ideology, for the most part) played within this conflict. Zionism is a modern invention and much of the perceived antagonism between the faith groups emerged as a consequence of the zionist initiative, over the past century or so. 

In fact, the interaction between Jewish and Islamic civilisations, especially during periods of mutual respect under Islamic rule, is an important aspect of Jewish history.

Jews as ‘Dhimmis’ in Islamic Law

Jews were designated as “dhimmis” under Islamic law, which means “protected minority” – a status that offered them significant freedoms and privileges. This protection is highlighted in the following saying of Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) authenticated by Abu Dawud: 

“If anyone wrongs a Mu’ahid, detracts from his rights, burdens him with more work than he is able to do, or takes something from him without his consent, I will plead for him (the Mu’ahid) on the Day of Resurrection.” 

A mu’ahid is a non-Muslim that is safeguarded by a treaty – either because their land had a peace treaty with the Prophet’s state, or because they were citizens of the state, essentially under a ‘social contract’, i.e. dhimmis.

In exchange for a defence levy (means tested and only applied to earners who could afford the tax), minorities were exempt from military service and the subsequent risk of death. This option to avoid military service was only afforded to non-Muslim minorities, and they would not pay the tax if they chose military service instead. 

Umar’s Intervention in Jerusalem

A poignant example of this respectful coexistence is found in the actions of Umar ibn Al-Khattab, the close companion of Prophet Muhammad and second Caliph of Islam. Upon his conquest of Jerusalem, with its deeply embedded Jewish heritage, he encountered a Christian administration (Byzantine) that had deliberately kept out Jews. In an act that resonates with profound historical significance, Umar insisted that Jews be invited back to Jerusalem, reflecting his respect for the historical and spiritual connection of Jews to Jerusalem.

The Jewish Golden Age in Muslim Spain

Perhaps the most emblematic era of Jewish flourishing under Islamic rule was during the period in Muslim Spain, often referred to as the Jewish Golden Age. This epoch, spanning several centuries, saw Jews living in an environment marked by tolerance and cultural synergy. In The Ornament of the World’, María Rosa Menocal, a renowned specialist in Iberian literature at Yale University, highlights this era as a pinnacle of mutual respect and intellectual collaboration.

In Muslim Spain, particularly in cities like Cordoba and Granada, Jews attained remarkable heights in various fields. They served as doctors, philosophers, mathematicians, astronomers, poets, and rabbinical scholars. This period was not just about coexistence but about thriving in a milieu that valued knowledge, irrespective of religious or ethnic background.

Maimonides was a notable Jewish figure from this era. He was a preeminent medieval Jewish philosopher, who also wrote extensively in Arabic. His works, especially ‘The Guide for the Perplexed’, are prime examples of Jewish scholarship deeply influenced by Islamic philosophy.

13th-century Castillian depiction of a Jew and Muslim playing chess in Al-Andalus.

Source: Wikipedia

Economic Interdependence

In the medieval and Ottoman periods, economic collaboration between Muslims and Jews was significant. Jews were integral in trade, crafts, and as intermediaries in commerce due to their widespread diaspora connections. 

The Cairo Geniza documents, a treasure trove of medieval manuscripts discovered in a Cairo synagogue, provide a vivid picture of everyday life, trade, and relationships between Muslims and Jews during this period.

Jewish Physicians in Islamic Courts 

It was common for Jewish doctors to serve as personal physicians to Muslim kings and Caliphs, such as the renowned Saladin (Salahuddin Al Ayyubi). This practice underscores the trust and respect Jewish professionals earned in Islamic societies.

Rescue of Jews by Ottoman Sultan Beyazid II

Following the Christian conquest of Muslim Spain in 1492, Jews faced forced conversions to Christianity. In response, Ottoman Sultan Beyazid II sent ships to rescue them, offering refuge in Istanbul. This act signifies the Sultan’s commitment to religious tolerance and humanitarianism.

Jewish Prosperity in the Ottoman Empire

In the Ottoman Empire, Jewish communities thrived, especially in business. They played central roles in banking and finance, contributing significantly to the empire’s economic stability and growth.

Salonica’s Jewish Majority

Under Ottoman protection, Salonica (Thessaloniki, Greece) became a city with a Jewish majority, illustrating the safety and opportunities provided to Jews in the Ottoman Empire.

Jews as Diplomats and Spies

Due to their connections with Jewry in Christian countries, Jews were often trusted and valued in Islamic lands for their potential roles as allies, diplomats, and spies. 

Arabic as the Lingua Franca for Jews

For over 500 years, Arabic was the primary language for most of world Jewry, evidencing their integration, acceptance and flourishing in Muslim lands. By around 800 CE, most Jews within the Islamic Empire, which comprised 90% of the world’s Jewish population at the time, were native Arabic speakers.

Judeo-Arabic Literature

Some of the most significant mediaeval Jewish thought, halakhic works, and biblical commentaries were originally written in mediaeval Judeo-Arabic. This literary contribution highlights the cultural and intellectual fusion between Jewish and Islamic civilisations.

Muslim and Jewish Palestinians

In towns and cities across Palestine, daily life often involved interaction and cooperation between Muslims and Jews. Historical records, like court documents and travel diaries, reveal a picture of mixed neighbourhoods where Muslims and Jews lived side by side. In cities like Jerusalem, Hebron, and Safed, shared use of facilities like markets, baths, and water sources was common. These interactions, although sometimes strained, generally depict a coexistence based on mutual accommodation and necessity.

For instance, the Israeli town of Safed had been a Muslim majority town until 1948. There still remains a Jewish quarter there, evidencing centuries of a thriving Jewish community that had lived alongside the Muslim majority. It was only after the introduction of nationalism and the threat of a British division of Palestine that the two communities turned on each other, culminating in the ethnic cleansing of the Muslim majority in 1948.

Mizrahi Jews

A significant victim of Zionist ideology was the erasure of the Arab heritage of Israeli Jewish Arabs (Mizrahi Jews). After energetic push-pull factors encouraged them to immigrate to Israel from lands where they had belonged and felt safe for centuries, they were embarrassed by their Arab heritage and encouraged to effectively erase it.

Speaking of the Iraqi Jewish minority, Avi Shlaim (historian and Oxford Professor) explains, 

“The Iraqi Jewish community was the most ancient Jewish community in the world. It had been in Mesopotamia since the days of Babylon exile in the sixth century BC. And of all the Jewish communities in the Middle East, the Iraqi Jewish community was the wealthiest, the most prosperous, the most successful, and the best integrated Jewish community in the Middle East.

So, in many ways, Iraq was a model of Muslim-Jewish coexistence and the Zionist narrative is very dismissive of this civilization. It’s as if the history of the Jews of the Middle East only started once it came to Israel… In Iraq—in Baghdad—the Jews didn’t live in ghettos, they lived everywhere. And in Iraq, the Jews belonged to all social classes. We were an upper middle class, prosperous family, but there was quite a large working class and class of poor Jews. So, the Jews weren’t distinct or exclusive in any way; they were part and parcel of Iraqi society.” 

He goes on to to lament the way in which his rich Arab heritage was forcefully erased through Zionist indoctrination of the younger immigrants: 

“This was our culture. We were Arab Jews, but this culture was not welcomed in Israel at all. Israel was a new society, with a Zionist ideology of creating a new Jew who was strong and self-reliant. Israel was a reaction against the diaspora, and also we arrived in Israel after the first Arab-Israeli war of 1948. The Iraqi army had fought in Palestine in 1948. There was a backlash against the Jews in all the Arab lands, including Iraq, in the aftermath of the Arab defeat in 1948.

So, by the time we arrived in Israel in the early 1950s, the Arabs were the enemy, and Arabic was considered the language of the enemy. I was hugely embarrassed when my father spoke to me in Arabic in the street in front of my friends because I internalized the values of my new society. Everything Arab was considered hostile, foreign, alien, and primitive.”

Avi Shlaim, Current Affairs: A Magazine of Politics and Culture 

All narratives are a selection of stories and facts and it is never possible to include the whole history of any event or era. The real question with narratives is, can we look into the past to build understanding and respect and inform a positive future? And for Muslim-Jewish relations, the answer must be a resounding, “Yes!”

In a word, “No”. There are many atrocities being committed by the Israeli government at the moment in Gaza (2023/24 assault) and they need to be called out and opposed – many thousands of innocent men, women and children are being killed, through no fault of their own and without any valid justification. However those speaking out are specifically directing their voices against the government of Israel, and not the Jewish people. 

Whilst some may argue that Israel may not be systematically exterminating Palestinians, it has treated Gazans as if their lives are dispensable and is deliberately cutting off food and water and destroying infrastructure necessary for survival. On top of that, by dealing with their war objectives in a manner which clearly shows little regard for Palestinian lives (the large scale use of dumb bombs, accepting massive destruction of lives or property when there was low probability of a military target) they have committed extensive atrocities that have been carefully catalogued by South Africa in their presentation to the International Court of Justice.

The Court has thus ruled in the interim, that Israel is plausibly guilty of genocide and must desist from all its illegal offensives against the Palestinian people (Al Jazeera). It might be one word but genocide is on the most abominable end of the atrocity spectrum. 

Furthermore, by demanding most of Gaza to be depopulated, under threat of death, Israel is de facto committing ethnic cleansing. In a slower and less deadly way, this has also been going on in the West Bank. As the UN’s definition of ethnic cleansing describes:

“The Commission of Experts also stated that the coercive practices used to remove the civilian population can include: murder, torture, arbitrary arrest and detention, extrajudicial executions, rape and sexual assaults, severe physical injury to civilians, confinement of civilian population in ghetto areas, forcible removal, displacement and deportation of civilian population, deliberate military attacks or threats of attacks on civilians and civilian areas, use of civilians as human shields, destruction of property, robbery of personal property, attacks on hospitals, medical personnel, and locations with the Red Cross/Red Crescent emblem, among others.”

The Commission of Experts added that these practices can ‘…constitute crimes against humanity and can be assimilated to specific war crimes. Furthermore, such acts could also fall within the meaning of the Genocide Convention.” 

United Nations, Ethnic Cleansing Definition

At times, criticism of Israel can bleed into antisemitism and this statement from Anne Frank House highlights the risks:

Criticism of the policies of Israeli governments is not necessarily antisemitic. For instance, anyone is free to reject or criticise the political decisions of Israeli governments concerning the Palestinian territories – this is not uncommon in Israel itself. However, denying the State of Israel’s right to exist does constitute antisemitism.

Criticism of Israel often intersects with antisemitic myths and symbols. You may come across hurtful, hateful cartoons depicting wealthy Jews or suggesting that Israel manipulates global politics from behind the scenes. The use of such images and symbols perpetuates the long history of antisemitism.

Opposing the policies of the Israeli government or advocating for the rights of Palestinians is not inherently antisemitic. Nevertheless, engaging in conversation or critical debate about Israel has become increasingly challenging. Positions have hardened, and emotions run high, especially when tensions in the region rise.

A line is undeniably crossed when Israel’s right to exist is contested or when Israel is likened to Nazi Germany. Comments such as, “What Israel is doing to the Palestinians now is the same as the Nazis’ systematic extermination of Jews during the Second World War” are not only inappropriate and inaccurate but also antisemitic. Although the conflict between Israel and the Palestinians has claimed many victims on both sides, it cannot be compared to systemic extermination.

Holding Jews individually or collectively responsible for Israel’s policies and actions is also a form of antisemitism. No one is personally responsible for the deeds of their compatriots or fellow believers, or for governmental policies.”

Anne Frank House, ‘Is Criticism of Israel Antisemitic?’ 

The dangers of equating anti-zionism with anti-semitism

Paradoxically, the Israeli government’s insistence on equating zionism with all Jews, and equating anti-zionism with anti-semitism, could arguably worsen genuine anti-semitism. This is because people are being asked to equate Israel with the Jewish people, so when the Israeli government is seen as acting abhorrently, there is a risk that people could then translate that into, “Jews are acting abhorrently.”

Muslims are tired of  people making Islamophobic generalisations against all Muslims or Islam by pointing to the excesses of a specific Muslim country. We often therefore insist that no one country represents us. So, why would Jews want themselves to be represented by a country with such a bleak human rights record? And indeed, increasing numbers of western Jews are now saying that Israel does not represent them.

The war on Gaza has caused many concerned people across the world to rise in opposition. 

“This is a moment in history that will be talked about for generations and we will be all asked what we did in this moment, and there’s going to be a lot of shame…”

Craig Mokhiber, resigned Director of the New York Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights

With widespread criticism of Israel, some people may mistakenly direct their anger against all Jews because they might have seen certain Jewish voices and organisations actively defend the actions of the Israeli government. Directing anger at the Jewish community is a deplorable consequence of the war and we have to all do our utmost to oppose generalisations of a people, and specifically the rise in antisemitism. 

Anti-zionist Jews

In fact, many Jews are opposed to the actions of the Israeli Defence Force and have been joining marches in support of the Palestinians, such as the Jewish Bloc at the London marches, organisations like Jewish Voice for Peace, Na’amod and many Jewish rabbis, leaders and academics.

Non-Jewish Zionists

What is more, some of the most loyal supporters of Israel, even in the face of Israeli atrocities, are not Jews. US governments have repeatedly vetoed UN Security Council resolutions and have supported Israeli governments when they committed clear violations of International Law. It will be Western governments that have the power and influence over Israel, and are not of course Jewish, who could be guilty according to the Genocide Convention of failing to prevent Israel’s genocide in Gaza, and even for complicity in genocide, by offering Israel diplomatic or military support. 

Zionism, NOT Jews or Judaism

As for leaders protesting against Israel’s atrocities, past or present, they are usually vehement in clarifying that their opposition is specifically to the actions of the government of Israel and that in no way do they want to incite hatred of Jewish people. In fact many Jews are at the forefront of such protests. 


This conflict has also caused a rise in Islamophobia. There have been accusations by politicians and voices in the mainstream media, that Pro-Palestine marches are hate marches, and that marching on Armistice Day (2023) was unpatriotic. As a consequence, there has been a 365% upturn in islamophobia since October 2023, as reported by the IRU. This is a matter of equal concern in Britain.

There have been efforts by politicians and media outlets to conflate marches calling for peace, with support for the terrorist activities of Hamas. 

There have indeed been frequent, documented chants of “From the river to the sea, Palestine will be free” on these marches and this is argued to be a call for the eradication of Jews or the expulsion of Jews into the sea. This ambiguous statement can be read that way by some, and Jewish communities are therefore feeling alarmed and threatened by the statement. 

“Thousands of pro-Palestinian protestors took to the streets of London today, chanting ‘from the river to the sea’, a chant widely understood to be calling for the destruction of Israel.”

The Jewish Chronicle

Protesters have argued however, that this statement has been deliberately mis-portrayed and is simply a call for equal rights for Palestinians, “from the river to the sea”. 

In the Netherlands the chant has been contested in court and has been given legal protection on the grounds of free speech (Novaramedia).

“The reason why this term is so hotly disputed is because it means different things to different people,” said Dov Waxman, a professor of Israel studies at the University of California in Los Angeles…
For many Palestinians, the phrase now has a dual meaning, representing their desire for a right of return to the towns and villages from which their families were expelled in 1948, as well as their hope for an independent Palestinian state, incorporating the West Bank, which abuts the Jordan River, and the Gaza Strip, which hugs the coastline of the Mediterranean.
‘When they’re using that phrase, it’s a very personal one for them,’ said Maha Nassar, an associate professor of Middle Eastern history at the University of Arizona. ‘They’re saying, I identify with my ancestral home in Palestine, even if it’s not on a map today.‘”

The New York Times, Nov 2023

Since 2009, the Likud party has taken the lead in most Israeli governments. People might be aware that the original 1977 Likud party platform stated that “between the Sea and the (River) Jordan there will only be Israeli sovereignty.”  

It would be rather ironic for someone who supports the Israeli government to complain about Palestinian supporters chanting the actual Likud statement, “From the River to the Sea.” It would be even stranger for such an Israel supporter to accuse those chanters of supporting genocide against the Jews!

It’s worth ending with a quote from the journalist Dave Zirin, himself of Jewish heritage, writing in The Nation in November 2023: 

“No organization or mass of people on the left is calling for “Jewish genocide” at these protests. At UCLA, the chant, aimed at Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was “We charge you with genocide.”
Given the bombings of Gaza and unchecked settler violence in the West Bank, this is entirely appropriate and true. I have been to many anti-war demonstrations and vigils since the horrors of October 7, and I have witnessed no antisemitism. In fact, most have featured rabbis as speakers and coalition organizations like Jewish Voice for Peace and If Not Now.

The Nation Magazine, The Left Is Not “Anti-Jewish”

Like most religions, truth, justice and mercy are important tenets of Christianity. 

Hence, Christians, like followers of other religions, should not be offering unconditional support for any government, rather they should always be on the side of truth, fairness and the oppressed, wherever they lie.

Palestinians are Christian too

All this rhetoric belies the reality of centuries of warm Muslim-Christian relations in Palestine. Palestinians do not see themselves as exclusively Muslim, since Christians make up a sizable portion of the population. In fact, at the time of the Muslim conquest, Palestine was wholly Christian and over the centuries, many of them converted to Islam, so Christian and Muslim Palestinians see themselves as part of the same family and have always maintained a deep mutual respect, sharing centuries of friendship and neighbourliness as well as suffering together. 

For instance, Ilan Pappe details instances of how, following the ethnic cleansing of Palestinians in the first Nakba, Christians refused to return without their Muslim brethren:

“The village of Mujaydil had 2000 inhabitants, most of whom fled to Nazareth before the soldiers reached their houses. For some reason the army left these intact. In 1950, after the intervention of the Pope in Rome, the Christians were offered the opportunity to move back but refused to do so without their Muslim neighbours.”

(Pappe, Ilan. The Ethnic Cleansing of Palestine, p. 237, Oneworld Publications. Kindle Edition.)

Palestinian Christians Cancelled Christmas 

Throughout the Holy Land, 2023 Christmas celebrations were cancelled in solidarity with Palestinian brethren in Gaza. The municipality of Bethlehem organised an artwork called “Nativity under the Rubble” in Manger Square where a decorated Christmas tree usually stood. 

Cardinal Pierbattista Pizzaballa, the Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem, addressing his congregation, referred to a Bible passage that kept repeating in his mind:

“When Mary and Joseph arrived in Bethlehem she gave birth to the Lord in a manger because ‘there was no room for them’,” continuing he added, “It seems this year there is no room for the people of Gaza … Even though their suffering ceaselessly cries out to the whole world.”

(The Guardian)

“’This is what Christmas looks like in Palestine.’ A church in the occupied West Bank has changed this year’s nativity scene, laying baby Jesus in the rubble, to show solidarity with the people of Gaza.”

(Quote & Photo: Al Jazeera)

The Catholic Church

In an 8th January (2024) address, the pope condemned aggressor nations: 

“In a context where it appears that the distinction between military and civil objectives is no longer respected, there is no conflict that does not end up in some way indiscriminately striking the civilian population,” he said, adding, “the events in Ukraine and Gaza are clear proof of this.”

“We must not forget that grave violations of international humanitarian law are war crimes, and that it is not sufficient to point them out, but also necessary to prevent them,” he added.

“This is not the way to resolve disputes between peoples; those disputes are only aggravated and cause suffering for everyone,” he said, renewing his appeal for a cease-fire “on every front, including Lebanon, and the immediate liberation of all the hostages held in Gaza.”

Evangelical Churches – Supporting Israel?

It is a little unusual that key members of the evangelical branch of Christianity have made it part of their belief that Palestine must become a homeland for the Jewish people, as part of the process of the second coming of Jesus and the subsequent Armageddon. This firm belief has led to unconditional support for Israel among key Christian groups.

Lord Balfour and the then prime minister, Lloyd George were both evangelicals and are thought to have been influenced by this belief when offering a homeland to Jews on Palestinian land in 1917 (the Balfour Declaration).

About 25% of American Christians are evangelicals according to Pew research 2021 (second only to Catholics, who constitute 30% of American Christians). Christians United for Israel (CUFI) is the largest zionist organisation in the US, claiming to have 10 million members. They describe themselves as, “the foremost Christian organization educating and empowering millions of Americans to speak and act with one voice in defense of Israel and the Jewish people.”

John Hagee, an evangelical pastor and the influential founder of Christians United for Israel, on speaking to TBN Networks in December 2022 explained the prophecy which justifies their unconditional support for Israel:

“God is getting ready to defend Israel in such a supernatural way it’s going to take the breath out of the lungs of the dictators on planet Earth but we are living on the cusp of the greatest most supernatural series of events the world has ever seen ready or not.”
Hagee said when Jewish people are present in Israel “the clock starts ticking” on the rapture.

“What will come soon [is] the antichrist and his seven year empire that will be destroyed in the battle of armageddon. Then Jesus Christ will set up his throne in the city of Jerusalem. He will establish a kingdom that will never end,” Hagee said.”

The Guardian, 2023 

Following the October 7th attacks, an “Evangelical statement in support of Israel” was issued by the ethics and religion liberty commission – an arm of the Southern Baptist Convention, a denomination which has 45,000 churches in the US.

The statement reads:

“Israel stands as a rare example of democracy in a region dominated by authoritarian regimes. The tragic events of October 7th further underscore the importance of democracy in our world and stand as a sober reminder that supporting Israel’s right to exist is both urgent and needed.
In keeping with Christian Just War tradition, we also affirm the legitimacy of Israel’s right to respond against those who have initiated these attacks as Romans 13 grants governments the power to bear the sword against those who commit such evil acts against innocent life.” 

Black Churches

Most Black American church leaders united with one voice to extend Jews their sympathy and support in the aftermath of the Hamas October 7th attacks. However, as time went on, and the sheer scale of slaughter and destruction meted out by the Israeli army became evident, many Black American church leaders have started expressing grave concerns and offering their support to the beleaguered Palestinians.

On 28th January, the New York Times reported that over a thousand Black pastors representing hundreds of thousands of congregants nationwide issued a demand that the Biden administration stop the killing:

“In sit-down meetings with White House officials, and through open letters and advertisements, ministers have made a moral case for President Biden and his administration to press Israel to stop its offensive operations in Gaza, which have killed thousands of civilians.”

Barbara Williams-Skinner, the co-convener of the National African American Clergy Network, whose members lead roughly 15 million Black churchgoers said,

“Black clergy have seen war, militarism, poverty and racism all connected… but the Israel-Gaza war, unlike Iran and Afghanistan, has evoked the kind of deep-seated angst among Black people that I have not seen since the civil rights movement.”


“We see them as a part of us,” said the Rev. Cynthia Hale, the founder and senior pastor of Ray of Hope Christian Church in Decatur, Ga. “They are oppressed people. We are oppressed people.”


“This is not a fringe issue,” said the Rev. Michael McBride, a founder of Black Church PAC and the lead pastor of the Way church in Berkeley, Calif. “There are many of us who feel that this administration has lost its way on this.”

The New York Times, Jan 2024

Biblical Teachings

The Bible is a holy book rich with stories and traditions. There is always a danger when moving from ethical principles to connecting current events with Biblical stories.

The Palestinian struggle for survival could be viewed as the struggle between David, the underdog fighting for the survival of his people, and Goliath, representing an overwhelming, oppressive force bent on the destruction of the weaker people.

Some Christians voice their support for a ceasefire in the words of Jesus in Matthew (5:9), “Blessed are the peacemakers, because they will be called sons of God.”

Similarly, there are many Biblical teachings emphasising support for the poor and oppressed, such as Jesus (PBUH) in Matthew:

“Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me.’
Then the righteous will answer him, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you drink? And when did we see you a stranger and welcome you, or naked and clothe you? And when did we see you sick or in prison and visit you?’ And the King will answer them, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me.’”

(Matthew 25:34-40) 

And in the Old Testament, Isaiah (58:10) taught,

“If you spend yourselves on behalf of the hungry, and satisfy the needs of the oppressed, then your light will rise in the darkness, and your night will become like the noonday.”


By contrast, a more disturbing Biblical reference has been made, comparing Gazans to the Amalekites. Prime Minister Netanyahu himself made this link on 28th October, at the start of a “second stage” of Israel’s war on Gaza—which he described as a “holy mission”—he said, “you must remember what Amalek has done to you, says our Holy Bible. And we do remember.”

It is worth noting that the Old Testament mentions Amalek as the faithless rivals and enemies of God’s Chosen People and eventually instructs the utter destruction of the Amalekite population (i.e. genocide):

“Now go and smite Amalek, and utterly destroy all that they have, and spare them not; but slay both man and woman, infant and suckling, ox and sheep, camel and ass.”

(1 Samuel 3)

Netanyahu is not known to be religious, yet he repeated the comparison to Amalek twice, so these were not a slip of the tongue. Sadly, he is not alone in drawing this parallel. David Parsons, minister, vice president and senior spokesman for the International Christian Embassy of Jerusalem argued that Islam is imbued with the “Amalek spirit” and that, “I am on the Lord’s side as He fights with the Amalek spirit driving Hamas to unspeakable atrocities against the Jews.”

Peacemaking in Islam

The haters would have us all believe that Islam is a religion of war and that because of their faith, Muslims are commanded to perpetually conquer.

In fact, the past two centuries have demonstrated that when it comes to conquest, it was actually Christian countries and recently, Western ones, that have been bent on colonisation, conquest and commercial exploitation – and Muslims have fought merely to resist occupation and exploitation.

When it comes to seeking peace, the Qur’an plainly demonstrates how wrong those accusing Islam of perpetual war would be, because the opposite holds true: that war and enmity creates bad blood and a hundred excuses for continuous tit for tat, yet when the opportunity for peace arises, believers are asked to hold back their fears and misgivings and trust in God that peace will herald a greater good:

“But if they incline to peace, you must also incline to it, and (put your) trust in God. Verily, He is the All-Hearer, the All-Knower.”

(Qur’an 8:61)

It may be hard to imagine that after the ethnic cleansing of the 1948 Nakbah, then decades of oppression and now a ‘plausible genocide’ against them (which is the most deplorable end of the atrocity scale), that Palestinians could ever extend their hand for peace. And yet…

Hopes From a Multipolar World 

At the same time, it is clear that the Israeli government in the form of its current leadership is not interested in a peace that would stop settlements on Palestinian land (Times of Israel, June 2023), nor in an independent Palestinian state (CNN, Jan 2024). 

Although the past few decades have seen all peace proposals offered on Israel’s terms, spear-headed by the US – proposals that have failed to offer equality between the two parties – things may change as we move away from a unipolar world to a multipolar one. For example, with the growing economic and soft power of the BRICS alliance (Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa), which is set to dominate the world economy within ten years.

The Two-State Solution

Traditionally, most countries across the world had hoped to see a two state solution. This was originally proposed by the British (Peel Commission Report 1937), then UN Resolution 181 (1947) and Resolution 242 (1967). Resolution 242 of the General Assembly offered Palestinian rights, including the:

  • “right to self-determination without external interference”
  • “the right to national independence and sovereignty”
  • “right to return to their homes and property”.

These “inalienable” rights of the Palestinian people have been reaffirmed by the UN General Assembly since then on nearly an annual basis.

Currently, based on research in 2022 by PSR/Tel Aviv University (on about 2,100 randomly selected Palestinian and Jewish and Arab Israeli participants) support for a two state solution runs at 33% for Palestinians and 34% for Israeli Jews.

Problems with a Two State Solution

The trouble with the two state dream is that it is out of keeping with the changing reality which progressive governments in Israel have been keen to impose. Territory from illegally occupied Palestine (the West Bank and East Jerusalem), particularly strategic hilltops and parts of East Jerusalem, have been seized from Palestinians and converted into modern, walled-off Jewish townships. These illegal settlements now house 700,000 Jews. 

The following graph is from 2021, but sadly illegal West Bank settlements have continued to grow at the same alarming pace. The UN Human Rights Council states that, “From 2012 to 2022, the population of Israeli settlers in the occupied West Bank, including East Jerusalem, had grown from 520,000 to over 700,000″ (UN, March 2023). 

Settler population growth 1972-2018
Source: Al Jazeera, 2021

Much of the occupied West Bank has been carved up into sealed-off townships, separated by walls, checkpoints, and high speed roads for exclusive use by Israeli settlers, connecting their illegal settlements.

  • Palestinians only have complete control over small patches of the West Bank called ‘Area A’, which represents only 18% of the West Bank.

  • ‘Area B’ is inhabited by Palestinians but has overall Israeli military control.

  • ‘Area C’ is completely out of bounds for Palestinians and has essentially been annexed by Israel. Area C makes up 60% of the West Bank!

  • Importantly, Israeli settlements are present in Area C but also A and B.

  • A fourth zone which includes large sections of the West Bank, has been sealed off for “exclusive military use”, and includes all the land adjoining the River Jordan. All the land around the Dead Sea was internationally recognised as Palestinian but has been essentially annexed by Israel.

With the Palestinians now living in sealed off townships, travel between them can take the best part of a day, due to terrible queues at checkpoints. Without these restrictions, it would often take less than an hour to travel from one town to another.

This inhumane restriction in freedom of travel has crippled the West Bank economy and it is hard to imagine a viable Palestinian state in the West Bank without the erasure of the walls, settlements, military zones and checkpoints that make up Area C. No Israeli government has been willing to remove all this permanent, illegal infrastructure.

B’Tselem, 2018

Palestinians can only live in the brown areas, A and B. Full interactive map at:

Pros and Cons of a one state solution

So why do all countries not call for a single state including all the occupied territories, along with their populations, which offers equal rights for all citizens? Would that not be the normal and fair thing to do, as has been done by all the countries in history, that took territory from their neighbours? 

Well, one state in Israel-Palestine would pose a glaring hurdle: the Jewish population of such a state would be 7.2 million and the Palestinian population, 7 million. However, as Palestinians have a higher growth rate than Israelis (with the exception of ultra-orthodox Jews), before long, Jews could become the minority, challenging the very objective of a Jewish State.* 

Federal state with two states/provinces

There could be hope however, in the shape of a single Federal State with two provinces or sub-States, as you see in the US. One ‘state’ in the Federation would be made of a substantial Jewish majority and could then have a predominantly Jewish character, but many institutions, including the military, could be shared across the Federation.

Leadership could be shared using precedents from many countries where previously warring populations have agreed to live together in a single state, such as Northern Ireland, Lebanon and Bosnia. Some cross country alliances, such as the European Union function through a rotating presidency.

Sadly, there is little traction for this idea at present: the 2022 PSR/Tel Aviv University study found support at 28% among Israelis and 22% among Palestinians. It is easy to imagine that such an idea would be even less popular today, in the wake of the Israel-Gaza war. 

The Israel-Palestine conflict has been, and remains, a major obstacle for peace and prosperity in the Middle East and so we must all hope that at some point peace can and will come, with justice and dignity for both sides.


*It is worth noting that ultra-orthodox jews in Israel have by far the highest fertility rates out of all the social groups in Israel/Palestine. This is having, and will have, significant impacts on Israeli society and politics, not least because the Haredim generally refuse to serve in the IDF, and claim significant benefits from the Israeli state. The Haredi population constitute about 13% of Israelis.

Islamic Teachings on Community Relations

There is no inherent reason why Muslim and Jewish communities cannot get on well together. In fact, the Qur’an rhetorically asks Muslims why they wouldn’t be kind to their neighbours and fellow members of the community, if they are living together in peace:

“God is not forbidding you from dealing kindly and fairly with those who have neither fought you nor driven you out of your homes. Surely God loves those who are fair.” 

(Qur’an 60:8)

Jews were honoured with the title ‘People of the Book’ and whilst in the Qur’an, previous generations are sometimes castigated for specific misdemeanours, as they were by the Prophet’s time and again in the Bible, Jews and Christians of the Prophet’s time were portrayed as diverse, e.g. standing out for the nobility of their character:

“And among the People of the Book are some who, if entrusted with large amounts of gold, will readily pay it back…” 

(Qur’an 3:75)

The Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) was invited to become the leader of Medina and one of the first things he did was establish what is seen as the first ever constitution, to bind together this unique and diverse city-state. In the constitution, he specifically mentions the Jewish community of the city and that they would have equal rights as long as they were loyal to the interests of the state. Then he pronounced all the constituent faith communities of Medina as one brotherhood (ummah).

In a highly authentic narration, one companion (Qays bin Sa’d) reported,

“A funeral procession passed by the Messenger of God, peace be upon him, so he stood up. We said, ‘It is the funeral procession of a Jew.’ He, peace be upon him, replied: ‘Is it not a soul?'” 

(Al-Bukhari and Muslim)

Muslims are commanded to build a sense of community, honouring neighbourly ties. The Prophet said:

“Whoever believes in God and the Day of Judgment should either speak good words or keep silent; whoever believes in God and the Day of Judgment should treat his neighbour with kindness; and whoever believes in God and the Day of Judgment should show hospitality to his guest.”

(Authenticated by Muslim)

Aishah (the Prophet’s wife) quoted the Prophet as saying: 

“Gabriel impressed upon me kind treatment towards the neighbour so much that I thought he would even confer upon him the right of inheritance.” 

(Authenticated by Al-Bukhari)

Quite apart from other faiths, we have already seen how historically, there was a special closeness between Muslims and Jews, perhaps because they have so much in common, in terms of their customs, heritage, who they venerate and their beliefs. Arguably, in these areas, no two religions are closer.

It is quite tragic then, that the poison of nationalistic ideas, in particular the nineteenth and twentieth century idealisation of ethnically pure states (resulting in deplorable ethnic cleansing and a nation of refugees), has brought about such a painful rupture between these two faith communities.

Relationships between communities are based on stories and ideas. Muslims are taught to respect good people of whatever persuasion and to remind one another that our origin story proves us to be one family, despite our interesting differences. In fact the same verse emphasises that different communities and nations should talk, take an interest in what makes each community distinct but also through conversation, discover commonality.

“O humanity! Indeed, We created you from a male and a female, and made you into peoples and tribes so that you may get to know one another. Surely the most noble of you in the sight of God is the most righteous among you. God is truly All-Knowing, All-Aware.”

(Qur’an 49:13)

Despite global conflict, in Muslim countries, including even Iran, there are still small Jewish communities that live peacefully, honoured in their neighbourhoods.

Uniting a divided Britain?

That is an example we could follow in Britain. Indeed there are many young Western Jews that denounce the excesses of the Israeli government and show empathy for the suffering of Palestinians. But even with those that are unable to appreciate these injustices, having irreconcilable differences was never meant to prevent communities from talking and fostering friendships, respect and neighbourly ties. 

After all, even though Islam and Judaism are two sides of the same coin, there are far greater differences in belief between Muslims, Hindus and Christians, but this cannot stop us from building friendships. Muslims have a strict code against alcohol and extramarital sex, which is also an irreconcilable difference with much of society, but this also, does not prevent us from fostering friendships and treating our fellow citizens with respect. 

Quite apart from tolerance and respect, there are so many issues and concerns that we share and could work together to solve, as a united community. And a single voice, emerging from diversity, wields a unique force – a unique impact.

Cooperate with one another in acts of collective benefit and righteousness, and do not help one another in deeds that hurt humanity and in creating a wedge between people. Be mindful of God. Surely God is severe in punishment.” 

(Qur’an 5:2)

Humans have an innate, primordial need to answer the questions of who we are, where we came from, who our tribe is. One of the strengths of our country (distinct from certain other nations) is that our unique identities and communities are respected as a natural part of the human condition. Lord Parekh rightly described British society as a “community of communities”, and as the Qur’an instructs, this is beautiful and interesting and should foster conversations, a desire to seek out commonality and common causes for which we can stand together as a stronger society or ‘ummah’.

9. References and Further Reading

Al Jazeera (Jan 2024), ‘Israel’s Netanyahu doubles down on opposition to Palestinian statehood’.

Amnesty International (2022), ‘Israel’s Apartheid Against Palestinians’.

Avi Shlaim, ‘The History of Arab-Jews Can Change Our Understanding of The World’, Current Affairs: A Magazine of Politics and Culture.

BBC News (Jan 2024), ‘Israel-Gaza: Netanyahu defies Biden over Palestinian state’.

Belfast Telegraph (Feb 2024), ‘First Minister Michelle O’Neill believes Hamas will eventually be partner for peace in Middle East’.

B’Tselem, ‘Administrative Detention’.,public%20security%20require%20that%20a

Inkstick Media (2023), ‘Israel Rejected Peace with Hamas on Five Occasions’.

Jewish Voice for Peace, ‘Difficult Conversations About Israel and Palestine’.

‘Palestinian Right of Return’, Wikipedia.

Reuters (Feb 2024), ‘Netanyahu rejects international pressure for Palestinian state’.

The Independent (2018), ‘Israel passes Jewish nation law branded ‘racist’ by critics’.

Unicef (2022), ‘Fifteen years of the blockade of the Gaza Strip’.

United Nations, 2002 Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court, Article 7.

Visualizing Palestine, ‘Glossary: ID System’.