Judaism and Zionism and Human Rights from a Palestinian Perspective: Time for forgiveness, reconciliation and co-existence
Presentation of Professor Munther S. Dajani, Professor of Political Science and Dean, Faculty of Arts, at Al Quds University to the Conference of Rabbis for Human Rights, held in Washington, D.C, 7-8 December, 2008.
I would like to thank the organizers and Professor Sari Nussiebeh, President of Al Quds University for giving me the opportunity to be among such distinguished guests.
The Talmud states:
“The best preacher is the heart; the best teacher is the time; the best book is the world; the best friend is God.”
Learning from this and taking it into consideration:
I will take the lessons of time to speak to you from the heart.
Human Rights is an old-new topic which has engaged thinkers and religious leaders over the centuries, and humanity has shown concern about it over the ages.
The reason is that man by nature aspires to be free and prosperous, and he found out that this goal cannot be found in slavery, domination, or occupation. Thus all religions and without exception and all varied philosophies and different scholars gave much attention to this subject, low and behold, and as a result, competing views persisted over what constitutes human rights and to whom would such human rights apply.
In Judaism, Christianity, and Islam, we find similar texts calling for the values embedded in human rights such as love, peace, and good behavior. And this poses a very important question: To what extent do the faithful and the believers practice those values?
To what extent do Zionists in achieving their dream of establishing a Jewish state have heeded the values of Judaism, particularly, when it calls upon Jews:
"Don't do unto others what you wouldn't want done to you"; “What is hateful to you, do not do to your neighbour. This is the whole Torah; all the rest is commentary.”
[Hillel, Talmud, Shabbat 3/9]
“PEACE WILL NOT RISE BY FORCE, BUT ONLY THROUGH UNDERSTANDING;” “ASK FOR PEACE AND PURSUE PEACE.”
Being devout Moslems, Palestinians revere Judaism and make a clear distinction between Judaism as a religion and Zionism as a political ideology committed to establishing a political entity in Palestine. They have very popular quotations from the Torah that they keep quoting such as:
“You shall not oppress the stranger, for you know the feelings of the stranger having yourselves been strangers in the land of Egypt.” [Exodus 23:9]
The HEBREW BIBLE: -- “You shall love the alien as yourself, for you were aliens in the land of Egypt.” [Leviticus 19:34]
Their understanding is that in Judaism values greatly the sanctity of human life and considers it central in the Jewish religion.
Here, one should distinguish between the Founding Fathers of the Zionist movement who were classified as secular with a political agenda, and the later Zionists who later on, developed their ideas around religious principles and are classified as orthodox Zionists who insist on injecting religious beliefs into their political agendas. Eventually, they have succeeded in developing a political platform to achieve their goals and objectives, resorting to the use of violence in the name of religion. The extent of this Zionist agenda has no boundaries. The problem here is very serious because as there are radical Zionists in the Jewish camp, who do not believe that Palestinians deserve to be treated as people with human rights, there are radical Moslems who deny the rights of the Jewish people. And here, both religions –Islam and Judaism- are being hijacked by a radical minority who use whatever tools available, far from universal religious beliefs and values that we all believe in.
Again, the problem here is much more complex than one anticipates, because radicals move you from the universal common values of religions that we have so much in common, to the particular where it is full of areas open to conflict, focusing on differences, thus widening the gap rather than bridging it.
In the politics of the ordinary man, there is a popular saying that summarizes the idea of the “Devil is in the details”. Here, the emphasis on the differences enlarges and widens the gap between communities and society as a whole to achieve political goals.
Generally speaking, Palestinians like many Arabs, are not aware of and do not comprehend the teachings of Judaism and focus on the activities of the Zionists on the ground against the Palestinian population to stereotype Jews. Zionists use the Holy Books to implement political programs which Palestinians feel in the ways it is being implemented to have nothing to do with the values of Judaism.
There is a need to use common religious values to spread the universality of its principles. Here, one should focus on empathy. I understand that a delegation of your esteemed group has just come back from the Palestinian Territories where they have spent some time in the West Bank helping Palestinian farmers in the olive trees harvest. These are the kind of activities that plant the seeds of peace and understanding not uprooting those trees or plowing them out.
What I would like to propose is that we concentrate and focus on using our religious values whether in Judaism, Islam or Christianity to spread the culture of peace, democracy, and moderation. We need to focus on the high value of saving human lives, on developing a better understanding of each other and of putting into practice important concepts such as Liberty, Equality and Justice for all, and to work on advancing among all people the culture of forgiveness, conciliation and co-existence.
Here one cannot go on with business as usual ignoring what is happening around him. We all have a collective responsibility as Jews, Christians and Moslems to advance the culture of peace and coexistence, to replace the culture of war and conflict.
This can be done through efforts of bringing change in the political and educational socialization processes by replacing concepts that feeds on fear and blame of the other to trust and acceptance of the other.
We have to get away from dehumanizing each other to humanizing one another. We need to teach our children that nobody monopolizes the truth, and to emphasize the possibility that the other point of view may be right and that we need to put ourselves in the shoes of the other before condemning him.
We live in a small world and for a short period of time so we ought to make the best out of it. We need to ask ourselves: What heritage we should leave to our children? Where is the utility in spending this short life-time in fighting wars and killing one another? Shouldn’t we spend it on constructing bridges of trust and confidence between each other and building peace and enjoying prosperity?
History has taught us again and again how easy it is to be destructive and how difficult but fruitful it is to be constructive. No doubt, building bridges of cooperation and trust is the first step in the right direction.
In conclusion, we have to continuously remember that:
“A soft answer turnth away wrath: but grievous words stir up anger.” Only faith in humanity coupled with belief can lead from darkness to light, and from ignorance to knowledge. Believe in God, the goodness of Humanity and oneself, time will heal our wounds and experience teaches us to forget and forgive. it is important to remember the wise advise in the Talmud:
“A wicked inclination is at first a guest; if thou grants it hospitality it will soon make itself master of the house.”
Similarly, if one grants human rights to be violated for a perceived pretext, then it will be easy to extend more violations in the name of the common good.
Thank you very much for your patience