Two Traumatized Parties and One Possible Therapy
A three step-therapy could help solve the most intractable issue in the Israel-Palestine conflict, the question “Who is the rightful owner of the Temple Mount?”
Gottfried Hutter, at a Hanns Seidel Foundation event in Wildbad Kreuth, Sept. 21st, 2011
©“Pictorial Library of Bible Lands”, Bd. 3, www.bibleplaces.com
the hOLY sites in Jerusalem between Temple Mount/Al Haram ash-Sharif and THE HOLY sEPULCHER
First, some key data pertaining to the author:
Born 1944, 1963 my first lecture about the Prophet Mohammed, theological diploma, studies in history and political science, five years’ residence in the USA; spiritual experiences revealing a hitherto unperceived depth in the Bible pointing to other world religions, especially Hinduism and Buddhism; writing down my experiences: „The One Thousand and First Gospel”; one year as a disciple of a Sufi master in Egypt and in Sudan; then, encounter with Hassidism, studying with a Japanese master of healing, training to become a psychotherapist; working in a psychiatric institution, following which, publication of a book “Resurrection – before Death”, released 1994 by Kösel, Munich, and more theological writings for the internet. 9/11 led me to draw conclusions from my experiences, and this resulted in an Inter-Religious Vision of Peace, on which I have now been working for ten years, focusing on the crucial issue of the Temple Mount in Jerusalem.
The last and least tractable issue which will have to be resolved in any kind of solution to the Middle East Conflict will be the question “Who is the rightful owner of the Temple Mount?” The answer to this question will either validate the solution or it will re-ignite the conflict all over again. It clearly is a question of religion.
In our secular days, many people are interested in reinterpreting historical backgrounds and motives from a purely material point of view and tend to reduce the issues at stake to land, border demarcation and the like and to see religion as having no part in conflict resolution.
There is much in this view, because the original population of Palestine lost much land, yet this fails to take into account the vigor of personal identities, in which religion still plays a substantial part.
In the book “Where Heaven and Earth Meet”, for example, which deals with the Holy Esplanade in Jerusalem, the president of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, Menachem Magidor describes an experience, which came as a surprise for him when he visited the Temple Mount. He regards himself as an atheist; religion has no part in his life; but to his utmost astonishment he suddenly felt connected with the ecstasy and the reverence of the people who had in the past gathered at the Temple. Suddenly the entire history of the Jewish people was present for him as his personal history [Oleg Grabar (ed.): Where heaven and earth meet: Jerusalem's sacred esplanade. Jerusalem 2009, pages 363-365]. If this can be true for a thinking person like him, how much more will it be true for less cerebral people?
The bulk of people’s religious identity can thus remain hidden – even to those most directly concerned, while still directly affecting them. With that in mind I want to recall certain historical details which cast light on the religious aspect of identity – such as, for instance, the question “Who is the rightful owner of the Temple Mount?”
Although the Waqf, the Islamic authority responsible for the Muslim shrines up there, issued in a brochure in the nineteen thirties pointing out that the site on which the Dome of the Rock was built had been chosen because this was where the former Jewish Temple had stood, the same authority claims today that there never was any such Temple – this, in order to bolster up the Muslim claim to legal ownersship of Al Haram ash Sharif. This claim could, however, be interpreted differently, i.e. the Jewish claim would be justified, if the Temple had indeed been there.
But let’s turn from controversy towards positive considerations. When Moses left Egypt with the Israelites, he made clear to them that they had a choice: they could transform a curse into a blessing, if they really wanted to. It will be hard for someone who feels himself to be a victim to see things in that light. This might become possible only if the side perceived as the oppressor were to show compassion. That is why I am pleading for empathy. But it will help to remember that a better world will not become possible unless we start co-operating.
So let’s turn our minds to a course of action that could heal the trauma of the two parties:
Let’s begin our path of healing at the level of the Palestinians, by feeling empathy for them in their present sufferings: occupation, limited freedom to move in their own country, limited civil rights, the hardships of being refugees, fugitives, displaced persons, prisoners, dividing walls, violent deaths…
Empathy also means understanding how difficult it is for suffering people to admit their suffering, because who wants to appear weak?
Therefore, let’s begin our journey towards empathy in the past, in a wholly triumphant earlier history.
The factual events:
The history of Islam begins in Mecca: there the teachings of the Prophet Mohammed are perceived as dangerously successful. The Meccans begin to fear for their businesses, and they are plotting to kill Mohammed – and he has to flee – to Medina. There the Prophet rises from fugitive to governor. And through the victory of the people of Medina over the Meccans he is able to return to Mecca.
The battle-tested Arab tribes are impressed. They pay homage to the Prophet. And thus Mohammed succeeds in uniting them under the banner of Islam: in their experience the new religion of the Prophet provides inner peace and outward power, the basis to all the future military and spiritual successes of the Muslims.
With that Islam spreads rapidly to Syria, Jerusalem, Egypt, Persia – to China and to Spain.
In the course of this expansion, the Muslims integrate the Hellenistic philosophy and culture, and in so doing create a uniquely advanced civilization.
Let’s feel empathy for the triumphant Muslims!
Empathy enables us to understand some of the consequences:
For example that power is seen as the proof of truth.
If we consider the triumph of Islam, we can well understand the doctrine that Islam is the last religion, that which supersedes its precursors (Judaism and Christianity) and all other religions.
And we can understand, too, the very practical Sharia rule that all non-Muslims must respect the superiority of Islam, and so must accept dhimmi-status, with its special tax, its exemption from military service and certain restrictions in the practice of their own religion.
We may even be able to understand how, centuries later, one overweening Caliph in 1009 destroyed the Holy Sepulcher, thereby triggering the Crusades with all their terrible consequences, which are ingrained into the Muslim identity to this very day.
The beginning of the suffering of the Muslims
We remain in a state of empathy and witness the first backlashes for the Muslims, who had previously known only victory:
The first big military defeat the Muslims experienced exactly 100 years after the death of their prophet, in 732; it happened far north of the Pyrenees, in the area of Tours and Poitiers; the defeat was inflicted by a predecessor of Charlemagne, Charles Martel.
But in Spain a long period of prosperity followed for the Muslims.
In the 12th century, however, a “grass-roots movement”, that of the Almohades, arose and spread from Northern Africa. They perceived what today is being praised as “the high culture of Andalusia” as Muslim arrogance and a perversion of Islam. They wanted to go back to the simplicity of the origins; they fought the rulers of their period, thereby weakening Muslim Andalusia, and preparing the ground for the Reconquista.
Simultaneously the crusaders celebrated their victories in the east. As already mentioned, the Crusades were triggered by the Fatimid Caliph Hakim’s destruction of the Holy Sepulcher in Jerusalem. After a warm-up time of 90 years the crusaders were at length successful . They conquered Jerusalem and ruled over the Holy Land until 1187.
Shortly after that, in 1219, the Mongols conquered Persia; in 1258 they destroyed Baghdad – but they converted to Islam, and enabled a consolidation to take place.
The late professor Nasr Abu-Zayd saw in the Mongol take-over the reason behind the stagnation of cultural development in the realm of Islam.
In Spain, repeated Christian pushes led at length to the Reconquista. In 1492 all of Spain became Christian again. That year marks a turning point in world historical.
In the East, the Othman were taking over. In 1453 they overran Byzantium, and in 1517 they claimed the Caliphate. A long and great period of Ottoman prosperity followed.
The West gains the upper hand
In spite of this new prosperity – or perhaps because of it – the Christian West was quietly overtaking the Muslim East.
Thanks to its reintroduction via Andalusia, the philosophy of Antiquity was revived in Europe, inter alia by Thomas Aquinas. The trade barrier in the East forced Europeans to venture westwards, and this led to discovery of the Americas, also in 1492.
Two hundred years later military backlashes came from the East. Crucial was the failure of the second Ottoman siege of Vienna in 1683. From then on the Muslims were gradually pushed back in Eastern Europe.
But above all, from the Renaissance onwards, Europe provided a fertile soil for the development of science, technology and industries, such as printing, which greatly enhanced all subsequent development.
New worlds were discovered and colonized. Eventually, colonization penetrated even the realm of Islam: Napoleon’s conquest of Egypt.
Muslim self-esteem was severely damaged by these events. From the 19th century onwards, intra-Islamic counter-movements arose, such as the Wahhabis in Saudi Arabia, who today are stronger than ever before, and in 20th century Egypt the Muslim Brotherhood, which is still gaining in importance.
And in 1922, after fighting on the losing side in World War I, the long centuries of Ottoman success came to an end.
Shortly after that – at the absolute climax of most terrible experiences – Israel is implanted into the Muslim world, an entirely alien entity, which refuses to recognize Sharia and Islamic supremacy!
At this point, the Muslims need special empathy, for this is not just a matter of politics, it is essentially one of religion.
How this came about:
After American independence, efforts to attain freedom arose within the Jewish community. Consequently, Jews began again to migrate to their biblical homeland, which was now again called “Palestine”, after their ancient arch enemies, the Philistines.
The Ottoman Sultan, supreme head of all Muslims, quickly recognized the danger: the Jews might end up by reoccupying their entire “Promised Land”, and even rebuilding their Temple. That would place the Muslim sanctuaries in jeopardy. He had to stop this, and therefore decreed that no land must be sold to Jews. But immigration did not cease, on the contrary, the Zionist movement amplified the wave, underpinned by the slogan “a land without people for a people without land“.
Impressed by the still-growing movement, in 1917, during World War I, the British Lord Balfour issued a declaration stating that a homeland for the Jewish people should be prepared in Palestine.
In 1920 the League of Nations issued a mandate to the British to prepare a Jewish state in Palestine. Muslims were shocked.
In 1929 there was a major uprising of Muslims in Palestine because Jews had marched to the Wailing Wall.
Probably because of fear provokes by this development, the Palestinian Mufti Al-Hussayni in 1938 declared his support for Hitler and his anti-Jewish policies.
In 1947, the United Nations issued its plan of partition, accepted by the Jews but vehemently rejected by the Arabs. For Palestinians, this is the beginning of “Nakba”, the “catastrophe”: a non-Islamic entity is occupying their land and displacing many of its inhabitants.
Here, we need empathy for both sides!
As a response to the UN partition plan the Arab neighbors start the war of 1948 against the newly declared state of Israel with the declared aim of “driving the Jews into the sea”. It does not work. Instead there are 750.000 refugees, who are, deliberately, not integrated into the Arab world, but permanently placed in refugee camps.
The armistice moves the borders to the disadvantage of the Palestinians.
Many new attempts are started to get rid of Israel, to no avail.
During one of these attempts, the Six-Day War following an Egyptian sea blockade in the year 1967, Israel occupies the entire area West of the river Jordan, and more. This occupation continues to this very day. Many Palestinians, most of them Muslims, feel disenfranchised. They need our empathy. But the Israelis, who are the occupiers, need our empathy too. They longed for security in their homeland, and they still don’t have it.
Historical developments have not favored the Palestinians. Their self-esteem has been gravely damaged – and the self-esteem of the Muslim community, who identify with their brothers in faith, has been damaged.
Many Palestinians, mostly Muslims, had to flee, were driven off their land, were arrested or killed …
They need our empathy! We need to realize that Israeli military power is tremendously superior. The Palestinians do not have the slightest chance to prevail.
Analysis of the factors contributing to the suffering:
If we feel empathy, we are able to ask what contributes to suffering: the self-image Muslims have developed over the course of history does not allow the existence of Israel.
Thus all Arab neighbors of Israel feel under an obligation to fight the non-Islamic entity, with which, according to Sharia, Islamic law, peace is not possible.
After the means of normal warfare are exhausted, the Palestinians enter the battle – not only for themselves, but for the Islamic Umma – by committing many suicide attacks. In consequence, all over the realm of Islam these suicide combatants are revered as martyrs, while in the Western hemisphere they are seen simply as “terrorists”.
In the wider realm of Islam the struggle of the Palestinians is matched by a general fight against Western superiority.
At the forefront of that anti-Western fight in defense of Islam we see Al Qaeda – the initiators of the attack of September 11, 2001. Al Qaeda began with the resistance to the Soviets in Afghanistan, which was carried out mainly by the Muslim brotherhood and Wahabis – and financed by the Western alliance. After the Soviets were gone, the spearhead of the Islamist renewal turned against the West, the remaining enemy.
A consequence of this fight is the so-called “war on terror”.
Is there another way?
What does the violence draw upon? Traditionally, fighters have drawn upon a certain perception of their identity, one from which the other is excluded.
For that reason the Muslims were unable to say to the Jews: Come, be our guests, we are delighted to receive you, there is room for both of us! If we consider the proverbial hospitality of the Muslims, that would have been the natural reaction to the distress of the Jews that brought them to this country. But given their antagonistic identities this reaction was not possible!
New resources can heal the suffering:
The suffering is caused by antagonistic identities, in which, as already stated, religion plays a decisive role. The solution will be there once the antagonistic identities are replaced by an inclusive identity.
That inclusive identity can result from reflection on the common origin of both groups in Abraham. The recognition of a shared origin can help resolve the most difficult problem of the conflict, the question “who is the rightful owner of the place Jews and Christians call ‘the Temple Mount’?” – by conceding that the Jews should have their own sanctuary, a New Temple. – And with that the Muslim sanctuaries would be safe as well – provided a solution can be found that would suit both.
And precisely that could be achieved by means of the new resource, namely “cooperation instead of annihilation of the opponent.”
This new resource is available for Muslims, because it is prophesied in the Qur’an. Sura 5,49/51 says of the differences between the children of Abraham: “If God had so willed. He would have made you a single people, but (His plan is) to test you in what He hath given you: so strive as in a race in all virtues.” [Translation A. Yusuf Ali].
What does the new resource look like in practice?
The Qur’an demands respect for fellow human beings. That includes a favorable attitude towards their deepest longings. Jews share a very deep longing for a new Temple. Respect implies that Muslims allow a New Temple for the Jews.
Once that Temple has been built, each of the Abrahamic religions will have its own separate sanctuary. The very existence of the three sanctuaries next to one another will bring forth something new, a pan-Abrahamic sanctuary. By the mere fact of each of the three religions allowing the others too to have their own sanctuary, something new comes into existence; a new spiritual quality arises from truly acknowledging that the one God above loves them all as a father loves his children.
This is the new resource which will help overcome the antagonistic identities – and the trauma which results from them.
The pan-Arahamic sanctuary is the symbolic expression of this new resource.
To bring about that pan-Abrahamic sanctuary does not entail opening any one of the existing sanctuaries to all comers, nor does it involve a new cult or new religious teachings. Nothing need change. Everything can stay as it is. All that is needed in order to attain the new inclusive identity is the one part that is still missing: a New Jewish Temple.
But at this point we are confronted with a contradictory situation: the Muslim sanctuaries occupy the very space which Jews see as the only possible building site for their New Temple. The Muslim sanctuaries are therefore directly threatened by the Jewish claim for a New Temple – as long as no New Temple exists.
The question “who is the rightful owner of the Temple Mount?” is therefore the most difficult but, in the final anbalysis, the key question that must be answered in any attempt to finding a sustainable solution to the Middle East conflict. – We shall be getting back to this shortly.
Before we can solve this question we need to come to terms with the other party in the conflict. We have been talking now about a competition in virtue in which Muslims are competing with Jews.
The essence of their respective religions demands of both parties that they meet the others with respect. But what that really implies becomes clearer if we say that both need to feel empathy for the sufferings of the others.
The suffering of the Jews consists of having lost their homeland, being unwelcome in many places, suffering persecution, homeless, without secure borders, yearning in vain for their own great sanctuary, a New Temple.
The suffering of the Palestinians consists of having to live under occupation, not having their own state, being unwelcome in many places, being victimized every day, being regarded as inferiors, seeing their great sanctuary “Al-Haram ash-Sharif” in jeopardy.
As soon as both parties mobilize empathy, a new resource will become accessible. That resource consists of willingness to deploy virtue, as called for by their own religion, also on behalf of others.
For Muslim Palestinians this will mean:
To concede that the Jews get their own homeland.
To accept a New Temple for the Jews.
To see themselves, together with the Jews, as part of the greater Abrahamic community.
To acknowledge that the one God above them loves Jews no less than themselves!
– In fact, to understand that whoever tries to exclude people of other faiths, is thereby also excluding God.
And vice versa. All this, of course, is also true for Jews:
In contemplating the viewpoint of the Jews, we shall again need our three steps: empathy, analysis of the factors that make for suffering, and the new resource, which makes healing possible.
Let’s begin again by developing empathy for the seemingly endless suffering of the Jews:
The history of the persecution of the Jews goes back to ancient Egypt. Pharaoh enslaved the Jews. They escaped – successfully – but into the desert. They found the land of Abraham occupied by the Philistines. The Philistines played nasty games with them, but in the end, through David, they gained control over the land.
But soon new persecutions followed, at first from within: King Ahab persecuted the prophets. Then from outside: The Babylonians drove the Israelites into exile in Babylon and destroyed their Temple.
Soon after their return from exile and after they had rebuilt their Temple, they were persecuted by Hellenistic rulers. And shortly after the Maccabees had restored their independence the Romans came. After a brief period of mutual tolerance they destroyed their Temple and drove them from their Promised Land.
From then on the Jews became aliens everywhere. It was the Muslims who treated them best – but even among them they were outsiders; they often even had to wear special clothing etc. In Christian countries peaceful periods alternated with periods of gruesome persecution, which grew worse whenever the general population was suffering economic hardship. And all that culminated in the Shoah.
The Jews need our empathy – and they also need the empathy of the Muslims. The intensity and perpetual recurrence of the persecution of the Jews is hardly imaginable.
Analysis of the factors that make for suffering:
Only if we maintain a state of empathy can our analysis be fruitful. The peculiarity of being Jewish consists of awareness of being a chosen people. It makes Jews different. It explains why they are easily perceived as strangers. In addition to this, their awareness of being chosen makes for enhanced self-confidence, and consequently for enhanced abilities – with further consequences, in that those who have not developed their abilities to such a degree tend to be envious, in addition to which there will always be those among the abler ones who behave arrogantly and arouse anger. And where all of these factors combine, or where in a given country poor economic conditions cause xenophobia and envy to get out of hand, pogroms and persecution arise. Pharaoh had once enslaved the Jews because they had become too strong (Ex 1,9-11).
Holding on to our empathy we now take a closer look at history
Thousands of years of persecution culminate in the unimaginable horrors of National Socialism in Germany – nor is that the end, for what follows is the still ongoing fight of the Islamic world against Israel: no sooner had the new homeland been assigned to the Jews than they met with yet more persecution!
And at that point both sides need our empathy!
The non-acceptance of Israel has terrible consequences on both sides. Wars have led to the occupation of the rest of Palestine, terror has compelled the Israelis to build a wall, rocket attacks from Lebanon gave rise to Lebanon wars, in response to rocket-attacks from Gaza came military attacks.
The continuing terror does not allow the Israelis to live in peace, and prompts them to aggressive counter-movements.
This calls for empathy!
The endless fight against Israel enhances the Israeli ability and readiness to fight and fight on, inuring them to battle-hardness and impairing any possibility of empathy for the Arabs. Mutual reproaches are not helpful. We dearly need empathy for both sides!
Endued with empathy, we shall be able to recognize the sources of these continuous sufferings: the self-image of Jews, as it has developed throughout history, impels them to pursue complete independence, to demand a Jewish state – and, spurred on by their traumas, to try to push that aim through by any means.
A side-effect of this leads Israel to create unacceptable hardships for the Palestinians which, from their standpoint can only be seen as arbitrary harassment, such as the refusal of building permits, demolition of new constructions, extremely debilitating checkpoints, the wall, military attacks against neighbors who failed to avert terror attacks, the threat to withdraw residence or work permits, restrictions on access to religious sites – and, of course, the Israeli settlements on Palestinian land.
Why such measures? If we feel empathy, we shall perceive the age-old resource of the Israelis, which is grounded in fear. Past persecutions have made for a sense of identity that causes them to exclude others and even fight them.
For these reasons the Jews have, until now, been unable to treat Palestinians as normal citizens.
The new resources:
Both parties are already in possession of the resources needed to heal their traumas, but up until now they have been unable to access these resources.
Jews possess one special resource that has the power to heal their own, and can even enable them to heal the trauma of the Muslims. We have already seen that their suffering is caused by antagonistic features of their identity. The solution consists in allowing the replacement of these antagonistic features by inclusive features of identity. But what conditions will be needed for that to happen?
The Jews need to meditate long and hard on what it means to be “God’s Chosen People”. In relation to the conflict in the Holy Land, the Jews’ meditation can only make them realize that they need to “become healers”.
Thus the Jews could even understand the injury the Muslims felt when Israel was implanted in Palestine and recognize that their state is part of what they perceived as traditional Islamic territory. Just as a therapist in some situations needs somehow to position himself “under the carpet” in order to get through to his patients, they could now voluntarily fulfill the Sharia-law, which asks them to accept the subordinate status of Dhimmis, and to pay the prescribed tax in order to have peace – in a form that still would have to be negotiated. Only recently a renowned Israelis Rabbi told me that such a solution would not be completely inconceivable.
Meditating on the meaning of being “chosen” will in any case lead the Jews to recognizing the Muslims as their legitimate brothers and sisters in Abraham.
And furthermore Jews will recognize Christians too as their legitimate brothers and sisters in Abraham – and with that they will also contribute to healing the trauma of the Christians of the Holy Land, who also have been badly affected by the consequences of the formation of the State of Israel.
Such realizations as these could prompt the Jews to see themselves as mediators between the Children of Abraham.
And thus they could see a completely new way of realizing their 2000-year-old longing for a New Temple, because now the New Temple would not necessarily have be constructed at the original site on the Temple Mount – it could very well find its correct place as a bridge between the sanctuaries of their brothers and sisters in Abraham, between the Holy Sepulcher and “Al-Haram ash-Sharif”, the Temple Mount.
The result would be cooperation instead of elimination of the opponent.
How does the new resource look in practice?
In their function as healers, the first concern of the Jews will be atonement between the brother and sisters in Abraham.
In order to accomplish that they will come up with a great symbolic gesture, which will help to overcome the antagonistic identities and the respective traumas: they will include their New Temple in a pan-Abrahamic sanctuary, comprising the three separate main sanctuaries of the three Abrahamic religions. Without any cultic intermixture, solely through the peaceful coexistence of the three exclusive sanctuaries, something beyond them comes into existence, something which is binding upon all of them, the recognition that there is one God above them, whose desire is to look upon each one of them with benevolence – but who needs cooperation of exactly the kind that is suggested in Sura 5,49, a competition in virtue.
Regarding this aspiration, the Jews bow to the need of the Muslims for recognition and security. Out of empathy they surrender their religious entitlement to the Temple Mount, because as healers they have now found a new function for their Temple, that of the peace-bringing link between the children of Abraham.
The Community of the Children of Abraham
We will now regard the solution on the level of the community of the children of Abraham – again with our three steps towards healing: empathy, analysis of the factors contributing to suffering, and the new resource, which leads to healing.
The decision of the Jews to act as healers is based on empathy and on an analysis of the factors which contribute to suffering. Both become accessible through the new resource that the Jews have already decided to act upon: reflection upon the meaning of being chosen under the given circumstances.
It is their decision to act as healers that motivates them to transfer their rights to the Temple Mount to the Muslims.
And that again influences the Muslims gravely: The magnanimous gesture of the Jews reminds the Muslims of the Qur’anic insistence on a competition in virtue.
And that competition in virtue moves the Muslims to a magnanimous gesture of their own: They feel the tremendous sacrifice the Jews have just made. They are reminded of the sacrifice of their father Abraham who had been ready to give what was dearest to him: his son. The Jews had just shown that degree of surrender by relinquishing their rights to the Temple Mount.
The Muslims contemplate the sacrifice which is now asked of them. And, in consequence, they feel that they should vacate the halachically prescribed site of the Jewish Temple – even if that should mean losing the Dome of the Rock.
They declare their willingness – whereupon the Jews, moved by this truly magnanimous offer, make a suggestion: to extend the Holy Esplanade towards the south and to give the Dome of the Rock an equally eminent new position there – and they vow to respect all locations which are sanctified by the narrations of the Prophet’s night journey.
With that the great trauma of the conflict will be healed, because in this spirit all other issues can be solved easily by negotiation.
We started with the most difficult question: “Who is the rightful owner of the Temple Mount?” And with empathy, an analysis of the factors contributing to suffering, and through our search for new resources we arrived at a solution, which turns out to be a solution to the entire conflict.
In the end, after the parties have taken our three steps on all levels of reality, the solution may well turn out to be different in every respect from the one suggested here. But in any case, using this three step procedure, both parties can heal their traumas and gain the means to live in lasting peace with their brothers and sisters in Abraham.