It’s Your Country, but Leave It Alone

On March 1, 1899, a Muslim Arab leader in Jerusalem, Yusuf al-Khalidi, wrote a letter to the chief rabbi of France, who opposed the Zionist project:

In theory, the Zionist idea is completely natural, fine and just. Who can challenge the rights of the Jews in Palestine? Good Lord, historically it is really your country.

But in practice you cannot take over Palestine without the use of force. You will need cannons and battleships. Christian fanatics will not overlook any opportunity to incite the hatred of the Muslims against the Jews.

It is necessary, therefore, in order for peace to reign for the Jews in Turkey [that is, throughout the Ottoman Empire, which included Palestine] that the Zionist movement stop. Good Lord, the world is vast enough and there are still uninhabited countries where one can settle millions of poor Jews who may perhaps be happy there and one day constitute a nation. That would perhaps be the best and most rational solution to the Jewish question. But, in the name of God, let Palestine alone. Let it remain in peace.

It was an extraordinary statement: it is “your country,” but “let Palestine alone.” Al-Khalidi’s paradoxical but adamant opposition to a Jewish presence in the ancient land of Israel stemmed ultimately from Islamic texts and teachings that have been largely overlooked in the “Israeli/Palestinian peace process,” but which show clearly why peace negotiations are forever foredoomed to failure.

Qur’anic Antisemitism

This is because of the hatred of Jews that is embedded in the Islamic holy texts. There is a strong native strain of anti-Semitism in Islam, rooted in the Qur’an. The Qur’an puts forward a clear, consistent image of the Jews: they are scheming, treacherous liars and the most dangerous enemies of the Muslims.

The Qur’an presents Muhammad as the last and greatest in the line of Biblical prophets, preaching a message identical to theirs. The identical character of their messages may seem odd to those who know very well that the Qur’an’s contents are quite different in character from those of the Bible, but the Qur’an has an ingenious explanation for this: the original message of all the Biblical prophets was Islam, and they were all Muslims. Only later did their followers corrupt their messages to create Judaism and Christianity.

Consequently, in the Qur’an, Abraham is not a Jew or a Christian, but a Muslim (3:67); his message was identical to Muhammad’s. The Islamic claim is that the authentic Torah actually commands Jews to follow Muhammad and recognize his prophecy. Those who refuse to accept Muhammad as a prophet are, in the Muslim view, rejecting both Moses and the prophecies of the Torah. It is no surprise, then, that in the Qur’an both David and Jesus curse the disbelieving Jews for their disobedience (5:78).

Allah gave food laws to the Jews because of their “wrongdoing,” and “for their turning many from the way of Allah” (4:160), and by doing so, “repaid them for their injustice” (6:146). Some Jews are “avid listeners to falsehood” who “distort words beyond their usages.” These are “the ones for whom Allah does not intend to purify their hearts,” and they will be punished not just in hellfire but in this life as well: “For them in this world is disgrace, and for them in the Hereafter is a great punishment” (5:41).

Muslims should not get close to such people: “O you who have believed, do not take the Jews and the Christians as friends. They are friends of one another. And whoever is a friend to them among you, indeed, he is of them. Indeed, Allah does not guide the wrongdoing people” (5:51). It would hardly be appropriate for Muslims to act peaceably toward the Jews when the Jews, according to the Qur’an, are prone to war—especially against Muslims. Whenever the Jews “kindle the fire of war,” says the Qur’an, “Allah extinguishes it” (5:64).

Ultimately, Allah transforms disobedient Jews into apes and pigs (2:63–66, 5:59–60, 7:166). While the Qur’an says that Muslims are the “best of people” (3:110), the unbelievers are “like livestock” (7:179). “Indeed, the worst of living creatures in the sight of Allah are those who have disbelieved, and they will not believe” (8:55).

Someone who believes in the Qur’an as the perfect and eternal word of Allah, and the authentic Hadith as the records of the statements and actions of the man whom the Qur’an designates as the “excellent example” (33:21) for Muslims to emulate will accordingly form a negative view of Jews.

How could such a believing Muslim ever accept being friends and neighbors with “the most intense of the people in animosity toward the believers”? How can he carry out good-faith negotiations for peace with people who fabricate things and falsely ascribe them to Allah (2:79, 3:75, 3:181)? How can he trust those who claim that Allah’s power is limited (5:64) and who are “avid listeners to falsehood” and “distort words beyond their usages” (5:41)?

A pious and knowledgeable Muslim will discover in his Qur’an that the Jews are busy hiding the truth and misleading people (3:78). They staged rebellion against the prophets and rejected their guidance (2:55), and even killed them (2:61). They prefer their own interests to the teachings of Muhammad (2:87). They wish evil for people and try to mislead them (2:109), and even feel pain when others are happy or fortunate (3:120). They’re arrogant about their status as Allah’s beloved people (5:18) while devouring people’s wealth by subterfuge (4:161); slandering the true religion (4:46), and killing the prophets (2:61). They’re merciless and heartless (2:74), unrestrained in committing sins (5:79), cowardly (59:13–14), and miserly (4:53). They are under Allah’s curse (4:46, 9:30).

An informed and committed believer will look at the Jews, and in particular at Zionism and the State of Israel, and not see a struggle over land or boundaries that can be solved through negotiations if a sufficient amount of goodwill exists on both sides. Such a believer is much more likely to see the Israeli-Palestinian conflict as an eschatological struggle against the great spiritual enemies of the Muslims, as the Jews are designated in the Qur’an: “You will surely find the most intense of the people in animosity toward the believers to be the Jews…” (5:82)

There can be no negotiated settlement, and no peace, with these treacherous, untrustworthy, mendacious enemies. And the Qur’an’s condemnations of the Jews are repeatedly sweeping: the Muslim holy book refers again and again to “the Jews,” not simply to one party among them. The Qur’an does include the Jews (along with “Christians and Sabeans”) among those who “will have their reward with their Lord, and no fear will there be concerning them, nor will they grieve” (2:62), but mainstream Muslim commentators are not inclined to see this as an indication of divine pluralism. The Qur’an translators Abdullah Yusuf Ali, Mohammed Marmaduke Pickthall, and Muhammad Asad all add parenthetical glosses that make the passage mean that the Jews referred to in this passage will be saved only if they become Muslims. Qur’ adds “before Prophet Muhammad” in brackets after “Jews or Christians or Sabeans,” making it clear that those three could be saved as such only before the advent of Islam, and that now they must convert to Islam to be saved.

What’s more, the Qur’an also says that “they who disbelieved among the People of the Book and the polytheists will be in the fire of hell, abiding eternally in it. Those are the most vile of created beings.” (98:6) Those who “disbelieved among the People of the Book” are the Jews and Christians who did not convert to Islam.

These rebellious people can never legitimately govern a state. Syed Abul Ala Maududi (1903–1979), founder of the Pakistani political party Jamaat-e-Islami, declared that non-Muslims have “absolutely no right to seize the reins of power in any part of God’s earth nor to direct the collective affairs of human beings according to their own misconceived doctrines.” If they did, “the believers would be under an obligation to do their utmost to dislodge them from political power and to make them live in subservience to the Islamic way of life.” (Towards Understanding the Qur’an, vol. 3, p. 202)

Indeed. Islamic law never grants the People of the Book the same rights as those enjoyed by Muslims. Being designated People of the Book accords to Jews, Christians, and a few others only the ambiguous privilege of being allowed to practice their religions under the “protection” of Islamic law, which mandates severe restrictions to make them “feel themselves subdued” (Qur’an 9:29). The “protected peoples” (dhimmis) do not enjoy equal rights with Muslims, but they are allowed to maintain their religious identity as long as they accept the hegemony of Muslims in an Islamic state, and various humiliating and discriminatory regulations.

Thus, the Qur’an demonizes Jews in all manner of ways, and envisions their living in subservience and submission to the Muslims, not governing their own state. In light of these teachings, the Jewish State of Israel constitutes a perpetual affront to Muslims and Islam, on Qur’anic grounds.

And Islamic tradition is no kinder to the Jews.

Jews in the Hadith

The Hadith, reports of Muhammad’s words and deeds that, if deemed authentic by Islamic scholars, are normative for Islamic law, contain a great deal of anti-Semitic material. In one, as if apes and pigs weren’t bad enough, Muhammad says that a group of Jews “assumed the shape of rats.” In another, he exclaims: “May Allah’s curse be on the Jews for they built the places of worship at the graves of their Prophets.”

Islam’s most frequently repeated prayer is a passage from the Qur’an in which the believers ask of Allah: “Guide us to the straight path, the path of those upon whom you have bestowed favor, not of those who have evoked anger or of those who are astray.” (1:6–7) Muhammad explains: “The Jews are those who Allah is angry with, and the Christians have strayed.”

The most notorious anti-Semitic passage in all of the Hadith is the one in which Muhammad is made to prophesy that Muslims will bring about the End Times by killing Jews wholesale: “The last hour would not come unless the Muslims will fight against the Jews and the Muslims would kill them until the Jews would hide themselves behind a stone or a tree and a stone or a tree would say: Muslim, or the servant of Allah, there is a Jew behind me; come and kill him; but the tree Gharqad would not say, for it is the tree of the Jews.”

This passage gives all the anti-Semitism in Islam an edge of menace. Muslims are taught in their holiest books not just to despise and mistrust Jews, but that Muslims are doing a good and virtuous deed if they kill them, a deed that will bring about the consummation of all things and the dawning of eternal justice for mankind.

“Drive Them Out from Where They Drove You Out”

But even that genocidal Hadith is not the primary obstacle rendering all peace negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians fruitless. The principal stumbling block on the path to peace is the phrase “drive them out from where they drove you out” (Qur’an 2:191).

Palestinians routinely claim (falsely, as we shall see) that they were driven from their land by the Jews when Israel declared independence on May 14, 1948, and the Arab League—primarily Egypt, Syria, Iraq, Transjordan, Lebanon, and Saudi Arabia—declared war on the nascent Jewish state, determined to destroy it in its cradle. Accordingly, a Palestinian Muslim is likely to believe that driving out the Israelis from where the Muslims themselves were driven out is a divine command that must be obeyed without question.

Destroying Israel is, in light of this, a religious imperative, even an act of worship. In 2012, Hamas published a music video that included a lyric apparently inspired by the “drive them out from where they drove you out” command and the Hadith calling on Muslims to kill Jews in order to hasten the Last Day: “Killing Jews is worship that draws us close to Allah.”

A Muslim who believes that Allah has commanded him to drive out the Jews from where he was driven out, and that this command is no more negotiable or susceptible to being questioned than the Ten Commandments is by a Jew or Christian, is not likely to believe that negotiations will bring about a lasting agreement allowing Israelis and Palestinians live side by side in peace.

“Jihad,” Arabic for “struggle,” in Islamic theology primarily means warfare against unbelievers in order to establish the supremacy of the Muslims over them, and the hegemony of Islamic law. This is a religious imperative, based on the Qur’an’s command to fight against the People of the Book and ensure that they “feel themselves subdued” (9:29). It makes it impossible for Muslims to accept a Jewish state in which Muslims live, for then the People of the Book are not living in submission to the Muslims as they should, but upending the natural order of things and daring even to rule over the Muslims.

Rule of Muslims by infidels, especially those whose enmity toward the Muslims is the strongest (Qur’an 5:82) is unacceptable under any circumstances and can never be tolerated.

The Israeli-Palestinian conflict is, in short, what no policymaker, no negotiator, no one who has ever been involved with the Middle East “peace process” has ever admitted it to be: a religious war.

An Islamic Jihad

These policymakers and diplomats could have known better, however, if they had simply listened to the people who were prolonging that war. They have never made their intentions secret. The moderator at a 2012 event commemorating the forty-seventh anniversary of the founding of Fatah, the dominant group within the Palestine Liberation Organization, declared: “Our war with the descendants of the apes and pigs [that is, Jews] is a war of religion and faith.”

That would explain why, while Judea and Samaria (the West Bank) were occupied by Jordan and the Gaza Strip by Egypt from 1948 to 1967, there was no protest among the Palestinian Arabs against the “occupation,” and there were no calls for a Palestinian state including those areas. Palestinian spokesmen have again and again made it clear that the Qur’an and Islam in general, not quarrels over various patches of land or occupation or settlements, are what make the Israeli-Palestinian conflict intractable. And contrary to al-Habbash’s insistence, they have made it abundantly clear that one of their chief objections to Israel is that it is governed by, and full of, Jews.

A Qatari sheikh, Muhammad Al-Muraikhi, stated this plainly on Qatar TV on January 9, 2009. “We do not treat the Jews as our enemies just because they occupied Palestine,” he explained, “or because they occupied a precious part of our Arab and Islamic world. We will treat the Jews as our enemies even if they return Palestine to us, because they are infidels. They rejected Allah and His messengers.”

An Egyptian imam, Muhammad Hussein Ya’qoub, declared eight days later in a televised sermon that Muslim hatred of Jews had nothing to do with Israel and everything to do with the Qur’an:

If the Jews left Palestine to us, would we start loving them? Of course not. We will never love them. Absolutely not. The Jews are infidels—not because I say so, and not because they are killing Muslims, but because Allah said: “The Jews say that Uzair is the son of Allah, and the Christians say that Christ is the son of Allah. These are the words from their mouths. They imitate the sayings of the disbelievers before. May Allah fight them. How deluded they are.” [Qur’an 9:30] It is Allah who said that they are infidels….

Ya’qoub’s peroration was just as chilling:

As for you Jews—the curse of Allah upon you. The curse of Allah upon you, whose ancestors were apes and pigs. You Jews have sown hatred in our hearts, and we have bequeathed it to our children and grandchildren. You will not survive as long as a single one of us remains.

On October 5, 2018, on Not a Neighbor, a program on official Palestinian Authority television, Sharia judge Muhannad Abu Rumi denounced the idea that the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is about territory and could thus be subject to negotiations:

People could be deluded or think…that we have no way out with the Jews…. The liberation of this land is a matter of faith, which will happen despite everyone. The Jews leaving this land is a divine decree…. The war is not only over this strip of land, as you all know the Jews want everything and not just a part. They want to subjugate us, and that we be slaves to their command…

An Egyptian Muslim cleric, Sheikh Masoud Anwar, on Al-Rahma TV on January 9, 2009, also stated that negotiations with the Israelis were worthless because Jews could not be trusted. He declared: “The worst enemies of the Muslims—after Satan—are the Jews. Who said this? Allah did.” He enumerated some of what he claimed to be the negative characteristics of the Jews, including these:

Cowardice is a deep-rooted characteristic of every single Jew. Cowardice…. Clinging to life…. The third characteristic of the Jews is their treacherous nature. The Jews are violators of covenants. Whoever believes that the Jews can honor an agreement is deluding himself. Whoever claims that the Jews honor their commitments is gullible. Whoever makes fun of us, saying the Jews are divided into doves and hawks, is a liar. There are neither hawks nor doves among them. You cannot even dream of a peaceful solution with the Jews. Forget about your dreams. They are either vultures or wolves—not doves. There are no doves or hawks among them. They are all wolves. They are all wolves. The Jew holds an olive branch in one hand, and a dagger in the other.

No Israel for Jews

Others, however, have agreed that Allah gathered the Jews in Israel, even going so far as to claim that the Qur’an promises the land of Israel to the Jews, and that the Muslim claim to Israeli land is therefore illegitimate on Islamic grounds.

This is a comforting message that some of these spokesmen have taken to Jewish audiences, reinforcing in them the idea that the Islamic jihad imperative against Israel is simply the province of a tiny minority of extremists among Muslims, and that the voices of reason and moderation—and Qur’anic authenticity—will eventually prevail in the Islamic world.

Alas, these spokesmen are spreading a false message based on a partial and highly misleading reading of the Qur’an.

Those who make this argument usually base it primarily upon Qur’an 5:21, in which Moses declares, “O my people! Enter the holy land which Allah has assigned to you, and turn not back ignominiously, for then you will be overthrown, to your own ruin.” The London-based imam Muhammad al-Husseini emphasizes the views of the ninth-century Islamic scholar al-Tabari, who explains that this statement is “a narrative from God…concerning the saying of Moses…to his community from among the children of Israel and his order to them according to the order of God to him, ordering them to enter the holy land.”

Al-Tabari is not unique in this. The revered Qur’an commentator Ibn Kathir says in his interpretation of 5:21 that the Jews “were the best among the people of their time” (Tafsir Ibn Kathir vol. 3, 142) — a designation reminiscent of the Qur’an’s calling the Muslims “the best of people” (3:110). And the parallels Ibn Kathir imagines he sees between the Muslims and the Jews don’t end there—he even has the Jews waging jihad:

Allah states next that Musa [Moses] encouraged the Children of Israel to perform Jihad and enter Jerusalem, which was under their control during the time of their father Ya`qub [Jacob]. Ya`qub and his children later moved with his children and household to Egypt during the time of Prophet Yusuf [Joseph]. His offspring remained in Egypt until their exodus with Musa. They found a mighty, strong people in Jerusalem who had previously taken it over. Musa, Allah’s Messenger, ordered the Children of Israel to enter Jerusalem and fight their enemy, and he promised them victory and triumph over the mighty people if they did so.

That is not the end of the story, however. Predictably, the Jews disobeyed Allah. Consequently, says Ibn Kathir, they “were punished for forty years by being lost, wandering in the land uncertain of where they should go. This was their punishment for defying Allah’s command.” In contrast stand the Muslims: “The Muslim Ummah [community] is more respected and honored before Allah, and has a more perfect legislative code and system of life, it has the most honorable Prophet, the larger kingdom, more provisions, wealth and children, a larger domain and more lasting glory than the Children of Israel.” (Tafsir Ibn Kathir, vol. 3, 142)

And the idea that the “glory” of the Children of Israel was not “lasting” is the key to seeing the weakness of the argument that Allah promised the Land of Israel to the Jews. One might wonder why, if this exegesis is correct, the Islamic world from Morocco to Indonesia manifests such hostility to Israel. Why have so few Muslims ever noticed that Allah actually wants the Jews to possess the Land of Israel? One reason may be that they read Qur’anic passages such as 2:61, which says that some Jews who rebelled against Moses were “covered with humiliation and misery; they drew on themselves the wrath of Allah. This because they went on rejecting the Signs of Allah and slaying His Messengers without just cause. This because they rebelled and went on transgressing.”

The Qur’an also says the Jews broke whatever covenant with Allah they had:

And because of their breaking their covenant, We have cursed them and made hard their hearts. They change words from their context and forget a part of that whereof they were admonished. You will not cease to discover treachery from all except a few of them. But bear with them and pardon them. Lo! Allah loves the kindly. (5:13)

Being thus accursed according to the Qur’an, the Jews are not the legitimate inheritors of the promise made in Qur’an 5:21. The ones who are the inheritors of that promise are those who have remained faithful to Allah—the Muslims—not those whom he has accursed—the Jews.

So, What Is to Be Done?

There is no solution that will establish a permanent peace, but the problem can be managed.

Islamic jihadis respect nothing about those whom they regard as infidels except strength; indeed, Islamic law mandates that Muslims must not wage jihad when the enemy is more than twice as strong as they are and they have no chance of victory.

The key to Israel’s survival, therefore, is not negotiations or more concessions of land for a chimerical peace, but strength: military, cultural, and societal strength. If a Palestinian state is established, Israel should not only recognize that it will be its inveterate enemy from the first moment of its existence and plan accordingly, but it should also constantly shed as bright a light as it possibly can upon the Palestinian state’s jihadist activities, challenging the UN and the shapers of international opinion on their hypocrisy and the blind eye they turn to those activities. It should not pretend that the establishment of this state has solved or will solve anything.

If, on the other hand, Israel instead assumes full political control over what are at present considered to be the Palestinian territories, which would require a sea change in international politics ever to be even seriously considered, it should recognize that many, if not most, of the new Israeli Arabs would never accept its sovereignty and would constantly try to undermine the Jewish state. It should retreat from its acceptance of the “Palestinian” myth and remind the world as often as it possibly can that there is no ethnic, cultural, religious, or linguistic difference between the Palestinians, the Syrians, the Jordanians, and the Lebanese. It should challenge Syria, Lebanon, and the other Arab states on why they refuse to grant Palestinians citizenship. And it should state clearly and unapologetically its right to what are now known as the Palestinian territories. But as it does all this, it must be ready to become even more of an international pariah than it already is, for Palestinian propaganda seems constantly to outdo itself in being as mendacious as it is shrill and enraged.

These are grim scenarios. Many will prefer to be more optimistic and to press for a new round of negotiations that will surely, this time, finally hit on the solution that will bring peace. And so, they will enter into those negotiations, and the Israelis will make still more concessions to the Palestinians, and the Palestinians will give nothing of substance in return, and what will have been gained? What has Israel gained by ignoring the reality of the jihad for over four decades and pretending that the Palestinians were good-faith peace partners?

The 1,400-year history of jihad is full of infidels deluded by wishful thinking or debilitated by cowardice, and the history of the Israel-Palestinian “peace process” is full of examples of both. These fantasies have been fatal for all too many people.

It is time for Western politicians to stop whistling in the dark.

The people of Israel have endured enough. The Palestinian Arabs, in thrall to the dead-end ideology of jihad, have endured enough. All people of good will deserve better.

Headshot of Robert Spencer

Robert Spencer is the director of Jihad Watch, a Shillman Fellow at the David Horowitz Freedom Center, and a senior fellow with the Center for Security Policy. He is author of 23 books, including many bestsellers such as The Politically Incorrect Guide to Islam (and the Crusades), The Truth About Muhammad, The History of Jihad, and The Palestinian Delusion. His latest book is The Critical Qur’an. Spencer has led seminars on Islam and jihad for the FBI, the United States Central Command, United States Army Command and General Staff College, the U.S. Army’s Asymmetric Warfare Group, the Joint Terrorism Task Force (JTTF), the Justice Department’s Anti-Terrorism Advisory Council and the U.S. intelligence community. He has discussed jihad, Islam, and terrorism at a workshop sponsored by the U.S. State Department and the German Foreign Ministry.