The recent murders of five people in a synagogue, and the subsequent shooting deaths of the two Palestinian perpetrators, has caused some to bemoan the emergence of a “holy war” in Palestine. To them, things suddenly seem worse – more darkly impressive – now that Jews have been killed in a synagogue. Their new line is that a “political” grievance can be resolved through “negotiation” but that a religious conflict cannot. Religious conflicts, it is implied, are zero-sum propositions. They are annihilationist undertakings. Kill, Kill, Kill or be killed.
People – anyone with an internet connection and an interest in the news – may be confused. They may ask, Who are these individuals who forecast new rigidness and zealotry in an old conflict? Who can possibly be arguing that the Palestine-Israel conflict will suddenly be transformed into… a zero-sum game? Can it be the ethnically cleansed, or the isolated and savagely put down? Is it the living members of the mostly dead families in Gaza? Or perhaps it is the incarcerated or newly homeless, the impoverished and racially agonized.
The people who grieve loudly about the emergence of a holy war in Palestine are the people who understand the place least. When it is liberal Zionists, it is because they understand themselves and their history least. The cultish adherents to Jewish exceptionalism cannot be expected to reflect seriously on the true content of their dogma and its clearly articulated goal of elimination and marginalization. When it is members of the Palestinian Authority, it is because they misunderstand their role and place in Palestinian history. They view their superficial secularism as a political qualification – while failing to understand that their interlocutors’ Messianism (Ben Gurion or the Messiah?) precludes politics.
In a very real way, the war waged on Palestinian lives and livelihoods has always been a holy war, irrespective of whether Palestinians drink whiskey or sahlab. Zionism is a religion that draws power through collectivism and idolatry. The religion’s purgatory, totalitarian logic moves believers to act – ruthlessly and single-mindedly. The war to purge Palestine and vanquish the Palestinians has always been a holy war. And the fight to abolish Zionism is an absolute one; equal rights is an absolute position.
So why is anyone talking about a “holy war?”
In Israel, the discussion of a conflict infused with Judaica’s symbols unfolding on a Jewish landscape is a real one. There is a religious war developing there, but it’s an internecine one. Like other fundamentalisms before it, Zionism has turned inward, schismatically, even as it continues to devour the Palestinians. In the broadest terms, it’s the 1948 Zionists – those who believe in ethnic cleansing and hope to see more of it – versus the 1967 Zionists – or those who believe in ethnic cleansing, but choose to pretend it was a mistake, or necessary, or something.
Is the new war important? Is it meaningful? From the Palestinian perspective it’s hard to care. The rape analogy has come to be a favorite one among liberal Zionists. They obliquely acknowledge the Nakba when they say: Even a child born of rape deserves to live.
But no one ever wonders whether the rapist wept during the act, particularly when it’s been ongoing. For about seventy years at this point.