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The Common Ground News Service (CGNews) aims to promote constructive perspectives and dialogue on a broad range of issues affecting Arab-Israeli & Muslim-Western relations. CGNews is available in Arabic, English, French, Hebrew, Indonesian and Urdu. To subscribe, click here. For an archive of past CGNews articles, please visit our website at www.commongroundnews.org.
Inside this edition  
18 - 24 March 2010
Islam and Muslims on Judaism and Jews
by Mustafa Abu Sway
In the fourth article in our series on Jews and Muslims in each others' narratives, prominent Palestinian theologian Mustafa Abu Sway highlights the positive references to Jews in the Qur'an and warns that anti-Jewish narratives go against Islam.
(Source: Common Ground News Service (CGNews), 18 March 2010)
The Jewish-Islamic heritage and its contemporary significance
by Rabbi Naftali Rothenberg
Rabbi and Judaic studies professor Naftali Rothenberg calls on Jewish educators to emphasize the significant impact of Muslim thinkers on Jewish thought as an important step towards building intercultural bridges, in our fifth article on Jews and Muslims in each other's narratives.
(Source: Common Ground News Service (CGNews), 18 March 2010)
Middle East peace efforts: lessons from healthcare reform
by Amjad Atallah
Amjad Atallah, the director of the Middle East Task Force at the New America Foundation argues that peace between Israel and the Palestinians is a first rate American national security interest and that in order to achieve it the Obama Administration will have to take ownership of the process and push rapidly towards an agreement.
(Source: The Los Angeles Times, 12 March 2010)
Israel must talk to Hamas before it's too late
by David Zonsheine
David Zonsheine argues that it is in Israel's interest to talk to the Islamist movement in order to prevent further radicalisation in Gaza.
(Source: Ha'aretz, 09 March 2010)
A free people in our land
by Gershon Baskin
The debate in Israel following Vice President Biden's visit completely misses the point, says Gershon Baskin. The problem is not with Israel's relationship with Washington. It is about Israel's relationship with its neighbours and its very existence in the region.
(Source: The Jerusalem Post, 16 March 2010)
Featured Video
The Encounter organisation brings American Jewish leaders to Palestinian cities to encourage more compassion and nuance in the way they perceive the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
Islam and Muslims on Judaism and Jews
Mustafa Abu Sway
JERUSALEM - Despite being in a protracted political conflict over the Holy Land that began around the advent of Zionism more than a century ago, Jews and Muslims have common historical roots, as well as theological commonalities.

Our common roots go beyond the Abrahamic tribal constructs. Abraham himself is considered in the Qur'an as the archetypal monotheist and a true submitter to the will of God, being "neither Jew, nor Christian" (Qur'an, 3:67). However, simple commonalities do not offer in and of themselves a way forward in interfaith dialogue. Abraham should not be turned into a comfort zone or a euphemism for avoiding issues of injustice amongst his third-millennial grandchildren.

The Prophet Moses and the Children of Israel form one of the major stories in the Qur'an. It is imperative that a Muslim believes in his prophecy and the revealed Torah, in as much as it is imperative to believe in Jesus Christ and the revealed Gospel (Injeel in Arabic). Yet, according to the Qur'an, the versions of the Torah and Gospel that exist today suffer from the vagaries of transmission and human editing, having been corrupted by scribes who altered the original text.

According to the Qur'an, Jews, Christians and Muslims share the history of revelation and have common prophets and revealed messages. Moreover, all pre-Islamic revelations had the same monotheistic message, with each prophet calling his people to only worship God without worshipping anyone or anything else along with Him. The law, however, while overlapping in certain areas, differed by design: "…To each of you we prescribed a law and a method" (Qur'an, 5:48).

Keeping the Sabbath is an example of a legal issue where there are differences amongst Jews and Muslims. The Qur'an says that the Sabbath was only required of Prophet Moses' followers, meaning that it is not required of Muslims. As for the Jews who violated the Sabbath, the condemnation of this group in the Qur'an can be read as a reflection of the sanctity of the Sabbath and as an example of contextualised criticism.

There were other actions that the Qur'an condemned such as creating and worshipping the golden calf. This historical event was considered intolerable by the prophets.

Islam softens the otherness of Jews and Christians qua "People of the Book", and entrenches their rights in the Qur'an and the traditions of the Prophet. Respecting the right of the Jew and Christian to freedom of religion is an Islamic imperative (Qur'an, 2:256).
The Qur'an made it lawful for Muslims to associate with Jews (also Christians), sharing a meal, doing business with them or even marrying their daughters.

Historically, Jews, like Moses Maimonides, contributed to Islamic civilisation as philosophers and scientists. They also served in public offices in the Islamic state. Salah El-Din Al-Ayyubi appointed a Jew to serve as a high ranking minister (vizier) in his government.

Long before this, the Prophet reached out to the Jews of Medina. One of the most important historical moments between Jews and Muslims came immediately after the migration of the Prophet from Mecca to Medina. In what became known as the constitution of Medina, the Sira books (i.e. biographies of the Prophet) state that the Prophet concluded a covenant with the Jewish tribes of the city and its surroundings, the first being the "Jewish tribe of Banu `Awf forming one Ummah with the Muslims".

Another historical moment occurred during the time of Umar Ibn Al-Khattab, the second caliph, who, according to the Cairo Jewish Geniza manuscripts, brought the Jews back to Jerusalem after the year 638 CE. This is very significant as it reflects a paradigm of Convivencia between Jews and Muslims as well as between Christians and Muslims in the heart of this holy city, in addition to Andalusia and other places.

It is not possible to fully represent 1,400 years of shared history, which includes beautiful and painful moments for both sides. Nevertheless, I would like to conclude by reflecting on the current conflict. Coming from a Palestinian Jerusalemite family and living under occupation since 1967, I comprehend the moral necessity of ending the Israeli occupation and doing justice to the Palestinians who have been wronged since 1948. However, the call for justice should never translate into creating or adopting Judeophobic narratives such as the Protocols of the Elders of Zion, nor should they result in acts of injustice towards Jews. This goes against Islam.

I recognise that Jews suffered in Europe and that they needed a safe haven. I am glad to say that there was never an inquisition in the Islamic world, as in a post-Islamic Andalusia (for which both Jews and Muslims suffered). Regardless of the stereotypes, I'm proud to say, there was never a kristallnacht in the Islamic world.


* Mustafa Abu Sway is Director of the Islamic Reseach Center and Associate Prof. of Philosophy and Islamic Studies at Al-Quds University in Jerusalem. This article is part of a special series on Jews and Muslims in each other's narratives and was written for the Common Ground News Service (CGNews).

Source: Common Ground News Service (CGNews), 18 March 2010, www.commongroundnews.org
Copyright permission is granted for publication.

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The Jewish-Islamic heritage and its contemporary significance
Rabbi Naftali Rothenberg
HAR ADAR, Israel - The link between Judaism and Islam is profound and is at the root of both religious cultures. Islam sanctified and interpreted sacred Jewish texts and incorporated principles from Jewish law (Halakha) and Rabbinical sources into Islamic law (Sharia). Judaism owes Islam a huge debt for the emergence of the Jewish philosophical oeuvre of the Middle Ages. This literature, which emerged from a profound dialogue with Islam and was influenced by Islamic thinkers, includes amongst others, the writings of Rabbi Saadia Gaon, Maimonides, Rabbi Bachaya Ibn Pakuda and Rabbi Yehuda Halevy and has been a foundation stone of Jewish culture to the present day.

One can talk about a common Jewish-Islamic heritage that existed since the beginning of Islam to modern times. In the last 100 years, however, Jewish-Muslim heritage has been silenced. This is not, as some may be inclined to assume, primarily due to the Arab-Jewish conflict, but to the rise and supremacy of the hegemonic European discourse and the emphasis on the "Jewish-Christian" heritage within it.

What is the significance of the Jewish-Islamic heritage in our times? Is it possible to renew an intercultural dialogue on the basis of this heritage?

The Jewish-Islamic tradition emerged from the fertile ground of a political and cultural reality that does not exist today and we, as Jews, have no reason to miss it. The Jews are no longer a minority in an Islamic empire and therefore attempts to revive this tradition are not practical. That said, it is sensible and significant to acknowledge its existence. It is important to internalise, for example, the extent to which theological and philosophical Muslim texts like the Mu'tazila specifically, and the Kalam, were significant to Rabbi Saadia Gaon and other Jewish thinkers who followed. It is important to note how Maimonides praises the writings of al-Farabi, Ibn Baja and Ibn Roshd; how Rabbi Yehuda Halevy adopted the principle of the "mystical taste" from the ideas of al-Ghazali and how the Sufi Muslim doctrine of the "objectives of the organs and the hearts" became the basis for the book "Guide to the Duties of the Heart" by our Rabbi Bachaya Ibn Pakuda.

These writings of the rabbis and many others like them are studied all the time in various Jewish frameworks. Here we have an excellent didactic opportunity to use existing educational frameworks-both in the formal and informal education systems-to reach a wide Jewish public including many young people. It is the obligation of every teacher and educator to emphasise the Arabic sources, particularly when the writers themselves, like Maimonides, emphasised this fact. Many people are under the misperception that there are great gaps or even a clash between Judaism and Islam. Underlining the importance of Islamic sources in the works of great Jewish thinkers and entrenching an awareness of the profound dialogue that has taken place between the two religions can help correct this erroneous assumption.

This educational process would be an internal Jewish endeavour and could carry important implications. First and foremost, it could ensconce the view that the political war between Arabs and Jews is not a faith war and that the two religions must encourage and prepare both sides to think positively about peace. It could promote an understanding that Islam and Judaism can co-exist and that any generalisation distorts the picture.

Despite being primarily an internal Jewish endeavour, this process could have a tangible effect on Muslim-Jewish relations. The act of representing Islamic culture not as the culture of the enemy could empower the groups within Islam who believe in the necessity and possibility of cultural coexistence between Judaism and Islam and between the bearers of both cultures.

It is possible to renew intercultural dialogue between Jews and Muslims on the basis of Jewish-Islamic heritage. The more both Jews and Muslims are confident in themselves and at peace with their own heritage the more we can hope to attain a high level of dialogue. In this way we can hope to build a broad public infrastructure that could one day become a basis for a sustainable peace.


* Rabbi Professor Naftali Rothenberg is a senior research fellow at the Van Leer Jerusalem Institute and the town Rabbi of Har Adar, Israel.. This article is part of a special series on Jews and Muslims in each other's narratives and was written for the Common Ground News Service (CGNews).

Source: Common Ground News Service (CGNews), 18 March 2010, www.commongroundnews.org
Copyright permission is granted for publication.

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Middle East peace efforts: lessons from healthcare reform
Amjad Atallah
WASHINGTON, DC - It took a year of trying for President Obama to persuade Israelis and Palestinians to enter into "proximity talks" to resolve issues standing in the way of a final peace plan. But as we learned from the stunning announcement this week-during Vice President Joe Biden's visit to the region-that Israel had approved 112 new settlement units in the West Bank and 1,600 new settlement units in East Jerusalem, there is a lot that can go wrong.

Assuming the Israeli announcement doesn't derail the process before it gets underway, the Obama administration will need to move decisively. And in doing so, it should keep in mind three valuable lessons from the fight for healthcare reform.

The first is the importance of maintaining ownership. The administration made clear that getting affordable healthcare to all Americans was a top priority. But it then farmed out the details to legislators, who spent a year making a hash of things.

Similarly, James L. Jones, Obama's national security advisor, has made it clear that the Israeli-Arab conflict is a top priority for US national security interests in the Middle East. And it should be. Nothing would help us more in every theatre of operations than a US-engineered resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

In contrast to that assessment, however, other US officials-including Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton-have said that although the United States wants an agreement, "we can't want this more than the parties". But, in fact, the US may want an agreement more than this particular Israeli government.

Israel's Likud leadership may have agreed to resume talks, but their actions seem designed to ensure failure. In addition to approving new settlements, Israeli officials have signalled that they want to reopen issues that have already been resolved in previous talks-such as where borders should be drawn-rather than taking up where things last broke off, as called for by Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas and Tzipi Livni, leader of Israel's Kadima party.

This is oddly similar to the Republican demand that Congress go back to the beginning on healthcare in the wake of Scott Brown's election to the Senate. Revisiting issues that have already been settled is not part of an honest attempt to reach an agreement, but rather an effort to run out the clock on this president.

The administration must lay down the parameters for talks and then drive the parties to discuss areas of greatest agreement. If the parties can't ultimately agree on all issues, the United States should marshal international support for proposals that can be endorsed by the UN Security Council.

A second pertinent lesson from the healthcare process is the need to act quickly. Healthcare reform efforts have dragged on so long that opponents have had time to mount one hyperbolic attack after another. Similarly, a long negotiation process on Middle East peace would allow spoilers to mount attacks that could doom an agreement.

The Arab League, which provided Abbas the cover he needed to agree to the peace talks, has threatened to pull its support for the process in the wake of Israel's settlement announcement. Assuming the league does stay engaged, it has called for a four-month deadline for concluding the talks, which would mean they would end shortly before Israel terminates its self-proclaimed moratorium on settlement construction. Although the moratorium is rife with exceptions-as this week's announcement showed-Palestinians assume Israel will launch into an even greater frenzy of construction on Palestinian land in September.

This gives the United States precious little time to get to an agreement. But the good news is that many difficult issues have already been negotiated. The indispensable ingredient now is American political will to see the process concluded with a measure of real justice for Palestinians and security for Israelis.

The Bosnian-Croatian-Yugoslavian talks lasted years while the international community playacted at being an "honest broker". When the United States finally took charge, ramming through an agreement-even an imperfect one-peace was achieved.

A final lesson of healthcare is the need to sell the public on the process. Obama has finally taken to the "bully pulpit" to explain to Americans why the healthcare reform bill needs to be passed now-even if it is imperfect.

Israeli-Arab peace is an over-riding American national security objective, but it is also a hot-button issue domestically. Those who think Israel's borders are set by divine fiat probably can't be won over. But they are not the majority, and those who are worried about Israel's security can be convinced of the need to move forward. The majority of American Jews (including the 78 percent who voted for Obama), and the majority of American Muslims, American Christians and American Arabs all agree with the president's reading of this conflict. But the president needs to energize them to be his support network as he presses for an agreement.

This conflict remains an impediment to America's interests in the Middle East. We have no choice but to engage fully in ending it.


* Amjad Atallah is director of the Middle East Task Force at the New America Foundation and served as a legal advisor to the Palestinian negotiating team from 2000-03.. This article is distributed by the Common Ground News Service (CGNews) with permission from the New America Foundation and the author.

Source: Los Angeles Times, 12 March 2010, www.latimes.com
Copyright permission is granted for publication.

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Israel must talk to Hamas before it's too late
David Zonsheine
TEL AVIV - Israel must talk to Hamas. Not secretly. Not indirectly. Not for a politician to rehabilitate himself on the way to taking over the leadership of a party, as Kadima's Shaul Mofaz tried to do, but openly and seriously. Just as the United States regularly talks to the Israeli opposition, Israel should maintain a dialogue with the Palestinian opposition. The dialogue should cover all core issues including a final settlement.

It's not a simple matter, of course. There is agreement across the political spectrum to reduce the debate to a demonisation of Hamas, dwelling on the organisation's external attributes as perceived by Israel-religious, extremist and desiring all the territory between the river and the sea. This debate does not focus on the Israeli interest. We should be asking ourselves the following questions: Is it worthwhile to speak with Hamas? What are our reasons for not talking to them? Is boycotting them linked to an erroneous preconception?

The full text of this article can be found at: http://www.haaretz.com.


* David Zonsheine is a joint founder of an initiative seeking direct and open talks with Hamas.. This article is distributed by the Common Ground News Service (CGNews) with permission from Ha'aretz.

Source: Ha'aretz, 09 March 2010, www.haaretz.com Copyright permission is granted for publication.

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A free people in our land
Gershon Baskin
JERUSALEM - It was never really about the timing. Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu's apology to US Vice President Joseph Biden enabled the Tel Aviv University speech to conclude the visit on an up note. The ice-cold water from Washington came only after the prime minister thought that he had successfully passed through the storm.

The current government has excelled at putting the country on a collision course with the rest of the world. Unfortunately, the government and the media are focusing attention on the relationship with the US and completely missing the real point of our predicament. It is not about our relationship with Washington; it is about our existence in the region and our relationship with our direct neighbours. It is time for the Israeli public to wake up from the hibernation of a long spring of calm and comfort. The hot summer is approaching and with it disaster.

The country needs to make a choice; there is no escape from making tough decisions. The clock is ticking and soon the choice will be made for us, if we don't decide on our own. The "status quo" of business as usual, a sense of personal security and the illusion that we can keep the territories and make peace with our neighbours is about to end.

Since the signing of the Oslo agreement in 1993 the Jewish population living over the Green Line has increased by 300 percent. Even as Netanyahu repeats the "two states for two peoples" mantra, we continue to build more housing units over the Green Line. The so-called building freeze is no more than an exercise in self-delusion. The binational reality of life over the Green Line is apparent to anyone who crosses it.

The Palestinian leadership remains firmly committed to the two-state solution, but it too knows that the chances of partition based on the Green Line are rapidly fading away. Yes, the Gaza disengagement proved that settlements can be removed, but Israel is so deeply entrenched over the Green Line that a vision of peace based on an independent Palestinian state on those territories seems virtually impossible.

The country has apparently made its choice-it prefers territories to peace. By our own hands, we are putting an end to the Zionist enterprise. A people that occupies another and denies it self-determination, liberation and freedom cannot be a free people in its lands.

The average Palestinian and more so the intellectuals are voicing a new understanding: There is no longer a chance to establish an independent state in the West Bank and Gaza with east Jerusalem as its capital. A new strategy is developing and Israelis should be worried about what this strategy will mean for them.

Phase one of the strategy will be what is already being termed a "white intifada". This is a strategy for massive civil disobedience and a refusal to cooperate with the occupation. This strategy is based on non-violent confrontation with the occupation authorities. We have seen evidence of this in Bil'in, Ni'lin, Budrus, Masara and other places that are so far unfamiliar to Israeli consciousness. The Palestinian Authority is actively advancing the boycott of settlement products and will soon encourage Palestinian workers to stop working in settlements.

The challenge will be to stick to non-violence and to fine-tune their message. The political purpose of the struggle will be to give the two-state solution a final chance. The Palestinians will seek to gain international support as they will capture the higher moral ground. The world will see images of IDF soldiers shooting at unarmed crowds, including women and children, in points of confrontation at roadblocks and checkpoints, and around settlements.

Palestinians will design symbolic acts of removing roadblocks, building in Area C controlled by Israel, setting up roadblocks on settlement roads to stop and check Israeli drivers and more. Thousands will be arrested, many shot and possibly killed. Every use of force against Palestinian defiance will result in increasing support for them around the world and the continued rapid deterioration of support for Israel.

If the strategy of non-violent confrontation fails, if the price is too high to pay or if, God forbid, it turns to violence, the Palestinian national movement will drop the strategy of seeking an independent state and will call openly for full democracy within Israel-one person, one vote. This strategy will eventually be embraced by the international community as the growing delegitimising of Israel gains strength.

This year there were 40 university campuses around the world taking part in the "Israel Apartheid Week" campaign; next year it might be 400 or more. Once the Palestinians adopt the strategy of "democracy" as their solution, they cannot lose. It will only be a matter of time before the world treats Israel like it treated the last white government of South Africa.

Most of the world, and certainly the entire Arab world, has never really comprehended that the State of Israel is a nation-state of the Jewish people. Most of the world thinks of Jews as a religion and not a people. The opportunity to support a "democratic" solution to the conflict will be warmly embraced and supported because it makes more sense than partition, which gives the Palestinians only 22 percent of historic Palestine.

Israel will lose the battle. There is no longer a way to prevent the Palestinians from becoming a free people in their land. The only way to ensure that the Jewish people will remain a free people in our land is by making the decision to end its occupation over the Palestinian people. All settlement building must end now, not because of our relationship with the US but because we cannot advance peace until we do so. If we want to continue to build in those areas that will eventually be annexed to Israel, we must first negotiate an agreed border and territorial swaps.

The days of unilateralism are numbered. Israel will not be able to annex more than 3 percent of the West Bank, which would accommodate some 80 percent of the settlers. There simply is not more than that in equal territory to swap. Jerusalem must become a shared capital-if we don't share it, we will surely lose it as the eternal capital of the Jewish people.

The realities of a need for an immediate course change are so unambiguous that without it our survival as a Jewish and democratic state is sure to end.


* Gershon Baskin is the co-CEO of the Israel/Palestine Center for Research and Information (www.ipcri.org) and an elected member of the leadership of the Green Movement political party. This article is distributed by the Common Ground News Service (CGNews) with permission from The Jerusalem Post.

Source: The Jerusalem Post, 16 March 2010, www.jpost.com
Copyright permission is granted for publication.

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The Common Ground News Service provides news, op-eds, features and analysis on a broad range of issues affecting Arab-Israeli & Muslim-Western relations. CGNews syndicates articles that are constructive, offer hope and promote dialogue and mutual understanding, to news outlets worldwide.
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