It’s not a Religious War

Karl H Christ
4 min readFeb 12, 2024

The Israel-Palestine war is not a religious war, in that religion is not the cause of the war, but for some parties an excuse or justification for it. At the heart of the conflict, it is about different groups of people who want to live on and control the same land. The rough delineation of these groups puts them into two categories: Jews and Palestinians (sometimes labeled Arabs, by those that deny the existence and history of Palestine and the Palestinian people). Because one side in the conflict has a shared religion, Judaism, and much of the foundational justification for the Israeli state is rooted in religious texts, the conflict is often framed as a religious war, a war between two religions. What this overlooks is that Palestinians are not uniformly Muslim, or any single religion. A majority of them are Muslim, as is the case throughout much of the region, but there is a Christian minority and people of other religions. Prior to the founding of Israel and the start of ethnic cleansing in Palestine, there was a mix of Muslim, Jewish, Christian, and people of other faiths throughout the land.

In founding a state in which people of a particular culture or religion are made superior to others, those others are often made more entrenched and radical in their own cultural or religious identity. If a dominant group of people identifies as white and labels those who are not white as black, and treat them as inferior beings, then it is natural for resentments to brew among those labeled black, and it wouldn’t be unheard of for them to engage in acts of opposition, perhaps violently, against those labeled white. Similarly, it would not be unheard of, if a group identifying as Jewish made itself superior to others, labeling them Arabs or terrorists or anything else, for those others to be resentful and to react oppositionally, perhaps violently.

Perhaps it is naivete, but I don’t think that Palestinians actually hate Jewish people. Or rather, those that do, I don’t believe that they would if not for the policies and actions of Israel. Members of the Israeli government and its supporters have claimed that Palestinians, specifically militant factions within Gaza and the West Bank, want to kill all Jewish people, comparing them to Nazis. A major difference between the crimes committed against Jewish people by the Nazi German state is that it was a case of a powerful state abusing and killing a minority population that had done nothing to warrant such evil. Jewish people had virtually no power, had done nothing, and were scapegoated. Israel is a powerful state, which has committed war crimes, ethnic cleansing, imposed an apartheid system, and has been engaged in a campaign of genocide against a dispossessed, disenfranchised, and disempowered people, who have been made a minority population by said crimes. The Jewish people who suffer violence as a result often have done nothing personally to provoke said violence, and are victims, but it seems logically to happen because of the actions of the Israeli government, and as a result of its claim on Jewishness, rather than being caused by the victims being Jewish or the attackers’ preternatural animosity against Jewish people.

As an outside observer, it seems that militant Palestinians harbor hateful feelings and commit violent actions against Israeli Jews not because they are Jewish, but because they hold them responsible for the theft of their land, the killing of their people, and personal mistreatment. Similarly, it seems that crimes committed against Jewish people outside of Israel by those espousing solidarity with the Palestinian opposition movement do so because of an unjustified and usually falsely perceived connection between those people with Israel and the actions of the state. It seems that, in such cases, animosity against the state of Israel precipitates crimes against Jewish people, rather than a hatred for Jewish people. It appears to be a case where animosity against Israel precipitates animosity against Jews, rather than animosity against Jews causing animosity towards Israel.

If the war in Israel-Palestine were a religious war, surely Christians would be more involved. Christians have been murdered by the Israeli military. Innocent women were killed by snipers’ bullets on church grounds. Churches have been bombed. The pope himself has labeled such killings and the killing of other innocent civilians as terrorism. Yet the Christian community around the world, most tellingly in the US, has been mostly silent. By no means should there be a religious war between Jews and Christians, but such instances are evidence that this is not a war between Jews and Muslims, but Israelis and Palestinians, the majority of whom are innocent civilians.

The war is one of colonialism. It is a war in which a powerful group, many of them recent emigres or the children thereof, has taken the land through violence. It is a war between a colonizing nation and people who have been dispossessed. If it were truly a religious war, then Israel would not have a valid claim on the territory. No more than any other religious group has or should have exclusive rights to any territory. Since when are land rights determined by the mythological claims and loose geographical descriptions of 2.5 thousand year-old books? The Bible wasn’t even written until centuries after the end of the ancient United Kingdom of Israel, which lasted even less time than that, if encyclopedias and my math are to be trusted. Religious texts are not legal documents. Israel did not conquer Palestine because of Judaism any more than Europeans conquered the Americas because of Christianity. Religion has been central to many crimes and conflicts throughout history, but religion is no more than a collection of rules, stories, and fairytales, perpetuated by people. It is groups of people who, for their own intentions and prejudices, start wars, and who may exploit a religion as justification. Judaism and Jewish people are not to blame for the war. Nor are Islam and Muslims, or Christianity and Christians. It is not religion which caused the war, but a shoddy justification for it.