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Religious conflicts case study- Judaism and Islam; a look at the rationale behind

the suicide bomber.

This week's case study is a look at religious conflict so let's start the discussion with a
definition, for the purpose of this discussion, of religious conflict. In her piece Religious
Conflict: Definitions, Problems and Theoretical Approaches, writer Wendy Mayer
defines religious conflict as:

"...religious conflict is a complex phenomenon that engages a combination of

contested domains (ideology/morality, power, personality, space/place, and group
identity), in turn enabled by a range of other conditions (political, social, economic,
cultural and psychological)..." (Mayer)

As far as this discussion, two of the major religions in the world, Judaism and Islam and
the conflicts these two religions have faced for many years will be our target. This case
study specifically crosses over into the geographical conflicts we discussed in week two
in that the major conflict between these two religions is related to land which each side
claims (and presently occupies), that being Israel and Palestine, due in part, to the
religious meaning each places on that land (especially in the area where the City of
Jerusalem is located).

The areas in this conflict include two regions in and around the country of Israel. The
Gaza Strip is located on the southwest corner of Israel and more specifically the West
Bank which is located in the northeast corner of Israel, and is in the area where the City
of Jerusalem is located.

At this point, please watch this You Tube video which is a brief history of this region:

As discussed in the video, early in this history, the Jews and Arabs actually lived in this
area reasonably peaceably for centuries. It was the Christian influence that caused
many of the issues the region experiences today, to include the division of the lands and
the designation of who would and would not control the region. Many conflicts occurred
during this period and ultimately, in 1948, Israel was declared a nation. Once this
proclamation was made, the Arabs attacked Israel, but after 10 months of fighting, the
Israelis won not only the conflict, but much of the areas that had been originally
designated as Arabs lands. As a result, literally millions of Jews returned to the
homeland, driving millions of Palestinians out of the region.

In 1967, another conflict erupted and after 6 days, the Israeli army not only conquered
those who were attacking her, but seized even more land from Egypt, Jordan and Syria.
Again, as a result of this conflict, thousands of Palestinians left the region. After some
negotiations, the Israelis returned the seized land back to Egypt and pulled its Army out
of the Gaza Strip, but not all of the seized lands were returned. It was these areas,
dubbed the "Occupied Territories" still today, where the Israelis have built up many
Israeli occupied communities.

Hamas came about as a result of the 1993 Yasser Arafat deal to create the Palestine
Authority (PLO) and Palestine then agreed to recognize Israel. As a result, the PLO
was allowed to set up its government which was controlled by the majority party, Fatah.
Extremists who didn't agree with the Arafat deal split and Hamas was born. Hamas is
the sworn enemy of Israel and does not recognize Israel or its right to even exist. In
2006, Hamas won the elections but Fatah, refused to be the minority party to Hamas.
The Palestinian President Abbas, who aligns with the Fatah party, then pulled back from
the Gaza Strip, leaving Hamas in charge there, and concentrated his efforts in the West
Bank region. This has resulted in two Palestines; one in the West Bank that is lead by
President Abbas who has made some effort to negotiate a peace with Israel and the
other Palestine is the one located in the Gaza Strip, governed by Hamas. The Gaza
Strip Palestine, to this day, continues to deny Israel's right to exist and conducts regular
attacks of terror against that country. Because the Gaza Strip Palestine is basically
shut off from the world, on one side by the wall Israel built on the borders they share
and on the other side, from the sea (that is blocked by Israel) the Gaza Strip Palestine is
extremely poor and basically survives from the supplies it gets from the UN.

As a poor region, the Gaza Strip Palestine does not have the military resources it
"needs" to conduct its attacks on Israel and depends on countries such as Iran to supply
it with the military hardware it feels it needs to maintain its attacks on Israel. Even with
that being the case, the Gaza Strip Palestine is substantially weaker militarily than Israel
and has resorted to "asymmetrical warfare" in an attempt to even the odds.

What is asymmetrical warfare you ask? gives a good definition of the

"...warfare in which opposing groups or nations have unequal military

resources, and the weaker opponent uses unconventional weapons
and tactics, as terrorism, to exploit the vulnerabilities of the enemy...: (,

One of the most controversial tactics the Palestinians use, through the group Hamas, in
their attacks on the Israeli people is the tactic of the suicide bomber.

What is suicide bomber you ask? also gives a good definition of the
"...a terrorist who carries out a bomb attack, knowing that he or she will
be killed in the explosion also called homicide bomber;
a person who deliberately kills themselves when detonating a bomb or
committing a terrorist act..." (, 2017)
We will get back to the discussion on suicide bombers shortly, but first we need to
discuss the religious conflict component of this case study. As has been shown, the
issue in this region involves land, however, there are religions components to the wants
of this region, specifically in area where the City of Jerusalem is.

Watch this YouTube video that discusses the history behind Jerusalem and how it has
come to the state it is today (basically in Israeli control).

Next, watch this short YouTube video which explains why the City of Jerusalem, and
more importantly the Temple Mount location, is considered one of the most Holy sites to
both Judaism and Islam and as a result, is worthy (in the opinions of both sides) of
fighting for possession.

So now you have a brief history of the region, its religious motivations and have been
introduced to the tactic of suicide bombing as used by the Palestinians/Hamas against
the people of Israel. So, the question we must now face is why would a person strap a
bomb to their body, walk into an area of unsuspecting civilians, and detonate the bomb,
killing themselves and everyone within the kill radius of the bomb they are carrying?
Can any rationale justification be given for an act such as this; one most people would
never consider, regardless of the reason(s)?

In 2005, journalist Michelle Maiese wrote a piece for Beyond Intractability titled "Suicide
Bombers" where she discusses this very issue. Michelle seems to agree there is a
religious component/justification to the tactic when she writes;

"...suicide attacks are motivated by religious ideology suggest that the bombers believe
that God has sent them on a mission. They are motivated primarily by the promise of a
happy afterlife and heavenly reward and the threat of heavenly retribution Their
rationale is that by blowing themselves up in a crowd of people, they are making
themselves martyrs and forging their own gateway to heaven. Many of these individuals
are indoctrinated at an early age about the spiritual importance of purifying the world
and sacrificing their lives to a holy war. In some cases, radical religious groups use the
concepts of benevolence, self-sacrifice, and martyrdom to spread the idea that suicide
bombing is a noble and Godly act...." (Maiese, 2005)

Michelle goes on to say,

"...Terrorists tend to have an apocalyptic worldview and to see the world as precariously
balanced between good and evil. They believe that through their actions, they can
uphold their values of family, religion, ethnicity, and nationality and bring about the
triumph of the good. Acting on God's behalf to defend these values is viewed as more
important than life..." (Maiese, 2005)

Case Study Focus Question

Considering the history behind the region of Palestine and Israel, is there a religious
justification for the conflict; otherwise is either side justified in the actions of the past and
if so why? If not, again, why?

Is there a justification for the Palestinians (Hamas) using the asymmetrical warfare
tactic of suicide bombings in an attempt to regain control of their Holy sites? If so, what
is it? If not, why?