In November, Adam Everett Livix, an American Christian man posing as a former U.S. Navy SEAL, was arrested on weapons charges in Jerusalem. The police said he plotted to blow up Muslim holy sites in the city in order to precipitate an apocalyptic war. The Israel Police packed him off for psychiatric observation.
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Livix may prove to be mentally unstable and not fully responsible for his intended crime. The same cannot be said for the coldly calculated actions of the Israeli government, which seem as likely to bring about Armageddon as the explosives Livix was allegedly nabbed with.
The expansion of settlements in Jerusalem; the shootings on the Haram al-Sharif, which Jews call the Temple Mount and the proposed legislation deeming Israel a Jewish state, which in Israeli argot implies that East Jerusalem, as Israel’s “eternal capital,” is inherently “Jewish” — all of these actions, in which power politics is sanctified through religion, feed into Arab-Islamic reactions. There is an acute danger that the Israeli-Palestinian conflict will become a religious war, the least rational and most bloody form of armed conflict.
The surprising thing is that this policy, which was introduced by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and a few of his coalition partners, is being conducted in a period of chaos in the Arab world. At a time when President Barack Obama has sent the U.S. army to fight Islamic State, also known as ISIS or ISIL, in Iraq and Syria, Israel, which relies on U.S. military and political patronage, is adding fuel to the region’s fires. Is it possible that the Israeli government seeks to turn the conflict into a religious one, that would weaken the secular government of Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and enable Israel to maintain control of the West Bank? If that is the case, then it appears that Israel’s military-political machine has gone insane.
Yasser Arafat and his secular colleagues in the Palestine Liberation Organization fought the Israeli occupation, but not in the name of religion. Arafat sought to establish a Palestinian secular state, whose constitution would guarantee modern rights. The state of which he dreamed could be headed by a Christian or a Muslim, a believer or a nonbeliever, a man or a woman.
Arafat forged a partnership of peace with then-Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin because both men recognized that the conflict was not over scriptures or different conceptions of God but rather over territory, resources and demography. Despite their deep mutual distrust, these two leaders were able to shake hands and to sign agreements.
They are no longer alive. It is now up to both nations to decide between Armageddon and a return to the pragmatic, secular politics of my hero, Arafat, and of Rabin. As a Palestinian patriot and as a human being, my hope is that the Israeli people will reject the dangerous messianic adventures of its government and will keep religion in the place where it belongs — in the thoughts and the souls of people who seek truth and love, justice and mercy.