Israel must acknowledge it is fighting against jihad

Accepting that Israel’s enemies are waging a religious war can reframe the narrative.

(May 1, 2024 / JNS) ALLON FRIEDMAN

Allon Friedman, MD, is a physician and president of the Jewish American Affairs Committee of Indiana.

The failure of Israel’s military and intelligence services to foresee the Oct. 7 attack was caused by an inability or unwillingness to recognize that Israel’s enemies are not fighting a standard war. They are waging a jihad.

This failure is particularly egregious given that jihad against Jews is centuries old. Jihad is a religious war and must be understood as such. This understanding is essential to Israel’s military strategy. It is the only way the Jewish state can effectively defend itself on the field of battle and in the battle for public opinion.

The renowned 15th-century Islamic scholar Ibn Khaldun stated that jihad is “a religious duty because of the universalism of the [Muslim] mission and the [obligation to convert] everybody to Islam by persuasion or by force. … Islam is under obligation to gain power over other nations.”

This definition of jihad is universally accepted by all Islamic schools of thought. It is the reason why, in the seventh century, Islam conquered the Land of Israel, which had a majority Jewish population descended directly from the ancient Israelites. Under Muslim rule, the indigenous inhabitants immediately became subject to the rules of dhimmitude, a set of onerous apartheid religious and legal restrictions that oppress and abuse non-Muslims or dhimmis.

The modern State of Israel, as historian Bat Ye’or explained, “represents the successful national liberation of a dhimmi civilization.” To many religious Muslims, this liberation is intolerable. It represents the dhimmis’ “usurpation” of territory irreversibly sacralized as Muslim property by jihad.

This is compounded by Islam’s special animus towards Jews. The enormity of this hatred was described by Muhammad Sayyid Tantawy, the former grand imam of Egypt’s Al-Azhar Mosque and grand sheik of Al-Azhar University, the leading center of Sunni learning worldwide. He documented that one-third of the Quran is devoted to describing the allegedly malevolent and perfidious characteristics of Jews and the divine curses heaped upon them.

Israel’s enemies have been very clear that their aggression is not over a piece of land. If it were, there might be some basis for peaceful negotiations. Their ideology was expressed in a 1956 fatwa signed by leading members of all four Islamic schools that stated, “Muslims cannot conclude peace with the Jews who have usurped the territory of Palestine … in any manner which allows the Jews to continue in a state in that sacred Muslim territory.”

Hamas’s more recent founding charter echoed this assertion, stating that “the land of Palestine is an Islamic Waqf [endowment] consecrated for future Muslim generations until Judgement Day” and that Israel will “continue to exist until Islam will obliterate it.”

The war of annihilation waged by Hamas and its allies is fueled by Islamic theology. It is metaphysical in nature. Thus, it is unrelenting. Before Oct. 7, Israeli intelligence services concluded that Hamas had forsaken its religious mission and adopted a more worldly pragmatism. This was an avoidable miscalculation caused by a misguided secular reading of Hamas’s profoundly religious nature.

In the Muslim world today, pro-jihad sentiment is nearly ubiquitous. A post-Oct. 7 poll conducted by the Arab Center for Research and Policy Studies found that 89% of Arabs in the Middle East reject Israel’s right to exist and 88% thought Hamas’s attack was a “legitimate resistance operation.”

Such sentiments have spread to the West. Among American Muslims, 58% felt that Oct. 7 was justified. Sermons in mosques across America express these sentiments and support the religiously sanctioned conquest of the Land of Israel “from the river to the sea.” This genocidal slogan has now spread to U.S. college campuses and city streets.

Many supporters of Israel are products of a post-religious culture. They are uncomfortable with the idea that the war against Israel is religiously inspired. Denying this fact, however, severely handicaps Israel on the battlefield. Oct. 7 demonstrated this in the most painful manner possible.

Israel will be strengthened if it acknowledges and internalizes the reality of jihad. For example, Israeli policymakers will give up on futile “land for peace” deals. Such deals are doomed to fail when Israel’s “peace partners” are driven by a jihad mindset. Instead, Israel could seek agreements with Muslim governments that have put aside religious imperatives in favor of realpolitik.

Accepting the reality of jihad will also enable Israel’s supporters to fundamentally reset the narrative. They can discredit the lie that Israel is a “settler-colonial” outpost. Instead, Israel will become the living embodiment of an indigenous dhimmi people who, after many centuries and against all odds, finally cast off the oppressive rule of a much larger and more powerful Muslim world.

Thus, Israel could no longer be accused of perpetuating the conflict through its unwillingness to compromise on land or other issues. It would become clear that the rigid, irredentist nature of jihad is perpetuating the conflict.

Finally, a reset narrative can attract hundreds of millions of natural allies from Southeast Asia to the Indian subcontinent to Africa and even the West who are themselves victims of or feel threatened by jihad.

Israel has always struggled against attempts to slander it as an aggressive, oppressor nation. By finally recognizing that Israel faces a jihad, a religious war, Israel’s supporters can effectively reframe the conflict, expose the enemy’s radical objectives, generate sympathy, recruit allies and develop strategies more likely to lead to peace.

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