At the heart of the ongoing conflict in the Middle East is ongoing hatred among Muslim nations toward Israel and the Jewish people. What are the underlying causes?
The conflict between the Israelis and surrounding Muslim nations has been raging since the Jewish state's inception —and the origins go back much further. Today the hostility is growing in openness and intensity, making the prospects for peace in the Middle East dim.
The Arab Spring uprisings throughout the region are allowing the wider expression of popular sentiments among the Muslim masses—inflaming the ancient animosity.
While not all Muslims feel antipathy toward Jews and Israel, there is widespread dislike and resentment by the majority, as repeatedly borne out in polls and surveys. The Pew Global Attitudes Project survey conducted last summer found that almost no one in the Muslim Middle East thinks positively toward Israel and the Jewish people.
"Ratings of Jews are dismal in the seven predominantly Muslim nations surveyed" (Pew Research Center, Common Concerns About Islamic Extremism: Muslim-Western Tensions Persist, July 21, 2011, p. 22). In the six of these nations that are in the Middle East or adjacent to it, only 2 to 4 percent express favorable opinions of Jews.
It is amazing that the small nation of Israel, composed of only about 8,000 square miles of land—roughly two times the size of Rhode Island—generates so much ill feeling.
Israel's territory is only about one-sixth of one percent that of the 22 hostile Arab nations that are 640 times her size. And they have 45 times more people than Israel—340 million Arabs versus 7.7 million Israeli citizens (more than a million of whom are themselves Arab).
Yet fiery rhetoric calling for the destruction of Israel can be heard in political speeches and mosque sermons throughout the Muslim world, from Iran to Libya and in other places around the globe—including Western nations.
An example of the growing hostility toward Israel can be found across its southern border in Egypt with the increasing influence there of the Muslim Brotherhood. This organization has sired 86 branches across the Islamic world since the 1920s. The more dominant ones are in Egypt, Jordan, Syria and the Palestinian territories (the branch in the latter being the terror group Hamas, which now runs Gaza).
Comments like the following from Muslim Brotherhood spokesman Kamal al Halbawi, made while speaking at an official visit to Iran in July 2011, are all too common: "Both nations [Iran and Egypt] underline the necessity for Muslim nations to maintain solidarity and unity to annihilate this cancerous tumor (Israel) . . . Every night when I go to bed, I pray to wake up the next day to see Israel is wiped off the map" (quoted by "ADL [Anti-Defamation League] Report: Muslim Brotherhood's Open Hostility to Israel Could Play Destabilizing Role In Egypt And Region," ADL.org, Sept. 19, 2011).
Let's consider the root causes of such widespread Muslim animosity against Israel.
Indoctrination and propaganda
Conflict between Muslims Jews, and Christians has been around since Islam began in the seventh century A.D. But it's been exacerbated in recent times by an indoctrination of religious intolerance and anti-Semitic propaganda in the Muslim world.
The indoctrination is led by Saudi Arabia, the birthplace of Islam, which has been asserting itself as the world's authoritative voice for the religion. An important avenue for its gaining influence has been through Saudi charities funding Wahhabi madrassas (schools) and mosques in many nations (Wahhabism being an extremist form of Islam embraced by terror groups like al-Qaeda).
An illustration of the ongoing indoctrination is furnished by a 2006 study by theCenter for Religious Freedom and the Institute for Gulf Affairs: "As demonstrated by excerpts from the dozen current Islamic studies textbooks analyzed in this report, the Saudi public school religious curriculum continues to propagate an ideology of hate toward the 'unbeliever,' that is, Christians, Jews, Shiites, Sufis, Sunni Muslims who do not follow Wahhabi doctrine, Hindus, atheists and others.
"This ideology is introduced in a religion textbook in the first grade and reinforced and developed in following years of the public education system, culminating in the twelfth grade, where a text instructs students that it is a religious obligation to do 'battle' against infidels in order to spread the faith" ("Saudi Arabia's Curriculum of Intolerance," 2006, p. 10).
That's what the study found after the Saudi Arabian government said it had reformed its school system and textbooks to be more tolerant. The study goes on to provide numerous excerpts that make the point, like these from an eighth-grade schoolbook:
"'They [the Jews] are the people of the Sabbath, whose young people God turned into apes, and whose old people God turned into swine to punish them.' 'As cited in Ibn Abbas: The apes are Jews, the keepers of the Sabbath; while the swine are the Christian infidels of the communion of Jesus'" (p. 24).
With such ideology exported to madrassas around the world, a great many Muslims everywhere have been using textbooks with the same perspective and approach.
One might wonder why the Saudi government would sponsor the radicalization of Islamic education. It appears the strategy has been to direct the hatred of the native populace toward Israel and Western nations and away from dissatisfaction with the local national government, which might lead to rebellion.
The same has been true in other Muslim states, where government-controlled education and press have incited populations against the Israelis, Americans and other Westerners. Again, the focus is thereby taken away from dissatisfaction with local regimes.
The Arab Spring has brought the focus back on local government, but the instilled misperceptions and hatred of Israel and the West remain (with many wanting to strike out in contrast to the inaction of past regimes).
On top of the damage of formal education in this regard is a steady onslaught of media propaganda poisoning Muslim minds against the Jewish people from a young age. Arab cartoons and other children's shows typically portray Jews as evil and bloodthirsty, and some present suicide bombing against them as heroic. A TV show for Palestinian children was hosted by a Mickey Mouse–style character calling for war against the Israelis—until he was depicted as being killed on the show by "terrorist" Jews!
Such incessant indoctrination and propaganda has had a real impact. In the Arab countries surveyed by the Pew Research Center, large majorities of Muslims who say some religions are more prone to violence consider Judaism to be the most violent religion by 77 to 97 percent (p. 23). This despite the fact that it's the Jewish Israelis who've been repeatedly attacked by Muslims and Muslims themselves who have killed hundreds of thousands of other Muslims in conflicts and wars during recent decades!
Add to all this a left-leaning media in the West that looks on the Jewish state as a past partner in perceived U.S. imperialism abroad, as a nation basing its right to exist on what they see as the antiquated and foolish notion of biblical authority, as an "occupier" and "oppressor" of the Palestinians, and as the intractable main obstacle to Middle East peace, and the hatred of Israel seems further justified to many of the Muslims in Western nations.
Then there's the semblance of legitimacy to condemning the Jewish state lent by the United Nations General Assembly, which has been anti-Israel for years. This body represents the nations of the world, but many of them are Islamic and thuggish dictatorships trying to direct focus away from their own atrocities and misrule—Israel providing a convenient target of scorn and censure.
Distortion of the refugee issue
No doubt, the principal issue over which the state of Israel has been criticized is that of the Palestinians—the refusal to allow refugees their "right of return" and the "occupation" of Palestinian lands both garnering region-wide and worldwide sympathy. Israel's supposed recalcitrance is blamed for the ongoing failures of the peace process—leading to widespread condemnation and bitterness.
Yet here, too, propaganda is a major factor. Ignored is the fact that this situation exists because the Arab states attempted to destroy the state of Israel at its founding in 1948 and later in the Six-Day War of 1967.
The League of Arab States, or Arab League, was formed in 1945—mainly to unite Arab countries in opposition to the emergence of a Jewish state. Then, in 1948, five nations of the newly formed Arab League took up arms against the state of Israel following its U.N.-mandated independence.
Arabs in territory allotted to Israel who joined the invaders at that time ended up fleeing or were driven out. They became refugees in surrounding Arab states, and these states have refused them settlement, preferring to keep them in refugee camps to maintain political pressure against Israel—to get the Israelis to accept their right to return.
The Israelis, however, recognize this is a strategy to destroy the Jewish state by flooding Israel with millions of descendants of those original Arab refugees who will use Israel's democratic form of government to transform it into just another Arab state.
Following the Arabs' blockade of Israel that led to the 1967 war, the Israelis took possession of the Jordanian territory known as the West Bank, of the Syrian territory of the Golan Heights, and of the Egyptian territories of Gaza and Sinai (eventually returning Sinai and withdrawing from Gaza). Besides the fact that the West Bank is really the ancient Israelite homeland of Samaria and Judah, the Israelis took over and have maintained control of this territory principally as a defensive measure—since without this buffer territory Israel is less than 10 miles wide at some points.
It's interesting to note that it was in 1964, well before the 1967 war, that the Arab League established the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO), whose charter states that "the liberation of Palestine, from an Arab viewpoint, is a national duty." This was before Israel's acquisition of the West Bank and other territories in the Six-Day War. While Israel had made small territorial gains in 1948, it's important to see that in Arab eyes, the intended area of "Palestine liberation" was the entire area of the state of Israel.
And just who has and has not been willing to negotiate? Following the 1967 War, the Arab League issued the Khartoum Resolution with its "Three No's": "no peace with Israel, no recognition of Israel, no negotiations with it."
For many years the PLO under its longtime chairman Yasser Arafat was basically a terrorist organization. After he and the group were eventually legitimized in the sight of the Western world, negotiations were entered into. But these did not lead to peace—only more intifadas or uprisings.
Former Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak offered extreme concessions, eventually 91 percent of the West Bank, but it was not enough for Arafat. It's been speculated that Palestinian leaders did not then actually want self-governance, as they would've needed to spend the large amounts of aid sent to them on national infrastructure and could no longer blame the plight of their people on the Israelis.
Not much changed when Mahmoud Abbas succeeded Arafat as president of the Palestinian Authority. Former U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice recalls a personal one-on-one meeting in 2008 with then Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert:
"Olmert started talking again. 'I know what he [Abbas] needs. He needs something on refugees and on Jerusalem. I'll give him enough land, maybe something like 94 percent with swaps. I have an idea about Jerusalem. There will be two capitals, one for us in West Jerusalem and one for the Palestinians in East Jerusalem'" ( No Higher Honor: A Memoir of My Years in Washington, 2011, p. 651).
In addition, Olmert was willing to put an international body in charge of holy sites and allow 5,000 Arab refugees to settle in Israel.
Rice says that while Abbas started negotiations right away, his insistence that a larger number of refugees and their descendants be allowed to settle in Israel under the right of return became a deal breaker.
Over the last few years the Palestinian Authority has, with one short exception, avoided direct talks with Israel. Instead, this past September Abbas took a request for statehood to the United Nations, effectively bypassing the direct negotiations required by the 1993 Oslo accords signed by both Israel and the Palestinian Authority.
So the idea that Israel is the hindrance to peace negotiations really doesn't hold water.
A worldview of expansion with no retreat
Key to all this is a critical factor many fail to understand. Underlying the Palestinian conflict and Muslim attitudes toward Israel is the fact that the very existence of the Jewish state is intolerable from the perspective of many Muslims.
The establishment of the state of Israel in 1948 and the ensuing defeat of the invading Arab armies was seen by the Arabs as a disastrous humiliation—known as the Nakba or "catastrophe." Later defeats and the fact that Israel still exists magnify the disgrace.
Yet it was not a mere nationalist humiliation. This was a catastrophe because it was a shaming affront to their religion—striking at the very heart of Islam.
What needs to be realized is that, in Islamic theology, the world is divided into two great spheres of influence. One is Dar al-Salaam, meaning "Abode of Peace," a term used to describe Muslim-controlled lands (sometimes also called Dar al-Islam, meaning "Abode of Islam").
The other is Dar al-Harb, meaning "Abode of Struggle" or "Abode of War." This term is used to denote all other lands. By this very terminology, all non-Muslim lands are defined as areas where Islam must struggle or war so that these areas may be converted to Dar al-Islam, lands ruled by Islam—the ultimate objective being the entire world brought under the rule of Islam.
It's important to understand that, in the thinking of millions of the world's 1.5 billion Muslims, it is an abomination for any land that was once Dar al-Islam, territory controlled by Muslims, to become Dar al-Harb, "Abode of Struggle," in which Muslims have lost control and seen it revert back to rule by non-Muslims (infidels). This goes directly against the Koran and other teachings of Muhammad, which avow that ultimately the entire world is to be under the control of Islam (see "Does the Koran Promote Peace and Cooperation?").
Because these concepts are so foreign to Western thinking, these distinctions are lost on most Westerners—and, tragically, particularly on their governments and leaders. Yet it explains why, in more than a dozen nations across the globe, Muslims are waging war along the edges of the Islamic world to convert more lands to Dar al-Islam.
Israeli territory claimed to belong to Muslims
It also explains why most Muslims in general, and Arabs in particular, are fundamentally opposed to the existence of a Jewish state of Israel. They don't want a two-state solution, unless it is only as a temporary measure. They want a single Palestinian state "from the sea to the sea" as they define it—from the Dead Sea to the Mediterranean Sea, with no place for Israel at all.
Israel, you see, is an "infidel" country sitting on land that was once Dar al-Islam, the land of Islam, and thus its existence is an abomination. We can see this ideology plainly set forth in the charter of the Islamic Resistance Movement, better known as the terrorist group Hamas (the same group that controls Gaza, from which rockets and mortar shells are regularly fired into Israeli towns):
"The Islamic Resistance Movement believes that the land of Palestine [which in Hamas' perspective includes not just Gaza and the West Bank but the entire state of Israel] is an Islamic Waqf [inalienable endowment] consecrated for future Moslem generations until Judgement Day. It, or any part of it, should not be squandered: it, or any part of it, should not be given up.
"Neither a single Arab country nor all Arab countries, neither any king or president, nor all the kings and presidents, neither any organization nor all of them, be they Palestinian or Arab, possess the right to do that. Palestine is an Islamic Waqf land consecrated for Moslem generations until Judgement Day. This being so, who could claim to have the right to represent Moslem generations till Judgement Day?
"This is the law governing the land of Palestine in the Islamic Sharia (law) and the same goes for any land the Moslems have conquered by force, because during the times of (Islamic) conquests, the Moslems consecrated these lands to Moslem generations till the Day of Judgement...This Waqf remains as long as earth and heaven remain. Any procedure in contradiction to Islamic Sharia, where Palestine is concerned, is null and void" ("Hamas Covenant," Aug. 18, 1988, Article 11).
Given this underlying ideology, it's no wonder that the Arab nations formed the Arab League to oppose the emergence of the Israeli state. This explains why the failure to prevent its establishment was viewed as a humiliating catastrophe. And we can clearly see why the "liberation of Palestine" is considered an Arab national duty. After all, the validity of Islam itself is at stake!
But there's more to it still. Worse than being a tiny infidel nuisance, Israel is a major power in the region—largely because of support from the West, particularly the United States and Great Britain. Indeed, Israel is seen as an agent of the United States in the Muslim Middle East. The Jewish state and Britain have been referred to as "the Little Satans," while America is labeled "the Great Satan." Thus, the Great Satan is perceived as having a foothold amidst Dar al-Islam.
According to a recent Zogby International poll conducted in Egypt, Jordan, Lebanon, Morocco, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates—sponsored by the Arab American Institute Foundation—"when asked to choose 'the greatest obstacle to peace and stability in the Middle East,' once again the 'occupation of Palestinian lands' and 'U.S. interference in the Arab world' rank as the top two concerns" ("Arab Attitudes, 2011," p. 5). Probably the real concern is these posing a threat to Islam—upsetting the Dar al-Salaam ("Abode of Peace").
Indeed, as the United States and Britain are predominantly Christian, their interference in the Middle East and presumed use of Israel as a proxy are seen by many Muslims as, effectively, a continuation of the Crusades (fought a thousand years ago between professing Christians and Muslims for control of the Holy Land). Yet, while the Christian powers are next in line to be dealt with in the thinking of many, Israel, because of proximity and its occupation of formerly Muslim territory, is seen as the immediate threat in need of elimination.
All this is a major part of why Israel has had to fight five wars for survival in a little over 60 years of existence and suffers from continuing terrorist bombings and rocket attacks. And it's a big reason Israel's continued existence is an ongoing intolerable disgrace to fundamentalist Muslims around the world, with a number perpetually calling for it to be wiped from the map.
Yet the irrational hatred goes even deeper.
Ancient family feud and evil spirit influence
The origins of the strife we see today between many Islamic Arab people and the Jews in Israel can actually be traced back nearly 4,000 years.
The Bible records that God appeared to a man named Abram, later renamed Abraham, and promised him a son whose descendants would become a great nation. When his wife Sarai could not afterward conceive a child, she suggested that Abram take her Egyptian servant girl Hagar as a surrogate mother. And Hagar bore a son named Ishmael.
God gave Hagar this prophetic promise: "I will so increase your descendants that they will be too numerous to count . . . You are now with child and you will have a son. You shall name him Ishmael ['God hears'], for the Lord has heard of your misery.
"He will be a wild donkey of a man; his hand will be against everyone and everyone's hand against him, and he will live in hostility toward all his brothers" (Genesis 16:10-12, New International Version, 1984, emphasis added throughout).
Some 12 to 13 years after Ishmael was born, God appeared again to Abram with another promise: "As for Sarai your wife...I will bless her and also give you a son by her; then I will bless her, and she shall be a mother of nations; kings of peoples shall be from her'" (verses 15-16).
God changed her name to Sarah. She had been barren all her life and was past normal childbearing age. Through God's miraculous intervention she bore a son, Isaac. His descendants would become the 12 tribes of the nation of Israel, which included the tribe of Judah—predominately today's Jews.
Ishmael, God said, would father 12 princes and become a "great nation" (verse 20), though God's greater blessings and covenant would be with Isaac. The Arabs acknowledge Ishmael as their progenitor.
Ishmael and his mother were eventually sent away from the family. And another divide in the family came when Isaac's son Jacob (later renamed Israel) schemed against his brother Esau or Edom. The divisions in the family—between Israelites and Ishmaelites and between Israelites and Edomites—would persist until the last days, with hostility increasing, as God foretold.
For more details on what happened and how this family division has continued over the ages, request or download our free booklet The Middle East in Bible Prophecy .
And besides the family dynamic and specific prophecies God has given, another underlying reason for the hatred of Israel among Muslim nations is no doubt the same one that exists for virulent anti-Semitism around the world. As the level of hatred and antagonism is completely irrational, we should recognize in it a spiritual cause.
The world is ruled over and deceived by a spirit being, Satan the devil, and his demonic cohorts, who hate God. And they have incited people to hatred against God's people throughout history. Moreover, the preservation of the Jewish people and their return to the Holy Land to establish a state is a validation of the promises and prophecies of the Bible—a great frustration to enemies of God's Word.
Hostility builds at the time of the end
What all this adds up to is these under-lying forces continuing to generate Muslim hostility towards the Jews and Israel, growing in intensity as we approach the end of this age.
Psalm 83 contains an intriguing prophecy that reveals this growing hostility will play out in a confederation of Muslim peoples determined to eliminate Israel as a nation:
"They have taken crafty counsel against Your people, and consulted together against Your sheltered ones. They have said, 'Come, and let us cut them off from being a nation, that the name of Israel may be remembered no more'" (verses 3-4).
This prophecy goes on to mention specific areas and peoples that will be involved. Our research reveals that some or all of the following will likely participate in this anti-Israel alliance—the Palestinian West Bank and Gaza, Turkey, Lebanon, Jordan, northern Iraq, and Arab states throughout the Middle East and North Africa.
Out of this group of nations will likely come the end-time leader Daniel the prophet calls the "king of the South." He will arise from the Muslim world and set in motion a cascade of events that will lead to unimaginable carnage in the final world war before Jesus Christ returns (Daniel 11:40).
This confrontation begins with some aggressive move of the king of the South toward what Daniel calls the "king of the North," an end-time European-centered superpower that will then occupy parts of the Middle East, including Israel.
The entire world will eventually be pulled into this developing maelstrom. Jesus Christ called the time of this final world war the "great tribulation" and said He would have to intervene to save humankind from total annihilation (Matthew 24:21-22).
The good news is that peace between these hostile peoples will finally come as former enemies learn the way of peace from the Prince of Peace. Hatred and violence will at last be no more!