Peace is Possible

In a time when those in power benefit from Jewish and Muslim division, the biggest act of resistance is to understand that Jews and Muslims, religiously, fundamentally, historically, and currently, are ready for coexistence and peace.

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By Joey Chen

Peace between Israelis and Palestinians is possible. An Israel without a far-right government is possible. A Palestine without a terrorist organization in power is possible. An Israel-Palestine in which Israelis and Palestinians are able to live peacefully across neighboring lands is possible. Coexistence is possible.

The Israel-Palestine war is too often framed as an unresolvable and endless conflict of hatred between Jews and Muslims. But the ones painting the situation as a hopeless religious conflict are Hamas, a terrorist organization determined to eliminate Israel, and Netanyahu, Israel’s Prime Minister who’s leading Israel’s most right-wing, anti-Palestinian government coalition in Israel’s history. 

The war has caused mass bloodshed, death, and pain, fueled by trauma and fear on both sides; but the devastation has awoken an urgency for coexistence and peace. This urgency has inspired an increasing number of individuals and groups—from grassroots organizations to political candidates—to forge bridges between Israelis and Palestinians. Slowly but surely, these groups are building up passion, volume, and potential to outweigh division as the war ensues. The unity and coexistence these groups advocate for can be the future of Israel-Palestine, so long as the world stands with them.

Jewish-Muslim peace is not a radical, new idea. On the contrary, since the origin of Islam, Jews and Muslims have a rich history of imperfect coexistence. This can likely be owed to the Qur’an and the Torah themselves commanding coexistence.

The Qu’ran states that “there is no compulsion in religion” (Sura 2:256) and continues to state, “Hence it is neither possible, nor commanded, to make everyone believe in one faith” (10:99).

The Talmud states, “justice and abundant righteousness he does not withhold [from here we see] God does not hold back from a non-Jew who does mitzvot [good deeds].”

Religious and ethnic pluralism is valued in the Qu’ran. Likewise, the Torah commands respect and acceptance of all religions and forbids the forced or pressured conversion to Judaism. These shared values explain why Jews under Islamic rule, despite often lacking equal economic and legal rights, were religiously tolerated and socially respected.

It is widely known that Jews under Christianity often endured violent persecution, as Christianity was founded as a reactionary movement to Judaism. This was seen in Medieval times from the Crusades (1095-1291) to the Spanish Inquisition (1478-1834). However, the lesser-known history is that many Jews fled and sought safety during these periods under the Islamic Empire, and specifically, under the Ottoman Empire. Jews during this period, along with other non-Muslims, were classified as “dhimmi.” Essentially, dhimmi were second class in the social hierarchy, and despite not having completely equal legal rights, dhimmi were protected by the government, in sharp contrast to European governments at that time. Although there was still inequality between Jews and Muslims, the Islamic empire served as a haven for Jews when there was nowhere else to go.

Around this time, in the 9th century, the Islamic Empire was experiencing its golden age; education, knowledge, culture, and language flourished, and Jews, though still classified as dhimmi, were deeply integrated into the advancing Muslim world. So much so that Judeo-Arabic developed: a language combining Arabic and Hebrew elements. Beyond allowing Jews to participate and greatly contribute to the Islamic Empire’s golden age, it was indicative of the great extent of Jewish-Muslim coexistence during this time period. Nearly all knowledge and information was written in Arabic (or Judeo-Arabic), with an exception for poetry, for which Jews wrote in Hebrew. Jews did, indeed, face discrimination and oppression during this time; but in universities, schools, and other educational centers under the Islamic empire, Jews and Muslims shared rich culture and new knowledge, without leaving behind arts of their culture (like Hebrew poems) behind. 

The paradigm of Jewish-Muslim coexistence holds true in modern-day Israel: since its establishment, Israel maintained legal equality for Palestinians and religious tolerance. Israel is 37.2% Muslim, and Muslims currently hold elected and appointed political roles, including a Supreme Court justice. Muslim calls to prayer can be heard throughout Israel three times per day. Muslims are professors, teachers, doctors, and lawyers throughout Israel. While activist groups are working to improve the social fabric of Israeli society for Arabs—especially now, as tensions have heightened during the war—progress is possible; there are more instances of peace and togetherness throughout Israel than fighting and anger.

One of these instances is a small town between Tel Aviv and Jerusalem called the Oasis of Peace in which half of the residents are Jewish-Israeli, and the other half are Palestinian citizens of Israel. Children learn both Hebrew and Arabic in school, the elected officials alternate between Palestinians and Israelis, and there’s even a prayer center open to and used by people of all religions. The Oasis of Peace serves as a model or demonstration of Israel’s potential and possibility for true peace. But the Oasis of Peace wasn’t a magical coincidence; every family who lives in the Oasis for Peace moved there with the intention of being part of a peace movement. 

Israel and Palestine, Muslims and Jews, can peacefully coexist—religious texts allow it, history sets the precedent for it, and the Oasis of Peace proves it. But reaching peace requires deliberate efforts for dialogue and connecting across the conflict.

Following October 7, for the first time since the devastating fall of the Oslo Accords, Israel has seen a rise in peace and coexistence groups between Jews and Muslims making these efforts to connect across the conflict. Haifa, the third largest city in Israel, has become known as the coexistence or shared existence capital of Israel, home to Ayman Odeh, the most prominent Arab politician in Israel. It is also the home of Standing Together, a grassroots organization co-run by Jews and Muslims that has grown dramatically since the war. Sally Abed, a Palestinian who had been campaigning as head of the new joint Jewish-Arab List in municipal elections in Haifa, is one of Standing Together’s leaders. This group creates big open spaces for hundreds to come to dialogue, and share their stories publically. They spread awareness by speaking out against the October 7 terrorist attacks, the occupation of the West Bank, social inequalities throughout Israel, Natenyahu’s current war policy, and much more.

Some coexistence groups focus on the grassroots and systemic aspects of the conflict, aiming to bring Jews and Muslims together in quieter ways. For instance, the Sulha Peace Project utilizes spirituality and prayer to forge connections, and the Parents Circle is a support group for Palestinian and Israeli parents who’ve lost their children to the war. Groups like these target polarization and promote unity starting at the very core of the conflict: the lack of peaceful dialogue between Israelis and Palestinians. Grassroots organizations focus on building humanity and empathy, both of which are vital to eventual coexistence.

Other coexistence groups advocate for political and governmental change. For example, Women Wage Peace is an organization for Israeli and Palestinian women to promote political agreement co-founded by Vivian Silver, the famous activist who was murdered on October 7 in the Hamas attack. Recently, they’ve called upon the Israeli government to incorporate women’s voices into peace efforts. Another organization, Peace Now, advocates for a two-state solution with the specific borders of June 1967. It carried out one of Israel’s largest protests in history.

Finally, organizations such as Road to Recovery and EcoPeace Middle East address the short-term, current emergencies of the conflict. Road to Recovery is an organization of Israelis that transports Palestinians who don’t have access to hospital care to hospitals in emergencies. They lost eight of their leaders on October 7 during the Hamas attack, and three are still in captivity. They have not stopped driving Palestinians from checkpoints to hospitals. EcoPeace helps Israelis and Palestinians address climate change and has provided resources and aid to over 10,000 Gazans before the war.

The Israel-Palestine conflict is complex and deeply rooted in history, religion, and politics; it’s multilayered, and the systems at play affect each other in a cycle that often results in bloodshed and war. However, coexistence is also multilayered: some coexistence groups address humanity and unity, others politics, others spirituality and religion. Each peace organization tackles an entirely different issue, yet they are all driven by hope.

In a time when those in power benefit from Jewish and Muslim division, the biggest act of resistance is to understand that Jews and Muslims, religiously, fundamentally, historically, and currently, are ready for coexistence and peace. Supporting organizations that advocate for this is important. However, advocating for this yourself in your world often holds even more weight than a donation. Peace stems from challenging the division that’s been forced onto us and deliberately making space for unity, even at the smallest level. For Jews and Muslims, even taking the first step towards each other is an act of resistance against oppression. In the face of war, coexistence groups, Israelis, and Palestinians have begun to do what’s become most radical: find hope.