Islam, Arab Public Opinion, and the Palestinians

March 8, 2019 | Hillel Frisch
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Palestinians—as well as Arab leaders and opponents of Israel in the U.S. and Europe—have often claimed that the Palestinian fate is a central concern, if not the central concern, of Arabs everywhere. Examining data from Google in various Arab countries, Hillel Frisch notes that the frequency of searches for such topics as “Palestinian resistance” decreases sharply the farther one goes from Gaza and the West Bank. Non-Palestinian Arabs, by contrast, are far and away more likely to search for “al-Aqsa mosque” than for information about the Palestinian resistance, and Palestinians’ own interest in al-Aqsa is similarly high. To Frisch, all of this makes clear that religion, far more than nationalism, motivates Arab attitudes regarding Israel:

[These data] underscore the importance of the religious dimension in the Arabic-speaking world, both within and without the Palestinian arena, in the Arab-Palestinian conflict. This is hardly new. Islam was a major if not dominant theme in the most tumultuous periods of strife between Jews and Arabs in the Holy Land. In April 1920, attacks against Jews began during the religious Nabi Musa pilgrimage to Jerusalem. The 1921 riots began in Jaffa to protest the participation of immodestly clad Jewish women in the May Day demonstrations in Jaffa.

Seven years later, in 1928, Haj Amin al-Husseini coined the phrase “al-Aqsa in danger” in a pan-Islamic campaign against the Zionist movement that led to the most murderous onslaught against Jews to date in August 1929. This term has since been adopted by both Hamas and the northern branch of the Islamic Movement, which was banned by Israel in 2015.

During the second intifada, the Palestinian Authority (PA) and Fatah tried in vain to name the conflict the “independence intifada” in its struggle against a rising Hamas, which wanted to color the conflict with Israel in religious terms. Today, it is universally referred to in Arabic as the “al-Aqsa intifada,” even in Fatah and PA discourse. The same religious zeal regarding the Palestinian cause can be found in the Arab world.

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