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Is religion an obstacle to Israeli-Palestinian peace?

Pew publishes surprising new data on religion in Israel, Palestine and the region.

We often hear that Israelis and Palestinians are more religious than other national groups, or at the very least are becoming more religious. This, they claim, makes any solution to the conflict more difficult to reach. A new Pew Research Center report reveals some rather surprising results vis-a-vis religion in Israel and Palestine.

Thirty-four percent of Israelis said that religion is “very important” in their lives, placing them at the top of the bottom one-third of countries listed, and — unsurprisingly — the lowest in the Middle East.

Pew Research Center report on importance of religion by country.

Meanwhile, 74 percent of Palestinians said that religious is very important in their lives. On the face of it, this is a very high statistic, but the poll also finds that there is an inverse correlation between wealth and religiosity. Put simply, people in poorer nations tend to place more importance on religion than those in wealthier nations, and Palestinians are significantly poorer than Israelis.

When placed on a wealth/religion curve, both the Israelis and Palestinians are very close to the curve. Israelis are slightly more religious than what one would expect when taking into account their level of income, while the Palestinians are slightly less religious in relation to their level of income. Among both nations, however, religion plays a fairly standard role in people’s lives relative to the rest of the world.

Pew Research Center report on importance of religion by country.

According to the report, the United States — the wealthiest nation included in the 2015 global survey based on gross domestic product per capita — is a notable exception to this trend. Americans are much more likely than their counterparts in other economically advanced nations to say religion is very important.

In my opinion, these findings support the hypothesis according to which religion is not some great barrier to Israeli-Palestinian compromise, and that control of resources (in other words: a struggle over land) is far more significant for understanding the conflict.

This article was first published in Hebrew on Local Call. Read it here.

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    1. Gustav

      I don’t follow the logic of the author.

      In any case, it doesn’t matter. It is what it is.

      If religion is an obstacle to peace then peace will be more difficult to achieve because people are not going to shed their religiosity.

      If religion is not as much of an obstacle to peace as some people think, then that’s good.

      It is what it is…

      Reply to Comment
    2. Ben

      I follow the author’s logic. Religious extremism is pointed to and used as an excuse as to why the other side isn’t ready for peace, and religious passions are deliberately manipulated by both sides. But Noam argues that the data show that the real struggle is over land. This matters in many ways but for example Netanyahu keeps insisting the conflict is not really about land and settlements it’s about “how they feel about us and they have to first change how they feel.” (Sorta like the guy who shoplifts a candy bar from the grocery store and when arrested says “it’s not really about the candy bar you see it’s about how the grocery store owner feels about me…the grocery store owner has bad feelings about me and that’s the problem.) “It’s the land, stupid.”

      Reply to Comment
      • Gustav

        Typical Benny spin. Now I tell you what it really is about…

        Yes, it is about the land. The Arabs want to have all the land and be the overlords of what they call Palestine (or filasteen). We beg to differ and to date we have had the means to stop their supremacist aims. That has not pleased them and they dislike us because of it. Moreover, it seems that when Arabs dislike someone, they have the unnerving habit of trying to blow them up, rocket, them, knife them or try and do away with them by whatever means they can.

        Of course that rubs us too up the wrong way and we repay them in kind. Morever, we put our foot on their throats and try to keep them at bay so they won’t be able to hurt us.

        So how will this end? It will end in one of the following ways …

        1. The Arabs will come to their senses and will truly accept that we Jews own part of this land. They will negotiate a deal with us to determine exactly what land is owned by who and two states will be created.

        2. The Arabs will continue theirs political manouvers backed up by their sporadic violent outbursts and that in turn will end in one of the following two ways if they push things to the limit…

        A. We will at some point lose our patience and we will do something that even we will regret but by then it will be too late for the Arabs.

        B. We will lose the battle and that in turn will lead to a chain of events which would result in the entire Middle East region becoming phosphorescent and uninhabitable for the next 10,000 years at least.

        So you see Benny-leh? The stakes are very high. Yet your kind insists on pouring oil on the fire instead of playing a constructive role and trying to put the fire out so that a solution can be found to this conflict instead of it blowing up in everybody’s face.

        By solution, I mean a solution that won’t leave us completely vulnerable. I know that we will need to take some risks but we are not in the mood of accepting INSANE risks. So forget about solutions which involves the so called right of return and going back to the 1949 armistice lines. Nor do we accept solutions which involve us relinquishing strategic assets (lands) in return for NOTHING! The least that we expect in return is a clear recognition of the Jewish nation state by the Arabs. After all, the UN voted for the creation of a Jewish state too. Yes, they used the word Jewish state. Not just an Arab state.

        Reply to Comment
        • Ben

          Listen to yourself. You sound hysterical. What oil on whose fire? You’re the one who sounds on fire. With brimstone. Preacher Gustav. I wrote a mild mannered comment, consistent with Sheizaf’s opinion, talking about the misuses of religious extremism. Hello?

          The tales you tell. Another reading from Grim Gustav’s Grim Fairy Tales, now in an All New Edition with Apocalyptic Scenarios Borrowed from Crazy John Hagee. (See the appalling loony hypocrisy of the “Christian” Zionists described by Ryan Roderick Beiler.) Gott im Himmel. What planet are you on?

          “we will do something that even we will regret….”

          You’re threatening to blow up the Middle East from Dimona because you can’t keep Ariel? And we thought Meir Ettinger was nuts. You sound like his secular bosom-buddy. You sound like a Branch-Davidian at Waco.

          “The Arabs” want to have all the land? We have news for you buddy, so do “the Jews”! That is, Israeli Jews and their AIPACers. Neither can have it all, or will. That’s the point of an agreement!!! The Palestinians have already conceded the Israelis 78%!! With swaps!!! You again with your psychoanalysis of “what ‘they’ want.”

          You write as if Arafat were waving his pistol from atop the Muqata these days (you miss that guy don’t you?) instead of meek Abu Mazen being your long-suffering, faithful, humiliated, security contractor, privately praised by the Shin Bet but scorned by Netanyahu. You write as if the API did not exist. You write like a crank. You write like an overlord. Frankly, you sound nutty.

          What does it say about a country (and about Gustav’s arguments) that an entire array of “gatekeeper” top security chiefs who served over decades flatly disagree with its elected government officials? That it’s own current top security chiefs had to pull back from the brink their own prime minister, from apocalyptic madness?

          Reply to Comment
          • Ben

            “Of course, enemies of liberal democracy and open societies, whether Netanyahu, Education Minister Naftali Bennett, Culture Minister Miri Regev or Im Tirtzu, don’t claim they want to destroy democracy and stifle criticism. They argue that Israel is under siege and that opinions dissenting from the right-wing mainstream endanger Israel’s security.
            With this ploy of manipulating people’s often very real fears, they are no different than other enemies of critical discourse from Franco and Ceausescu to McCarthy and Putin. Time and again Israel’s liberal friends must be reminded that most Israeli security officials disagree with right-wing policies, as Dror Moreh’s poignant documentary “The Gatekeepers” has shown. The self-proclaimed defenders of Israel claim they’re protecting Israel’s security, but that’s just a pretext for something completely different, as the following examples show.”

            read more: http://www.haaretz.com/opinion/.premium-1.692846

            Reply to Comment
          • Gustav

            Nope Benny I’ll make this short.

            If ever your Arabs defeat us (with the help of their allies) they plan to do to us what ISIS does to their victims. What the various factions did to each other in the Lebanese civil war. What the Arabs do to each other in Syria. What the Libyan Arabs did to Gadafi and his merry men. Coz that’s how Arabs fight wars. Only with us, Jews, they would even outdo themselves. Just ask Hamas what they would like to do. Here let me quote from their own charter…

            “It quotes a saying of Muhammad from a hadith: “The Day of Judgment will not come until Muslims fight the Jews, when the Jew will hide behind stones and trees. The stones and trees will say, ‘O Muslim, O servant of God, there is a Jew behind me, come and kill him.'”

            So Bennyleh, as someone who hates us yourself, it is easy for you to just gloss over such sentiments and dismiss it. But we who are the targets are not willing to ignore it.

            Soooo if push come to shove, it WILL be the apocalypse because we will have nothing to lose.

            Of course it is just a hypothetical because we won’t let things to go that badly for us. Our first line of defense is not to let haters like you to sway us from looking after our interests. Howzat, Benny-leh? Ya like it?

            Reply to Comment
          • Ben

            “If ever the Arabs defeat us…” Again, look at how wild-eyed and hysterical you sound. It’s as if you read nothing of what I said. We are talking about a peace agreement and end to conflict. You, with the vast military superiority in the region, claim to need Ariel and Efrat for “security.” I’ll requote Carlo Strenger: “The self-proclaimed defenders of Israel claim they’re protecting Israel’s security, but that’s just a pretext for something completely different.”

            Reply to Comment
          • Gustav

            BEN:“If ever the Arabs defeat us…” Again, look at how wild-eyed and hysterical you sound. It’s as if you read nothing of what I said.”

            What exactly did you say Benny? You said nothing. And what is hysterical about considering scenarios? Are you saying that Israel is invincible? I wish…

            BEN:”We are talking about a peace agreement and end to conflict.”

            “We”? Who is “we”, Benny? I mentioned Hamas. Hamas never made a secret of the fact that their ultimate aim is Israel’s destruction. An the 10 year Hudna which they occasionally bring up is not a peace agreement. It is a cease fire to buy them time and gear up to be in a position to be able to meet their stated goal.

            BEN:”You, with the vast military superiority in the region, claim to need Ariel and Efrat for “security.”

            Benny with that old canard about our vast military superiority.

            Helloooooo, earth to Benny, no amount of military superiority is sufficient to stop asymetric warfare. So if we have to cope with Arab terrorism, I would rather cope with us having Ariel and Efrat in our hands than theirs. And I would rather not uproot 50,000 of our people from their homes just so we get more of the same terrorism which the Arabs were guilty of for nearly 100 years.

            BEN:”I’ll requote Carlo Strenger: “The self-proclaimed defenders of Israel claim they’re protecting Israel’s security, but that’s just a pretext for something completely different.”

            Booo hoooo Carlo Strenger now I am convinced [sarcasm]. Who is he anyway? Just another opinionated extreme leftist. At best he is a wishful thinker who thinks that right wingers are a bigger enemy than Hamas (even though Hamas are right wingers too but they are not Jewish ones so that makes them Kosher to the likes of Carlo).

            Nuff said.

            Reply to Comment
    3. Ben

      One place where the the USA’s oddly outlying place on the wealth/religion curve above gets particularly interesting in this context is in the West Bank:

      “Roughly 60,000 American Jews live in West Bank settlements, where they account for 15 percent of the settler population…hard evidence that this constituency is strikingly over-represented, both within the settler population itself and within the total population of Jewish American immigrants in Israel….. The number of American immigrants living in Israel, including their children, has been estimated at about 170,000.”


      More than one third of American immigrants to Israel don’t even actually go to Israel, they go to the West Bank. They’re settlers. At least four of the detained Jewish terror suspects have dual citizenship; and suspected members of the extremist group ‘The Revolt’ are American and Australian nationals.

      I see two or three kinds of religious frameworks operating together amongst the American settlers. Nationalistic-religious messianism, sure, but, also, an imported quasi-religion of American Exceptionalism and Manifest Destiny and the indestructible romance of the American West, and the odd way in which American settlers tend to blend all this with themes from the 1960s civil rights struggle into a heady intoxicating concoction justifying the occupation and their “right” to settle the land, to play Cowboys and Indians in the Wild West Bank. With the Americans, these frameworks work synergistically to produce an impenetrable entitlement.

      Reply to Comment
      • Gustav


        I posted my post…

        Benny jumps in, criticizes my post with dumb assertions which amount to claiming that I am just making up the dangers that we face…

        I then responded to Benny’s post in detail and mentioned the threat from Hamas and what they themselves claim they have in store for us should they manage to defeat us…

        Benny then just pretends that I said nothing and moves on. Of course the next time this topic comes up, he will pretend again that Hamas doesn’t even exist…

        As I said on another thread….

        Benny’s formula is simple…

        1. He argues his case…

        2. Someone points out the flaws in his arguments.

        3. He ignores it and he repeats his tired argument.

        …add water, mix and repeat endlessly.

        Reply to Comment
        • Ben

          But I did answer you. You’re so anxious to come back at me that you can’t even wait a decent interval for my comment to appear. But look, even had I not re-answered you, I do not owe you an answer to everything* you write and I certainly do not owe you an instant answer. What regime commands that? My comment on the American settlers was made within minutes of my first answer to you (“Listen to yourself. You sound hysterical. What oil on whose fire?…”). Then I went to bed. What? I have to wait? I should stay up all night waiting for a reply from you before I can post anything else? Do you see how nutty that sounds? Am I sitting around grumbling and firing off complaints that Gustav did not answer my comment about American settlers? No I am not. Your chasing me around like this is uncivil and unseemly. It’s a kind of harassment.

          *Missing in your 1, 2, 3 above is “2a. Benny does not think Gustav has truly identified flaws in his argument and does not feel the need to reply.”

          Reply to Comment
          • Gustav

            Your answer was a non answer Benny. You have not said a single word about Hamas which was the main thrust of my argument. Hamas represent over 50% of Palestinian Arabs (I think I am being generous to you Benny). And they are certainly not peacenicks. Not that even the PLO are. Don’t believe me? Then look at their charter which they still did not amend even though they undertook to do so as part of the Oslo agreement. Their refusal to amend their charter is just another piece in the not so complex puzzle which tell us what even the so called peace makers, the PLO stand for.

            As for you not responding to me, Benny, coz you think that I did not expose flaws in your arguments, that’s fine with me. Keep on keeping on not responding. That does not worry me at all. I am just mentioning the real reason why you don’t respond. You don’t respond coz you have no cogent argument.

            Reply to Comment
    4. Baladi Akka 1948

      Sorry to say but this article is absolutely empty. Even a first year student in any socila science could do better.

      Reply to Comment
    5. Average American

      I don’t know if “religion” is an obstacle to peace, but Zionism definitely is. Zionism is the foundation of Israel. It is not Judaism that claims land, it is Zionism. And Zionism doesn’t state that it is for the benefit of those who follow Judaism (a religion), it states it is for the benefit of the Jews (a race). So Zionism promotes taking land for a specific race with the belief that race is superior to other races.

      Reply to Comment