The Impact of Israeli-Palestinian Inter-Religious Dialogue: Theoretical and Empirical Perspectives

The Impact of Israeli-Palestinian Inter-Religious Dialogue: Theoretical and Empirical Perspectives

Ben Mollov (Bar-Ilan University, Israel) and Chaim Lavie (Bar-Ilan University, Israel)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-5225-7585-6.ch010
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This chapter will focus on the prospects of inter-religious dialogue as a means of fostering the Israeli-Palestinian peacebuilding process, both from a theoretical and empirical perspectives. The two authors come from the disciplines of political science and social psychology and employ qualitative and quantitative methods, respectively. Although counter-intuitive as part of an ongoing research project, the authors suggest that, in line with other research, religion can indeed serve as a bridge between Israelis and Palestinians and not merely act as an escalatory influence as is commonly assumed. The authors have drawn on earlier work of these researchers and others, which have provided empirical evidence over time that inter-religious dialogue encounters between Israelis and Palestinians can help nurture perception change based on social psychological dynamics for intergroup relations as both sides discover strong commonalities between their respective faiths. This opportunity also offers a means to mutually explore the basis of the narratives of both sides in a non-confrontational atmosphere. Perception change between groups locked in conflict is an essential element for moderating strife and encouraging dialogue. However, in the case of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict clashing narratives––as succinctly analyzed in the Peel Commission Report of 1937––rooted in religious and cultural identity informs the conflict and must be addressed through dialogue with the hope of mutual accommodation. Ideally, the transcendent elements of religion can also serve as positive points of meeting. Research data collected primarily from the work of the Interfaith Encounter Association (IEA) will be presented to demonstrate the advantages of the inter-religious approach. In addition, the authors also refer to the case study of a special annual inter-religious dialogue by mid-level leadership in the “spirit of social partnership” in the Jewish-Arab City of Akko (in Northern Israel) in the context of an annual graduate seminar organized by the first author.
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While there have been many energetic attempts to promote Israeli-Palestinian peace agreements and grassroots peace building, the vast majority of efforts have had a decidedly secular or narrow political focus as reflected in research such as Asaqla, Bar, and Bar-Gal (1995) and Kelman (1998, 2015). However, a number of researchers and public figures have asserted that conflict resolution efforts in various parts of the world generally, and in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict in particular, have lacked the ability to address deeper parts of the conflict, notably those rooted in faith and religious identity (Abu-Nimer, 2001; Albright 2006; Johnson and Sampson, 1994; Gopin, 2002; Mollov and Lavie, 2001, 2006).

This paper asserts that the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is substantially rooted in religion and culture, which anchor the identity of both sides and their ties to the same land. As far back as 1937, the British Peel Commission Report described the clashing narratives of both Arabs and Jews, making clear the respective roots of conflict as it succinctly described these respective foundations in the following terms:

The [First World] War and its sequel have inspired all Arabs with the hope of reviving in a free and united Arab world the traditions of the Arab golden age. The Jews similarly are inspired by their historic past. They mean to show what the Jewish nation can achieve when restored to the land of its birth… In the Arab picture the Jews could only occupy the place they occupied in Arab Egypt or Arab Spain. The Arabs would be as much outside the Jewish picture as the Canaanites in the old land of Israel (Laqueur & Rubin 2001, p. 42).

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