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Colonialism or Religious War?

It is often thought that the bloodiest wars in history were fought in the name of religion, but this is not the case. Throughout history, wars have mostly been waged for worldly reasons. Medieval conflicts like the Crusades were actually about economic and power politics. Wars named for holiness, like the Spanish Inquisition, were also intertwined with secular interests.

Although the exact numbers are unknown, fewer people died in ancient wars compared to modern conflicts. In World War I, 40 million people died, and in World War II, more than 50 million. During Stalin’s era in the USSR, according to American data, more than 20 million people were massacred. In Cambodia under Pol Pot’s rule, 2 million people were subjected to genocide.

In recent history, wars fought for religious reasons were not as bloody. More than 140,000 people died in the Yugoslav wars, and more than 35,000 in the terror of the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria. During the partition of India and Pakistan, more than 1 million people died.

These losses may seem small compared to modern wars, but the reality of brother killing brother and neighbor killing neighbor leaves a deep wound.

The Israel-Palestine conflict is clearly a colonial war. Israel never accepts the conditions Palestine imposes on justice and human dignity. However, the root of this fight is filled with mutual religious implications. The suffering of the Palestinians is identified with the sufferings of the Islamic world by Muslims, while Israelis claim a right based on sacred texts.

The idea that historical wars and murders happened solely because of religion is definitely not true. It’s clear who benefits from this often-repeated myth.

Secular politics, Enlightenment ideals, or projects like communism view human life merely as statistical data. In contrast, religion believes that every individual’s soul is unique and that life after death is valuable, as exemplified by the concept of martyrdom. This perspective offers a strong alternative to secular ideologies.

The pains caused by wars cannot be measured in numbers. However, Gaza has turned into a museum displaying the annihilation of mankind. People’s propensity for destruction and evil is as natural as their penchant for pleasure. Thus, Gaza has become a museum of the death drive.

The Israel-Palestine conflict has a colonial structure, meaning Palestinians stand against Israel’s fundamental values like human dignity and justice. But this conflict is also complex, involving religious and other significant dimensions.

For nearly 50 years, leftist internationalists have seen the Palestinian revolution as a test of the world revolution. Similarly, Muslims have equated the sufferings of Palestinians with their own for over a century, viewing Jewish dominance in Palestine as a weakening of the Muslim world. Israelis, on the other hand, base their colonialism not on Nazi Germany’s theories of racial superiority but on the idea of Jewish supremacy derived from biblical prophecies.

Despite efforts by secular Jewish intellectuals to separate Zionism from religious influences, let’s not forget that Jews’ connection to Palestine has a foundation in the Torah, Mishnah, and Talmud that spans thousands of years.

On one hand, when Israelis believe that people under colonial rule are inherently anti-Semitic, one must ask: If Israel were a Christian settler colony, would Palestinians hate their colonizers any less? A similar question can be asked of Muslims praying for Palestinians: If Palestinians were Buddhist or Sikh, would the ummah abandon Palestine?

These are difficult questions, but we live in challenging times. During attacks in Gaza, Israeli soldiers placed menorahs in bombed neighborhoods, adding a genocidal subtext to Jewish holidays. This represents a radical Judaism that does not speak for all Jews; similarly, Islamic militancy does not represent all Muslims. However, we cannot ignore the religious aspect of the war Israel is waging.

Israeli behavior in Gaza and the West Bank includes militant examples, like a video showing an Israeli soldier shooting an elderly Palestinian who converted to Judaism for not being Jewish enough. The video cuts off after the soldier questions the old man’s religion and shoots him at close range. This brutality reminds us of videos from Raqqa and Sinjar a decade ago. This raises the question: Is there a religious aspect to the genocide in Gaza, or is it secular?

Zionism is a project with many facets and has faced various counter-currents over time. Initially, a European Jewish effort to establish a state in the desert has evolved into a story of fighting and claiming land from Arabs. Recently, a narrative has emerged portraying Jews as indigenous people fighting for their ancestral lands.

These changes show Israel’s attempt to adapt to the changing global climate and how difficult it is to keep up with this change. However, due to the widespread and compelling nature of the Palestinian story globally, Israel has been forced to develop new narrative strategies. Since the last Hamas uprising, a new narrative has emerged in Israel acknowledging dark issues previously ignored: massacres in Palestinian villages in 1947 and 1948, secret deals with imperial powers, and manipulated peace agreements.

Perhaps in the internet age, when truths can no longer be hidden, topics once taboo in Israel can now be discussed. This new voice is also driven by changing Palestinian attitudes. Young Palestinians embracing the revolutionary Algerian model instead of a two-state solution believe that driving Israel from their land is the only option. This new Israeli voice says, “We are refugees, and if the Palestinian resistance wins, we will have nowhere else to go.”

This voice has a tragic sincerity. However, watching videos from Gaza, it’s hard to empathize with Israelis who believe genocide is the only solution to preserve their presence in these lands. As Freud said, the death drive, or the natural inclination towards sadism and destruction, is as natural as the pleasure drive, and Gaza has become a museum of this death drive. But this doesn’t mean it has to be this way.

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YÜKSEL DURGUT is a journalist with a primary focus on global politics and foreign affairs.

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