I am a Turkish Muslim, and every time I have a conversation with an Israeli friend, they keep asking me why the relations between Israel and Turkey have reached such a nadir, why Turkey seemingly has an antagonistic stance against Israel. They are inclined to comment that Turkey is becoming more religious and that is the reason for the strained ties.
First of all, Turkey is not completely against Israel. Turkey and Israel are two countries that have deep-rooted, solid relations, and this will not change. Although the rhetoric in the political arena may give a different impression, the bond between the Turkish and Israeli people remains unshaken. Yes, there has been tension between Turkey and Israel in the past couple of years, but this is temporary, and the Turkish public has never ceased to care for Israelis.
The Mavi Marmara episode was an unnecessary incident and I do not believe that anyone predicted things would end the way they did. I am confident that if both sides had known the result ahead of time, they would have striven to handle things in an entirely different manner. The Israeli public has to decide how it wants to compensate, but we consider Israel as a friendly country in any event and we want to overcome this regrettable incident as soon as possible.
Israel and Turkey have always had a longstanding friendship, ever since the time of the Ottomans. They have always loved and watched over each other. This has always been the case, and it will continue to be so. From time to time, we might have problems. This is inevitable in relations between sovereign nation states, but there will never be a complete termination of our friendship.
Turkey occupies a unique position in the region as a majority Muslim state that is non-Arab, ethnically neutral. And Turkey, both historically and naturally, has been a melting pot that has brought people from rich and variegated cultures and backgrounds together, perhaps more than any other country in the Middle East. This unique situation gives Turkey the responsibility to be a natural peacemaker, moderator and protector of regional peace. And within this role, Turkey is Israel's natural ally and an assurance of the stability of the region and thus a safeguard to Israel's existence.
Turkey and Israel share common features that deepen their alliance. Both states are officially secular while their people are predominantly religious. Since secularism is both a precaution and a blessing against hypocrisy, in both countries people who chose to be religious follow their free will and no one can compel anyone to practice any religion. That is to say, there is a firm stance against bigotry and in both countries people are respected and embraced regardless of their religion. Non-believers live as they choose as well.
Israel and Turkey's secular nature prevents coercion, compulsion in the name of religion and hypocrisy. Their interpretation of secularism should not be confused with atheism; rather, it guarantees the freedom of the people to practice their religion as they see fit. In both Israel and Turkey, democratic awareness and democratic values are more firmly rooted than in any other country in the region. There is no room or tolerance for despotic regimes.
Raid on Mavi Marmara ship (Archive photo: IDF Spokesman's Office)
The people of Turkey and Israel have known hardships and they have both been nurtured from their spirituality and conviction. They have been living under fire in a region that has never known stability and has always known conflict.
The Turkish nation wants nothing more than Israel’s continued existence in peace and tranquility. We are happy to see that it is prosperous and that all its citizens live in comfort and safety. When various public figures in the Middle East make threats and genocidal statements against Israel and its citizens, it disturbs us greatly and we would never let something like that happen.
Just as we came to the aid of our Jewish brothers and sisters and sailed them in private ships to Turkey in 1492 during the period of the Spanish Inquisition and welcomed them in our country, we will be ready to rush to their help whenever they are in need. When Hitler targeted the Jews during the Nazis' genocidal "Final Solution," we struggled with all our might to protect them. This attitude stems from the morality that Islam requires. Turks and Jews have always helped each other in times of great crises, and they will continue to do so, no matter what happens.
When we go a back a little further in history, it becomes even more evident that Jews and Muslims not only coexisted but also supported each other. After the Romans destroyed the Second Temple and took control of Jerusalem, they expelled Jews from the city. When Rome adopted Christianity, it maintained a strict ban on Jews coming near Jerusalem after 325 A.D. Jews were only allowed to enter once a year to pray on Tisha B'Av.
The ban on Jews entering the city remained in force until the Muslim Caliph Umar took control of the city. Muslims then welcomed the Jews back to Jerusalem for the first time in about 600 years. During the Abbasid Caliphate, Muslims continued to welcome Jews to settle in the city, and this situation continued until the city was invaded by the Crusaders in 1099.
Another point to be emphasized is that Muslims and Jews fought side-by-side to defend the city against the invading Crusaders. After the Crusaders conquered Jerusalem, Jews and Muslims alike were prohibited from entering Jerusalem. This prohibition continued till the Muslim leader Salah al-Din Yusuf Ibn Ayyub, known as Saladin, finally liberated the city in 1187 from the Crusaders and invited the Jews to return to Jerusalem with no restrictions and allowed them to take up residence.
The core values of Israel are also sacred for Muslims. The word "Israel" is the name given by God to Jacob, who is praised in the Koran and is cited with respect by all Muslims. The synagogues are places of worship that Muslims must protect according to the Koran (Koran, 22:40). Just as Muslims are obliged to approach Jews in a friendly and brotherly manner, devout Jews are also obliged to approach Muslims amicably.
According to the Jewish faith, righteous Muslims are B'nei Noah. Both Muslims and Jews believe in the One God, they both live by the revelations of God and they both obey the messengers sent by Him. Abraham, Isaac, Moses, Joseph, Jacob, David and Solomon are just as important for Muslims as they are for the Jews. The lands that these holy people lived on and served God on are as holy for Muslims as it is for the Jews. Therefore, it goes without saying that it is love and compassion that should rule in these holy lands.
The existence of Turkey protects Israel. We will be the first ones to stand up to any kind of threat that might be aimed at Israel. Turkey will never aim to harm the Jewish people. As is the case in any society, there may be a few extremists who hold unreasonable or irrational opinions. But radical thought can never find a broad foundation in Turkey.
What matters is that Turkey is not a state in search of hostility. It is a state that wants love, brotherhood and friendship. We aim to be a nation which doesn't do injustice to anyone; a nation that will stand at the side of those who are persecuted no matter what their faith is; a nation that will defend the truth until the end. This is a very important guarantee for Israel. For this reason, our brothers and sisters in Israel should not be concerned over what it is, at best, a transitory rough patch in relations between our two nations.
We both want peace, friendship, democracy, human rights, goodness, compassion and love to be dominant in the region and we want to live a beautiful life together. Turkey and Israel working in unison can make the entire region prosperous and put an end to terror, radicalism and anarchy. Israel and Turkey will continue with their strong as steel alliance and bring peace, love and tranquility to the region.
Sinem Tezyapar is an executive producer at A9 TV, broadcasting from Turkey, Istanbul. She is a political and religious commentator and a peace activist