The main objection to a truce with Hamas stems from the fact that its leaders repeatedly and openly declare that their ultimate goal is to eliminate Israel. At this time they indeed have an interest in a temporary ceasefire, yet they are unwilling to make any progress towards ending the hostility to Israel.
This is the premise for the Israeli and global political system’s distinction between Hamas and the PLO. Israel is engaged in a “peace process” with the PLO: That is, we have lengthy and difficult negotiations, yet the PLO promises that if at the end of the day we can reach understandings, it is ultimately willing to live in peace with us. Meanwhile, we understand that Hamas’ religious ideology forces it to hate Israel deeply until it is destroyed.
However, do Israeli officials truly understand Hamas’ religious ideology? Those who understand the nature of religious ideology from the inside and do not only look at it through the lenses of news headlines may doubt whether Israeli politicians, the Israeli media, and the secular public indeed understand it.
This is not only a matter of ignorance on the part of those who belong to Western culture and have not read many Koran verses or Muslim religious edicts in their lives, and have not entered the world of Islam’s religious culture. It is not only an academic matter of a gap between cultures. Understanding Hamas’ ideology is of the utmost importance to us.
The bloodshed on both sides in our war with Hamas is critically affected by the lack of understanding of what can be done vis-à-vis their ideology. It would be a criminal waste of resources if the people of Israel fail to make use of those who understand the religious world; for example, Israel’s rabbis.
It is likely that the rabbis understand better why the secular State of Israel arouses such deep hatred among Islamic fundamentalists. Therefore, it is likely that rabbis can also cope with Hamas’ religious ideology. They know better what can and cannot be done vis-à-vis this ideology.
At this time it is impossible to demand that Hamas recognize the legitimacy of the secular State of Israel, which they view as the carrier of Western culture in our region and the country that brings heresy to their doorstep. Hamas does not even approve of Arab states that are not governed by religious law. Yet their religious ideology allows them to grant legitimacy to the people of Israel as the carrier of Judaism in the Holy Land.
Every Muslim is familiar with Judaism from his own religious sources, because it plays a central role in the Koran.
Open a new chapter
From my experience, Hamas leaders agree to create ties with Israel’s religious leaders. It is a shame that we haven’t used this possibility up until now in order to embark on a process vis-à-vis Hamas. Right now we can take the first step on the path that would eventually lead to living in peace with Islam.
It would be proper if the Israeli answer to Egyptian mediator Omar Suleiman regarding the truce would include a demand to grant Israel’s chief rabbis a major role in the lull agreement. We can explain to Egypt that in order to succeed in their efforts, we must remove the natural resistance in Israel to agree on a lull with a group that does not open any door for living in peace with Israel.
If the truce agreement would be expressed through a meeting and a handshake between Hamas leaders and Israel’s chief rabbis, its meaning for a billion and a half Muslims in the world would be to open a new chapter in the ties between Israel and Islam.
We can tell Egypt that for Israel it is worthwhile to stop the fire and the pressure on Hamas not for the sake of a lull, which is merely preparation for a harsher round of fighting. Rather, the lull agreement should express the beginning of recognition and legitimacy. Indeed, at this time it is impossible to achieve full mutual recognition. Yet we can tell Egypt that the ceasefire should be the first minimal step in the direction of an end to hostility.
When nations move in the direction of peace with each other, then there is a natural logic to free the captured fighters on both sides. This cannot be done when both sides do not renounce the flames of hatred that provide the energy for the next war. Therefore, a lull that gives expression to the beginning of a changed attitude to the people of Israel would create the basis for releasing our soldier, Gilad Shalit.
Rabbi Menachem Froman is the rabbi of Tekoa