Warfare, including civil wars, counterterrorism, and other conflicts, is a part of daily life around the globe. From the end of the Cold War to the present, not too far in the past, in other words, the world has witnessed many wars and armed conflicts. This includes the war in Bosnia, the civil war in Somalia, the war in Kosovo, the Chechen rebellion, the 9/11 attacks, the U.S. invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq, Israel’s attack on Hezbollah, the Arab Spring, and subsequent civil wars like those in Libya, Yemen, and Syria.
Added to these, the massacres of the Rohingya, the terrorist attacks of ISIS, and Russia’s attempt to invade Ukraine followed. In addition, there is the continued occupation of Palestine by Israel, which in the last two months has escalated to genocide in Gaza.
Muslim states or groups make up one or both sides in most wars. At the same time, other Muslims are greatly affected and enraged by the killing, inflicted injury, oppression, and abuse of their fellow Muslims throughout the world. These events have sparked resistance among affected Muslims and the emergence of armed factions, some of which later evolved into terrorist groups such as ISIS. Overall, however, Muslim responses have been and continue to be largely nonviolent.
The intensity of the responses has varied from conflict to conflict. For example, Muslims denounce the invasion of Muslim nations, the persecution of Muslim minorities, and the persecution of Arab authoritarian regimes. But more than any war, tyranny, struggle, or act of brutality of any kind, Israel’s occupation of Palestine has provoked the most anger among Muslim populations.
Given that more people have died in earlier conflicts, many people find the overwhelming support for the Palestinians strange and even incomprehensible. Thus, for instance, Muslims denounced the Assad regime’s killing of 500,000 Syrians, but they still feel Israel’s crimes against Palestinians are incomparable. The U.S. invasions of Iraq and Afghanistan angered Muslims, but Palestine remains their top priority.
Non-Muslims in particular seem perplexed by this anger, but they shouldn’t be. It is reasonable to pay more attention to the occupation of Palestine for a series of reasons. First, Israel has been occupying Palestine for 75 years, during which the Palestinian people have been systematically massacred, displaced, imprisoned, and their land stolen.
Palestine is still being annexed today. What is more, thousands of Palestinians are imprisoned by Israel at any given time, and since October 7, 2023, Israel has been carrying out ethnic cleansing and genocide. After the indiscriminate killing of more than 27,000 civilians by the Israeli army, 70% of whom were women and children, including those who died under the rubble, Gaza has been virtually destroyed.
Israel’s horrific actions have led to the denouncement of the genocide in Gaza not only by Muslims but by people of other faiths as well. Given how long Palestine has been persecuted, even if the recent genocide had not occurred, Palestine would still be on the world’s radar. Israel’s persecution is continuous, and when the world begins to lose interest in the Palestinian cause, an Israeli attack or a decision to build more illegal settlements draws people’s attention back again.
Second, Israel is undeniably the offending party and has no justification for occupying and harming Palestinians. Israel is acting illegally and in violation of international law. Not even its supporters, including the U.S., support the occupation. Legally speaking, no one supports Israel’s policy, because it is completely unlawful and immoral; Palestinians, conversely, are universally accepted as the victims of Israeli aggression and supported by both Muslims and non-Muslims alike.
For example, while Muslims were generally opposed to the U.S. invasion of Afghanistan, Osama bin Laden’s presence in the country and the Talibans’ self-defined Islamic rule that was seen as overly fanatic, softened Muslims’ reaction to the U.S. invasion. Added to this, while the Americans eventually withdrew from Iraq, Israel seeks to occupy all of Palestine and perhaps its surroundings permanently.
Third, Palestine never had the opportunity to acquire weapons to oppose Israel. The Palestinians were forbidden to arm themselves by both Israel and other international actors. With a better equipped army, Israel has continuously murdered Palestinians in cold blood. As expected, outsiders, especially Muslims, could not resist Israel’s massacring of civilians with advanced weapons.
Fourth, the Zionist movement is using religion it its war against Palestinians. The British offered the Zionists many different places to live, but they insisted on Palestine, saying that the region was the homeland promised to them by God—despite the fact that the majority of Zionists, in fact, were secular.
When the Palestinians did not hand over their land to Jewish migrants, the latter used force to annihilate them. The Muslim community feels obligated to speak out against Israel’s actions because religion is still heavily used by the Zionist movement. In other words, Muslims respond with their religious beliefs because the criminal party, i.e., Israel, invokes Judaism when it kills. Thus, faith-based activities elicit faith-based responses.
Fifth, the city of Al Quds and al-Aqsa Mosque are located in Palestine. Al Quds is the third holiest city in Islam, after Mecca and Medina, and al-Aqsa Mosque is the third holiest mosque after the Ka’ba and the Prophet’s Mosque. It is said that one prayer in al-Aqsa Mosque is equivalent to 250 prayers in other places, and the mosque is mentioned in the Qur’an. There are about 40 hadiths of the Prophet Muhammad about al-Aqsa Mosque, and he says that Muslims should visit the mosque and take care of it.
Thus, Islam attaches great importance to Palestine as a holy land with a holy mosque, and Muslims cannot accept the occupation of the area by non-Muslims: an attack on Palestine is an attack on Islam, and no Muslim can continue to tolerate Israel’s occupation.
Overall, the Palestinians, both Muslims and Christians, are believed to be protecting Islamic holy sites and temples on behalf of all Muslims against Jewish invaders who use Judaism to advance their goals. The hearts of Muslims (and non-Muslims) cannot bear the relentless and unbridled persecution of the Palestinian people, who are being forcibly removed from their homes and subjected to extreme violence.
One could argue that due to the sanctity of the land, Muslims across the world would always be concerned about Palestine even if there were no armed conflict there, no oppression of Palestinians or, recently, genocide in Gaza: The Palestinian cause is more than defending Palestine, as Muslims across the globe have a strong connection to the land and its holy sites.