Israelis and Palestinians once shared the same religion. Both Israelis and Palestinians are considered to be primarily of Semitic origin and descend from the ancient Canaanites. In ancient times, the region now known as Palestine/Israel was home to various ancient Semitic civilizations and peoples, including the Canaanites, Hebrews, Israelites, and Philistines.
During this period, the Israelites, who later formed the Jewish people, emerged as a distinct group with their own religion, which evolved into Judaism. The ancient Hebrews/Israelites worshiped the same monotheistic God and followed similar religious practices.
Over time, however, the religious beliefs and practices of Israelis and Palestinians diverged. The majority of Israelis nowadays identify as Jewish, while Palestinians are predominantly Muslim, with a significant Christian minority. These religious differences emerged through various historical, cultural, and political factors.
The religious beliefs and practices of Israelis and Palestinians diverged from their ancient Canaanite origin due to a combination of historical, cultural, and political factors.
1. Influence of Foreign Cultures: Over the centuries, various foreign powers, including the Assyrians, Babylonians, Persians, Greeks, and Romans, conquered the region and brought their own religious beliefs and practices. The introduction of these dominant cultures led to a syncretism of traditions and a gradual departure from the ancient Canaanite religious practices.
2. Development of Judaism: The emergence of Judaism as a distinct monotheistic religion played a significant role in the divergence. Israelites gradually shifted away from the polytheistic traditions of Canaanite religion and began worshiping Yahweh as the one true God. With the composition of the Hebrew Bible and the establishment of the First Temple in Jerusalem, Judaism solidified its unique identity, separating from the Canaanite religious framework.
3. Rise of Christianity: The advent of Christianity in the 1st century CE had a substantial impact on religious beliefs in the region. Jesus, a Jew, became the central figure of the new faith, and his teachings challenged some Jewish customs and beliefs. The spread of Christianity further diverged the religious practices of Jews in the region from the Canaanite origins.
4. Emergence of Islam: With the arrival of Islam in the 7th century CE, the religious landscape of the region underwent further transformation. The Islamic conquest of Palestine brought new religious beliefs, practices, and cultural norms. Many Palestinians converted to Islam, bringing a different religious worldview to the region.
5. Cultural and Ethnic Identity: As time passed and distinct Jewish and Arab identities developed, cultural and ethnic differences played a role in diverging religious beliefs. Religious traditions became entwined with collective identities, and adherence to specific faiths became markers of cultural and national pride.
6. Modern Political Context: More recently, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, the establishment of the state of Israel, and the Palestinian struggle for self-determination have contributed to the further entrenchment and divergence of religious beliefs. Political factors have enhanced religious divisions, leading to different interpretations of religious texts, land disputes, and competing claims to divine mandate.
These complex historical, cultural, and political factors have contributed to the gradual divergence of religious beliefs and practices of Israelis and Palestinians from their ancient Canaanite origins.
To better understand the long-standing Israeli-Palestinian conflict, it may be useful to understand why humans divide into groups and fight, even when they start off in the same group.
While it is true that Israelis and Palestinians share some religious history, religion is not the primary driver of the conflict between the two groups. The conflict is driven by several factors, including ethnic, national, historical, and religious. The majority of Palestinians are Muslim, while Israelis are mostly Jewish. However, the conflict is predominantly about national self-determination and secular issues of land and sovereignty, rather than religious differences.