The Convivencia Project

The document below is work in progress - it is still being refined by the JNP team. Final version will soon be published.

CONVIVENCIA: Towards a Just Coexistence in Palestine/Israel and Elsewhere - Common History Inspiring Collective Action


Summary

Convivencia is a cross-faith, international initiative for just peace in the Middle East. This is a better way forward than the current militarised ‘solutions’ based on racist oppression, brute force, denial of rights and dispossession. The proposal is based on some shared values of the monotheistic faiths. It is also based on the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, especially its responsibility for everyone ‘to promote respect for these rights and freedoms’. . The call extends to people of all faiths and none who are committed to these values. Instead of dividing people, this approach unites them in a search for a just peace based on equality for all in Palestine/Israel.

At different times and places, all faiths have been afflicted by various aspects of racist behaviour. Racism and Supremacist positions should be totally and clearly rejected by all religious and civic communities. All forms of racism must be treated in the same manner, being equally reprehensible. Two important historical examples of people of different faiths living in mutual respect were Andalucia during the Golden Age and Palestine during most of its history, with the exception of the time of the Crusades. We wish to use such historical examples as models for future coexistence in Palestine and beyond.


Unfortunately, racist agendas have been treated differentially in Britain. Allegations of antisemitism have been weaponised by conflating it with anti-Zionism to suppress popular campaigns for a just peace in Palestine/Israel. In fact, Israeli settler-colonial privileges constitute the international crime of Apartheid. These privileges depend on the denial of human and political rights to the indigenous population of Palestine. They also depend on a continuing illegal, repressive militarised occupation. There is a much more prevalent Islamophobia in the UK which receives little government attention.

More subtly, an ‘inter-faith’ cooperation which silences any discussion of Palestinian rights has been widely promoted. Such arrangements set up a dishonest coexistence between faith groups. A similar oppressive role is played by Israeli
-Palestinian co-existence projects. All these practices collude with racism. They must be opposed through a fully anti-racist agenda, namely: a just co-existence. On this basis we can motivate larger numbers of people.

All three monotheistic faiths have established the concept of justice as central to all their teachings. It follows that any political system that gains their support must combine equality, justice and universal human rights in order to deliver peace, democracy and the rule of law. Of course, at various historical junctures practitioners of the three faiths have denied or contradicted such principles. Nevertheless, they have been a common basis for building modern democratic systems supported of course by other faiths and humanists who honour the same principles.

After the Nazi Holocaust a new global commitment was enmeshed in the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which puts this clearly: “In the exercise of his rights and freedoms, everyone shall be subject only to such limitations as are determined by law solely for the purpose of securing due recognition and respect for the rights and freedoms of others and of meeting the just requirements of morality, public order and the general welfare in a democratic society.” Guaranteeing human rights and justice is the first duty of all governments, but their accountability depends on citizens’ collective action. In 1970, the crime of Apartheid - the legalised form of racism - was defined by the UN, and made illegal, being incompatible with the Universal Human Rights UN declaration.

Effective action to live up to these principles needs to elicit common sources and inspirations for action, towards a fully multicultural anti-racist programme. This must oppose all state racisms including political Zionism, based as it is on racist colonial notions. The Zionist movement cited endemic antisemitism as necessitating a Jewish state but did not organize or join opposition to antisemitism. Indeed, it reproduced Christian antisemitic stereotypes of Eastern European Jews, who had to be uplifted by imitating European colonialism in Palestine. From its inception, political Zionism was an exclusivist Jewish settler-colonial project, intending to expel the Palestinian indigenous population. Demands for justice in Palestine provide a link between long-time concepts of the three monotheistic faiths and today’s many efforts towards a just coexistence (living together justly).

A historical regression: From Convivencia (coexistence) to racist state persecution


In southern Spain, now called Andalucía, people of the three monotheistic faiths (Muslims, Jews and Christians) lived in relative harmony during Moorish Muslim rule for a few hundred years, until the Christian
Reconquista expelled the Jews and Muslims from 1492. That period has been retrospectively described as the Convivencia, Spanish for coexistence or living together. This concept is used today for the co-existence of various faiths and immigrant groups. In particular, ‘Days of Integration and Convivencia’ have been regularly held in Spain.

For most of the Moorish period,
Al Andalus (its Arabic name) enjoyed a great flowering of the arts and sciences, as well as of philosophy, literature and poetry. This was facilitated by the regime’s initiatives which encouraged a culture involving individuals from the three religious groups. The regime understood that they shared some crucial characteristics, as well as the Old Testament as an iconic text, in common. The two younger faiths have accepted their historical debt to Judaism, influenced by the court ideology. The Christian and Jewish societies appreciated the great social and political benefits thus offered.

Some benefits of this past are still clear today. Beyond the obvious artistic flowering which turned the cities of
Al Andalus into centres of art and architecture without equal, the main benefits were the preservation and rediscovery of classical texts lost to Europe due to Rome’s, and even Byzantium’s, persecution of much pre-Christian cultural heritage. The classical Greek literature and drama, which had been suppressed by centuries of Christian animosity, survived in the original version or in translations into Arabic. They were now retranslated into Latin and the various ‘vulgar tongues’ - the local European languages.

In those ways, Moorish rulers provided an intellectual haven which preserved and extended classical knowledge, in turn serving as a basis for the
Renaissance and, later, the Age of Reason or Enlightenment. The advances in Al Andalus were stimulated by a scientific explosion (of mathematics, algebra, geography, astronomy, physics and chemistry) fuelled by the knowledge that had been preserved and further developed in Damascus, Baghdad, Cairo and north Africa’s Muslim centres of learning.

After 1492 Muslims and Jews were expelled from
Al Andalus or were forced to convert. Andalucian scientific advances were later used by Europe’s great navigators to establish a nautical-cartographic foundation for discovering new routes to the East and the ‘New World’; eventually dominating those territories. Great achievements were combined with mass suffering. By appropriating the wisdom of Al Andalus, Christian empires increasingly subjugated the world through industrialised slavery, racist colonialism and plunder.

Meanwhile European Jews were regularly subjected to antisemitic exclusion, discrimination, persecution and even murder. These attacks were often promoted by ruling elites, directly or indirectly.

Palestine under the Ottoman Empire is another example of coexistence where the three monotheistic faiths lived in relative harmony. They shared a common Arabic culture and lived in the same neighbourhoods (far more so than in
Al Andalus). Antisemitism was rare, largely imported by European racists. From this centuries-long coexistence, people of all three faiths opposed the Zionist colonisation project as it dispossessed the indigenous population, marginalised Arab Jews and eventually destroyed the traditional interfaith coexistence.

Dominant historical narratives have neglected the fact that Palestine itself had enjoyed a form of Convivencia through most of its history. Likewise, such coexistence between the three religious communities was shattered by the bloody, brutal European Crusades. Such islands of comparative calm existed elsewhere, for example in the Balkans and parts of Turkey. This heritage should offer a cultural resource to the movement seeking contemporary coexistence in Palestine/Israel.


Zionist state racism sanitised

The Israel- Palestine conflict was caused by a racist settler-colonial project which set out from the start to subjugate and expel the indigenous population. Recognising this Zionist settler-colonial source and its roots in Christian Zionism with its continuing support for Israeli oppression, is essential for overcoming the conflict and finding a just, durable, peaceful solution. Likewise, it is necessary to oppose all complicity by foreign governments and companies on which Israeli colonisation and apartheid depends. Only on this basis we hope to enable a negotiated solution which will allow people - of all faiths and none - to coexist justly in historic Palestine.

Today’s racist state agendas (including Zionism) have been sanitised by obscuring or rewriting history in several ways. Around the mid-20
th century, a Western narrative invented ‘the Judeo-Christian heritage’ (or tradition) for various political agendas, even contradictory ones. Spanning those differences was a basic assumption about shared values between the two religious’ traditions. The narrative has cited the Old Testament yet excludes Muslims, and does not recognise the roots of antisemitism in European Christianity.

A common ‘Judeo-Christian heritage’ plays several racist and historically amnesiac roles, in particular:


  • - Portraying European and Zionist colonisation as societal progress, while sanitising its violent racism

  • - Denying or disregarding Israeli Apartheid

  • - Obscuring western exploitation in the Middle East whilst idealising Israel as the West’s front-line thus scapegoating Muslims for Europe’s internal failures

  • - Portraying Muslims and Arabs as the main threats to Jews, while obscuring Western Right-wing antisemitism and the long history of Christian antisemitism which continues today;

  • - Ignoring the common Judeo-Muslim history and heritage

  • - Obscuring various cross-faith (and secular) anti-racist agendas opposing antisemitism over the past couple centuries.


As many Jews have become integrated into Western countries, the past half-century’s oppressive convergence has been projected back into distant times as a fictitious basis for ‘the Judeo-Christian tradition’.

In the past decade, allegations of antisemitism have been increasingly weaponised by conflating it with anti-Zionism in order to suppress the popular campaign for just peace in Palestine/Israel. In this racist agenda, Israeli settler-colonial privileges depend on denying human and political rights to the indigenous population of Palestine, and on continuing an illegal and repressive militarised occupation. As a key weapon of this agenda, pro-Israel forces have aggressively promoted the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (
IHRA) Definition of Antisemitism, whose examples include ‘Denying the Jewish people their right to self-determination, e.g., by claiming that the existence of a State of Israel is a racist endeavour’. This contentious example has been deployed to make false accusations of antisemitism and to deny venues for public events or to restrict speakers.

By contrast with antisemitism, the much more prevalent Islamophobia has been largely ignored.

Analogous racist instrumentalization of religious identity has been spreading across the world. Such agendas have been undermining democratic institutions and/or justifying environmental destruction. Beyond the Zionist case, other examples include the anti-Muslim Hindutva in India, anti-Rohingya Buddhism in Myanmar, anti-Tamil Buddhism in Sri Lanka, anti-Muslim actions in France, etc. All such government policies are based on a racist, xenophobic denial of identities and rights to the
other. Such agendas have supplied new markets for Israeli techniques to subordinate, colonise and/or expel minorities.

The British state has operated a double political manipulation of Muslims. Its policies and actions, including the Prevent programme, have encouraged systemic Islamophobic attitudes, treating Muslims as a suspect community. The state has intimidated Muslims with false allegations of antisemitism for opposing Zionist racism. Under such threats, many Muslim groups have been pushed into ‘inter-faith’ initiatives with pro-Israel Jewish groups on the understanding that Israel may not be criticised (nor even mentioned), thus normalising Zionism. This agenda creates a fake, dishonest, unjust coexistence between Jews and Muslims, stigmatising vocally anti-Zionist Muslims as antisemitic. By analogy, a similar oppressive role is played by Israeli-Palestinian co-existence projects. The UK government has sought to disguise Israel’s racist character through ‘co-existence’ dialogue projects such as the Alliance for Middle East Peace and Solutions Not Sides.


While the sacred texts of the three religions include numerous imprecations against injustice and uphold moral values of the highest kind (with some notable exceptions) many believers and followers have been recruited into supremacist, racist and hateful agendas over the centuries. Not coincidentally, these agendas have been used to serve state interests to make people fear each other, so as to more easily impose exploitation and environmental degradation. Such abuse or denial of human rights make the universal values in the classical scriptures all the more crucial.


Justice inspiring collective action for a fully anti-racist agenda

Such supremacist and exclusivist practices collude with racism. Of course, the Zionist settler-colonial project is among many racist state agendas violating human rights and denying justice. Such agendas generally mobilise an ethnic or faith basis for promoting, disguising or justifying institutional racism. As a special case, Western states have overtly colluded with the Zionist colonisation project, sought to sanitise Israel’s state racism, and demonised its anti-racist opponents. Israel’s state racism has been singled out for special protection so it warrants a special response.


We wish the peaceful resolution of the conflict in Palestine to become a positive beacon of life together elsewhere, as
Al Andalus did in its historical period. We call upon relevant religious and secular organisations to come together under the banner of Convivencia and lay a new foundation to future life in Europe, as well as in Palestine. Let us work together for peace and coexistence!

A fully anti-racist agenda must oppose all state racisms including Zionism. Organisations should join cross-community collaborative activities against all forms of racism. True multiculturalism can enhance social and political cultures by anchoring a just coexistence legally and politically, learning from past lessons of inter-community coexistence in imperial regimes, both in Europe and the Middle East. This effort can take inspiration from past historical experiences such as the Convivencia of Al Andalus.

Although many people agree with the aims here, any real advance will depend on greater collective action. Too few people have been taking responsibility for collective action to oppose all forms of racism including Zionism. Beyond simply agreeing that such racist practices are unjust, to overcome them will need greater responsibility for citizens’ collective action. What already inspires such action – and can be further mobilised?


After the Nazi Holocaust a new global commitment was enmeshed in the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights: “In the exercise of his rights and freedoms, everyone shall be subject only to such limitations as are determined by law solely for the purpose of securing due recognition and respect for the rights and freedoms of others and of meeting the just requirements of morality, public order and the general welfare in a democratic society.” As a less well-known feature, the Preamble assigned a common responsibility to everyone: that ‘every individual and every organ of society, keeping this Declaration constantly in mind, shall strive by teaching and education to promote respect for these rights and freedoms’.

Many people have felt motivated by the ancient concept ‘justice’, often expressed today as ‘social justice’. Indeed, vital for any legal system, justice was already defined in the Code of Hammurabi almost 4 millennia ago as a legal concept. Martin Luther King’s favourite Biblical quote was Amos 5:24, “But let justice roll down as waters, and righteousness as a mighty stream.” 'Praxis: faith in action' has been a key phrase of various Christian initiatives for justice, including liberation theology in Latin America. Praxis extends the ancient Greek noun which links 'doing, acting, and practice'; this concept has a much wider relevance.


Demands for ‘justice’ have linked people of diverse backgrounds in defending Palestinian rights against Israel’s state racism. At a 2005 London conference on Palestine, ‘justice and oppression as derived through theological concepts and praxis were illuminated through the traditions of Islam, Christianity and Judaism…’ In Palestine, a liberation theology appeals to Biblical prophetic themes of inclusivity and justice. Within Britain’s churches, ‘justice’ and ‘just peace’ motivate the campaign for a morally responsible investment policy, emphasising divestment from companies complicit in the Occupation. Beyond such examples, ‘justice’ now provides an intuitive basis for people’s right and duty to jointly resist oppression.

Practical proposals for a just coexistence

This document is aiming to elicit common sources and inspirations for collective action towards a comprehensively multicultural anti-racist programme opposing Zionism and seeking a just future for all the people of Israel/Palestine. In practical terms, then, we outline 6 main aims:

Proactive Coalition: We commit ourselves to the principle of Convivencia to counter the poison of inter-group hatred. This requires a new collaboration between secular and religious groups, to stimulate an exciting political imagination, towards a programme of hope and affirmation for a just coexistence and a common struggle against Israeli Apartheid.
Cross-faith Platform: We intend to refine and finalise a platform for a cross-faith organisational collaboration around Convivencia (or a just coexistence) based on demands for social justice. We need a persuasive, attractive and progressive programme supported by Muslim, Jewish and Christian organisations, as well as other groups devoted to a peaceful, just solution.
Rejecting racist and colonial agendas: We oppose the ideologies of colonialism, racism, white supremacism, Apartheid and Zionism (Jewish supremacism against Arabs). Likewise, we challenge the fake, unjust, dishonest inter-faith coexistence which normalises Zionism.
Advance collective action: We commit to stimulate greater responsibility and inspiration for such collective action, beyond simply agreement with these aims. We will need to understand better the diverse bases of collective action (such as social justice or human rights) and how they can converge more effectively.
Wide-ranging progressive exchanges: We intend initiating discussions with interested organisations (or their members as individuals) on how to elaborate this agenda in a strategic and sustainable way.
Use strategic dissemination: We intend using the media, and especially the social media, as well as our organisational website and Facebook pages, in a synchronised manner to spread the positive message and increase support for it.