• The significance of Hudaibiyya in Islamic teachings is that…treaties are made to be broken.

  • The mainstream media portray the tensions between Iran and Israel as a conflict between two malign governments. But it is only the government of Iran that is the offensive aggressor, and only that government which has pledged to wipe Israel off the map -- not the other way around.

In reflections on the deal with Iran, one particular Islamic theological construct has been largely neglected: The treaty of Hudaibiyya. During March 628 AD, the prophet Muhammad marched his army on Mecca, the stronghold of his polytheistic opponents. Muhammad realized his forces were at that time not likely to achieve victory, and the Meccans had no appetite for war. The two parties thus agreed on a ten-year armistice. However, when Muhammad thought his forces were strong enough to crush the Meccans, he unilaterally broke the truce and conquered Mecca. Although possibly not the first time in history a truce was broken, the significance of Hudaibiyya in Islamic teachings is that, as the prophet was chosen and protected by Allah himself, and is therefore the "perfect man" without flaw, all of his actions are commendable, mandatory and to be emulated -- treaties are made to be broken.

Palestinian Chairman Yasser Arafat frequently referred to the treaty not only whenever he sought a reason to turn down peace with the Israelis, but also to remind his people, even after signing the Oslo Accords, that treaties can be violated with impunity. One has to assume that the theocratic regime of Iran views this deal with its enemies in the same way their prophet viewed the truce with his enemies: a convenient episode to strengthen military capacities. As political advisor to Iran's former President Khatami, Mohammad Sadeq Al-Hosseini, stated (2:14) on December 11 on Syrian News TV: "This is the Treaty of Hudaybiyya in Geneva," as he continued to elaborate on the magnitude of Iran's victory achieved with this deal.

The signs are that the "deal" is indeed falling apart and that the Iranian regime is indeed just playing for time while Iran's "centrifuges are working at full capacity".

A visibly delighted Mohammad Javad Zarif, Foreign Minister of Iran, chats with EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton in Geneva on Nov. 24, 2013, after announcing the nuclear agreement with Iran. (Image source: Iranian Students News Agency).

Israel's lack of enthusiasm with the deal was mocked and condemned worldwide. In the Netherlands, one of the largest newspaper's, the NRC, commented on the 25th of November in a headline: "Everyone pleased with deal, except Israel," insinuating that Israel is some kind of "spoiler" in an otherwise magnificent accomplishment. (The NRC's long tradition of anti-Israeli reporting has been carefully documented by Dutch ex-NRC journalist Hans Moll). The tendency to report on Israeli-Iranian relations as two equally subversive and war-mongering governments at risk of war, implying a moral symmetry between the two, much as in the Iran-Iraq war, is sadly still common. But there are also things worse than implying a moral symmetry between Israel and Iran, such as stating that Israel is an even bigger threat to world peace than Iran. For example, when German poet Günter Grass wrote his poem that insinuated that not a nuclear armed Iran, but a nuclear armed Israel was the real threat to world peace, as much as 57% of his fellow countrymen agreed on this position.

However, a positive and maybe even hopeful note is also widely underreported: the special historic and warm ties between the Persian and Jewish people, ties that even precede the story of the Jewish Esther becoming queen to Persian King Ahasuerus, by hundreds of years.

Contrary to Western public perception, the Jews were not the only people of their time that created a concept of monotheism, where the belief in one universal ethical God was the central pillar of their theology. Bernard Lewis, a historian and Professor Emeritus of Near East Studies at Princeton University, points out that in the same era "Far to the east, on the high plateau of Iran, two kindred of peoples, known to history as the Medes and the Persians, had evolved out of their ancient paganism a belief in a single supreme deity, the ultimate power of good, engaged in constant struggle with the forces of evil"[1]. The emergence of this new form of religion is associated with the prophet Zoroaster, whose teachings were preserved in a very early form of the Persian language. The specific era in which the prophet Zoroaster lived and taught has not been validated, but it seems clear that the sixth and fifth centuries BCE were a time of major Zoroastrian religious activity.

For centuries, these two peoples, each believing in a system of a unified god, went their separate ways and were, it seems, unknown to each other. However, a few cataclysmic events of the sixth century BCE brought them into contact for the first time, and the consequences of this encounter would reverberate around the world and through the ages:

In 586 BCE Nebuchadnezzar, King of Babylon, captured Jerusalem, destroyed the Jewish Temple and decimated the Kingdom of Judah in a series of wars and conquests. In accordance with customs of the time, the conquered people were imprisoned and enslaved in Babylonia. A few decades later however, the Babylonians were overthrown themselves by another conqueror, a certain Cyrus the Mede. Cyrus was the founder of a new, Persian empire, which extended to the lands of Syria and beyond.

As it turned out, it seemed that both sides -- the new conquerors as well as one small group among the many conquered peoples -- recognized an affinity of outlook and belief. Upon this realization, Cyrus authorized the return of the Jews from the Babylonian captivity to the land of Israel, and gave orders for the rebuilding of the Temple in Jerusalem at the expense of the Persian government. It might therefore seem understandable that in the Hebrew Bible, Cyrus is accorded a degree of respect given to no other non-Jewish ruler, and indeed to few Jewish rulers. The last chapters of the book of Isaiah, written after the Babylonian captivity, is illustrative on this matter: "He [Cyrus] is my shepherd, and shall perform all my pleasure: even saying to Jerusalem, Thou shall be built; and to the temple, Thy foundation shall be laid" (Isaiah 44:28). The subsequent chapter goes even further: "Thus saith the Lord to his anointed, to Cyrus, whose right hand I have holden, to subdue nations before him..." (Isaiah 45:1)[2].

A profound influence of Zoroastrian thought on Jewish theology is probable: Bernard Lewis states that "Between the earlier and later books of the Hebrew Bible, those written before the Babylonian captivity, and those written after the return, there are notable differences in belief and outlook, some of which at least may plausibly be attributed to influences from the religious thought-world of Iran. Notable among these are the idea of a cosmic struggle between the forces of good and the forces of evil, between God and the Devil, in which mankind has a role to play; the more explicit development of the notion of judgment after death, and reward or retribution in heaven or hell, and the idea of an anointed savior, born of a holy seed, who will come at the end of time and ensure the final triumph of good over evil. The importance of such ideas in the late Judaism and early Christianity will be obvious."[3]

The Jewish-Persian connections of the time also had far-reaching political implications. The Jews loyally served Cyrus, who had shown them a tremendous amount of favors and good will. For centuries after, Jews, both in their homeland and in other countries under Roman rule, were suspected, sometimes with good reason, of sympathy or even collaboration with Persian enemies of Rome[4].

In current times, the affection between Iranians and Jews still manifests itself, as is shown, for example, by the Israel Loves Iran and Iran Loves Israel Facebook-pages and the high amount affectionate images about Israelis and Iranians. There are, after all, no such tendencies between for example the Israelis and Syrians, Lebanese, Jordanians or Egyptians -- only with the Iranians.

The mainstream media portray the tensions between Iran and Israel as a conflict between two malign governments, both of which would risk the suffering of their citizens in their thirst for war. The truth is that there is indeed a historic, and still manifest, mutual affection between Jews and Iranians. It is only the current government of Iran that is the offensive aggressor, and only that government which has pledged to wipe Israel off the map -- not the other way around.

[1] Bernard Lewis, The Middle East (1995), p. 27.
[2] Ibid, p. 28.
[3] Ibid, p. 28.
[4] Ibid, p. 28.

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