First, it is important to understand that not all Arabs are Muslims, and not all Muslims are Arabs. While a majority of Arabs are Muslims, there are many non-Muslim Arabs. Further, there are significantly more non-Arab Muslims in areas such as Indonesia and Malaysia than there are Arab Muslims. Second, it is important to remember that not all Arabs hate Jews, not all Muslims hate Jews, and not all Jews hate Arabs and Muslims. We must be careful to avoid stereotyping people. However, generally speaking, Arabs and Muslims have a dislike of and distrust for Jews, and vice-versa.
If there is an explicit biblical explanation for this animosity, it goes all the way back to Abraham. The Jews are descendants of Abraham’s son Isaac. The Arabs are descendants of Abraham’s son Ishmael. With Ishmael being the son of a slave woman (Genesis 16:1–16) and Isaac being the promised son who would inherit the blessings of Abraham (Genesis 21:1–3), obviously there would be some animosity between the two sons. As a result of Ishmael’s mocking Isaac (Genesis 21:9), Sarah talked Abraham into sending Hagar and Ishmael away (Genesis 21:11–21). Likely, this caused even more contempt in Ishmael’s heart toward Isaac. An angel told Hagar that Ishmael would be the father of a great nation (Genesis 21:18) and, interestingly, that Ishmael would be “a wild donkey of a man; his hand will be against everyone and everyone’s hand against him, and he will live in hostility toward all his brothers” (Genesis 16:12).
However, the ancient root of bitterness between Isaac and Ishmael does not explain all of the hostility between Jews and Arabs today. The religion of Islam, which a majority of Arabs follow, has made the hostility predicted of Ishmael more profound. The Qur’an contains somewhat contradictory instructions for Muslims regarding Jews. At one point it instructs Muslims to treat Jews as brothers and at another point commands Muslims to attack Jews who refuse to convert to Islam. The Qur’an also introduces a conflict as to which son of Abraham was truly the son of promise. The Hebrew Scriptures say it was Isaac. The Qur’an says it was Ishmael. The Qur’an teaches that it was Ishmael whom Abraham almost sacrificed to the Lord, not Isaac (in contradiction to Genesis 22). This debate over who was the son of promise further contributes to today’s hostility.
Another root of the conflict between Jews and Arabs is political. After World War II, when the United Nations gave a portion of the land of Israel to the Jewish people, the land was ruled by the British and primarily inhabited by Arabs (although one third of the population was Jewish). Most Arabs protested vehemently against the new Israeli state, even as they refused an Arab Palestinian state offered as part of the UN plan. Arab nations including Egypt, Jordan, Iraq, and Syria attacked Israel in an attempt to drive them into the sea, but they were defeated. The defeat of the Arab forces soon became a human tragedy when the surrounding Arab nations refused to absorb the Arab refugees from Israel.
Ever since 1948, there has been great hostility between Israel and its Arab neighbors. The tensions have been stoked by political rhetoric and the existence of groups such as Hamas with their continuing obsession with wiping out “the Zionist entity” and “reversing the results of 1948.”
Israel exists on one tiny piece of land surrounded by much larger Arab nations such as Jordan, Syria, Saudi Arabia, Iraq, and Egypt. It is our viewpoint that, biblically speaking, Israel has a right to exist as a nation in its own land that God gave to the descendants of Jacob, grandson of Abraham (Genesis 12:7). While there is no easy solution to the conflict in the Middle East, Psalm 122:6 declares, “Pray for the peace of Jerusalem: May those who love you be secure.”