I am a Turkish Muslim and every time I have a conversation with an Israeli friend, they keep asking me why the relations between Israel and Turkey have reached such a nadir, why Turkey seemingly has an antagonistic stance against Israel.
First of all, Turkey's being totally against Israel is out of question. Turkey and Israel are two countries who have deep-rooted, solid relations, and there will be no change in that. Although the language in the political arena may give a different impression, the bond between the Turkish and Israeli public remains unshaken. Yes, there has been a tension between Turkey and Israel for the last couple of years; however this is a temporary thing. And the Turkish public has never ceased to care for Israelis.
The Mavi Marmara episode was an unwanted incident and I do not believe that no one ever presumed that things would end the way they did. I am confident that if both sides had known the result ahead of time, they would have striven to handle things in an entirely different manner. The Israeli public has to decide how they want to compensate, but we consider Israel as a friendly country in any event and we want to overcome this regrettable incident in the soonest time.
Turkey and Israel share common features that deepens their alliance. Both states are officially secular while their people are predominantly religious. Since secularism is both a precaution and a blessing against hypocrisy, in both countries people who chose to be religious follow their free will and no one can compel anyone to any religion. That is to say, there is a firm stance against bigotry and in both countries people are respected and embraced regardless of their religion. And in both, just like believers can live by their faith, non-believers live as they choose as well.
Israel and Turkey being secular prevents coercion, compulsion in the name of religion, and does not give ground for hypocrisy. Their interpretation of secularism should not be confused with atheism; rather, it guarantees the freedom of the public to practice their religion as they see fit. In both Israel and Turkey, democratic awareness and democratic values are more firmly rooted than any other country in the region. There is no room or tolerance for dictatorship or despotic regimes.
Another commonality between the people of Turkey and Israel is that they do not have an overweening ambition to live a materialistic life in luxury. Both have known hardship and they have both been nurtured from their spirituality and conviction. They have been living under fire in a region that has never known stability and that has always been in the focus of the world with their conflicts.
As the Turkish nation, we want nothing more then the continuance of Israel’s existence in peace and tranquility. We are happy to see its being prosperous and all its citizens living in comfort and safety. As Turkish people, the settling of the Jews in the region, their residing in those lands and their being free is something that we are not uncomfortable about. On the contrary; when various public figures in the Middle East make threatening and, quite frankly, genocidal pronouncements against the Israeli state and its citizens, it disturbs us greatly and we would never let something like that happen.
Just like we came to the aid of our Jewish brothers and sisters and sailed them in private ships to Turkey in 1492 during the period of the Spanish Inquisition and welcomed them in our country, we will be ready to run to their help whenever they are in need. When Hitler targeted the Jews during the Nazis genocidal “Final Solution”, we struggled with all our might to protect them. We have lived in a friendly and brotherly manner together with our Jewish brothers. We have always provided good means for them, we have always wanted them to live in ease and comfort and that will always be the case as well. This is because such an attitude is the requisite of the morality that Islam requires. The Muslim Turks’ attitude for centuries has demonstrated that Turks and Jews have continued to help each other in times of great crises and it will continue to be this way, no matter what happens.
When we go a back a little further in history, this is even more evident that Jews and Muslims not only coexisted but also supported each other. After the Romans destroyed the Second Temple and took control of the city, they expelled Jews from the city forbidding them to live there. When Rome adopted Christianity, they maintained a strict ban on Jews coming near Jerusalem after 325 A.D. Jews were only allowed to enter once a year to pray on Tisha B'Av. The ban on Jews entering the city remained in force until the Muslim Caliph Umar took control of the city. Muslims then welcomed the Jews to come back to Jerusalem for the first time in about 600 years. During the Abbasid Caliphate, Muslims continued to welcome Jews to settle in the city and this situation continued until the city was invaded by the Crusaders in 1099. Another point to be emphasized is that Muslims and Jews fought side-by-side to defend the city against the invading Crusaders. After the Crusaders conquered Jerusalem, and put a good many of the inhabitants to the sword -both Jewish and Muslim alike- Jews were once again prohibited to enter Jerusalem. This prohibition continued till the Muslim leader Salah al-Din Yusuf ibn Ayyub, known better as Saladin, finally liberated the city in 1187 from the Crusaders and invited the Jews to return to Jerusalem with no restrictions and allowed them to take up residence.
The existence of Turkey is a safeguard for Israel. We will be the first ones to stand up for any kind of threat that might be aimed at Israel. There will never be a formation in Turkey that would aim to harm the Jewish people. Just as it could be in any society, there may be one or two rare extreme radical people and those individuals might come up with some unreasonable or irrational opinions. But radical thought can never find a broad foundation in Turkey. What matters is that we are not a state in search of hostility. From time to time, we might have problems, as is inevitable between sovereign nation-states, but there will never be a complete termination of our friendship.
We both want peace, friendship, democracy, human rights, goodness, compassion and love to be dominant in the region and we want to live a beautiful life together. Turkey and Israel working in unison can make the entire region faithful, prosperous and put an end to terror, radicalism and anarchy. Israel and Turkey will continue with their alliance as strong as steel and bring peace, love and tranquility to the region.