BEHIND THE NEWS: Neverending story

December 31, 2008 4:08:26 PM PST
It's the hottest military and political hot spot in the world. And it is not hard to envision something just short of World War III spring boarding from there.

The most unfortunate thing that happens when talking about the conflict between Israelis and Palestinians is that the extremists on both sides - who also happen to be the loudest and the ones who control the weapons - take over. Go ahead, say that Israel is overreacting, and you're labeled anti-Semitic at the worst, naive at the minimum. Or dare to suggest that it's just not right for Hamas to lob Russian rockets into Israeli territory, and you're pegged as someone who doesn't understand the mindset of the oppressed.

Please, people, just stop!

What the Palestinians and the Israelis have never been able to figure out is how to live together without killing each other.

Excuse me for regressing into something trivial, but remember that old Star Trek TV episode when the crew met a civilization where half the population had their faces black on the left side and white on the right side, and the other half had their faces exactly the opposite -- white on the left, black on the right.

It took the crew a while to see the differences, and they never understood what the big deal was.

To the world -- and I know I'm in for it now -- the Israelis and Palestinians aren't all that different. In fact, in some ways, most of the world views the Palestinians as modern-day Israelis -- oppressed, out of work, shunted and shunned by most everyone else, and without a homeland.

Now, both sides are ready for all-out war, or so it appears. This is the fifth day of bombing Gaza by the obviously stronger Israeli military. And Israeli ground troops stand poised to invade Gaza -- something they could do militarily, but something they should think several dozen times about before they actually do it.

There are 1.5 million Palestinians living in Gaza. Almost all are impoverished. The unemployment rate is a passing grade in most schools. And they are ruled by a fanatic regime, Hamas, that wants to install fundamentalist Islamic law and see the destruction of Israel.

News flash to Hamas - ain't gonna happen.

News flash to Israel - peace won't exist until the Palestinians have not just their own land, but a thriving economy. And jobs. Nothing goes nowhere without full employment. No one ever fought a revolution on a full stomach. People revolt when they're hungry, and Palestinians are hungry.

Countries fight back when they're sick and tired of getting attacked. And Israelis are sick and tired of getting attacked.

In addition, as Middle East history professor Benny Morris pointed out in an op-ed piece in The Times today, 1.3 million Israeli Arabs -- and their allegiance for the most part isn't to Israel, it's to the Palestinian cause. They're not in Gaza and not in the West Bank, they're living in Israel. And their numbers are growing. With a birth rate of more than four children per family - versus two or three per Israeli Jewish family - Morris says Arabs could constitute the majority of Israeli citizens in the next 30-or-so years.

Imagine that.

Some might say the lesson is to eliminate the opposition.

Most would say the lesson is to live in peace. Right now -- without saying "well, 100 years ago....." or "in 1981 such and such happened...."

STOP!

Killing each other is in no one's interest, and the sooner the extremists on each side understand that, the sooner a peace might be fashioned.

It's too simplistic, given the history of these two peoples, to blame the past eight years of Washington inaction for the current plight. But it also would be naive to say that this inaction did anything to help the situation. We were all over Iraq, but the problem wasn't there. The need for U.S. action was in Afghanistan, and in the war between Palestinians and Israelis. It's hard to make the argument that we failed in each case.

Tonight at 11, we'll have the latest on the crisis in Gaza, including the last-ditch attempts to forge some kind of ceasefire. Today, the Israelis rejected calls for a temporary truce.

Also at 11, oh, yeah, right, almost forgot, it's New Year's Eve, and so we'll be in Times Square, along with more than a million others, for what promises to be not just another exciting ball-drop (with the Clintons, both of them, pushing the button that lowers the ball for the countdown to 2009) but also dangerously cold. Temperature will be below 20 degrees, says Lee Goldberg; but with the wind chills it will feel like zero, or even lower. This -- on top of an officially yucky day of snow throughout our area. Lee is tracking the system and the cold, tonight at 11.

We'll also have any breaking news of the night, plus Scott Clark with the evening's sports news. I hope you can join Liz Cho and me, tonight at 11. Happy New Year to everyone. A safe, healthy and loving New Year.

This column will return on Monday.

BILL RITTER


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