I never cease to be amazed at the terminology used by people and media around the world while discussing or reporting on "the conflict in the Middle East". One tends almost without fail to hear the words "Palestinians" and "Israel". Never "Palestine" and "Israelis". While people are obviously aware that there are human beings populating the state of Israel and supporting (or not, as the case may be) its government, their existence is hardly ever acknowledged in discourse, except occasionally as statistics in the death count. This semantic inequality contributes to the popular impression of the Palestinians as a beleaguered, downtrodden people suffering under the heel of a faceless, ruthless and violent oppressor. A single opressor. Not a collection of beleaguered individuals who are as afraid, as angry, as insecure and as confused as any group of people continually subjected to unexpected deadly bouts of spectacular violence.

Equally strange is the seemingly willful ignorance of people not connected with the conflict of the fact that the Palestinian nation is no longer the scattered group of unrepresented refugees they may have been in the sixties. They are a nation, and although not yet recognised as a state by Israel or sitting in the UN, they have many of the trappings of such: agreed borders, a police force, independent municipalities, a school system, a water board, taxes, official financial support from the EU and other international powers, elections etc. They are by no means a single-minded mass of uneducated and violent freedom fighters. They have their share of artists, philosophers, film makers, dissidents, dissenters, peace makers and even capitalist millionaire businessmen. In any case it is worth remembering that Israel has not been officially recognised as a state by many of its closest neighbours, which puts it on a slightly equal footing from the point of view of international recognition, at least in its own backyard.

If we are dealing with two civilian populations in conflict, then there can be no question of the fact that the terrorism is one sided. Thankfully no Israeli civilians have yet taken the law into their own hands in this present conflict, and although in the past such individuals did rarely arise, they were so few and far between that any Israeli could tick their names off - with some horror, I might add. Regardless of the rage some individuals might express privately, it is the general ethos of the Israeli population at large that "we" simply do not do things like that, a slightly holier-than-though conceit that has, ironically, been reinforced by recent events.

If, however, the conflict is between two politically distinct entities (states or no, call it what you will), then we are dealing with an armed action caused by the inability or reluctance of one of them to curb the violent attacks of private organisations and individuals of its own citizenry agains the other. In such a situation a democratic government has a mandate and an obligation to protect its electorate. The way in which Mr. Sharon has been so far been preforming this obligation has given rise to many analogies with the actions of the US military in various situations, most notably former Yugoslavia and Afghanistan. These analogies are both quite false, for in both cases the action taken by the US was taken against governments, not terrorist organisations.

The bombing of civilian installations such as power stations and railroads in Yugoslavia was done to undermine the resources of the Milosevich organisations, not to root out terrorist cells. And the initial attack on Afghanistan was also concerned primarily with toppling the Taliban government - just check the news reports from October. It is this aspect of the actions of the US that has given rise to (insufficient, in my view) criticism of its throwing it military weight around to further political aims, removing and setting up entire governments at will. But this bears no resemblance whatsoever to the actions of the IDF in the West Bank and Gaza. Israel has not presumed to change the Palestinian administration. There is some confusion in the media about Israel attacking police stations and other semi-military installations, but this is caused by the unfortunate overlap between these powers and the terrorist organisations.

Hamas, Islamic Jihad, Hizbulla et al are not fighting for peace, but delaying it. Even if there was a will, there is no way for Israel to negotiate with a collection of disparate violent groups with no coherent policies or political demands. Their actions undermine not only the safety of the Israeli people, but the authority of the very leader elected by the Palestinians and accepted internationally as the spokesman and negotiator on their part. In attempting to eradicate these groups Israel is, ironically, attempting to further the cause of a political solution in the Middle East (as well as to protect its citizens, which is the primary aim of course), not rampaging mindlesly across refugee camps.

Now, an argument can indeed be made that taking unilateral military action in the sovereign territory of another country is the hallmark of a terrorist state. But I have been unable to think of an example of another state with this status which is a good parallel to the unique conjunction of circumstances we have here. As difficult as it is these days to make anyone believe that the Israeli people at large want peace and quiet, and that the actions of the government and military are seen to be furthering these aims, this is nevertheless the case. So, regardless of personal opinion, calling this particular conflict the action of a terrorist state is a case of special pleading - tailoring the definition to suit the concept - supported neither by fact nor precedent.

I highly doubt the Israeli army cares enough about Palestinian lives enough to pinpoint the location of a militant beyond "general area". I don't think (I hope) they're out for genocide, I just think they see whatever civilians they kill as an added bonus.

Well. I honestly don't know what to say to that, apart from ranting incoherently for several minutes. If that's what you really think, despite the assurances of at least two people who have actually served in the IDF, then that's what you think. No amount of our explaining operational procedures and counter-terrorist tactics to you could possibly convince you that Israeli soldiers (most of whom are teenagers) are not psychotic, trigger happy fucks with permanently cocked guns.

I really don't know what to say to this. I just thought it needed copying and highlighting again, just to show that some people can think like that.