Israels fears are real, but this Gaza war is utterly self-defeating | Jonathan Freedland

Palestinians and Israelis are saddled with leaders who with every move make their people less, not more, secure

An old foreign correspondent friend of mine, once based in Jerusalem, has turned to blogging. As the story he used to cover flared up once more, he wrote: This conflict is the political equivalent of LSD distorting the senses of all those who come into contact with it, and sending them crazy. He was speaking chiefly of those who debate the issue from afar: the passions that are stirred, the bitterness and loathing that spew forth, especially online, of a kind rarely glimpsed when faraway wars are discussed. While an acid trip usually comes in lurid colours, here it induces a tendency to monochrome: one side is pure good, the other pure evil with not a shade of grey in sight.

But the LSD effect also seems to afflict the participants in the conflict. They too can act crazy, taking steps that harm not only their enemy but themselves. Again and again, their actions are self-defeating.

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Sifting through the wreckage of MH17, searching for sense amid the horror | Jonathan Freedland

In the face of events from Ukraine to Gaza, we want to believe that the world is not a place of uncontrollable catastrophe

Any journalist should hesitate before saying this, but news can be bad for you. You dont have to agree with the analyst who reckons news is to the mind what sugar is to the body to see that reading of horror and foreboding hour by hour, day after day, can sap the soul. This week ended with a double dose, administered within the space of a few hours: Israels ground incursion into Gaza and, more shocking because entirely unexpected, the downing of Malaysia Airlines flight MH17 over Ukraine, killing all 298 on board.

The different responses these events stir in those of us who are distant, and the strategies we devise to cope with them, say much about our behaviour as consumers of news. But they also go some way to determining our reaction as citizens, as constituent members of the amorphous body we call public, or even world, opinion.

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It’s not a playground spat

One of the joys of being the father of a teenage son is getting to glimpse, thanks to him, videos that have gone viral. The latest was made in 2012 but it's spread anew among Jewish teens. It's a South Park-style cartoon that, without words, depicts the background to the hostilities between Israel and Hamas.

It shows a sweet boy, minding his own business in school, repeatedly struck by another boy - darker and wearing the green bandana of Hamas - who bombards him with pellets and paper planes.

The first child does his best to restrain himself, but the missiles keep coming. He moves to hit back, but stops when he sees that his assailant is hiding behind two cute and even younger kids. Still, the pellets keep coming. Eventually, the first boy has enough. He gets his revenge by giving the boy in the bandana a flick on the nose. That minor blow is sufficient to produce floods of tears from his victim, who promptly gets the sympathy of his teachers and the world's press - though he started it.

It is a beguilingly simple story, told with satisfying clarity. There is no mistaking who is right and who is wrong. It makes, in its own fashion, all the key points defenders of Israel - whether during this month's Operation Protective Edge or 2012's Operation Pillar of Defence - want to make. That any country whose civilians faced persistent hostile rocket fire would have to do what Israel has done and hit back; that one reason Palestinian civilian casualties are high is the cynical use by Hamas of Gaza's young and vulnerable as human shields.

And yet the video is horribly misleading. Take those animated tears from the child avatar of Hamas. The cartoon suggests they're fake, a nod to "Pallywood", the well-worn claim that there is a cottage industry generating bogus film coverage of Palestinian suffering. But, much as Israel's advocates may wish it were otherwise, the suffering of Gaza is real. As I write, the Palestinian death toll stands over 200, with 80 per cent of those civilians and 21 per cent children. The tears of their mothers and fathers were not faked for the cameras. They are real and it is a matter of basic humanity to admit as much.

Much more troubling, though, is the assumption that Israel was minding its own business, doing nothing that could harm anyone, when Hamas struck out of a clear blue sky.

One doesn't have to get into the precise sequence of events of the last few weeks to see the flaw in that. For any depiction of Israel as a well-behaved child, picked on in an unprovoked attack by the classroom bully, omits the uncomfortable fact that Israel is not only the stronger party in the conflict with the Palestinians - but the occupier for 47 years of Palestinian territory. The settlements may be gone from Gaza, but Israel retains control of the Strip's airspace and waters, and, along with Egypt, its borders and, of course, still commands the West Bank.

The significance of this goes far beyond one small video. Too many imagine this conflict as some kind of playground spat, soluble by a firm display of force. But there can be no lasting military solution to this problem, a truth demonstrated by the fact that these eruptions of violence now occur with increasing frequency.

Ultimately, the only solution will be political, through negotiation and compromise, including sharing the land that both sides claim. That is the reality, even if it does not lend itself to a neat and colourful little film.

This cycle of vengeance could spark a third intifada | Jonathan Freedland

The tit-for-tat killings of Israeli and Palestinian teenagers have raised the prospect of another, even bloodier confrontation

The faces are, if not the same, then similar. The smiling boys in the photographs look like each other and like teenage boys everywhere: eager, amused, naive. They are brimming with life. Except these four boys are dead. Naftali Frankel, Gilad Shaar and Eyal Yifrach were murdered first, their bodies found on Monday, and Mohamed Abu Khdeir was murdered after that, his life apparently taken in revenge for the other three. All four, the three Israelis and the Palestinian, have something in common besides those teenage smiles: their lives were ended by people capable of believing that to slaughter an innocent child is a noble act of service, somehow a good deed in the cause of the nation.

The dread thought now is that there will be more such people, Palestinians who feel it their sacred duty to avenge Mohamed's death by killing more blameless Israeli children. And that they will be followed by Israelis who feel compelled in the name of national pride or holy vengeance to snatch and kill another equally blameless Palestinian child. And on and on it will go.

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