On the mideast discussion board of the travel website Bootsnall This note was posted: "We read the newspaper, watch the tv pictures and check the news on the web and it never gets any better.  Israelis and Palestinians hurting each other in turn.  To make matters worse each side has leaders who have massive egos and a real hatred of the other side.  Not much chance of either side backing away to be reasonable.  Question #1: What can you as a traveller in the Middle East do to help end this cycle of violence?  Question #2: What can you do from your home computer to help this situation?  Question #3: What single thing needs to happen before these sides can start heading in the right direction?"

Several people responded.  My contribution was the following letter, which I posted on 5 August, 2002.

Travellers are more free to debate honestly than are politicians

Israel wants the Palestinians to give up violence before receiving any concessions.  The Palestinian Authority wants Israel to stop its crackdowns and demolitions before giving up violence.  Each side is making a logical yet impossible demand of the other:  Israel is being bombed almost daily and cannot reasonably believe that this will end if The Palestinian Authority is given autonomy.  After all, giving land and autonomy to people who include a significant number who want to murder every member of your population, and who don't have a policing infrastructure capable of controlling the former group is ridiculous.  Meanwhile, the Palestinian Authority has very little right now.  It has no infrastructure that it can count on, no real power, ...basically the only thing the Palestinians have is the ability to keep Israel from feeling secure.  Violence is really the only "bargaining chip" the Palestinians have - if they give it up they will have to rely on the good will of the Israelis to get anything.

As long as the debate is being framed as it is, there will be no reason for either side to do anything but make things worse.  How about this instead:

I could go on like this for a while - Remove overt calls for killing Israelis from Palestinian textbooks and Friday mosque sermons, stop the policy of assassinating Palestinian leaders (if they're terrorists then arrest them or expose their activities), stop lynching Palestinians suspected of "collaborating with Israel", stop razing the homes of people related to suicide bombers...  The idea is to try and set up a situation where people have a chance of seeing that the other side is not entirely evil as a group.

True, none of this is accomplishable by travellers, but we have a much freer hand in debating it than those in power actually do.  Maybe if we can come up with something sound it'll prod the people with power a little.

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