The Morality of No Sides.
Where, exactly, do you date the start of the Muslim-Israeli conflict? The answer to this question has a lot to do with how you characterize the morality of the conflict. If you go back 3,000 years, you probably side with the Israelis, who saw their homeland shrink due to incursions by neighboring tribes and eventually, the Romans, who expelled the Jews in 132 BCE. (Who was there 3,001 years ago? History does not record.) If you date it to the 1947 UN Partition of Palestine, you probably support the Palestinians (and see later seizures of Egyptian, Jordian, and Syrian, and Lebanese land of evidence of Israeli illegitimacy).
The history of humans is one of war and conquest, of displacement and subjugation. The entire New World has risen on the burial mounds of great nations. There is precious little land in Europe, Asia, or Africa that has not seen the race, language, or religion of its leaders change violently under this commonplace historical upheaval. Yet we move on, burying the bloody hands of our ancestors, if not our memory of their struggles. From time to time, the memories overwhelm a region and we witness, mouths agape, atrocity we didn't remember humans had the capacity to commit.
In most of these cases, the rest of the world has the remove to avoid taking sides. It is obvious that trying to sort out who committed the first offense is beyond our legal and historical capacity. Not so with Israel. As I watch the horror unfold, I rarely see anyone exercise this remove. Worse, this is one of the few global conflicts where people seem to have forgotten that it is possible not to take sides: you're either "for" Israel and its "right to defend itself" or you're against it. I have watched as liberals, who cannot sanction so much of what Israel has done--the wall, the subjugation of Palestinians, the displacement of Palestinians, the use of illegal settlements, and now the indescrimante bombing of Lebanon--go mum because neither can they sanction a terrorist organization like Hezbollah.
Good liberals, more than ever, are the hope for peace in the Middle East. Bush and his neocon advisors have an Old Testament view of foreign policy: for them, violence is itself a cleansing moral act. "Terrorists" must not only be vanquished, but punished. It is not enough to reach a peace, we must have absolution. It is a mindset that demands taking sides--there can be no "moral equivalencies."
But it's the idea that there is a moral player in this mess that is at fault. No one's hands are clean, inside or outside the Mideast. Almost every nation on the planet has participated in this disaster, and we are all culpable for the deaths that have resulted. The only path out is serious, painful diplomacy that has at its core the fervent belief that punishment cannot be a part of the solution. The problem is taking sides. The solution is abandoning them. If there is any chance for the cycles of retribution to end, it's not in finding the source of the intial slight and righting historical wrongs, it's in finding our common humanity, putting aside the identification with the hatred, and agreeing to forgive and move forward.