LAST THURSDAY, three Palestinian guerrillas killed 20 Israeli high-school students. The next day, Israeli bombers killed 48 residents of a refugee camp in southern Lebanon. Like the three untraced car-bombs that killed 23 Dubliners Friday, like the murder of Marcus Foster by the Symbionese Liberation Army which apparently came to a fiery end this weekend, these events seem impossible to justify by rational, humane standards--by any rule that doesn't hold an entire people, including the young, sick or powerless, responsible for another people's suffering.
There are justifications and reasonings on all sides, of course, and since suffering and fear forged them all, they exhibit some symmetry. The Israeli government is just responding to an attack on helpless high school students; the Palestinian guerrillas are just responding to the occupation of a country they regard as theirs. The guerrillas' appeals to Israel and the United Nations have brought them no closer to independence; Israel's appeals to the countries from which the guerrillas operate and to the United Nations have brought its people no closer to security. World opinion--which an Israeli humorist once defined as what prevented the Soviet invasion of Czechoslovakia--has been most impotent of all. Last week's acts were no Christmas bombings, inflicted by policy-makers removed from the people they hurt by thousands of miles of geography and inhumanity. Unlike the Christmas bombings, they had readily comprehensible historical explanations--though these were certainly weightier to the perpetrators than to the victims.
All this is easy to see in Cambridge, far from the anger of a young Palestinian consigned to the misery of a refugee camp or the grief of a bereaved Israeli mother. It may even seem wrong to meet such suffering with platitudes, however well-intended, but perhaps these are events to which only platitudinous responses make sense. Terrorism, terror-bombing and misery in the Middle East will not end as a result of other terrorism. They will only end with a real peace settlement. Such a settlement would probably involve territorial concessions by both Israel and the Arab states; more fundamentally, it would accept, somehow, the right to self-determination of all the Middle East's peoples, including the Israelis and the Palestinians whose current homelessness lies at the root of the area's continuing agony.