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Voices of Hate

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Ever since the discovery on Monday of the bodies of the murdered Israeli teenagers, Naftali Frenkel, Gilad Shaar and Eyal Yifrach, and ever since the discovery on Wednesday of the body of the Palestinian teenager, Mohammed Abu Khdair, murdered apparently in revenge, I have been hearing voices in my head.

"You don't understand. These people aren't like us. They kill our children and expect us to do nothing.

"You say we must share our land with them. How can we share with people like this? How can we trust them? All they know is the language of violence, of blood.

"You don't understand. You don't live here. You don't know what it's like. Every day, we fear for our children. Do you have any idea how many of our children they have killed?

"Compromise? How can we compromise with people like this? After everything we have suffered? You expect us just to forget what they have done to us?

"This land is all we have. If we lose it, we lose everything. How can we give it up? Why should we give it up? It is ours.

"You don't understand. They won't be happy until we are all dead. They're not interested in sharing. They want it all. They are completely unreasonable."

A deafening cacophony of voices. But the noise is so loud that I can't make out whether they are Israeli voices, or Palestinian voices. What did you think, as you read the words?

Perhaps they are both, saying such similar things that it becomes impossible to tell them apart. Each side demonising the other with those sterile, dehumanising words: They are not like us.

Yes, it is true, the families of the murdered teenagers have appealed for calm. But their words are as gossamer on the wind, ignored in the hurricane of hatred.

The Israelis and the Palestinians are not two perfectly matched opponents, slugging it out in a boxing ring. The Israelis are immeasurably the more powerful in terms of military hardware, largely thanks to the continuing generosity of US taxpayers. But in terms of suffering? How do you measure the anguish of one bereaved parent against that of another?

You can't, and you shouldn't. But you can measure numbers: in the ugly arithmetic of casualties caused by conflict, the number of grieving Palestinian parents grossly exceeds the number of their equally grief-stricken Israeli counterparts. According to the most recent tally, since the outbreak of the second Palestinian uprising in September 2000, 1,523 Palestinian children have been killed by Israeli forces, while over the same period, 129 Israeli children have also been killed.

The actor and writer Peter Ustinov once wrote: "Terrorism is the war of the poor, and war is the terrorism of the rich." The Palestinians are poor, so they are called terrorists. The Israelis are rich, so they wage war. The words are different, the grieving is the same.

Well, not quite the same. Tens of thousands of Israelis, led by their prime minister, weren't at the funeral of Mohammed Abu Khdair, even though as citizens of east Jerusalem, he and his family would have been just as entitled to Israeli citizenship as Naftali Frenkel, Gilad Shaar and Eyal Yifrach. Whatever the law may say, there is a huge gulf separating Israel's Jewish citizens from its non-Jews: why else would it be so vital to the Israelis that the Palestinians recognise Israel, in terms, as a "Jewish state"?

There can be never be any excuses for the cold-blooded murder of teenagers, whether they are Israelis hitching a ride home, or Palestinians kidnapped on the streets of east Jerusalem. But if you want an inkling of what it feels like to be a young Palestinian, I suggest you try to watch the Oscar-nominated Palestinian film "Omar", which graphically depicts the daily reality of anger, frustration, love and betrayal.

Every time an opinion pollster asks Israelis or Palestinians about the future, the majority on both sides say they favour a two-state solution with the two peoples living side by side. And each time they vote in an election, they elect politicians who are more hard-line than the ones who went before.

From Gaza, the rockets have again been fired into Israel, largely ineffectual, except to reinforce Israeli paranoia. On the Israeli side of the border, the army has again been gathering, ready for who-knows-what? As I write, there's talk of a ceasefire, but tensions remain high. No one doubts that in the coming days and weeks (months? years?), more people will die, more people will grieve, more people will hate.

I hear more words in my head: this time from the song "Where have all the flowers gone?", one of the most powerful anti-war protest anthems of my youth.

"When will they ever learn?"

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