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Elusive Mideast peace -- must it be imposed?

By Ned TemkoStaff correspondent of The Christian Science Monitor / July 28, 1981



The howls for help, the crash of bombs or shellfire, the clap and whistle of bullets, the blustery vows of revenge. It is all, I imagine, pretty much the same as when I departed what was left of the state of Lebanon 12 months ago.

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I saw men, women, and children slaughtered by a whole range of armies, toting a whole range of arms -- the Syrians and Palestinians with their Soviet-manufactured weapons, the Israelis and Lebanese Christian militiamen with Western, largely US-made, arsenals.

One image sticks in my mind. It was a morning in 1977, not too long after i had arrived in Beirut.The Israelis, in their US-built aircraft, had struck a "Palestinian target" in south Lebanon.

The "target" was, in fact, the tiny village of Azziyeh not far from the Mediterranean coast. "Nearby," the Israelis said, "Palestinians had fired a salvo of rockets." This was believable, if hard to verify. Yet most of the villagers were not Palestinians, guerrilla or otherwise, but south Lebanese farmers who had fled north from incessant border violence.

When I arrived at the hamlet, it no longer existed. There was only rubble, and the occasional foundation of what was once a wall. An elderly woman had pulled the corpse of her husband from the ruins of their home.

Very quietly, I asked, "Where will you live now?"

"And why are you asking?" she fired back. "Can you give me a place to live?"

As i picked my way out of the flattened village, I noticed another woman clawing in another pile of rubble.

"Her husband is dead," a neighbor explained. "But he had buried what money they had, in a mattress.She is trying to find it. . . . She must live."

For at least several years, few in the outside world have paid much attention to the relentless, ritual murder of the Mideast. Stories like this one, I suspect, are far more often printed than read.

But there have been -- and will always be -- brief interludes of genuine world alarm over the victims, overwhelmingly civilian victims, who pay the price for the Arab-Israel conflict.

These are invariably times when the outside world, outside political leaders, feel somehow threatened by the faraway bloodletting -- when, as i believe the journalistic cliche goe, "wider, even superpower, conflict" seems a possibility.

Now is such a time, and I use its an excuse to broadcast an appeal I have heard often from both Araband Israeli friends: Please stop this madness.

The Arabs, of course, assume the Israelis are the mad ones. Israel argues the opposite. The Mideast conflict is not uniquely the work of selfish politicians. There are real issues at stake, issues that some on both sides are ready to die and kill for.

Some recent developments -- Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin's reelection; the missile crisis Lebanon -- would seem to make the conflict yet more intractable.

But after more than three years first-hand contact with Mideast violence -- having been shouted at lead to, even, inadvertently, fired on by various of its participants -- to remain convinced that some sort of peace can be found.

What follows is not a comprehensive "peace plan." Dozens of such blueprints over the last 35 years or have failed.

I put forward, instead, a few observations and suggestions distilled from my experience of the Mideast -- from time in Lebanon, Syria, Iraq, Egypt, Israel, and other countries; from interviews with men like Anwar Sadat, Menachem Begin, Yasser Arafat, King Hussein of Jordan, and many of their aides.