The Mindlessness of Violence

THE seven Palestinian laborers killed Sunday by a mentally disturbed Israeli gunman came from the heartland of the intifadah: Gaza, a 378-square-mile snippet of Mediterranean coastline where over 560,000 Arabs, thousands of soldiers, and a tiny handful of Jewish settlers perilously coexist. Even a day spent walking the neighborhoods of refugee camps like Jubaliya - where the uprising began two and a half years ago - and driving along the battle-scarred streets of Gaza City leaves an indelible impression of life on a powder keg. Palestinians first stare in distrust, then anxiously show visitors the bedroom doors battered in by soldiers. Their children, as young as four or five, run alongside the car, shouting ``PLO, Israel no!''

From the tops of buildings or from watch towers, members of the Israel Defense Forces peer down. Their job in Gaza is incredibly difficult, and distasteful. In recent months Israel's commanders have been arguing that the intifadah is dying, and casualty figures had been dropping. Gazans and others were nearing exhaustion, it was felt, pushed to the wall physically and economically.

Then a madman pulls his trigger, and the will to fight rekindles - if, indeed, it ever had burnt low. Rioting following the killings at Rishon Lezion has been the most violent yet in the intifadah, with well over 700 injured by bullets and tear gas. To compound the madness, a Palestinian gunman turned his weapon on French tourists in Amman, Jordan, supposedly in revenge for the murdered Gazans.

This latest flaring of Mideast animosity, for all its senselessness, carries messages. To the Israelis, that the fuel of the uprising is far from spent, and that the leadership needed is not more ingenious ways of controlling the Palestinians, but a greater willingness to start the process of negotiation and stop such inflammatory actions as increased building of settlements in the occupied territories. To the Palestinians, that fanatics in their ranks can't be allowed to seize this tragedy as an excuse to pursue an agenda of heightened violence.

What's needed, above all, is a readiness to recoil from the mindlessness of violence and move toward dialogue and understanding.

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