The following comment, which Sam Bahour and I wrote for this morning's Haaretz, suggests reasons for the rise of Hamas but, more important, is an implicit appeal for common ground.
Israel and Hamas are not equals on the battlefield - not at all, clearly - and when the power to harm or control others is this uneven, it is meaningless to speak about moral symmetry. But as the current onslaught in Gaza unfolds, it is sadly evident that both sides are continuing to respond to real provocations in ways that are not morally right, or even politically smart.
If Hamas thought that lobbing missiles into Israeli civilian neighborhoods was a decent or proportionate response to the grim realities of the occupation, they were wrong. On the other hand, if Israel thinks it can bludgeon the Palestinians into political surrender, or get Hamas - or the Palestinian community at large, for that matter - to acquiesce to military occupation then it, too, is wrong.
There is no military solution to this conflict. Until both sides fully grasp this, the world can expect only continuing violence and vendetta, with civilians on both sides paying the price for leaders who - because of pressure, ambition or hubris - feel that they must do the most damage, fire the last shot or make the most credible threat. Indeed, it is sad, and repellent, to hear military correspondents speak of "teaching a lesson," "increasing pressure," "making a statement," achieving "deterrence," when those they are reporting on are really trying to control the news cycle, or win arguable (and in any case temporary) psychological advantage, by killing, or accepting the deaths of, people at random on the other side.
Operation Cast Lead - the heart-wrenching death and wanton destruction the Israeli army is inflicting on Gaza as we write - is the product of just such thinking. In the first week, Israeli air raids killed over 500 people, many of them non-combatants; invading ground forces have now killed 100 more. Israelis knew in advance that Hamas forces are not a regular army; they will not come out of hiding and be mowed down like soldiers in World War I. To go after them effectively, in, of all places, the Gaza Strip, one of the most densely populated places on earth, the IDF would have to level its towns and cities, block by block, and intensify the nightmare of the Gazan population, more than half of which is children under the age of 15.