The ancient history of the Middle East is repeating itself today as young Muslim Arabs from East Jerusalem stab any Jew they can reach before Israeli soldiers and police shoot the attackers to death.
The bony finger of war is clearly marking an ancient route to the players. It is difficult to know what to say or write that might chart a path to a more wholesome future. The questions one must ask and possibly answer are: What side to take? Who is right and who is wrong? Does might make right? Does injustice justify violence? Can the children and grandchildren of Israel and Palestine repair the damage of the past?
These questions may lead honest and principled people on both side of the Israeli-Arab divide - and I have met many of them in Tel Aviv and Ramallah, in Jerusalem and Jaffa -- to construct a process for peace, economic cooperation and -at the very least - survival.
If the future is to be an improvement on the present, both Arabs and Jews will have obligations:
Israelis must plan and resume talks to prepare for the end of occupation, which was promised in the 1993 Oslo accords.
Foreign troops in Arab streets cannot fail to provoke resistance, mainly by young men and boys.
Israelis must also continue to free up the Palestinian economy so it can deliver the fruits and vegetables now ripening in the hothouses of the Jordan Valley to supermarkets in Europe. Israel must permit the building of new housing estates and factories; and allow access to ports and airports for international trade.
Israelis must also prepare for some form of "return" by the Palestinian diaspora in dead-end refugee camps Lebanon, Iraq and Jordan. But these descendants of the refugees from the1948 Israeli War of Independence will not be able to return to the sites of their grandparent's homes, now developed into Israeli kibbutzim, farms, towns and factories. But they can return to housing that could be built in the wide-open places of the West Bank.
Palestinians must accept what I call "the lesser return" from refugee camps to housing in the West Bank.
Palestinians must bite the bullet and give up unrealistic anachronistic demands that Israel rewrite the past and delete the insults, dishonor and loss of dignity Arabs believe was imposed upon them. When both sides accept that they cannot receive all they dream, some practical steps forward will begin.
Palestinians must unplug their search for reversal of 20th century history and begin teaching their children to accept the status quo and move onward.
Today there are 320,000 Arabs living in Jerusalem, mostly in areas seized from Jordan in 1967. About 500,000 Jews also live in the holy city at the heart of the current mini-intifada. Neither side appears ready to leave or give up control over the contested portions of the city. And the fanatical intersection of religion, politics and history is a witch's brew of combustible feeling ready to explode.
Clearly someone - Hamas, Iran, the Wahabbi Sunnis of the Gulf--has an interest in whipping up tension. All the unrest in the region is not enough for them. Egypt, Libya, Yemen, Syria, Iraq, Tunisia are all bleeding from attacks by bearded zealots who believe God gave them the right to force everyone else to obey their interpretation of Islam. Why spare the Israelis? Let's drag them down in the pit we are in, they might reason.
The region's history and legends are replete with ethnic cleansing, crucifixion and worse forms of murder and depopulation: think of the Hebrew take over of Canaan; the Babylonian, Greek and Roman invasions; the destruction of the first and second temples; the 2,000 year long diaspora; the sudden, violent spread of Christianity through Constantine; the violent spread of Islam; the crusades; the expulsion of Moors and Jews from Spain. (Whew. Pause for breath.) Shiite-Sunni wars. Ottoman suppression of the Arabs for four centuries; colonial rule by Britain, France and Spain; rule by Arab kings in the 1940s and 50s then rule by dictators.
Finally came the insult when the tiny Jewish state defeated five Arab armies in 1948, 1967, and 1973, leading to the massive transfer of 700,000 Palestinians to refugee camps and 700,000 Middle Eastern Jews to Israel. But all this is unfinished history to those seeking to rewrite it.
Today, millions of Syrians, Iraqis, Afghans and others seek to enter Europe and promise to live under its Western, Democratic, Judeo-Christian culture. But they are leaving destroyed lands in which tribes and nations are writing the future in the flames of hate, poverty, violence, crime, corruption and rivers of blood.
Even as Hillary Clinton prepared to defend the US role in Libya - bombing dictator Muammar Gadhafi's forces to prevent him from massacring rebel Benghazi - we are reminded that the Middle East plays by different rules.
We used to call them "Hama rules." In 1982, Hama was a Syrian city where Muslim fundamentalists backed a Muslin Brotherhood rebellion. It was brutally crushed by the artillery of then dictator Hafiz al-Assad, father of the present dictator Bashar al Assad, killing perhaps 20,000 people, many buried in the rubble.
How does one deal with such cruel yet effective forms of violence - ISIS and Al-Qaeda in Syria today are slaughtering prisoners, beheading journalists and aid workers, burning captives alive, raping girls, and even crucifying anyone who does not buy into their ideology. The most brutal forces are the Sunni fundamentalists who slaughter Shiites, Kurds, Yazidis, Christians, and all considered idolaters or apostates for having their own ideas.
Today, if you look at Syria and its environs it is hard not to say that life was far, far better five years ago when Assad ruled his country with an iron fist. There was no freedom of speech and assembly. But if you were not politically active and watched what you said, life was pretty good. Syria was at peace with its neighbors: Israel, Iran, Iraq, Jordan, Turkey. It seems that only those countries ruled by a strong man, general or king have been able to survive the mob rule and violence left behind by the Arab Spring. Morocco, Algeria and Saudi Arabia remain calm. Egypt is restoring calm under a military lockdown.
Compared to the deaths of 250,000 Syrians in the past four years of civil war, Israel is a piece of cake even with its daily stabbings. Israelis say this is a time for "cutting the grass" - a euphemism for killing off the violent extremists as they try to terrorize the Israelis. They know it won't solve the underlying problems of occupation, which always produces resistance.
But this is the region of riddles.
A local legend widely repeated in the Middle East says that a frog was approached by a scorpion who asked to be ferried across a river. The frog was reluctant. The scorpion said "Don't worry, I won't sting you. If I did that I would drown in the river too."
"Sounds logical," said the frog. "Get on my back and I'll ferry you across."
In the middle of the river the scorpion stings the frog who is paralyzed and starts to go under. "You said it would not be logical to sting me. Now we will both drown."
Said the scorpion: "Don't expect logic to prevail here. This is the Middle East."