A few years ago during the last intifada, Palestinians would send suicide bombers into bus stops, shopping malls and restaurants. All of them killed innocent civilians, many women and children included.
At that time a pro-Palestinian friend of mine used to argue that these attacks were all acceptable because “that is the only option they have” to fight for their goals. Initially I thought that was absurd, but then I realized that I was not really trying to see things through their point of view. That is, if you consider Palestinians to be this big group of poor exiles that are only trying to “come back home” fighting against a much more powerful opponent, that was really the only thing they can do, meaning the most effective thing they could do.
Skip a few years and now you have the Israeli version of the intifada. According to the Israeli point of view, all they are trying to do is to stop daily rocket attacks from Hamas. Now, the most effective way to stop Hamas is to kill their leaders and destroy their infrastructure. However, Hamas surrounds itself with women and children as shields, so the actual price to be paid here is to kill Hamas people plus innocent civilians.
So looking at the situation from a purely logical standpoint both sides are basically doing what they think is necessary to win their war.
However, no war exists without a moral component. And there are many ways to express morality these days.
During the Palestinian intifada, I don’t remember hearing about proportionality. In 2003, when a Palestinian suicide bomber blew herself up in a packed Haifa restaurant on the eve of the holiest day of the Jewish year, killing 19 people including three children, the press didn’t stress the “unfairness” of having 1 Palestinian causing the death of 19 Israeli. We also didn’t see pictures of this attack’s victims, read tearful editorials or watched crazed mobs carrying children’s corpses to their funerals. But these were dead innocent children nonetheless.
Also, during that time you never heard the UN asking for a truce on the Palestinian side. All they did was to ask Israel “not to over react”, and to “search for peaceful solutions to the problem”. In other words, they were asking Israel to admit defeat and give the Palestinians whatever they were trying to get in the first place (in that case, territory).
Now that the sides have changed, you don’t hear the UN or the press talking about how Hamas should simply stop with the rocket attacks because that is the root cause of Israeli aggression. You only here about Palestinian victims (especially women and children) and the fact that Israeli casualties are much smaller.
So what these people are really saying is that they believe Palestinians are the good guys. Nothing less, nothing more.
Therefore, you have to go back and work the problem from the start. Do you think Israel has the right to exist? Do you understand who Palestinians really are and where they come from? Do you know the history of the UN partition of 1947 and all that happened ever since? How about 1948, 1967 and 1973? Black September anyone?
After knowing all of that, and taking everything into consideration, one has no option but to pick a side.
One side believes Israel should not be there and therefore all the violence ever since is by definition Israel’s fault. By this point of view, the only way to resolve this is to either kill all Jews or at least ship them somewhere else. They might color this idea with a few extras (Israel is only an advance post for the US/West/infidels, Muslims have the right to middle-east land, etc) but in the end that is the core of their belief.
The alternative view is that Israel has the legal right to be there and the violence we see today is still a direct consequence of the refusal of some countries to simply acknowledge that simple fact. In this view, the Palestinians are simply the tip of the spear (or maybe useful pawns for Arab states) and are only a player in a much larger conflict. In this world, there is no easy way to solve this problem, since Israel is not able or willing to destroy all Arabs. So the best it can do is to arm itself and do whatever it takes (including occupying territory that doesn’t own) until the other side gives up their cause.
Once we get to a consensus around these very basic questions, we can start agreeing on goals and even ways to reach those goals. And that is the only way to peace. Besides war itself, that is.