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Reader response of the week:

My biggest sadness is that very few people learnt from our terrible past and I am very angry at Israel for repeating so many of our mistakes. For years I polished your halo - but you lost it quite a while ago.

You should ask yourself one question - will the Palestinians ever forgive you?

Linda, Frankfurt

Author's note: This is one of a number of reader responses to Confessions of a anti-German racist

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The Palestinians will never forgive us. Not only those who are alive today, but their children will despise us until their dying day, and theirs and theirs. They will revile us for having occupied them, exploited them, shelled them, and bombed them, and for having robbed them of their dignity and their land.

The hatred is such that it will continue even if we end the occupation. They will hate us, rightly or wrongly, for robbing them of their ability to govern themselves, for undermining their ability to persuade others of their morality of their cause, for creating the conditions for rule by gangs, fragmentation of the family, loss of national purpose and memory. Unto the 10th generation and beyond, we will serve the Palestinian national imagination as Pharoah and Amalek, Hitler and Chmielnitzli, Titus and Tomas de Torquemada.

Neither will the Lebanese ever forgive us. Not for the refugees our Christian allies murdered a quarter century ago in the Sabra and Shatilla camps in West Beirut, and not for the civilians our fighter bombers and artillerymen killed last summer in apartment houses in the south of the city.

The Syrians, too, bear their scars and their permanent grudges. Even many those with whom we have made peace, in Egypt and Jordan, still hate us and are not about to stop.

The Arabs will never forgive us. Nor we them.

There is no forgiving the killing of a child. There is no forgiving the firing of the rocket that kills a pregnant woman, a loving great-grandfather, a toddler in her crib. There is no forgiving the stupidity of this endless, fruitless war.

On the face of it, the future is a lock: No peace, no hope, no way out.

And yet, if you look deeper, there are signs pointing to a quiet trend that may save us all: We are losing our belief in war.

Not our belief in the inevitability of war. Perhaps the only thing that can save us from a new Lebanon war this summer is the universal belief that such a war is unavoidable.

Neither have we lost our will to fight. The peoples of the Middle East have been feisty and feud-happy since well before the time of their Father Abraham, and there are no signs that is about to change.

What has changed, is our belief in war as a solution to issues we as a society to not want to address candidly by other means. We want war to set borders, to teach foes lessons, to teach youth civics, to free captives, to right historic wrongs ? to fix, that is, what we ourselves hate about our lives and cannot fathom how to remedy nor how to forgive.

Even before it was clear that the Lebanon conflict was going irrevocably badly, there was someting pathetic in Ehud Olmert's description of why he made the decision to go to war.

"I'll surprise you," Olmert told AP in early August.

"I genuinely believe that the outcome of the present (conflict) and the emergence of a new order that will provide more stability and will defeat the forces of terror, will help create the necessary environment that will allow me ... to create a new momentum between us and the Palestinians."

The surprise, of course, was on Olmert.

But it was on Sheikh Hassan Nasrallah as well. There is something no less pathetic, something quietly desperate about Nasrallah's need to quote from the Zionist entity's Winograd war probe report in order to prove to his fellow Lebanese that the war was a victory for Lebanon and not ? as an increasing number of Lebanese observers are concluding, a calamity.

"It is regretful that we, the Arab world and Lebanon, are waiting for an Israeli commission to settle this dispute for us and to tell us 'Seriously, you have won and we [Israelis] were defeated,"' Nasrallah said this week.

Edmond Saab, editor-in-chief of the Lebanese An-Nahar daily, reached a different conclusion. He urged for a state inquiry into Hezbollah's accountability for the war and the devastation the conflict caused in Lebanon. "An investigation of a military and legal nature is an appropriate measure," Saab wrote. "We must investigate whether Hezbollah erred in miscalculating the Israeli retaliation."

There is something pathetic, as well, in the shuck and jive of the Hamas organization, once the most disciplined and single-minded of all Palestinian groups pursuing the armed struggle. Acutely tuned to Palestinian public opinion, Hamas at this point cannot even manage to have a Mickey Mouse-like figure preach

Faced with a war-jaded public, Hamas has found itself unable to return to full-scale conflict as a means to an end. Even the end has become muddled. Once the goal was clear-cut ? zero-tolerance for a Jewish state and wholehearted endorsement of its elimination by force.

Now Hamas leaders including Damascus-based Khaled Meshal take turns trooping before Western and Arab cameras to announce that a Palestinian state in the West Bank and Gaza could co-exist with a Jewish state in pre-1967 Israel, for an indeterminate amount of time, perhaps exceeding 60 years.

So milquetoast has the message become, and so close to a tacit recognition of Israel, that Al Qaida has called to complain. "Where is revenge, where are the bombs, where is the fire?" Abu Yahya al-Libi, an al-Qaida leader, said in a recent Internet statement addressed to Hamas, accusing the movement of "betraying its own martyrs and God."

"Hamas has abandoned jihad for politics. It has betrayed its youths. Its main activity is politics. Since its decision to go down the path of politics, Hamas has begun to descend on a downhill slope. They betrayed the dreams of their young fighters and they stabbed them in the back," al-Libi said.

After seven years of disastrous, inconclusive war in the territories and a disastrous, inconclusive summer in Lebanon, what we have learned, Arab and Jew, is this: Both sides cannot win a war, but both sides can lose one.

We are very slow, Arab and Jew, but we are learning, all of us, disenchanted Olmert voter, disenfranchised Peretz voter, disgruntled Haniyeh voter, dismayed and disadvantaged Nasrallah voter. The voters were promised that war would do the trick, turn the tide, eliminate the enemy, pave the path to a golden tomorrow.

Now we clearly have our doubts. Thank God.

Doubt is the great enemy of war. That is why, when going to war, we prefer that the decision, the determination, be unequivocal, fully beyond the shadow of a self-doubt. As T.S. Eliot wrote in 1925, seven years after the worst war the world had ever seen, "Between the idea and the reality, between the motion and the act, falls the shadow.

Doubt ? the quality we most fervently hate, the trait that scares us to death, the weakness we cannot forgive - may turn out to be our salvation.

This is the way the war ends, not with a bang but a shadow.

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