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Counter-balancing Dr. Baruch Goldstein, who massacred 30 Muslim worshipers at Hebron's Cave of the Patriarchs in February 1994, the myth of Israel's national struggle will now include the Friday night massacre in which an Islamic Jihad band carried out against guards of Jewish worshipers who headed from the Cave to their homes in Kiryat Arba. Friday's event joined the long list of flags waved by both sides in the bloody conflict waged by the two peoples, by peoples utterly devoid of the ability to stop and ask questions about the purpose and duration of the killing.

The Palestinian-Israeli conflict, which resumed in September 2000 at a heretofore unknown violent pitch, has maintained a balance - both sides pay a steep, bloody price, and both peoples have undergone similar processes. The starting points were uneven, owing to Israel's technological, economic, and military advantages; and yet the results are similar. Both sides have sustained heavy casualties, on levels higher than either had imagined.

Both sides are experiencing a trauma that seriously disrupts their daily agendas. Both live in dread; and the impact of this fear on their ability to conduct regular affairs is clearly evident. Both sides pay a heavy economic price, one fraught with internal disability and rising signs of dissent and defiance of the ruling government. Emotional and psychological unrest disturbs both sides, aggravates the mutual hatred and fortifies barriers that impede the chances of agreements arising in the future.

At any given moment, each side is consumed by a conviction of the righteousness of its cause. A day-and-a-half after the brutal attack in Hebron, few people in Israel will be willing to listen to a minority which recommends keeping the cycle of violence in perspective, and asking what might be gained by accelerating the violent tailspin. A day-and-a-half after the Hebron massacre, a majority of Israel's public, and its government, will search for Palestinian targets so as to unleash its wrath and frustration in response to the ambush perpetrated by Islamic Jihad.

Agitated emotions will be sharpened by reports of the ambush's vile character, by the choice of the worshipers and their security guards and by memories of the 1929 Hebron massacre. This emotional tempest also envelopes the Palestinians when Israeli helicopters assassinate one of their popular heroes, and incidentally strike children and civilians who have no connection to terror, or when tanks and huge bulldozers trample houses as they rumble on their way in order to pulverize nests of terror.

However improbable, both sides pretend that they might come out of the fighting with their hands clean. Israelis refer to Ehud Barak's attempt to attain an agreement, and pay an unprecedented diplomatic and territorial price for it; the Palestinians respond by pointing to settlement activity that never lost momentum during Barak's term, and contradicted his declarations about evacuating most of the territories. Saying that it is evidence of a Palestinian scheme to destroy the country in stages, Israelis put on the table information about preparation undertaken by Yasser Arafat to begin the intifada; if this is the case, Palestinians say, why didn't Arafat accept Barak's proposal at Camp David, as a ploy in his campaign to realize his grand ambition? Israelis call attention to the sweeping, all-embracing character of Palestinian animosity toward Zionism, whereas the Palestinians quote racist, anti-Arab statements voiced in Israel's public discourse, along with mentioning the brutal behavior of settler extremists and some security troops.

Devoid of genuine leaders who might extract both peoples from their lethal routine, they continue to wallow in their violent intransigence, seek to vanquish the rival (rather than to compromise with it), and cheapen the value of human life. Blood will be cheap.