In response to Byron, and before I get stuck in to Rodney Stark (which may end up being tomorrow now...) some not wholly formed thoughts about "the Middle East".
1. The foundation of Israel was probably unjust and a mistake, in that it is explicitly racist (if you're a member of a particular race then you qualify for citizenship). I'm not sure such a racist foundation is defensible.
2. That debate is academic however, in that the state exists and has done for 60+ years. Whatever the pro's and con's of the foundation the passage of time confers (imho) a very great deal of legitimacy over and above the legal foundation and, to use the current expression, I fully support Israel's right to exist.
3. I see the root cause of the troubles as a rejection of Israel's right to exist on the part of the wider Arab/Islamic population. This has a number of components:
- armed hostilities aimed at strangling the state at birth, followed by several further wars over the following decades;
- conscious cultivation of the Palestinian diaspora as a running sore in international relations (the Palestinian problem could have been solved decades ago with good will on the Muslim side);
- refusal to normalise relations with Israel/ declare that it shouldn't exist.
4. I'm quite sure that there have been war crimes committed on the Israeli side, but I don't see that as exceptional to Israel (ie Israel is not singularly evil, or even particularly evil).
5. Hamas is an Islamist organisation and I don't see any practical way for Israel (or indeed the West as a whole) to accommodate Islamist organisations and remain itself. From Israel's point of view it is facing an enemy which wishes to annihilate it, and I can understand it not wanting to surrender (no responsible state could). But this means that Israel only has bad options to choose from.
6. I don't see this crisis ending until either a) Israel is destroyed; b) Islamism is destroyed (possibly via a nuclear bomb being detonated above Mecca, among other things); or c) divine intervention.
That's my two pennies anyhow.