Paul Greenberg

Who's winning, who's losing in the latest unpleasantness in the Mideast?

It's not always easy to tell, for all sides seem to occupy alternate universes in which war is peace, terror is resistance, and nothing is more malleable than the facts, for all concerned seem to have not only their own facts but their own vocabulary.

For now any peace or facsimile thereof in Gaza and Israeli environs will have to wait till the fog of war clears, and even then such a truce may prove only a lull before the next war. That's the Middle East, as they say with good reason. For in that part of the world, history seems largely indistinguishable from a tragedy that may have intermissions but never an end.

And so the suffering goes on. The big losers are the innocent civilian populations on both sides, held hostage by the uncertain forces of war:

Border cities in southern Israel, especially battered Sderot, have been subjected to a rain of rockets over the years since the Israelis pulled out of Gaza, hoping for peace and getting war instead. Just as those Israelis who once lived there warned as they were being dragged out of their homes by their own army.

As for Gaza's teeming, hemmed-in population, its suffering is a constant. Only the intensity of it seems to vary over the years -- from the toll that endemic poverty takes in the "good" times to the hundreds of violent deaths bound to result when Hamas deploys its rockets deep in the shadowy alleyways of the casbah that is Gaza. Result: apartment buildings, mosques, and even hospitals become targets. And the whole, thickly populated anthill called Gaza (population 1.5 million, squeezed into 140 square miles) goes from a staging ground for war to a battlefield.

"War is hell," said an American general named Sherman, "and you cannot refine it." His name is still cursed in these parts yet, as he told Atlanta's local officials as the city burned, "those who brought war into our country deserve all the curses and maledictions a people can pour out." For it was not he who began that war, as he was quick to point out -- a minor detail that those who suffered from his bringing the war home tended to overlook. Now another army drives to the sea, another city burns, and war remains hell.

Paul Greenberg

Pulitzer Prize-winning Paul Greenberg, one of the most respected and honored commentators in America, is the editorial page editor of the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette.