Exile is a book that was exciting as courtroom drama, but also very thought-provoking to me. It deals with a lawyer's defense of a Palestinian woman accused of having a role in a political assassination. Of course there is much more to the plot, and makes for a good read just for that reason.

But the author takes the reader with the lawyer to Israel and the West Bank/Occupied Territories/Judea and Samaria (depending on whom he is talking to), in order to try and unravel the plot that led to the assassination, and to find out who framed his client for the deed.

Along the way, the inhabitants - extremist Israelis and Palestinians, and "moderate" Israelis and Palestinians, are interviewed and express their feelings about the other side. These feelings, among the so-called moderates on both sides, amount to a total lack of trust (at best) and hatred at worst. Among the extremists on both sides, hatred is the best of it - loathing and blood lust is their norm.

The author claims to have spent much time in Israel and the West Bank, talking with those on the same, wide political spectrum as his attorney-protagonist while researching the book. And he says the dialogs, the expressions of distrust-to-hatred-to-blood-lust accurately portray the sentiments he found in his travels, on both sides.

Each side claims ownership of the same patch of seaside desert, and each side can cite a dozen scriptural justifications for their claim. And these religious arguments, some of them feel, fully justify massacre of the opposing population, including not only combat troops, but non-combatants: women, children, oldsters, or anyone else who gets in the way.

Neither side is able to see or understand the other, except as godless usurpers who need to be expelled or subjugated.

I was really overcome with emotion on reading this, thinking of the many Jewish friends I have, and the one Palestinian friend I have, a man named Marwan. Marwan lives in Gaza with his wife and family. He is well-educated and has a decent job with the Palestinian Authority. And although he and I were not especially close when we knew each other in a work environment several years ago, we do exchange emails every few weeks, and I feel that he and many - probably most - Palestinians want only to live safe and secure, to be able to earn a living and feed their families, to be treated with human dignity.

As I understand it, few Palestinians are treated like humans, but instead are treated like a race of terrorists, fit only to be subjugated and humiliated until (surprise) some decide they have nothing to lose, and become human bombs.

The truly vicious circularity of the Israeli-Palestinian situation reminds me some of the old sci-fi movies - Godzilla vs. Mothra, etc., where two totally different creatures, for reasons that aren't obvious, determine to kill each other.

It also reminds me of an old Star Trek (the original series) episode, where a race of peculiarly colored people (vertically split into white on the left, black on the right) has all but annihilated another race of peculiarly colored people, who are also vertically separated - black on the left, white on the right. To the astonishment of the crew of the Enterprise, the two, sole survivors of robust races of millions, were determined to kill each other, come what may - and their reason was because the other race was so terribly different.

Jews and Muslims at each others' throats because of their "extreme differences"? Well, I'd have to say that from an atheist's perspective, one set of superstitions is no better or worse than any other.

I wish there was a solution to the Middle East other than the annihilation of either Jews or Muslims. But I haven't the knowledge, the sagacity, the diplomacy, or the raw power to see and enact it.

I will offer the observation that Israel, armed to the teeth by the U.S., drunk with the approbation of the Bushovik neocons, and eager to use their arms in punitive raids against "suspected terrorists" like the entire population of Lebanon, could, it seems, show a bit of forbearance toward their practically unarmed Palestinian neighbors. One could say it would be the Christian thing to do - but I won't say it.

I only hope my friend Marwan and his family, and all my Jewish friends and their families, live in peace among themselves and with each other. And stay out of the line of fire of the crazies.