The future of the whole world is all there to see in the constant conflict between Israel and Gaza.

I have closely observed the Israeli-Palestinian conflict for 50 years, and I have written frequently about it over the past 20 years. I used to have hope that the Jewish and Palestinian peoples could sort out a way to live and prosper successfully alongside and with each other.

Now I have accepted that this will not happen. Now I accept that – like so many other populations around the world – these two peoples are trapped in classic and demonic circumstances that become larger and more intractable the more time passes.

I no longer try to assess blame, trace the causes and reactions of the violence of each side, or ponder possible “solutions.” Now I just feel a sadness for both peoples, and a despair at the futility of imagining peace. For the magnitude of the changes that would have to occur for the Israelis and Palestinians to live in harmony are just huge. And my despair is compounded with foreboding because in many ways the ever-solidifying standoff between Israel and Gaza is emblematic of similar dilemmas and conflicts that are increasingly developing around the world.

Let’s step away from any focus on the religious, cultural or historical identities of the two populations and instead just see them as two groups of people struggling mightily with different problems – but at the same time slowly coming to grips with larger realities that will eventually blend their problems and ultimately make them inseparable.

As that time draws closer, both peoples will be increasingly faced with painful and fateful choices. They won’t be choices made by Jews or Palestinians; they will be choices made by “haves” and “have-nots,” by the lucky and the unlucky, and by the powerful and the disempowered.

Right now, the residents of Gaza are relatively powerless. They are 2 million people jammed into what could be viewed as a large refugee camp. Access in and out of the territory is restricted by Egypt and Israel. Electric power, water supplies, medical capacities, construction materials, food and virtually all other resources and raw materials are effectively controlled by Israel.

Living conditions in Gaza are deplorable. Unemployment is 50%, the economy is primitive and anemic, government officials are often corrupt, and both the built and natural environments are damaged and unfit. Half the population survives on daily food handouts and inadequate water supplies. There is not safety, order or a reliable future for Gaza residents.

As we look around the globe today, we can see that, increasingly, refugees and trapped populations are a growing reality. Disempowered peoples, people without jobs or resources, slum dwellers, squatters and people without a future – like the Gazans – grow in number every year.

These populations can be victimized by a variety of things. Authoritarian or corrupt governments, ecological breakdowns, agricultural collapse or consolidation, economic collapse, civil war, terrorism or sectarian conflict are each playing roles in various countries.

There are large, trapped and ill-fated populations in India, Indonesia, Malaysia, Bangladesh, Lebanon, Jordan and Turkey, and in dozens of other countries in the Mideast, Asia, Africa, South America and Central America.

When possible, doomed people will migrate. They will choose to become homeless, displaced or refugees rather than stay put and die. Only when they are confined by fences, walls or guns – as in Gaza and North Korea – will they remain immobile.

Waves of people have fled Syria, Yemen, Libya, Afghanistan, Sudan, Myanmar, the Congo, Venezuela, Guatemala, El Salvador and Honduras during the past decade. Desperate people on the move. This is the look of the future.

The only thing that could forestall this future would be a wholesale rethinking and reconfiguring of every major attitude, approach, system and process that now characterize the features and operations of the technologies, economics, markets, corporate interests, national interests, military interests, and resource procurement imperatives that today span the globe. Today, for these forces, it’s a small world – there to serve them – and they are treating it, the environment, and the people in it carelessly.

I doubt we’ll be able to rein in the errors and excesses of the way the world is arranged. It would be a formidable task, even if there was unanimity around it. The reality is too many good people just have insufficient power and mechanisms to affect the future, and too many of those in power don’t have the will.

So, in the coming decades, as all sorts of conditions continue to deteriorate and refugees begin to number in the hundreds of millions, the developed nations of the world will be forced to make decisions about their borders. As we see already today in Israel and along the southern border of the United States, we will be faced with terrible choices. As a lucky nation – as a “have” nation – the U.S. will have to decide whether to let people in, or whether to turn them away to face whatever awaits them.

Brian T. Watson of Swampscott is author of “Headed Into the Abyss: The Story of Our Time, and the Future We’ll Face.” Contact him at


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