Yasmin Alibhai-Brown: Why so little criticism of Israel's extremism?

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The Independent Online

Thaer Halahleh wrote a letter to his wife, Shireen, from an Israeli jail in February: "My detention has been renewed seven times and they still haven't charged me. I can't take it any more." Then the 34-year-old began a hunger strike, as did Bilal Diab. That was 77 days ago. Both are Palestinians, fathers. Eight others have been on the same silent, self-wasting, wasted protest. Halahleh, Diab and others may well be dead by the time you read this.

Last Friday, Supreme Court judges in this hubristic democracy turned down an application from civil-rights groups to have the men moved to civilian hospitals. But the moralistic Chief Rabbi will not be on "Thought for the Day" expressing sorrow for the treatment of these prisoners. Ardent British Zionists will not be pressed to condemn those responsible for the state barbarism.

Western opinion-formers have been indifferent, in some cases knowingly so, about what is happening. No condemnations are heard around our Parliament. They say we must have freedom of speech, but that right is never evoked when it comes to Israel.

A large number of enlightened British Jews see the double standards and object to Israel's intransigence.

The detained Palestinians want their families to be able to visit without restrictions, decent medical treatment, not to be put into solitary confinement for years on end, to be taken to court and tried. How is that "terrorism"?

Israel is protected from censure partly because of fears that any criticism of its actions is potentially "anti-Semitic". Its governments do what they damned well want and claim perpetual exceptionality. Their darkest deeds are thus left unscrutinised.

This time though, it is suddenly dawning on some key people, among them the hapless Middle East saviour Tony Blair, that these "martyrs" could trigger another intifada. The UN and other bodies have intervened. They will all be rebuffed, so monstrous are the egos of the ultra-right-wing leadership. Blair is right to be fearful. Every time a hunger striker dies, even more inchoately angry young Muslim men will be radicalised and turn murderous. This is not making excuses for terrorists, it is just a reality check.

I truly want Israel to survive and thrive but it is becoming its own worst enemy.