Alexei Sayle: Parties, pop stars and the Palestinian battle for publicity

'Palestinians have not been getting in the papers by going to film premiÿres in skimpy dresses'
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I was writing last week about photographs of celebrities taken at parties, and I was again reminded of how powerful a single image can be by seeing a grabbed photo of Martin Amis "dancing" at a party.

I have always regarded Amis as one of our foremost writers, an exponent of the ability to take modern English to the very edge of its capabilities, someone at the cutting edge of contemporary fiction. But in this photo... first of all there were the clothes, some sort of linen jacket worn over a pair of jeans with a neat crease pressed in them.

Then there was the pose: Martin was facing into a corner obviously dancing away by himself and totally absorbed in the track (for some reason I think it's the 80s dancefloor classic "You Spin Me Right Round Baby" by Dead or Alive, I don't know why). Then there was the dancing itself; though it was a still photo, you could tell that Amis was one of those people who form shapes with their bodies so disharmonious that dogs start howling on the Isle of Man every time they take to the dancefloor, yet who believe deep in their hearts that they are really, really great dancers. But, on looking at this photograph, it struck me how can anybody who wears those clothes and does that dancing know anything about anything? So if I hadn't seen this picture I would have still rated Martin Amis, but now I think he's just some bloke who writes some not very good books.

You can't underrate the power of an image or an article or an appearance in the media to change an opinion. The US and its allies have all expressed fake shock that there was an attempt at the United Nations' World Conference Against Racism, in Durban, to equate Zionism with apartheid, but to me the analogy seems incontrovertible. Of course, it was it was an example of the genius of the ANC leadership that they opted for a largely non-violent form of struggle whereas the Palestinians have been driven to desperate terrorism by the rest of the world, led by the US, somehow regarding children armed with stones taking on soldiers armed with tanks, attack helicopters and heavy machine guns as being an equal struggle.

And, indeed, it is a fact rarely mentioned by the media that, during the years of apartheid, the number one trading partner of South Africa was the peace-loving state of Israel. For example, the standard assault rifle of the then South African army, the weapon used to massacre the schoolchildren of Soweto, the rifle held by Nelson Mandela's prison guards, was the 7.62mm Galil, designed, made and built in Israel (though it's basically a rip-off of the Russian AK47).

There were many other examples of co-operation pacts between Tel Aviv and Pretoria: deals concerning artillery, attack helicopters and, of course, torture techniques, in which each regime excelled and was an innovator. In addition to which, the official snack food of Boss, the apartheid secret police, was salt beef on rye, side order of latkes and lokshen pudding for their pudding.

For those of us who support the Palestinian cause, there is some reason for optimism in all this hoo-hah, even though the US and Europe downgraded the conference by sending low-level delegates, because it seems to show that at last Palestinians are learning how to present their case in the western media. Edward Said said that the PR battle had been lost by the Palestinians especially in the US, but at least the fuss that has been created at the conference shows that they are beginning to understand that there is a battle there to be fought, something that doesn't seem to have occurred to them before.

After all, that a blameless oppressed people, driven from their homes, humiliated in 10,000 different ways, a people who have been so cruelly treated by such powerful enemies, can end up being stigmatised as the bad guys suggests a public relations failure of gigantic proportions. Obviously these Palestinians have not up to now been looking after the media angle, have not been playing the publicity game. They have not been holding little dinner parties for important newspaper editors, they have not been getting their photos in the paper by going to film premières in skimpy dresses, they have not been made a guest appearance on a Fatboy Slim record. Now all that is set to change.

However, with the luck of the Palestinians their launch into the superficial celebrity whirlwind will probably coincide with a sudden revulsion in the public for the whole vacuous personality-driven shallow low entertainment that currently passes for news and with its replacement by a demand for, and a move towards, a greater climate of seriousness in the newspapers and on the television.

The inhabitants of the house in the third series of Big Brother will be Noam Chomsky, Professor Susan Greenfield and Stephen Hawking. Audiences will tune in in huge numbers when it is leaked that, during a big argument in the kitchen, Hawkings's knowledge of string theory is shown to be decidedly wobbly.