Mark Steel: So what have the Palestinians got to complain about?

To portray this as a conflict between equals requires some imagination

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When you read the statements from Israeli and US politicians, and try to match them with the pictures of devastation, there seems to be only one explanation. They must have one of those conditions, called something like "Visual Carnage Responsibility Back To Front Upside Down Massacre Disorder".

For example, Condoleezza Rice, having observed that more than 300 Gazans were dead, said: "We are deeply concerned about the escalating violence. We strongly condemn the attacks on Israel and hold Hamas responsible."

Someone should ask her to comment on teenage knife-crime, to see if she'd say: "I strongly condemn the people who've been stabbed, and until they abandon their practice of wandering around clutching their sides and bleeding, there is no hope for peace."

The Israeli government suffers terribly from this confusion. They probably have adverts on Israeli television in which a man falls off a ladder and screams, "Eeeeugh", then a voice says, "Have you caused an accident at work in the last 12 months?" and the bloke who pushed him gets £3,000.

The gap between the might of Israel's F-16 bombers and Apache helicopters, and the Palestinians' catapulty thing is so ridiculous that to try and portray the situation as between two equal sides requires the imagination of a children's story writer.

The reporter on News at Ten said the rockets "may be ineffective, but they ARE symbolic." So they might not have weapons but they have got symbolism, the canny brutes.

It's no wonder the Israeli Air Force had to demolish a few housing estates, otherwise Hamas might have tried to mock Israel through a performance of expressive dance.

The rockets may be unable to to kill on the scale of the Israeli Air Force, said one spokesman, but they are "intended to kill".

Maybe he went on: "And we have evidence that Hamas supporters have dreams, and that in these dreams bad things happen to Israeli citizens, they burst, or turn into cactus, or run through Woolworths naked, so it's not important whether it can happen, what matters is that they WANT it to happen, so we blew up their university."

Or there's the outrage that Hamas has been supported by Iran. Well that's just breaking the rules. Because say what you will about the Israelis, they get no arms supplies or funding or political support from a country that's more powerful than them, they just go their own way and make all their weapons in an arts and crafts workshop in Jerusalem.

But mostly the Israelis justify themselves with a disappointing lack of imagination, such as the line that they had to destroy an ambulance because Hamas cynically put their weapons inside ambulances.

They should be more creative, and say Hamas were planning to aim the flashing blue light at Israeli epileptics in an attempt to make them go into a fit, get dizzy and wander off into Syria where they would be captured.

But they prefer a direct approach, such as the statement from Ofer Schmerling, an Israeli Civil Defence official who said on al-Jazeera, "I shall play music and celebrate what the Israeli Air Force is doing."

Maybe they could turn it into a huge nationalfestival, with decorations and mince pies and shops playing "I Wish We Could Bomb Gaza Every Day".

In a similar tone Dov Weisglas, Ariel Sharon's chief of staff, referred to the siege of Gaza that preceded this bombing, a siege in which the Israelis prevented the population from receiving essential supplies of food, medicine, electricity and water, by saying, "We put them on a diet."

It's the arrogance of the East End gangster, so it wouldn't be out of character if the Israeli Prime Minister's press conference began: "Oh dear or dear. It looks like those Palestinians have had a little, er, accident. All their buildings have been knocked down – they want to be more careful, hee hee."

And almost certainly one of the reasons this is happening now is because the government wants to appear hard as it wants to win an election. Maybe with typical Israeli frankness they'll show a party political broadcast in which Ehud Olmert says, "This is why I think you should vote for me", then shows film of Gaza and yells: "Wa-hey, that bloke in the corner is on FIRE."

And Condoleezza Rice and her colleagues, and the specially appointed Middle East Peace Envoy, could then all shake their heads and say: "Disgraceful. The way he's flapping around like that could cause someone to have a nasty accident."

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