Deborah Orr: The deaths of children – and sense

Saturday 17 January 2009 01:00 GMT

Many may imagine that the deaths of almost 300 children during the latest Gaza offensive, and the photographs the world has seen of Palestinian children maimed or killed, will give even the most right-wing of Israelis pause for thought. Unfortunately, as far as the hardliners are concerned, the opposite is the case.

Former Israeli prime minister, and one of the founders of the Israeli state, Golda Meir, long ago came up with a much-quoted formula which defined the killing of Palestinian children by Israelis as just another of the crimes that Arabs committed against Israel. "We can forgive the Arabs for killing our children," she claimed. "We cannot forgive them for forcing us to kill their children."

So there we have it. According to this specious logic, the more Palestinian children the Israeli army kills, the more wronged and the more victimised the most enthusiastic perpetrators and supporters of such indiscriminate inhumanity believe themselves to be.

This is just one of the many reasons why the Israeli right is so impervious to accusations of disproportionality. Every crime Israel commits against Palestinians is widely rationalised instead as a crime the Palestinians have committed against Israel. There is no disproportionality, because all wrongs are Palestinian wrongs. Even the use of white phosphorus is, no doubt, the inevitable result of the Palestinians' refusal to submit to Israel's devout wish for peace, on its terms.

There was a second part to Meir's quote. She also claimed: "We will have peace with the Arabs when they love their children more than they hate us." The essential truth, really, is that neither people loves its children quite enough to give up its desire for a national homeland, just so that its children can be protected from what is, in essence, a 60-year-long civil war. In that alone, these two Semite peoples can claim some equality.

One people has such a homeland, however, while the other still does not. It is always important to declare one's support for the state of Israel, if not its actions. But it is important as well to remember exactly where all these troublesome and aggressive Palestinians came from, at the start of Israel's great struggle for peace.

The 700,000 Palestinians expelled from Israel when it was created in 1948 have grown in six decades to four million stateless individuals. Initially, the 700,000 wanted to be allowed to return to their homes, and it also has to be remembered that many of those were as opposed to the existence of Israel then as Hamas still are.

Only since the Oslo accords failed, largely because they did not address the fundamental Palestinian demand of the right to return, have Palestinians begun to accept that this demand will never be met by Israel. The majority now realise, belatedly, that the two-state solution offered at Oslo is the best deal they, or their children, are ever likely to get.

Yet this massive, and welcome, concession to the reality of the situation is still not quite enough for Israel's leaders, or for the diplomatic quartet of the US, Russia, the UN and the EU, even though it has ostensibly dedicated itself to achieving a two-state solution. The demand now is for "Palestinian unity". It is not enough for most Palestinians to concede to the two-state solution. All Palestinians must do so before any practical progress can begin.

Yet surely this position is entirely fallacious. At least the continued and vigorous pursuit of a Palestinian homeland on the West Bank (or Judea and Samaria, as Likud leader Benjamin Netanyahu prefers to call it, in his own strange interpretation of the word "conciliatory") would give a clear choice to those many Palestinians in Gaza who do wish to keep their children safe, above all else. The funds and the means for relocation that should have been made available to the Palestinians in 1948 still could be, and a partial solution, at least, would be in sight. This might not solve all of Israel's problems, but it would at least solve some of Palestine's.

The provocations of Hamas have indeed been a contributory factor in the reduction of the children of Gaza into sitting ducks. But if Israelis really believe that Hamas is "forcing" them to kill children, then it is time that they started thinking more creatively and generously about how they can desist from falling prey so very regularly to the manipulations of their enemies. The Israelis are never keen to give the Palestinians what they want. Why, if they really believe the rhetoric that says it is the Palestinians who want their babies to die, do the Israelis so readily make that lonely exception?

Maybe Dati really wanted to get back to work

Rachida Dati, the French foreign minister, does not look like a woman who is too much in need of sympathy. At 43, the single mother has given birth, then hopped straight back to work, Caesarean stitches in place, after just five days. That, as anyone who has ever had a baby knows, is seriously tough behaviour, even with a partner giving as much support as he can.

But what is astonishing is that far from attracting admiration, or even understanding, Dati has been the butt of quite virulent criticism. She is a bad example to women, apparently. She has undermined hard-earned maternity rights. She has sent "a dangerous message". By going out of her way to protect her career, she has made women less keen to make such enormous sacrifices seem like wimps.

It took a while for feminists to cotton on to the fact that it was hard for women to "have it all". Now women are pilloried even for attempting to. What next? Will the women who don't have children at all, because they are so dedicated to their work, start attracting disapproval because there are practising some sort of psychological sterilisation in order to get on in a man's world? Must every woman be a synecdoche for all women?

Women have learnt from trial and error that it is hard to forge a career and look after a family. Dati is at the beginning of that process, and no matter how many times women are told that having children usually changes everything, it's hard to grasp quite how much until it happens.

It was probably bloody hard for Dati hand over her new-born baby, drag herself, wincing, out of bed, put on her warpaint and to step out in style. Or maybe it wasn't. Maybe she was itching to get back to work. And maybe, just maybe, she can carry on doing that. Others have.

Perhaps such exceptional women should be accepted for what they are – unusual. The idea that they have some sort of duty to hide their singularity, and pretend they are not unusual at all, is unrealistic and, quite simply, oppressive.

Blue Smarties return, and life gets complicated

There's a very jolly advert showing at the cinema, which hails the return of the blue Smartie to the box, after a long exile. The ad appeals to parents and children by using humour alongside serious nutritional information about the safety of the new blue colouring, which is extracted from seaweed.

Not everyone is happy, though. The food journalist Alex Renton argues that we are now being suckered because we fall for the idea that natural equals good. In a recent article he warned : "Nestlé's large tube of Smarties includes the following 'non-artificial' colourings: titanium dioxide, carminic acid and copper complexes of chlorophyllins. Carminic acid, for one, is made from insects and has been linked with the severe skin condition urticaria." And there were we, merrily thinking that Smarties had the answer. Ain't life complicated?

The Labour MP Graham Stringer has labelled dyslexia – which by coincidence has been around for as long as mass literacy – as a "cruel fiction". I do hope he's going to publish this "cruel fiction" as a talking book. Then all those labouring under its delusion can understand what he's going on about. The fool has got the wrong end of the stick. The real problem is that teachers are not trained to diagnose dyslexia. They are not equipped to use dyslexia as an "excuse" as much as they should.

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