Yasmin Alibhai-Brown: Where is the media outrage over Gaza?

Monday 24 November 2008 01:00

Four cheers for the feisty Lauren Booth, sister-in-law of our special Middle East envoy, Tony Blair. But what exactly is he doing? Desperately searching for his legacy I suppose, like the weapons of mass destruction hidden in the sands somewhere, waiting to be unearthed.

Meanwhile Booth is emerging as one of the few voices in the wilderness bringing up the plight of Gaza as Israel efficiently chokes and suffocates the tiny strip of land, the hellish home to Palestinians, of which 60 per cent of its inhabitants are children. This summer Booth joined activists on a ship – including an 80-year-old Catholic nun from the United States and an Israeli peacenik – to take aid to these sick and hungry. The Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs accused them of "supporting the regime of a terrorist organisation in Gaza". This week, Booth has been once again speaking passionately in public about what she witnessed.

It will be a year in January since Israel imposed the blockade, knowing it was against international law and human rights conventions. It is a siege without mercy, locking people into a prison, most of whom have not been convicted of any crime except that of being Palestinian. I am not defending the militants who attack Israel; what they do is extreme provocation. But even that cannot excuse Israel's actions. Neither United Nations food aid nor European Union medical supplies are allowed through. Fishermen are gunned down, power cuts mean industries have shut down.

Oxfam, Amnesty International and the EU have condemned this as collective punishment. The former US president Jimmy Carter called the siege "a crime, an atrocity and an abomination". Many conscientious Jewish British men and women feel guilty by association, dreadfully unfair though that is. But where is the outrage in the media? I have scoured the newspapers, and there is nothing. Israel can get away with anything it chooses to do. So low are expectations of this democracy that such a state-made humanitarian disaster is not even news.

Compare the coverage with, say, Zimbabwe where Mugabe goes on annihilating opposition, wrecking the economic future of his country and pushing his people into a famine. This state-made devastation is recorded daily by the Western media, in spite of all the restrictions placed on journalists. So why this blackout on Gaza?

As for propaganda to justify the unjustifiable, there are commentators in this country for whom Israel can do no wrong. One of the most vociferous, Stephen Pollard, now edits the Jewish Chronicle, a newspaper that once expressed a range of views, including those held by liberal British Jews. It is turning hardline. PR onslaughts are launched by the Board of Deputies and British Israeli Communication and Research Centre, whose head, Lorna Fitzsimons (a former Labour MP for Rochdale but not herself Jewish) sends out press releases week after week defending all Israeli actions. In an interview she once said: "We need to think carefully about the consequences of questioning the defensive reactions of a nation-state that is constantly bombarded by an enemy calling for its destruction." Note the implicit warning in that statement.

It is time to think about not questioning the "defensive" actions of this nuclear nation state. Archbishop Desmond Tutu, the brave and moral Nobel Prize alumni, has condemned the "silence and complicity" that allows this to be done. Evil happens when the world says and does nothing. That a Jewish state expects no condemnation of the evil it perpetrates shows that nothing is learnt from history.

Celebs behaving decently? We can't have that

Cynics thought they knew for sure that Guy Ritchie and Madonna would play out their divorce on the big stage, let rip, slash and burn their marriage in a bonfire of vanities and of course, for our amusement, bring in sharp lawyers to duel over the fortune accumulated by the singer/actress.

Didn't happen. The couple refused to play. Ritchie took no cash off Madge, kept his pride and she behaved with decorum.

Now comes more disappointment for scandal hunters. The convicted fraudster, ex- Telegraph proprietor Conrad Black, has written a column from prison, most of it grandiloquent rubbish. However, one item rivets. His "magnificent wife" visits him many times a week. Those who followed Barbara Amiel's fortunes predicted she would be off with another rich, old fool, back to her faux-aristocratic lifestyle. Didn't happen. Under pressure some spoilt celebs seem to act with uncommon decency. Shock! Horror! Shouldn't be allowed.

If more start behaving well, one of our only growth industries – the manufacture of dirty gossip – will collapse. Can't have that.

Fry is unwatchable. But it's not all his fault

I did try, honest, to watch Stephen Fry bumbling about in America for the BBC.

I tried to be fair to him, put aside my natural loathing for upper-class, privileged and smart blokes. But it really is unwatchable.

He wears a light suit, sometimes a hat, talks to people here and there with less interest than you would give to the eating of a hamburger, patronises some strange "ethnics" – Chinese Americans in particular, then wanders off, his mind clearly elsewhere.

There are things Fry does brilliantly that only he can do. That doesn't mean he can do it all. Cosseted by sycophants, like his good friend the Prince of Wales, he has (perhaps) been persuaded of his exceptional genius, always unwise.

Maybe this isn't his fault. British television is awash with famous white men being sent on trips and unadventurous adventures for free. The bosses think this makes for frightfully good telly. Paul Merton was packed off to India in, yes, a light suit and hat, to reveal to us an alien land peopled by dwarf record breakers and naked fakirs smeared with mud, doing things with their things.

He was, like Fry, irritatingly detached and superficial.

There are white men who can do television travel exceptionally well – Michael Palin, Louis Theroux, Ray Mears amongst them. Too many, however, go on the jaunts for the ride, making viewers either resentful or more prejudiced. That's entertainment?

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