Yasmin Alibhai-Brown: Israel's friends cannot justify this slaughter

Monday 19 January 2009 01:00 GMT

On Saturday night, I was at the BBC to discuss the Sunday papers on their TV news channel. Optimism was up. Israel was about to halt its assault on Gaza. Be thankful for miserable mercies. Easier said than felt.

For the trapped people of Gaza, this respite will bring some relief. It will not, cannot curb their grief and outrage after what was done to them while the West stood still. First systematically starved, the population was denied escape and more than 1,200 were slaughtered like animals in an abattoir.

A writer of Muslim origin accusing Israel of crimes against Palestinians is always provocative. But race and religion are red herrings. Palestine is a political cause. Some of its most articulate voices – Edward Said, Hanan Ashrawi – have been Christian. Yes, true, Hamas represents an Islamicisation of the conflict, something I abhor, but the injustices suffered by Palestine go back way before Hamas.

I have always defended Israel's right to be but cannot extend unconditional support and immunity from censure in perpetuity. Nor can countless, conscientious Jewish men and women who publicly condemn Israel's abominations. The Israeli academic Oren Yiftachel, who has long defended Palestine, has said his country: "Turned Gaza into a massive prison and is choosing to prolong the cycle of state terror and prison resistance that goes with that." In other words, Israel wants to keep the conflict alive.

The erstwhile British ambassador, Jeremy Greenstock reminds us that had Israel lifted its blockade of Gaza as was agreed, the Hamas rockets, "would have stopped ... I fear Israel is making a two-state solution more remote. Is that the real political objective of the attack?"

I wouldn't be writing this but for the number of people I have heard and read (including in this paper) still justifying the obliteration of Gaza and blaming it all on Hamas. Pro-Israeli commentators have become even more ferociously "patriotic" as revelations have unfolded of the destruction of people, peace and hope in Gaza. On the letters pages Zionists say the violence – including phosphorous burns on children – are "regrettable" but necessary. A nation that asks the world not to forget what was done to its people by Hitler, has advocates who believe brutal ethnic cleansing is "regrettable".

How many Palestinian Anne Franks did the Israelis murder, maim or turn mad? Unless the Israeli state can see that equivalence there is no future for Palestine and even less for the moral health of Israel where racist attitudes towards Arabs are as dangerously pathological as the anti-Semitism of many Muslims. Shocking are the mathematical calculations of revenge for Jewish lives cruelly cut down and the differential values placed on deaths. Kill the kids before they grow, is that it?

The abused have become righteous abusers. They avenge themselves for the Holocaust on people who had nothing to do with the six million dead. For Palestinians there is only more punishment meted out by one of the most arrogant, over-armed states in the world. Millions of us feel fury and impotence watching the spectacle of ruthless power. Imagine what it feels like to be at the epicentre and ask yourself what you would do next.

I predict a riot: this brilliant film tells the raw truth about India

Slumdog Millionaire hits the cinemas in India this week, reflecting the country back to itself in ways the audience will find both familiar and startling as Bollywood vernacular is vitalised by Danny Boyle's peculiar and affecting cinema verité. The film has already drawn both prizes and protests – expect a riot or two for sure. Some prominent Indians are already grumpy that the film moves away from Tourist India, messing with low-class filth. Others, as usual, suspect some hidden colonial purpose and plot, perhaps because British critics describe the film as "feel-good", meaning to be dirt poor in India is a really fun thing.

Both sides are hopelessly outdated. This unique, inspired film is a product of a new era of tension and innovation between people of two nations, at long last equal and able to spur each other on. We saw it in Tim Supple's exuberant production of Midsummer Night's Dream for the RSC. Instead of anodyne collaboration or a patronising borrowing of Bollywood, Doyle and Supple throw themselves into a more potent and risky creative cauldron.

No resident Indian director, however brilliant, could have felt as free as Doyle to show the shameful faces of India. He dares to include in this picaresque tale, scenes of savage Hindu attacks on Muslims without ever letting the latter off the hook. There are moments of joy and victory, yet violence lurks and hits you, so real it leaves what feels like physical pain. But Doyle too couldn't have made such a film anywhere else. The Indian dispossessed have furious energy and cunning, not unlike many of Dickens' characters. Let's hope there are critics in India who understand the rich mix better than most of our critics did here.

Money, it seems, can buy you love after all

They say that women who have rich partners have a much better time in bed than us, who married for something as vague, indeterminate and foolish as love.

After assiduously interviewing a large sample of females, researchers at Newcastle University are persuaded that: "Increasing partner income had a highly positive effect on the self-reported frequency of orgasm."

One thinks immediately of poor Heather Mills, pictured, and what else she lost when it ended in tears with Paul. All she wanted was to do her best for herself, as nature intended. I, like many others, never understood this Darwinian imperative. I could have married a Ugandan Asian who went on to become a millionaire hotel owner. But I didn't fancy him. Clearly I should have done. Instead, I went first for a man who was great looking and charming (a mistake), and then a husband who would never keep me in diamonds but would captivate me with words, ideas, laughter and sensuality.

Well, we are where we are, and there are no regrets at all. Anyway, quality is what counts at my age, not quantity.

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