WHERE’S MY COLUMN GONE?

Given that it takes me several months to collect together the documents needed to get my car tax, I’m amazed that anyone manages to assemble the hundreds of bits required to produce a newspaper every single day. Then something happens, such as John Updike dies, and the newspaper gets someone to write something about him, and right in the space where my own column was destined to appear. Couldn’t he have hung on for a few more hours and buggered up someone the following day? So, for anyone pining, this is what would have appeared had it not been for John Updike’s genuinely untimely death.

 

 

The BBC are right. If they broadcast that appeal for food and medicine to be sent to Gaza it WOULD be taking sides. The Israeli Defence force could legitimately say “We’ve gone to enormous lengths here to kill people, then you go and help to keep them alive. How do you square that with your remit to be neutral?”

 

So the BBC needs to look at other areas in which its ‘impartiality’ could be called into question. To start with they’ll have to scrap ‘Crimewatch’, which clearly takes the side of the murdered against the interests of murderers. Maybe they could get round this by having a new balanced Crimewatch, in which the police plea for witnesses to a crime, but then the presenter says “Next tonight – have you seen this man? Because Big Teddy and his gang are desperate to track him down and do him in for ringing us up earlier. So if you have any information please call us, where Nobby the Knife is ready to talk to you in complete confidence.”

 

It’s impossible to be entirely neutral about anything, especially with an appeal for money. Appeals are made for injured veterans of the Second World War, but I don’t suppose they’d take them off air if they got a letter to Points of View saying “Dear BBC, I’m a Nazi war criminal but I pay my license fee just like everyone else, and as such I was appalled by the biased images of the Battle of Normandy used to promote your financial appeal. There are two sides to every story you know, and I thought you had a promise to be impartial. So come on BBC, us Kommandants watch television as well!”

 

Appeals have been made for victims of wars in the Congo, Darfur and Bosnia, keeping people alive and thereby undermining the aims and efforts of the armies who tried to wipe them out. But if the current stance carries on, from now on if anyone feels their block of flats collapsing on them they’ll think “I hope this is an earthquake and not an invading army or we won’t get a penny via the BBC.”

 

Aware of the frail logic of not showing the appeal, the BBC have made some even stranger statements to justify their decision, such as claiming they couldn’t be sure the money would ‘get through’. Ah yes that must be it. If only Gaza was like the Congo or Darfur, where the Red Cross can pop along to the village cashpoint machines, draw the money out and get Janjaweed or Hutu militias to help them search for two-for-one bargains in the local Somerfields.

 

Luckily for the Middle-East, the American government has been less squeamish about this question of impartiality. For example in Bush’s last year he sent Israel 2.2 billion dollars worth of military aid, and there’s no record of anyone saying “This couldn’t be seen as breaching our impartiality in any way, could it?”

 

The problem is that when viewers are confronted with scenes of misery and destruction, they’re bound to ask what or who caused this, and if it was done deliberately. So the BBC couldn’t remain neutral. Either they allowed the appeal that would lead to those questions being asked, or they refused it, in which case they’re suggesting they shouldn’t aid the relief of civilians who’ve been bombed, starved and slaughtered, as on this occasion their plight can be justified. And it’s decided this time to be biased not towards the impoverished but towards the impoverishers.

 

Or maybe they’ve been under such a barrage of complaints lately they just panicked that in the middle of the appeal the presenter might say, “Oh and by the way, I shagged David Attenborough’s grandson. Anyway, back to the lack of clean water.”

THE YEAR ISN’T QUITE RUINED YET (Part 1)

Amidst the coverage at the start of the year of all the bombing and lying and murdering and justifying and slaughtering, there was a splendid moment on Wednesday morning on Radio 4’s Today programme. The genetics expert, Professor Steven Rose, was introduced to talk about some new discovery that means we can identify the bit of the brain that deals with morality, which have been called ‘morality spots’. “How can we know about these spots?” he was asked. And with posh English academic authority he said, “Well – we could study the brains of the Israeli cabinet to see if they had no such morality spots whatsoever.”

It was an oasis of sanity within the dual assault on the senses of orchestrated Israeli carnage, and global excuses for such destruction. One group of people is hemmed in without electricity, medicine or provisions for a year, and fires rockets that kills four people. The other, with an almost incalculable arsenal wipes out 600 in ten days, few of which are directly connected to military action, obliterating mosques, schools or whatever they fancy. So almost every world leader puts most of the blame on the people being slaughtered. It’s as if there was a report on a gang kicking an old aged pensioner to bits, and then quotes from presidents saying “We call upon this old man to promise never to cough again in the direction of this gang, as soon as he comes out of his coma.”

For example, the Israelis blow up a school, which has United Nations flags around it, killing dozens including children, and somehow blame HAMAS, like a wife-beater who growls “I don’t want to hit her but she MAKES ME, ‘cos she turns the telly over while I’M WATCHING THE RUGBY.” And the world’s leaders agree with them. Or, in Gordon Brown’s case, say “This is a humanitarian crisis,” as if it’s an act of nature, a type of earthquake in which colliding tectonic plates force Apache helicopters to randomly devastate a housing estate.

If you hope the school incident was a one-off, Amnesty International reported that “After the Israeli army first took the town on Saturday night, soldiers had ordered about 100 members of the Soumani clan to gather in a house owned by Wael Soumani around dawn on Sunday. At 6.35 a.m. on Monday the house was repeatedly shelled, with appalling loss of civilian life.”

And far from this being ‘regrettable’, the predominant attitude within the Israeli establishment is that of the biggest selling daily paper in Israel, Yediot Aharanot, which gleamed “The attack was a stroke of brilliance…the element of surprise increased the number who were killed.”

The deputy defence minister Matan Vilnai said of the Palestinians “They will bring upon themselves a bigger shoah because we will use all our might to defend ourselves.” And ‘shoah’ is the Hebrew word for holocaust, as he clearly knows.

The evidence for the Palestinians’ continuing viciousness is their use of underground tunnels which, apart from being used to bring in food and medicine, have become a route for smuggling arms. So if this is the main area of contention there must be an obvious route for a compromise. Israel should give HAMAS half its F-16 fighters, half its multi-billion pound annual arms budget, mostly provided by America, half its missiles and destroyers and tanks, then the Palestinians may well agree to abandon their practice of smuggling guns through a tunnel.

And yet somewhere deep down in this atrocity-fest is a glimmer of hope. Because while the Israeli war machine has no difficulty in keeping global leaders onside, they no longer seem able to win over the general population. In America, a poll suggested only 31% of people who voted for Obama support the Israeli action, which may eventually have at least some impact on the new president. The demonstrations in Britain this week have been bigger than any on this issue before, and Steven Rose type comments are voiced with little complaint, where once they would have invited inevitable mayhem. Within Israel itself there have been several thousand people on demonstrations in Jerusalem and Tel Aviv.

There’s a sense that Israel has lost the argument, betrayed the sympathy it once claimed as its right. The wonderful ticket collector at my local station, who regularly causes people to miss their trains with his amiable and often furious banter, called out to me yesterday “MARK – MARK – MARK – WHAT ARE THESE BASTARDS DOING?” Then he quoted from a magnificent Robert Fisk article, spat with such venom about something Blair had said, and the queue before him grew and grew, with no re-start to the selling of tickets in sight. “WE NEED TO OVERTHROW THEM,” he yelled, ” and the posh woman in front of me said “Bloody right we do.”

All this is very different from how it once was. In 1982 when Israel invaded Lebanon, killing thousands of civilians, or when Ariel Sharon allowed 1,700 refugees to be massacred in the camps of Sabra and Chatila, it was hard to get anyone in the West to take notice. Now there’s a bit of a space – to shout in railway stations, crowbar cutting comments into interviews about the brain, or maybe even go to Saturday’s demonstration, 12.30 at Hyde Park.