Occasionally, I find that Laurel and Hardy, Woody Allen, the Marx Brothers, Larry David or Chris Morris don’t quite do it for me. I need to work those stomach muscles just that bit harder. For this, amongst other things, I turn to the ravings of Oliver Kamm and Melanie Phillips. And Phillips was in delightfully bonkers mode recently with something on – if not Muslims, guess what? – the (continuing and indeed continual) innocence of Israel.
"In America recently," writes Mad Mel in her beyond chutzpah routine, "I was sickened [she must have felt well, then] to find in pride of place in Barnes and Noble bookshops shoulder-high piles of Jimmy Carter's book. The very title of this seasonal tome, 'Palestine Peace or Apartheid' with its cover picture of Israel's separation barrier, is itself a grotesque incitement to hatred." (Presumably the wall is not the "incitement to hatred".) Accurate as ever: the title is Palestine Peace Not Apartheid. I was half-expecting the Jack Straw look-alike to splutter that the so-called "separation barrier" is simply a way of encouraging "good neighbourliness". Note that this is the same Melanie Phillips who claims that "Jew-baiting is becoming a national institution". (You've confused the UK for Borat's Kazakhstan, Mel.)
Yet the title was "itself a grotesque incitement to hatred"? Even with Phillips's misreading, the title, as anyone with eyes in their head can see, does the exact opposite: it is an incitement to peace. But then for neocons and chauvinist Zionists, and for that matter some "liberals", those who advocate "peace" are indeed monsters worse than any imagined foe who desires permanent war. I dare say that it was the reference to Palestine rather than peace which raised Phillips's ire. Phillips should take stock in the comments Nelson Mandela and Desmond Tutu have made comparing Israel's policies to those of apartheid South Africa – with South Africa judged more favourably.
Phillips's well-thought out and composed commentary continues: "In Carter's virulently distorted universe [Carter has his own universe?], Israel is to blame for the war with the Arabs. Israel stole land and money from the Palestinians; the 'imprisonment wall' is not a desperate measure to prevent the further slaughter of Israelis by Palestinians but a malevolent act against them; Palestinian violence is merely the response to Israeli crimes."
Here is a seldom commented upon fact: the Arab states have never started a war with Israel. So starting backwards. 1982: Israel invades Lebanon after (now here's a provocation) a botched assassination attempt on the Israeli Ambassador to London by the Abu Nidal group. 1973: After years of one-sided negotiations Syria and Egypt mount a military campaign to liberate territory illegally occupied and colonised by Israel. That is to say, these Arab states invade themselves. The "civilised world" condemns the Egyptian and Syrian invasion of their own territory as evidence of the existential threat posed to the battling little David. 1967: Israel invades and occupies the Egyptian Sinai Peninsula, East Jerusalem, Gaza and the West Bank. 1956: Israel invades Egypt. 1948: Surrounding Arab states defend themselves from Israel's (and Jordan's) plans to invade and partition not only what remained of Palestine but also the neighbouring Arab states. Don't forget, though, that Israel's invasions are Arab wars.
Phillips does not need to read books by Benny Morris, Avi Shlaim or Illan Pappe – to name but three Israeli historians who have conclusively proven that Israel did steal land from the Palestinians and create the "refugee problem" – she knows the truth, but it may be a good idea for her readers. In Morris's case, with honesty seldom seen in political commentary, he does not deny the scale of the theft – he's angered by its meagreness and that the ethnic cleansing was not completed.
If the "imprisonment wall" is merely a defensive measure against Palestinian attacks, as Phillips claims, why does Israel not build the wall on the 1967 border? Moreover, as Phillips is all too well aware, until the outbreak of the first intifada Palestinians barely looked the wrong way at the brutal and illegal occupying power. So for close to twenty years Palestinians did not attack Israeli occupation forces. Yet Israel's colonisation continued apace. This fact – Palestinians have been remarkably restrained given what they have to endure – probably explains Phillips's claim that Palestinians "have a programme to eradicate the Jewish state and ethnically cleanse the Jews from the land".
In Mad Mel's mad world, strangely enough, she's right: peace, human rights and equality will do away with the militarist Israel she holds so dear. In Phillips's fevered imagination the Eretz Israel of Biblical lore, "from the Nile to the Euphrates", is nigh. Now that my stomach exercises are done for another week, I'll go to bed.