It was a deliberate provocation by B’Tselem, Israel’s largest human rights group, to describe the Palestinians in the Holy Land as living under an apartheid regime. Many Israelis detest the idea that their country, one they see as a democracy that rose from a genocidal pyre, could be compared to the old racist Afrikaner regime. Yet figures such as Desmond Tutu and Jimmy Carter have done so.There is a serious argument about injustices to be had. Palestinians – unlike Israeli Jews – live under a fragmented mosaic of laws, often discriminatory, and public authorities which seem indifferent to their plight. Apartheid is a crime against humanity. It is a charge that should not be lightly made, for else it can be shrugged off. Some might agree with the use of such incendiary language, but many will recoil. The crime of apartheid has been defined as “inhumane acts committed in the context of a regime of systematic oppression and domination by one racial group over any other racial group or groups with the intention of maintaining that regime”.There are nearly 5 million Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza, all without Israeli citizenship. In the West Bank, Palestinians are bereft of civil rights, while Israelis in the occupied territory enjoy the full support of the state. Hamas won Gaza’s election in 2006, but the blockade that Israel imposes means it is in charge. Egypt has sealed its border, but nothing and nobody can get in or out without Israeli permission. Meeting the needs of Gaza’s growing population, say relief agencies, is at the whim of Israel. About 300,000 Palestinians in the areas formally annexed in 1967 – East Jerusalem and surrounding villages – do not have full citizenship and equal rights. Last year, the Israeli NGO Yesh Din found that Israeli officials were culpable of the crime of apartheid in the West Bank. Such a finding can only be a tragedy for all, including this newspaper, who wish the state of Israel well.B’Tselem argues that Palestinians are afforded various levels of rights depending on where they live, but always below Jewish people. The group says it is becoming impossible to insulate Israel from its prolonged occupation project, leading it to run an apartheid regime not just outside its sovereign territory but inside it. There are about 2 million Palestinian citizens of Israel, a minority under pressure not to antagonise the Jewish majority. Within Israel, discriminatory policies are not difficult to find. National security is invoked to justify often racist citizenship laws. Jewish-only communities have admission committees that can legally reject Palestinians on the grounds of “cultural incompatibility”. A web of land and planning laws squeeze Palestinians into a shrinking space. There are Israeli Arabs whose prominence in society belies the poverty of the majority.Israel has a problem of historic discrimination. But under Benjamin Netanyahu’s government there has been the enactment of the nation state law that constitutionally enshrines Jewish supremacy and a plan to formally annex parts of the West Bank. Some prominent Jewish intellectuals, such as the writer Peter Beinart, have given up on the idea of a Jewish state. No government formed after the forthcoming election will support genuine Palestinian statehood or have a viable peace plan.This begs B’Tselem’s heretical question: what if there is only, in reality, one regime between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean Sea, rather than one political power that controls the territory in which there are distinct regimes? A system of separate and unequal law and systemic discrimination against Palestinians has been justified because it was meant to be temporary. But decades have passed and the situation worsens. If this is a twilight for democracy and equality in the Holy Land, one can only hope that the night will be short.
Andy Beckett is right to say that our politics are being hollowed out, but Covid-19 is just part of that process (The pandemic has hollowed out our politics – but that can’t last forever, 14 January). The sheer weariness of public outrage may be true, but what outlets remain where we can show our anger and despair at the gradual weakening of our democracy?Demonstrations and public meetings are forbidden under Covid rules. Leading newspapers cravenly support this government, and even the BBC too frequently goes oddly soft in interviews with cabinet ministers. Time and again, serious lies are not questioned by hitherto trustworthy journalists.Perhaps try lobbying your MP about the broken promises of Brexit, and you will find that Jacob Rees-Mogg has closed down the Brexit select committee, ending debate and interrogation, as if Brexit were over. The government is plotting boundary changes to their advantage, and the powerful rightwing media spend more time attacking the opposition than they do holding the government’s feet to the fire.Of course there are outlets for public outrage, social media being the most widespread. Thank goodness for Marcus Rashford, using his fame and decency to reverse government policy.Despite the weariness we all suffer from Covid and never-ending Brexit, I believe the public’s outrage is on a slow burner, and will in time rebound on our present political leaders, who have unerringly failed to understand or address the deep social and wider political issues we face.How this will happen is hard to predict, but with an increasingly authoritarian government with scant regard for the law, or the needy, and even less understanding of the society in which they live, dangerous civil unrest and the response to it could be the eventual unwelcome result.Anna FordLondon• Jonathan Freedland is correct: changes in the media landscape accelerate a disconnect between beliefs and locally verifiable truth (Trump may be gone, but his big lie will linger. Here’s how we can fight it, 15 January). But was it ever thus. Any student of myth observes how religion thrives in post-scientific societies despite rational evidence piled against it. Humans remain driven as much by emotion as logic, especially in times of stress.Yet this is not an argument for pessimism. Empowered by a better story, disrespect for the rational enables the downtrodden to triumph against the odds, the defeat of fascism being but one example. Populists seduce the vulnerable by inviting them to play the hero in their charades. Inconvenient facts are obstacles in the hero’s journey, tests of faith that must be trampled by the true believer. The answer for progressives is not to further fuel the fire with facts, but to counter with stronger stories – stories that champion love over hate, hope over fear, predicated on truth not lies.Stuart MorrisWestergate, Chichester• Mary Barber asks how we got into this mess (Letters, 15 January), wondering why a mendacious, privately educated elite who have conned the electorate into favouring failed policies of austerity and increasing privatisation was chosen over a party advocating first-class public services, decent housing and a fair income for all. Perhaps part of the solution could be that for every letter we write to the Guardian, we should write an even stronger one to the Daily Mail, Daily Telegraph, Daily Express, the Sun and the Times.Paul TattamChinley, Derbyshire
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With online sales booming but retail in sharp decline, the pandemic has changed shopping for ever. Practical, comfortable items suitable for a lifestyle of working from home and occasional trips outside – such as Ugg boots, Crocs and trousers with elasticated waistbands – have seen rising sales.
But with many of us grappling with our emotions during lockdown, the way we feel and speak about our clothes has altered too.
Last week, two new words were coined to describe our new attitude to fashion. They are portmanteaus which articulate the stresses and mundanity of lockdown, but also the changing relationship we have with our clothes.
The New York Times’s “hate-wear” refers to clothes that are “neither stylish nor particularly comfortable, yet constantly in rotation”, items worn for their utility rather than their style.
“Not knowing how to dress is the least of anyone’s problems,” says the NYT writer Reyhan Harmanci, “but we still do (mostly) have to put on clothes. For those of us who now work from home, that has resulted in some weird choices.”