Very occasionally, the Israeli army allow selected journalists to venture into Gaza. They will be accompanied at all times by military minders, and escorted to very specific sites.

Presumably this is to minimise the chance of observing what the BBC’s excellent international editor, Jeremy Bowen, described as a wasteland.

Words matter in this seemingly intractable conflict. There is, for instance, a very precise definition of a famine. So if that particular term is deployed by the UN or the EU it has to conform to a number of tests involving not just the obvious lack of food, but evidence of people, most especially the vulnerable old and very young, dying of malnutrition.

There are now precious few eyewitness accounts of this tragedy, since those few indigenous journalists who stayed put initially have mostly departed to join their families in safer spaces.

Safer spaces in Gaza and the occupied West Bank are at something of a premium right now.

Israel itself, with its numerous checkpoints, used to believe its own land was safe too, until the events of October 7 proved otherwise.

It’s in no way to minimise the horror of that day to observe that punishing an entire nation must now be seen as a massive act of revenge rather than a full hearted effort to return hostages to whose who must, by now, be sick with worry.

Plus a means of keeping Netanyahu in a job and out of a courtroom.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Virtual reality? Haud me back. This week contained two encounters with unreal “people” now used by assorted companies to avoid the tedious business of having an actual person answer the company phone.

Tell me in short sentence why you’re calling, they trill. Don’t go there. They’ll only misinterpret your shorthand and effortlessly refer you to the wrong department. Who will re-route you via some bad music.

A variation on this profoundly irritating theme is the offer to chat with someone. They don’t, of course, mean that at all. They mean type in your query so that a bot can offer you a menu of things you don’t want to discuss. Certainly not with a virtual assistant with access to very few options.

There is a further wrinkle adopted by some financial institutions. They won’t let you get near your own loot unless you download and utilise the company app. When it has elicited everything bar your inside leg measurement it’s just possible they will OK your transaction. Or, often, not.

Earlier this week I made a 100-mile round trip to the mother lode of one of these outfits. Just so I could explain to an actual human being what manner of problem I was encountering.

It’s like all those supermarkets which have dispensed with till types in favour of the self service variety. If you’re lucky there might be an actual person lurking to assist if the magic scanner goes in a huff. Or, often, not.

And before you jump with Olympian ease to the wrong conclusion this is not a rant against modernity or technology. Merely an opinion that machines or AI and sentient humans are not interchangeable.