When I was at school in England, we used to play a game called "Chinese Whispers". Here, in Israel, they play a similar game, called "Broken Telephone". The principle is the same. The players line up and the first player whispers a message, very quickly, in the ear of player no. 2. Player no. 2 whispers the message to player no. 3, who in turn, passes the message on to the next player, and so on, down the line. By the time the message has reached the last player, it has become totally garbled, even unintelligible. That, in fact, is the aim of the game.
Why am I telling you this?
A week ago, the Israeli newspaper Ha’aretz published an article about a symposium at a military academy here in Israel, at which Israeli Army reservists who had served in Gaza and taken part in Operation Cast Lead, disclosed what the British, European and American Press (who picked up the story) called "Israel’s Dirty Little Secrets" about the recent military campaign in Gaza. In short, five reservists recounted reports of war crimes supposedly perpetrated by the Israel Defence Forces.
Among these were stories of Israeli soldiers slaughtering Palestinian civilians in cold blood. Chief of these was a fable about the alleged shooting of a mother and her baby. Naturally, the already hostile European media (and even some of the American newspapers and TV stations) pounced upon these "first-hand admissions of guilt" with unholy glee.
Before twenty-four hours had gone by, it became clear that not one of the reports was an eye-witness account. All of the reservists were merely telling stories they had heard from someone else, who had, in turn, heard them from someone else. The mother and baby who had supposedly been shot in cold blood by wicked Zionist soldiers, were found, alive and well. The newspaper report was based on nothing but hearsay – rumours, if you will, which are now under investigation by the proper authorities. If there is any truth in any of the rumours, those responsible for carrying out any such crimes will be tried and punished, by the Israeli military authorities. The IDF is the most moral army in the world. If individual soldiers carried out crimes of war – and it’s a big "if" – they acted in contradiction to everything the IDF stands for. But that makes no difference to the hostile western (and particularly European) media. As far as they are concerned, the whole Israel Army – nay, every Israeli – is guilty of war crimes. When the rumours are scotched, you will look in vain for an apology from those newspapers and TV stations. And even if they do apologise, it will no doubt be a single line on the back page – nothing comparable to the front page headlines that screamed Israel’s guilt. The damage has already been done and it will be irreparable.
Rumour is an ugly thing – almost impossible to contradict. It is swift and it is deadly.
Fama, malum qua non alliud velocius ullum:
mobilitate viget viresque adquirit eundo…..
monstrum horrendum, ingens, cui quot sunt corpore plumae,
tot vigiles oculi subter (mirabile dictu),
tot linguae, totidem ora sonant, tot subrigit auris…..
…..et magnas territat urbes,
tam ficti pravique tenax quam nuntia veri.
"Rumour is of all pests the swiftest. In her freedom of movement is her power, and she gathers new strength from
her going…She is a vast, fearful monster, with a watchful eye miraculously set under every feather which grows on
her, and for every one of them a tongue in a mouth which is loud of speech, and an ear ever alert…And she strikes
dread throughout great cities, for she is as retentive of news which is false and wicked as she is ready to tell what is
There is an old joke that goes as follows: In Britain, you are innocent until proven guilty. In Russia, you are guilty until proven innocent. In the USA, you are innocent until the Press gets hold of the story. It seems, alas, the same holds true of Israel. How can I blame The New York Times, The Independent, The Guardian etc. when the first to publish the story was Ha’aretz?
Oh, and one last thing. Rumour has it that Ha’aretz was once a responsible newspaper, whose staff checked and double checked their sources before publishing such damaging material. It seems Rumour lied about that too.
* Virgil: "The Aeneid" (translated by W.F. Jackson Knight, Penguin Classics)