Israel has experienced very heavy rains recently. Several people were killed when they were swept away by floods. In a particularly gruesome case, a young couple died of exposure after being trapped in a water-filled elevator in a basement parking garage. The emergency telephone system was not able to handle the volume of calls generated by the massive storm, and rescuers weren’t alerted until it was too late.
Last Friday afternoon, Qais Abu Ramila, an 8-year old Arab boy from eastern Jerusalem went missing. First responders and hundreds of Arab and Jewish volunteers searched for him until the next morning, when he was found dead, drowned in a deep pool of rainwater near his home.
Another tragedy. Possibly, as his parents said, the Jerusalem municipality should have filled in the pit. Often things aren’t done that should be, and the results are heartbreaking. One hopes lessons are learned.
But there was another side to the case of Abu Ramila, where lessons need to be learned but probably won’t be. Shortly after he disappeared, rumors started that he had been kidnapped by a group of “settlers.” Someone produced a security video that showed a boy being pulled along by the hand by an older man; but the boy’s father said that the child in the video was not his son. Nevertheless, despite a complete lack of evidence, the rumors spread. Some Arabs even tried to enter a nearby Jewish neighborhood in search of the “kidnappers.”
And then social media amplified the blood libel into an international event. Former Palestinian Authority official Hanan Ashrawi retweeted a fanciful tweet by “@RealSeifBitar” – possibly a fake account, presently nonexistent – which accused “a herd of violent #Israeli settlers” of assaulting the boy and throwing him into a well to die. She was followed by others, including professional (since he no longer has a job in the British Parliament) Jew-hater George Galloway, and, shockingly, Congresswoman Rashida Tlaib, who retweeted Ashrawi.
When it became clear that the boy’s death was accidental, Ashrawi deleted her original tweet and tweeted a partial apology, saying “My apologies for retweeting something that’s not fully verified. It seems that the news of his being kidnapped is not certain.”
Not fully verified? Not certain? How about, “a dangerous lie and murderous incitement?” But at least she went this far. Rashida Tlaib simply deleted her retweet. The shameless Galloway left it up and even pinned it to the top of his Twitter account.
Ashrawi and Tlaib are media veterans who fully understand how this plays. In case you don’t, let me lay it out:
First, someone tweets a false accusation. The tweet stays up for a day or so. Many people see it and believe it, especially if the author is a well-known personality like Ashrawi or Tlaib.
Next, the author deletes the tweet. Nobody can see it. The only ones who miss it are those who want to document after the fact that the author engaged in incitement to riot and perhaps terrorism to “revenge” the “crime” committed by Jews.
If the author wishes to prevent damage to their reputation, they may issue a retraction, as Ashrawi did. But of course the unemotional and tentative retraction has little impact compared to the original accusation.
Tweet and delete. If someone complains, shrug. Anyone can make a mistake.
There is no excuse for what they did. They know how the Palestinian rumor machine works. They know that @RealSeifBitar is not a real journalist, and that his vicious language is not that of a reliable source.
They should know that the blood libel that leads to the murder of Jews, sometimes to the destruction of whole Jewish communities, has a long history in both the Christian and the Muslim worlds.
But they don’t care, because it serves their purpose. Because it serves the Palestinian Cause. Because – maybe they would even admit this if you asked – truth for them is not independent of the observer. Truth for a Palestinian is identical with what helps the Cause. And that is defined as what hurts Jews and Israel.
So it is fine to make up massacres that didn’t happen (Jenin, 2002) as did pro-Palestinian journalist Phil Reeves, or to make movies about them like Mohammad Bakri. There’s no problem with accusing Israel of opening the dams to flood Gaza, even when there are no dams in the area. And if you get caught in a lie, no big deal. Just move on.
Tweet and delete. Because the Palestinian Theory of Truth says you can.