- The Washington Times - Friday, August 4, 2006

The old man lying in the shade of the Lebanese palm was trying to sleep, but the shouts and laughter of the children made it impossible. He called them to his side.

“Children,” he said, “there’s a man at the far gate of the village who is giving away melons. Run quickly now and get cool melons for your family, and your mother will be pleased.”

With cries of joy and delight, the children ran off to collect their unexpected bounty, and the old man lay down to resume his nap. No sooner had he shut his eyes against the heat of the day than he sat up, rubbed his eyes, and struggled to his feet.

“Yiiiiii!” he cried, running after the children disappearing in a cloud of dust. “What I am doing here trying to sleep when a man is giving away melons at the village gate?”

Allah has showered many gifts on the Arabs, and foremost among them is the gift of believing their rhetoric, and with it the ability to swallow absurd boasts, fanciful hyperbole and preposterous exaggeration — fibs, stretchers and rants. But Hezbollah’s considerable media machine is breaking down in certain Lebanese circles of the not so gullible. Sometimes the lies grow too big even in Arabia. In recent days Hezbollah’s Al Manar television station, which broadcasts via satellite, bragged that its terrorists had killed or wounded 35 Israeli soldiers in fighting at Aita Shaab, shot down an Israeli helicopter, and most improbable of all, had sunk an Israeli naval ship off the coast of Tyre with the loss of all hands, 50 men in all. Not only that, all Israeli soldiers are hit in the back because they always run away. This last was recognized at once as a lie as big as a melon, too good to be true.

Yesterday the Associated Press began re-examining the body count at Qana, the Lebanese village where news organizations, taking at face value the accounts of Lebanese advocacy groups, said 56 civilians, including women and children, were killed by Israeli bombs. The revised count is now put at 28, with further revisions expected. Hezbollah and other Lebanese sources say additional bodies might be pulled from the rubble, but the Lebanese Red Cross concedes that 13 villagers first reported missing and presumed dead probably are not dead, after all, or even missing. Their families said they might have fled to safety in northern Lebanon even before the Israeli campaign started. A Belgian rescue worker explains that rescue teams were told there were 63 people in the building when the bomb hit, nine survivors were pulled from the rubble, and ergo, that meant 54 were dead.

Death tolls in all disasters are easily exaggerated, and the death of even one innocent, and particularly a child, is a tragedy in anyone’s eyes (except those of the terrorists, for whom killing children is just a day’s work). The tragedy at Qana is real enough, but news organizations, here as well as there, are eager to pounce on bad news as proof that Israel and by implication America are unredeemed purveyors of evil and madness.

Herr Goebbels learned the hard way that facts are hard to kill, but his tutor taught him that men are easier prey for a big lie than a small one. Hassan Nasrallah, the leader of Hezbollah, is what Ha’aretz, the authoritative Israeli daily, calls “a superb tool” for the terrorist propaganda machine. “Nasrallah, 46, is one of the most impressive speakers in the entire Middle East. He is a virtuoso of the Arabic language, although he doesn’t forget to spice his comments with a few words in the Lebanese dialect. It nearly always seems as though he is speaking about the most important matters in an offhand way, but he is really getting his listeners to follow his thought process.”

The Israel Defense Forces now concedes that it miscalculated the numbers and effectiveness of the Hezbollah rockets, but even more important is that Israel is just now learning that it miscalculated the skill and effectiveness of the Hezbollah propaganda machine. The bombast and over-the-top boasts of the Arabs are easy to deride in the West, where skepticism of official accounts is cultivated, but there will always be a ravenous appetite for the tall tale in Arabia. The Hezbollah television station has had “an enormous impact” on the Arab press and in effect on the Hebrew press as well, says Amir Levy, whose Satlink Communications closely monitors Arab-language media. Or you could ask the man chasing the fantasy melons.

Pruden on Politics runs Tuesdays and Fridays.

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