Jerusalem Letter / Viewpoints
No. 476 3 Iyar 5762 / 15 April 2002
POISON: THE USE OF BLOOD LIBEL
IN THE WAR AGAINST ISRAEL
An Epidemic on the West Bank / The Arab Tradition of Miracle Literature /
Accusing the Israelis / The Story Grows / The International Perspective / The
Politics of Human Rights / The Sterilizing Bubble Gum / More Poison / Blood
Libel as a Form of Warfare
An Epidemic on the West Bank
On the morning of March 21, 1983, one week before Pesach, in a high school in
the town of Arrabeh in the Jenin area of the West Bank, Palestinian girls
(between the ages of 15 and 17) were sitting in several classrooms when they
suddenly began to faint, one after the other. They were taken to hospital and
checked, but no medical reason was found for their fainting. Yet they had
fainted, so a search began in order to find the reason.
Then other girls of the same age began fainting in other villages on the West
Bank, in Bethlehem, and afterwards in Hebron and Halhul, Tulkarem and Nablus.
Over a period of a few days approximately 1,000 girls ended up in hospital at
the same time, seemingly victims of an epidemic.
Since all this occurred just before Pesach, the motif of blood libel and mass
poisoning was raised. The rumors began that it was the Israelis who had
poisoned the girls.
The Arab Tradition of Miracle Literature
The famous Japanese director Akira Kurasawa made a classic film in 1950,
"Rashomon," based on a Japanese folk tale from the twelfth century. It told the
story of the family of a Samurai who were attacked by thieves. Afterward, there
are four different stories of the incident. The dead Samurai's spirit tells
what happened from his point of view. There are also the stories of his wife,
one of the servants, and a woodcutter who happened to witness the attack. The
film is a fascinating depiction of four different points of view of the same
event, and Kurasawa's message is that there is no objective truth. The truth
can be given different interpretations, and everyone can see the truth from a
In the Middle Ages there was a genre in Arabic literature known as miracle
literature. The author would describe his adventures on the way to China or
India. He would tell fantastic stories about places with all kinds of amazing
things, about diamonds, silver, and gold, about eagles that would fly with him,
and afterwards it came together in the wonderful stories we know in the
A Thousand and One Nights.
The Palestinian-Arab-Muslim stories about what happens here simply remind one
of the miracle literature. Stories come out of the imagination and are
strengthened by new inventions. This is what interests the people, and whether
it happened or not is not that important. In the political reality, the
invented story is believed in the Palestinian-Arab-Muslim consciousness as the
Accusing the Israelis
After the mass fainting epidemic in 1983, the girls claimed that they had been
poisoned, although the doctors who checked them found no evidence of this. Then
the Arabs began to make charges that maybe, and then certainly, it was Israelis
who had poisoned the girls. They also presented the reason -- the fantastic
story that the Jews have an interest in countering the high Palestinian
birthrate so they specifically targeted young girls approaching the age of
marriage. The poisoning was done to harm this most fertile age group in order
to limit Arab demographic growth. They even said they had found medical proof,
claiming that urine tests showed a high protein level, which means that
something is abnormal in the fertility system.
They began to build all kinds of theories and enlisted statements from Arab
doctors. Then, amazingly, the Israeli newspapers began asking why the Jews, who
were killed in the gas chambers, would do something like this, and there were
calls for an investigation of the actions of the then-Likud government of
Menachem Begin. The Arabs saw the Israelis themselves accusing their own
government and raised the tone of their accusations even higher.
Baruch Modan, the director-general of the Health Ministry and one of the
leading epidemiologists in Israel, headed an investigation team and, of course,
found nothing. At a press conference he announced that there was no evidence of
poisoning and that this was nothing more than a case of mass hysteria. But in
this case the foreign journalists refused to accept the professional opinion of
a well-respected doctor.
The Palestinians became bolder and offered still more proof. Yellow powder was
found on the window sills. Dr. Modan and his team had checked the powder and
found it to be from nearby pine trees, but this did not convince the foreign
journalists who kept on saying that the Israelis were guilty.
However, the Israeli media started to backtrack because Dr. Modan is indeed a
respected authority. Suddenly a spate of articles began appearing on the
history of blood libels and protesting that here, too, on the eve of Pesach,
they are acting toward us just as they did in the Middle Ages, with accusations
of poisoning the wells. It was amazing -- within ten days the Israeli press
went from self-accusation to massive self-defense. That is the Israeli side of
The Story Grows
On the Palestinian side, doctors reported on the signs which indicated that
there must have been mass poisoning. The accusations increased and were adopted
by the leadership of the PLO, which in 1983 had been deported from Lebanon to
The Palestinians then took out their secret weapon. They saw the massive damage
this negative publicity was doing to Israel and they received international
encouragement, so they began to send girls to pretend to faint. They prepared
trucks in advance, and when the girls got to school they would be put on the
trucks, with the journalists and photographers following them to the hospital.
As soon as the foreign journalists left, according to Israeli journalists who
were following the story, the girls would get up out of bed. Yet the Arabs saw
how much they could get out of this hoax and turned it into a true story which
The International Perspective
The third side of this Rashomon story is the interest of the international
organizations and the international media. The French newspapers
headlined that there was evidence that Israel had poisoned the children. The
presentation of Dr. Modan was called a weak attempt by the Israelis to hide
their crime. In the UN, the Security Council came out with a harsh statement
against Israel -- how could Israel allow such a thing to happen? The entire
story was taken as based on reality and the entire affair just got bigger,
involving the Arab League and the Islamic Conference.
Finally, Israel formally asked the International Red Cross and the World
Health Organization to come and investigate. The International Red Cross
representative came and issued a weak statement that he did not find
evidence. When he was asked why he did not make a stronger statement, and thus
let the hoax stand, he replied that this is not the job of the International
Red Cross. If the Palestinians suffered, they must have suffered from something
real, and if they did not suffer from poisoning, then they suffered from the
"poison of occupation." Afterwards, the International Red Cross was asked to
publicize its findings. They wrote back saying that it was not their policy to
publicize their findings, although if they had been against Israel, the
findings would have been publicized immediately.
Eventually, the world-renowned Center for Disease Control in Atlanta reported
on the results of its investigation. The U.S. experts concluded that this was
indeed a case of mass hysteria, a phenomenon similar to teenage girls fainting
at rock concerts.
Apart from the
New York Times,
which buried a retraction of its accusations against Israel in the back pages,
no other newspaper bothered to do even that. Israeli ambassadors in a number of
countries asked local newspapers to print a story of correction, but they were
ignored. So a case of mass hysteria was exploited by the Palestinians into a
major international affair, with great success.
The Politics of Human Rights
A while after this event, the Palestinian representative to the Human Rights
Commission in Geneva declared to the Commission that Israelis had spread
the AIDS virus to 300 Palestinian children in order to destroy an entire
generation as part of an Israeli plan of genocide. This is the very same claim
as in the poisoning episode. Of course no member of the Commission, except for
the Israeli representative, protested or said anything. Then the Israeli
representative asked the chairman of the Commission, who was Czech, how he
could allow the body which he headed to remain silent in the face of such an
accusation, which becomes a part of the minutes of the UN. The chairman then
wrote a letter to the members of the Commission saying that the accusation was
never proven and that all members of the Commission should avoid making
unsubstantiated charges in the future.
The same evening, five members of the Commission from countries famous for
human rights such as Iraq and Sudan demanded that the chairman retract his
letter, claiming he had no authority to annul what any representative had said,
and warned him that he would be removed from office if he did not comply. So he
wrote another letter canceling his original letter.
The Sterilizing Bubble Gum
In 1997 the Palestinians exposed yet another Israeli "plot to suppress Arab
population growth." They claimed to have tested packets of strawberry-flavored
bubble gum which were found to be spiked with sex hormones and sold at low
prices near schoolhouses in the West Bank and Gaza Strip. It was claimed that
the gum aroused irresistible sexual appetites in women, then it sterilized
them. According to Palestinian Supply Minister Abdel Aziz Shaheen, it was
capable of "completely destroying the genetic system of young boys," as well.
In this case, Palestinians allege, Israel came with chewing gum laced with
progesterone, one of the two hormones of femaleness. The hormone, they say
inaccurately, drives women wild with desire and serves as a contraceptive, too --
corrupting Arab women while ensuring they cannot reproduce. The story was
reminiscent of a furor over Israeli chewing gum a year earlier in Egypt. The
story grew with the retelling. Shaheen contended that the gum was sold "only at
the gates of primary schools or kindergartens," because Israelis "want to
destroy our genetic system" by giving sex hormones to children before their
bodies can cope with them. By the time the story reached Hebron in the West
Bank, local health official Mahmoud Batarna claimed to have captured 200 tons
commissioned a test of allegedly contaminated chewing gum provided by
Palestinian health officials. Dan Gibson, professor of pharmaceutical chemistry
at Hebrew University and a member of the left-wing lobby group Peace Now, said
that, using a mass spectrometer capable of detecting as little as a microgram
of progesterone, he found none in the gum.1
The pattern of miracle literature is repeated time and time again in the Arab
world and there is no end to it. There are two Israeli teams in Egypt that have
been doing exceptional work developing desert agriculture in that country, and
they have produced amazing results. Yet the hostile Egyptian media have accused
the Israelis of poisoning the land and destroying Egyptian agriculture.
In June 1997, the Palestinian
newspaper reported the accusation by the head of the Criminal Division of the
Palestinian Police in Nablus that the Israeli security services operated a ring
of AIDS-infected Israeli prostitutes sent to infect the Palestinian people.2
These are just a few of the hoaxes that have been used as propaganda tools
against Israel. Some twenty such events are detailed and explained in
Poison: Modern Manifestations of the Blood Libel,
a new book just released by Lexington Books. It documents the story of modern
blood libel against the Jews and Israel, involving not only Arabs and Muslims
but also the European media and world organizations.
Blood Libel as a Form of Warfare
During the current Palestinian offensive, Yasser Arafat has for many months
been accusing Israel of using weapons of depleted uranium against Palestinians,
and told the French paper
(21 Feb 2002) that this information was confirmed by the U.S., although the
U.S. has never confirmed any such claims. In a speech broadcast by El-Jezira TV
on 27 March 2002, Arafat charged Israel's army with using depleted uranium
gasses and even toxic waste. Israel was also accused of distributing booby
trapped or poisoned sweets across the West Bank to kill children.
The international calls for an investigation into Israel's conduct in Jenin,
during its offensive in response to Palestinian "Islamikaze"3
bombings in Israeli cities, follow all too closely the pattern of world
support for the Palestinian fabrications described above. Sadly, we are once
again witness to yet another round of blood libel as part of the ongoing Arab
war against Israel.
* * *
1. Barton Gellman, "Pop! Went the Tale of the Bubble Gum Spiked With Sex
July 28, 1997, p. A14.
Shabbat, 27 June 1997, p. 19.
3. "Islamikaze" is a word coined by the author combining the words "kamikaze"
and "Islam," to signify that the so-called "suicide" bombers have nothing
suicidal about them, but that they, just like the Japanese kamikaze before
them, are intent on mass killing of the enemy, with the difference being that
the kamikaze operated against military targets while the Islamikaze acts mainly
against innocent civilians.
* * *
Raphael Israeli is a Fellow of the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs and
Professor of Chinese History and Islamic Civilization at Hebrew University,
Jerusalem. He is the author of numerous books and articles including
Fundamentalist Islam and Israel: Essays in Interpretation
(JCPA and University Press of America, 1993),
A Critical Biography of Chinese Islam
Poison: Modern Manifestations of the Blood Libel
Green Crescent Over Nazareth
(Frank Cass, 2002), and
Jerusalem Divided: The Armistice Regime 1947-1967
(Frank Cass, 2002).
is based on the author's presentation at the Jerusalem Center for Public
Affairs as part of the follow-up program to the First Herbert Berman Memorial
Symposium on the attitude of the world toward the Jews after the Holocaust.
are published by the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs, 13 Tel-Hai St.,
Jerusalem, Israel; Tel. 972-2-5619281, Fax. 972-2-5619112, Internet:
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The opinions expressed by the authors of Viewpoints do not necessarily reflect
those of the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs.