Truth is the first casualty in war. We have seen this recently, in the bizarre and often hilarious lies of the Iraqi Minister of Information during the war in Iraq. Now there are Web sites devoted to the sayings of “Baghdad Bob,” along with T-shirts and other memorabilia. It also seems that the Bush administration lied to us about the nuclear threat posed by Saddam Hussein’s regime, relying on a report that the CIA knew was forged. This is disappointing, but perhaps not surprising. Lies in wartime are nothing new, though we often expect better.
In the Middle East, lies in wartime often also include lies about the past, since the past—or more precisely, public memory about the past—provides authority for claims about the present. I recently learned that the Palestinian Authority has taken to lying about the ancient biblical past in defense of its claims regarding Jerusalem. One of the chief negotiators of the Oslo accords, Saeb Erekat, states bluntly the current position of the Palestinian Authority: “For Islam, there was never a Jewish temple at Al Quds [Jerusalem].”1 This is one of the reasons why the Palestinians wouldn’t accept a compromise about Jerusalem during the Camp David negotiations. I was floored when I read this. What a whopper!