You've got (hate) mail

Forget love letters. In war, all e-mails are considered fair.

Like many journalists in the most recent war, I discovered a battle going on in my e-mail in-box, where comments on Operation Cast Lead replaced spam offers as the unkosher flavor of the month. Some of the e-mails were so obviously sent to insult rather than inform that I hit the delete button without opening them. E-mails from addresses like "Deathtozionistdogs" did not seem to take the role of the Israeli press as the watchdog of democracy seriously. There were, of course, also expressions of support - from Jews and gentiles around the world; people who realize that Hamas and its backers crying about human rights abuses by Israelis in Gaza while lobbing missiles at civilian populations across the border were continuing war by other means, as military strategist Carl von Clausewitz might have put it. I have received long, detailed e-mails describing Israel's "crimes" (my quote marks, in case you wondered); plus short, pithy messages of the "why hadn't I thought of that first" kind. My thanks, for example, to the US physician who found another apt Shakespeare quote after I mentioned Shylock's speech in a recent oped. Othello, he reminded me, said: "Who steals my purse steals trash; 'tis something, nothing; 'twas mine, 'tis his, and has been slave to thousands; but he that filches from me my good name robs me of that which not enriches him and makes me poor indeed." "I'm afraid the good name of Israel and Jews is, once again, robbed of its true character," said the doctor - who did not want his name published but at least did not hide behind some strange cyber hybrid of a nom de plume and a nom de guerre. Some e-mails made me mad, some sad; at some I smiled. One had me pretty much stumped. A reader sought advice, saying (in unedited English): "There is an email circulating that says ... Israelis soliders entered a home in Gaza on the 21st of Jan. and make a mother choose 5 of her 10 children, and then murdered the other 5 in front of her. I DONOT believe this, coud you send me something that I could send to those who wold believe this." I considered writing back that it is highly unlikely because we don't usually need children's blood until we bake matza for Passover but I was concerned that it would be taken seriously. For good measure, I tried to check the story out and, as of press time, I am pleased and unsurprised to say I have found no evidence of such an atrocity (unless you count the medieval blood libels). The alleged event would have taken place as the last soldiers were pulling out of Gaza - with the safety of home beckoning just beyond the border. Not exactly the moment to risk entering a boobytrapped house in order to massacre some innocent children in front of adult eyewitnesses, even if you were so inclined. Of course, among the war-crime charges leveled against the IDF which landed with all the grace of a Kassam missile in my mailbox were the complaints that Israelis had not gone into inhabited homes, but had warned the local population to leave and had bombed suspicious buildings from the air. Local human rights groups in Gaza are, of course, fighting their own battles. Hamas does not like criticism. It tends to shoot the messenger - in the knees or in the head. This makes some stories harder to verify. Plenty of Fatah supporters, for instance, seem to have disappeared under the shadow of Cast Lead. The reader did not supply the name of the "child victims": The name al-Dura sprang to my mind. The whole world knows the story of Muhammad al-Dura, who was killed by gunfire at the start of the second intifada in September 2000. Most of the world still thinks Israel killed him, even though an IDF investigation found he could only have been shot by Palestinian fire, and a Paris appeals court last year backed the claim by Philippe Karsenty that France 2 had broadcast a staged report on the death of the 12-year-old. That's the same France 2 that in Operation Cast Lead had to issue an apology for showing old footage from Gaza, filmed years before the latest IDF campaign. I had more sympathy for the complaints by Palestinians that soldiers had deliberately trashed their homes and left graffiti on the walls. A Hebrew paper even ran the story of a group of reserve soldiers who, upset by the mess the regular troops had left, tried to tidy up and wrote a message apologizing. IT SEEMS our lot in life to apologize. If satirist Ephraim Kishon were still alive, he might have written a follow-up to his post-Six Day War work So Sorry We Won and Woe to the Victors. Something like: Excuse us for living. Kishon died in 2005 - some 50 years after surviving Nazi death camps. In his book The Scapegoat he wrote, "They made a mistake - they left one satirist alive." Well, they didn't do it on purpose. Excuse me, too, for bringing up the subject of the Holocaust. The one against Jews, that is. The world last week went into a politically correct frenzy of Holocaust remembrance, while the Iranian government accused Israel of making up the Holocaust in order to justify the country's existence. In the same way that Jews were blamed last century for creating both communism and capitalism, it is now possible to accuse Israel - and you can read "the Jews," for that - of both concocting the Holocaust as a myth and carrying out Holocaust-equivalent atrocities against Arabs. Nonetheless on January 27, to commemorate the Holocaust, speeches were made, rallies held, commitments signed. The world, as a German-based reporter once noted, doesn't mind the Jews "as long as they are dead." Or at least not fighting back. Adding insult to injury, Pope Benedict XVI announced his intention to reinstate a Holocaust-denying bishop. Maybe we should save time and turn Iran's Mahmoud Ahmadinejad into a saint right now, along with "Hitler's pope" Pius XII. Ahmadinejad, after all, not only denies the Holocaust, he has a solution to the Jewish problem. A very final solution. So forgive me for wondering how hollow those calls of "Never again" sounded as they tried to drown out the sound of Jews being demonized. As Irwin Cotler has noted: The Holocaust started with words. And that's what I find so worrying. I can delete e-mails, but the message of hate they contain won't just disappear.