The Government's Word Laundromat

To gain the release of Gilad Shalit, or to reach a broader deal with Hamas, it is necessary to release terrorists who carried out lethal attacks.

The method was probably invented by Ariel Sharon, back when he commanded Unit 101 in the early 1950s: As he led the unit to the attack on Qibiya, he interpreted the orders he received - "to blow up homes and cause the residents to flee" - as permission to cause widespread destruction of the village's houses, and not only to target public structures. The result was a mass killing of the villagers (69 people, half of them women and children), which caught the government and the General Staff by surprise and led David Ben-Gurion to lie to the Knesset by claiming that this criminal act had been carried out not by an Israel Defense Forces unit, but by "residents of one of Israel's border communities."

This was one of the first instances in which verbal sophistry by the military command was directed against the politicians (not a foreign party) and forced them to pull the wool over the eyes of the public and the world to escape the imbroglio that had been created. The same occurred in other retaliatory operations and during the Sinai Campaign, when Sharon, as commander of the Paratrooper Brigade, interpreted the authorization he received to "send a patrol" beyond the Mitla Pass as permission to deploy a significantly larger force, which included two companies of armored cars, a platoon of tanks, a mobile reconnaissance unit and a battery of mortars. The result was disastrous: At the end of a long (and unnecessary) day of fighting, the paratroopers suffered 38 dead and 110 wounded. Some 200 Egyptians were killed in the fighting.

Ever since, Israel's political culture has been one in which the norm is to talk with a wink, say things that mean the exact opposite and make statements that can be rescinded on the basis of outrageous excuses. That is how the following rules of the game became legitimized: "A finance minister does not mean what he says" (Simcha Erlich); "for the land of Israel it is permissible to lie" (prime minister Yitzhak Shamir); "I promised, but I did not promise to keep my promise" (prime minister Levi Eshkol); and "only an ass does not change his mind" (Moshe Dayan).

This convention, that the plain meaning of words is only one option, and that it is possible to distort their significance according to shifting political and personal needs, has trickled down over the years into every level of the civil service. The results of this conduct are evident today, among other things, in the uncontrolled expansion of the settlements (which is based on loose definitions of terms and of borders in the blueprints), in labor disputes (which stem from disagreements over the meaning of articles and terms on which there was presumed to have been agreement), and the character of the military confrontation with the Palestinians (which is based on deceptive terms like "pinpoint preventions," "exposure" and "neighbor procedure").

The public discourse is inundated with doubletalk, which legitimizes erroneous statements, trickery and manipulation. To drive home how widespread this verbal trickery is, it suffices to point to the official term that described the evacuation from the Gaza Strip - "disengagement" (instead of pullout) - and the word Prime Minister Ehud Olmert chose to describe his plan to withdraw from most of the West Bank: "convergence."

Now, the government's word laundromat is planning to launder the bloodied hands of Palestinian terrorists who have thus far not been candidates for release. One can support or oppose this apparent willingness to accept Hamas' demands, but there is no reason to put up with the hoax that it involves. The people are entitled to demand that their political leaders speak to them honestly - that they stand up and say that to gain the release of Gilad Shalit, or to reach a broader deal with Hamas, it is necessary to release terrorists who carried out lethal attacks.

Such an approach would be more convincing than the news about revising the definition of "blood on their hands," which only signals that the government's academy of the Hebrew language is preparing to issue a rushed lexicon of linguistic monstrosities. Out of the notebooks of the government's spin masters will come forth Orwellian terms to distinguish terrorists who murdered Jews in mass attacks from those who caused deaths in smaller attacks, terrorists who murdered Jews from those who murdered collaborators, terrorists who squeezed the trigger from those who ordered the killings. And the language acrobats do not understand that this terminological anarchy leads to moral corruption, which in turn disrupts the life of our society.